|Neither Lime nor Alum Needed for Crisp Pickling|
Lime and Alum
Old pickle recipes may include lime or alum as an ingredient for the purpose of making pickles crisp. The addition of these ingredients is no longer recommended. If good quality cucumbers and up-to-date recipes are followed, lime or alum is not needed. Soaking cucumbers in ice water for four to five hours prior to pickling is a safer method for making crisp pickles. If you choose to use firming agents, alum may be safely used to firm fermented cucumbers, but does not work with quick process pickles.
There are safety issues in using lime. Use only research tested recipes calling for lime. If you choose to use lime, purchase food-grade pickling lime — do not use agricultural or burnt lime. Excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed to make safe pickles. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse and then re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for one hour. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps twice more.
Several years ago, calcium chloride was marketed as Pickle Crisp™ for making pickles crispy. Its manufacture was discontinued for a few years, but I have recently seen a similar product on the Internet, but not yet available locally in stores. Keep your eyes open for it. The new version is granular instead of powder.
In pickle products, always use canning salt or kosher pure salt with no iodine and anti-caking ingredients added. If you use table salt, your pickled products will turn out cloudy.
Cucumber Pickles Reduced-Sodium Sliced Sweet Pickles
This is one of my favorite pickles; it is sweet and keeps well. Note the separate brining solution discarded before slices are put into jars.
4 pounds (3 to 4-inch) pickling cucumbers*
Yield: About 4 to 5 pints
Procedure: Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/l6 inch off blossom-end and discard. Cut cucumbers into ¼-inch slices. Combine all ingredients for canning syrup in a saucepan and bring to boil. Keep syrup hot until used. In a large kettle, mix the ingredients for the brining solution. Add the cut cucumbers, cover and simmer until the cucumbers change color from bright to dull green (about 5 to 7 minutes). Drain the cucumber slices. Pack cucumbers in jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Cover with hot canning syrup leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process pints for 10 minutes.
Source: USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning
*This may be more cucumbers than needed for the amount of syrup given.
Re-using Pickling Solution
What should you do if you have leftover pickling solution? If the pickling solution is fresh and has not been used to make pickles, cover it and store it in the refrigerator for later use. If the pickling solution has been in contact with the vegetable or fruit being pickled, don’t use it for canning pickles because the liquid from the food will dilute the concentration of the vinegar and it may not be adequate to control spoilage organisms. It can be stored in the refrigerator and reused in one to two days for barbeque sauce, coleslaw dressing or a marinade. If mold growth occurs, throw it out.
Convenient Pickle Mixes
There are a number of pickle mixes where you only need to add the cucumbers and vinegar and maybe sugar. We tried a bread and butter pickle mix and were surprised by how good the pickles were. Lancaster County folks would probably have called them sweet pickle slices because they were so much thicker and sweeter than traditional bread and butter pickles. When using a pickle mix, follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly for food safety
Spicy Melon (Cantaloupe) Pickles
2 sticks cinnamon, broken into pieces
Although they are a little tricky to make, melon pickles are delicious if the melon is the right degree of ripeness and the melon is allowed to firm up without being overcooked. Choose a melon that is just ripe but still very firm.
Tie cinnamon, cloves and allspice in a square of cheesecloth or a clean coffee filter to create a spice bag. Combine vinegar, water and spice bag in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add melon, let stand 1½ to 2 hours.
Add sugar to melon mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer* 45 minutes or until cantaloupe becomes slightly transparent. Discard spice bag.
Pack hot melon into hot jars, leaving a generous ¼-inch headspace. Ladle hot pickling liquid over melon, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes before removing jars. Makes about 7 half-pint jars.
*Simmer is just barely boiling. If you have a thermometer, check the liquid temperature for about 185°F.
Recipe adapted from Ball Blue Book.
Acids in Canning: White or Cider Vinegar
The most common types of vinegar used in pickling are cider and white vinegars. Distilled white vinegar is a clear, colorless liquid derived from grain alcohol with a sharp, pungent flavor. It does not compete with the distinctive flavors of herbs and spices in a brine. Because it is clear, it does not change the color of light-colored fruits and vegetables.
Cider vinegar is derived from apples and is light golden in color with a tart fruit flavor. It has a milder flavor than distilled white vinegar. Because it has color, it may darken light-colored fruits and vegetables. Regardless of the type of vinegar, choose one of 5% acidity — sometimes it is labeled as 50 grain.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.