Packing that Perfect Pickle Punch – Ten Tips for Firm Quick Pickles

There is nothing worse than opening a jar of homemade pickles, biting into one, and finding that they are all soggy and nasty. Blech! OK, nothing worse might be slight hyperbole, but you know what I mean. Many MFPs I know don’t even like making homemade pickles because they get so soft. But alas, I am here to help! Here are my top ten tips for keeping pickles firm and crispy – from the least, to most useful (in my humble opinion – I did reorder quite a few times). This is the publication where I got some of this info – here.

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10. Always use cucumber varieties meant for pickling – a pickling cucumber and cucumber for your salad were bred for different purposes.

9. Don’t bother with alum. OK this one is more of a tip of what not to do, but some recipes you will see, especially online or in older pubs, still call for alum. It actually doesn’t do much for your quick pickles, but may be somewhat useful in fermented pickles. So skip the alum and try #4 instead if you want.

8. Pickling lime.  The calcium in lime will help firm pickles. However, lime also lowers the acidity, so you have to soak cucumber in water multiple times following the soaking in lime to remove the excess lime for safety. It does really work, but to me it’s too much work.

7. Soak cucumbers in ice water. This helps firm the veggies as well, I could postulate on why but couldn’t find a good source for why it works. Perhaps it hydrates them, and the cooling keeps them firm somehow too. Ahem, because science.

6. Grape Leaves. Some people swear by using a grape leaf in each jar of pickles for keeping them firm, but apparently a grape leaf’s tannins keep the cucumbers firm by counteracting the enzymes found in the blossom end (see number 5). Thus, if you removed that the grape leaf may not add any more. But maybe you missed a blossom end, who knows.

5. Remove the blossom end. When your cucumber is growing, the bottom end of it is called the blossom end (where the flower was). Trim this end off of your cucumbers, as it contains enzymes that soften pickles. Just a little sliver off the end takes care of those enzymes.

4. Pickle crispPickle crisp is a Ball product, but I’m sure others make it too, as it is simply calcium chloride. Pickle Crisp helps keep pickles firm because the calcium helps firm the pectin in the cucumber, the same way lime does.

3. Don’t pickle over-mature cucumbers – start with a good quality veggie. Yes, sometimes the garden gets away from us and there are suddenly some big ole cucs on the vine and we are tempted to pickle them anyways. Don’t bother, unless you like mush. Big cucumbers may be hollow, or just be softer in the middle where the seeds are growing. Chop those up for your salad. Yes, I realize what I said in #10, but it works in this direction.

2. Pickle immediately. If you have your own garden this is easier, but do your best to pickle cucumbers as soon after picking them as you can. If buying them, ask the farmer when they were picked, or at least process them as soon after buying them as you can. Cucumbers will lose their firmness the longer you wait. Within 24 hours is ideal.

1. Low temperature pasteurization. To me this is the number 1 way to keep pickles firm, and often one overlooked because a lot of people don’t know it’s a thing. It might not be more important than using a good quality cuc to start with, but I put it first because so many people don’t know about it. Basically, overprocessing pickles can cause them to become soft. With low temp processing, you can process the recipes from this publication PNW 355 at 180-185 F instead of a full rolling boil. It works, it really works. For more on that see my experiment from last year – here.

Get picklin’!

Pickling experiment – the results are in!

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In case you missed it, a few weeks ago I wrote a post about two ways that you can keep your pickles good and crispy when making quick pickles. That post can be found here, and if you missed it just head over and read that, I pasted this entire post there as well. So, I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat wondering what the results of this experiment would show, so here they are. As a reminder, what I did was 5 different pickles. The pickles were all the same spices and brine, it was the processing that differed. The first 4 were all canned as slices, the fifth was canned whole and sliced for the taste test so people couldn’t tell which one was canned whole. I randomly assigned them to a number 1 though 5 for people to taste test.

1. Boiling water bath, no pickle crisp
2. Low temperature pasteurization, no pickle crisp
3. Low temperature pasteurization with pickle crisp
4. Boiling water bath with pickle crisp
5. Low temperature pasteurization with pickle crisp canned whole

For this taste test I had 17 people test the pickles and rate them from least to most crisp. I wasn’t entirely sure how to analyze the data from the taste test, but some of the results are pretty obvious and exciting. I am going to just give you a few summary statistics that I really think give a pretty clear answer, and I’ve also included all the ratings in case you are really that interested. First off, I wanted to show a picture of the four sliced ones, because even visually some of them looked more crisp, at least to me. Below the jars are in the order listed above, so the two ends were boiled, and the middle two were processed at low temperatures. Can you see a difference? This picture was taken 5 weeks after processing. I think that even visually the boiled ones look soggier. They are a different colour and more translucent.


So how did it break out in terms of numbers? The first obvious result was that 16/17 people put sample 5 as the most crisp sample. So, by canning your pickles whole, with low temperature pasteurization, you get a very crunchy, firm product. Great! Now let’s ignore number 5 for a second since it had an additional variable of being canned whole. 10/17 people chose sample 1 as the softest, and 6/17 chose sample 4 as the softest. This totals to 16/17 people chosing one of the boiled ones as the soggiest. Additionally, of the sliced ones, 13/17 people selected sample 3 as the most crisp, which was the low temperature with pickle crisp sample. Now, I didn’t run any actual stats, but I feel pretty confident saying this: Low temperature pasteurization for the win!! There was not one person that had sample 1 (boiled, no pickle crisp) as anything other than the soggiest or second soggiest. I also thought it was really interesting that Janice, our canning teacher, rated them in the exact order that I would predict. From soggiest to crispest: boiled without pickle crisp, boiled with pickle crisp, low temperature without pickle crisp, low temperature with pickle crisp, low temp with pickle crisp canned whole. Pretty fun! So the method of processing, low temp versus boiling, was detectable by most people. Some people could detect a difference with the pickle crisp, but this result was not as ground breaking. I’d like to test it again, with more people and try doing a boiled one canned whole and a few other things, but I think for now it’s safe to say I will be canning the rest of my pickling cucs at low temps and using pickle crisp. They still turn out well if you don’t can them whole, even though most people picked that for ultimate crispness, but you can also fit less in a jar. So there ya have it! Go can some pickles at 180 F!!

In case you’re crazy like me, here’s everyone’s ratings (least to most crunchy/crisp):

1 4 2 3 5
4 1 2 3 5
4 1 3 2 5
1 2 4 5 3
2 1 3 4 5
1 2 4 3 5
1 2 4 3 5
4 1 2 3 5
4 1 2 3 5
1 2 4 3 5
4 1 2 3 5
1 3 2 4 5
1 4 2 3 5
1 4 2 3 5
1 4 2 3 5
4 1 2 3 5
1 2 4 3 5

Master Food Preserver Class – Week 4

Week 4 of Master Food Preserver class was all about pickling!

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What is pickling anyway? Well Janice, our awesome instructor, had a funny quote up on the board: “A pickle is a cucumber soured by a jarring experience.” HA! Well, I was entertained at least. But this is not entirely true; A pickle doesn’t need to be a cucumber, and it doesn’t always need to be jarred either! In fact, there wasn’t one cucumber in class, we did all sorts of other types of pickles instead. Pickling is basically the process of adding a high concentration of acid to a food to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

There are 4 basic types of pickles – you can pickle a lot more things than just cucumbers!
– Fresh pack or quick pickles
– Brined of fermented pickles
– Fruit pickles
– Relishes and Chutneys

Quick pickles are made when you combine the ingredients and immediately process, versus a fermented pickle that sits for a few weeks and ferments, producing its own acids. Fermentation in vegetables and fruits is the anaerobic breakdown of sugars into acid. In veggies, naturally present bacteria breaks down the sugars, and in fruits, it is yeast that converts the sugar first to alcohol, then to acid. The acid formed is lactic acid, as opposed to the acetic acid from vinegar which we use in quick pickles.

Relishes are seasoned sauces made from chopped fruits or veggies, and chutneys are fruit relishes with fruits and/or veggies and nuts. They are a sweet and sour blend of vinegar and spices.

The first thing we did in class was asparagus pickles. This is a fresh pack or quick pickle, because what we did was combine the asparagus with spices, water, vinegar and salt, put it into jars, and immediately process it in a boiling water bath canner.

Asparagus ready to be pickled.

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Mmmm. Now we wait a few weeks for them to absorb that vinegary deliciousness.

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We then split into four groups and each made a different pickled product. One group was in charge of this mango chutney.

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Chutneys are a little weird to me. I haven’t actually tried it yet, but I will let you know if I find an amazing use for my jar of this.

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All prepared and in the jars.

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Another group made this corn relish.

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I was on team beet pickle. If you know me you know I love me some beets.


It looks like a bit of a murder scene when you cut up beets. Especially precooked ones.

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I would definitely recommend gloves, unless you love having red hands. It doesn’t really bother me, but it does stain quite nicely. Helps you understand the term “beet red” 😉


I would not recommend doing this in half pints. This was simply so that the whole class got a jar to take home. Go pints or even quarts for sure. If you are looking for a recipe, I actually posted one a little while ago here.

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And finally, we pickled some onions.

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They made for a pretty attractive pickle.

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Pretty good haul! I never really used to be a big fan of pickles, but they sure are growing on me.

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OK now that you’ve enjoyed the picture show, we’ll finish with some pickling rules:
– Always use at least a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar making quick pickles. It’s not safe to use less vinegar or more water. If it’s too tart for your taste, add a teeny bit of sugar
– Use vinegar with 5% acidity, there are some tricky brands out there that are only 4%
– When making fermented pickles, don’t reduce the salt. And if you want to can it, don’t do so until they have a sour flavour.
– Always use pickling/canning salt rather than regular table salt
– You can swap the type of vinegar, as long as it is 5% acidity. Some people prefer the milder flavour of cider vinegar, go for it!
– The spices can be changed to taste. Adding more garlic or dill to your pickles is a-ok. This is one thing that is not a safety issue.

The last thing we did on pickling day was make flavoured vinegar. And this is a nice way to end, because as Janice said – there are no rules. When you make flavoured vinegar, it’s basically safe to chuck in whatever you like. Buy some cheap white wine vinegar in bulk and flavour it yourself by filling a jar with whatever spices you like and cover with vinegar. We tried some delicious berry ones as well, and I am super excited to make some this summer for some delicious vinaigrette. These are fine stored at room temperature. Once they have steeped to your satisfaction, they can also be processed in a boiling water bath canner if you really want to.

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My white wine vinegar, full of herbs, and a chive flower.

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