Dill pickles, crisp and quick
The correct combination of acid, spices, and sugar with cucumbers creates an acidic food product known as pickles. Pickles are relatively easy to preserve. However, steps must be followed to ensure that you have a safe and crisp dill pickle.
- Do not change vinegar, cucumber, or water proportions.
- Never use a vinegar with unknown acidity. Check the vinegar label and look for vinegar that contains 4-6% acetic acid or 40-60 grain acetic acid.
- Do not dilute vinegar unless the recipe specifies. The vinegar prevents botulism. Older recipes were based on a pickling vinegar of 10% strength. Using today's 5% vinegar in an old recipe may not produce a pickle as crisp as your grandmother's.
- Cider vinegar may be substituted for white vinegar of the same acidity, but it may discolor certain vegetables.
Use only unwaxed, pickling cucumbers. "Slicing" cucumbers will give you a soft dill pickle.
- Pickle the cucumbers within 24 hours after picking.
- Use cucumbers 1 1/2 inches in length for gherkins; 4 inches for dills.
- Wash cucumbers thoroughly, especially around the stem area, to remove soil that may contain bacteria.
- Remove the blossom end to prevent pickle softening.
- Do not use cucumbers that have any mold on them.
Use canning salt without iodine or anti-caking agents. They may cause darkening and cloudiness in pickles.
Extremely hard water can cause discoloration of pickles, especially if it has a high iron content. Soften water by boiling it for 15 minutes, skimming off the scum, and letting the water rest for 24 hours. When the sediment has settled to the bottom, pour off the water from the top and use the softened water for pickling.
Frozen dill may be used if stored in airtight containers, but flavor loss or change may occur.
Alum does not improve the firmness of fresh-pack pickles. The calcium in lime improves pickle firmness, but food-grade lime must be used when making a limewater solution for soaking fresh cucumbers. This is done 12-24 hours before pickling. But, excess lime neutralizes or removes acidity and so must be completely washed out to make safe pickles. To do this, drain the limewater solution, rinse and then re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for 1 hour. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps two more times. The lime treatment is recommended only for specific USDA tested recipes.
Use clean, fresh, insect-free dill. Avoid over-mature, dry, brown dill. Frozen dill may be used if stored in airtight containers, but flavor loss or change may occur. Yeast and molds are common spoilage microorganisms of pickles. These and most acid-tolerant bacteria are destroyed by proper water bath processing. Use only recommended methods of water bath processing.
Most importantly, use recipes from a reputable source. Reputable sources include recipes recommended by the USDA, the Extension service or home canning equipment manufacturers.
For more information, call AnswerLine at 800-854-1678 or online at National Center for Home Food Preservation.