If you plan on doing any cucumber pickling this year, here’s a handy troubleshooting tip sheet listing common problems and why they happen along with some tips I found in an old cookbook. I’ve also included a homemade spice blend recipe at the bottom.
- Shriveling may result from using too strong a vinegar, sugar, or salt solution at the start of the process. In making the very sweet or very sour varieties, it is best to start with a dilute solution and increase gradually to the desired strength.
- Overcooking or over processing may also cause shriveling.
They Are Hollow:
Hollowness usually results from:
- Poorly developed cucumbers.
- Holding cucumbers too long before pickling.
- Too rapid fermentation.
- Too strong or too weak a brine during fermentation.
Too Soft or Slippery:
This generally happens from microbial action which causes spoilage. Once a pickle becomes soft it cannot be made firm. Microbial activity may be cause by:
- Too little salt or acid.
- Cucumbers not covered with brine during fermentation period.
- Scum scattered throughout the brine during fermentation period.
- Insufficient heat treatment.
- A seal that is not airtight.
- Moldy garlic or spices.
Blossoms, if not entirely removed from the cucumbers before fermentation, may contain fungi or yeasts responsible for enzymatic softening of pickles.
Darkness in the finished product may be caused by:
- Use of ground spices
- Too much spice
- Iodized salt
- Minerals in water, especially iron
- Use of iron utensils
Source: Making Pickles and Relishes At Home, Home and Garden Bulletin No. 92, U.S. Department of Agriculture (1970)
Points On Pickling:
[First Published: September 21, 2007, Moved here for better organization]
Here are some handy tips I found in an old cookbook:
- Use firm, good quality vegetables and fruits for pickling.
- Some vegetables such as cucumbers require soaking in brine before covering with vinegar. This soaking helps maintain the firmness and color of the vegetables during the pickling process and also reduces bitterness. Cucumbers for gherkins should be placed in brine as soon after picking as possible. Cucumbers for dills should be placed in cold water. Hollow centers may result if cucumbers are held at room temperature for even a few hours.
- The proportion of 1 cup fine salt or 1 1/2 cups coarse salt to 2 quarts (10 cups) water makes a good brine. Too weak a brine will cause pickles to become soft, too strong a brine will cause them to shrivel and become tough.
- Be sure to use a pickling salt. Free-running salt has a chemical added to keep it from caking and is not recommended for pickling and brining.
- Use good quality vinegar. Both cider and blended vinegar have good flavor, but white vinegar gives better color where light colored foods such as onions and cauliflower are used. Never dilute vinegar unless the recipe calls for it.
- Use spices with caution. A dark color or bitter flavor may result from using too much spice or from boiling the spice too long with vinegar. Whole spices give better color and flavor than ground spices. Whole spices should be tied loosely in a cheesecloth bag, cooked with vinegar or pickle, then removed.
- Pickles should be stored in clean glass jars, sealers, or crocks. If kept in crocks, make sure to cover well with vinegar solution to prevent spoilage. A plate or wooden board cut to fit inside the crock should be placed on top of the pickles and weighted down.
- Relishes and sauces should be packed in hot, sterilized jars and completely sealed.
Source: Cooking The Co-op Way Cookbook (1960)
Interested in trying a new recipe or two? You’ll find over a dozen ideas here .
Pickling Spice Blend: Recipe
Combine 2 TBS each:
2 bay leaves (crumbled)
2 cinnamon sticks (broken)
2 small pieces dried ginger root (chopped)
2 small dried red chilies (crushed) or 1-2 tsp hot pepper flakes.
- Store in a tightly sealed container until ready to use.
Source: The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving (Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard)