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Keeping the crisp

The next time you make a batch of pickles, try these tips to ensure that every bite has a satisfying crunch

May 13, 2020
By ANDREA CHESMAN - Grit Magazine , Farm News

By ANDREA CHESMAN

Grit Magazine

When it comes to making crispy pickles, heat is the enemy. Although you could guarantee crisp pickles by never subjecting them to heat, that would mean avoiding the canner, which is necessary for long-term storage.

Article Photos

-Submitted photo by Micolino

Crispy pickles start in the garden by growing cucumbers specially developed for pickling.

When you're making pickles to preserve from your garden surplus, the challenge becomes how to make and process them in a way that preserves their texture. Luckily, you can follow several tricks to make crisp pickles while still following the safety guidelines established by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Some people remember the shatteringly crisp pickles their grandmothers used to make. These preservers had two tricks in their apron pockets. The first was alum, an aluminum salt, which is no longer recommended because it's toxic in large quantities. Though alum helps create crisper pickles, it's not necessary when you use higher-quality ingredients and modern canning methods.

Grandma's second trick for crispness was lime, or calcium hydroxide, the same chemical that's applied to farm fields to raise the soil pH. In food-grade form, the calcium in lime bonds with the pectin in a vegetable's cell walls and increases its firmness. But after soaking in a limewater solution for 12 to 24 hours, the excess lime must be removed to make safe, edible pickles. To do so, you must drain, rinse, and soak the vegetables in fresh water for an hour. This rinsing process is repeated several times to remove all traces of lime. At the end of the process, the cucumbers are left with no flavor at all. When compared with a cucumber that's soaked in salt water (a common step in pickling), the difference is obvious.

Crisp tips

Crispness starts in the garden. Many people take up pickling because they have an excess of salad cucumbers. Instead, I grow pickling cucumbers and enjoy any excess in my salads.

In addition to growing cucumbers specially developed for pickling, I always grow some of the newer Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern cucumber cultivars, which tend to grow long, not fat, and are mostly seedless and thin-skinned. I've tried several different cultivars of each, and find that, though the yields are lower, the flavor is far superior.

If someone gives you a bushel of salad cucumbers to pickle, you can still pickle them and improve the texture by removing all the seeds. The fewer and smaller the seeds in a cucumber, the crisper the resulting pickle. (If someone gives you a bushel of zucchini, make relish! You'll never make a zucchini pickle as pleasing as a cucumber pickle.)

During the growing season, be sure to pick early, pick often, pick small amounts, and keep the cucumbers chilled before pickling. These same rules hold true for green beans and other vegetables you pickle. I often pickle in small batches, so I'm only canning as much as I've harvested, be it one jar's worth or dozens.

The blossom ends of cucumbers contain enzymes that speed softening. Be sure to cut those ends off before you start pickling. Can't tell which is the blossom end? Cut both ends off. While many people put grape leaves in their canning jars to prevent softening, grape leaves only help because they contain an enzyme that counteracts the pickle-softening enzymes present in blossom ends. So, if you cut off the blossom ends, you won't need to bother with grape leaves.

Never omit the following step: Soak the sliced cucumbers in an iced saltwater bath for 2 to 6 hours prior to canning. The salt draws some of the excess water from the cucumbers, resulting in a crisper pickle. Adding a crisping agent is also helpful. Ball Canning makes Pickle Crisp (pelletized calcium chloride), another naturally occurring calcium salt. Like lime, the calcium binds with the pectin in the cell walls and stiffens the vegetable. Because of its formulation, you only need to spoon a small amount into the jars right before you seal them for canning. Be sure to follow the package directions.

Canning will soften the pickles-there's no getting around it. However, using a steam canner exposes the jars to less heat, because it takes less time for the water to start boiling. The result is a crisper pickle.

If you pick cucumbers early and often, as I recommend, you may end up with too few pickles to make a 7-jar batch. I also pickle often, but in small batches. The following recipes make 1-pint jars. You can scale them up by multiplying the ingredients based on the number of cups of sliced cucumbers you've harvested.

Classic bread 'n' butters

Bread 'n' butters are essential to the pickler's pantry. This farmhouse classic is sweet, spiced, and crunchy. Yields 1 pint.

21/4 to 21/2 cups thinly sliced pickling cucumbers

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon pickling salt or fine sea salt

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon mixed pickling spices

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/8 teaspoon Pickle Crisp granules

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion, and salt. Mix well. Cover the vegetables with ice water and let stand for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours. Drain. Taste the cucumbers; if they're not decidedly salty, toss them with an additional 1 to 2 teaspoons salt.

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the cider vinegar, brown sugar, and turmeric. Bring to a boil. In a separate pot, bring about a cup of water to a boil.

Pack mixed pickling spices, mustard seeds, and celery seeds into a clean, hot, pint-sized canning jar. Pack in the cucumbers and onions, and pour in the vinegar mixture. The vinegar mixture won't cover the vegetables, so top them off with boiling water, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles, add Pickle Crisp granules, and seal.

Process in a steam canner for 10 minutes. Store in a cool, dry place. Allow to ferment for 6 weeks before opening.

Dill chips

Sandwich-ready dill chips are handy to have in the pantry. I can't imagine a tuna fish sandwich without them. Yields 1 pint.

21/4 to 21/2 cups thinly sliced pickling cucumbers

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon pickling salt

6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

6 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dill seeds

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried dill

3 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/8 teaspoon Pickle Crisp granules.

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion, and salt, and mix well. Cover the vegetables with ice water and let stand for at least 2 hours, or up to 6 hours. Drain. Taste the cucumbers; if they don't taste salty enough, add 1 to 2 teaspoons salt.

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the white vinegar, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring well to dissolve the sugar.

Add the dill, garlic cloves, mustard seeds, and black peppercorns into a clean, hot, pint-sized canning jar. Pack in the cucumbers and pour in the vinegar mixture, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles, add Pickle Crisp granules, and seal.

Process in a steam canner for 10 minutes. Store in a cool, dry place. Allow to ferment for 6 weeks before opening.

Curried cucumber pickles

I love to watch the reactions of people trying these pickles for the first time. First comes surprise, and then delight, because the flavors of these pickles are both delicious and unexpected. Swap in these pickles when the usual dills and bread 'n' butters evoke yawns.

Yields 1 pint.

21/4 to 21/2 cups thinly sliced pickling cucumbers

1/2 small onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon pickling salt or fine sea salt

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons raisins

11/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/8 teaspoon Pickle Crisp granules

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion, and salt. Add enough ice water to cover and let soak for at least 2 hours, and up to 6 hours. Drain. Taste a slice of cucumber. If it isn't decidedly salty, toss the vegetables with an additional 1 to 2 teaspoons salt.

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the cider vinegar, sugar, raisins, curry powder, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds. Heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Pack the cucumbers into a hot, clean pint-sized jar. Pour in the brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles, add Pickle Crisp granules,

and seal.

Process in a steam canner for 10 minutes. Let cool undisturbed for 12 hours. Store in a cool, dry place. Allow the flavors to develop for at least 6 weeks before opening.

For more delicious foods, visit us at www.grit.com.

Excerpted from GRIT. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.grit.com or call 866-803-7096 to subscribe. Copyright 2020 by Ogden Publications Inc.

 
 

 

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