Log Cabin Chronicles

greg duncan

© 1998 John Mahoney

The Gallivanting Gourmand



Have you ever had less than perfect results after slaving away all day making pickles? What went wrong and why?

The results of a poorly made batch usually aren't apparent until a couple of weeks later when you pop a lid in anticipation of a crunchy, dilly pickle and you get a soft, slippery one instead. Bummer! Chances are it was just one little mistake that cost you.

Lots of things can go wrong so I thought I'd cull some possible causes so avoid failure. After all, it is pickling season and regardless of what kind of pickle you make, you want them to be so good that your friends and family clamor for another jar.

If your pickles are soft or slippery, chances are it could have been caused by a too-weak brine or vinegar solution. Maybe you stored them in too warm a place. Maybe the canning jars were not sealed properly. Did you cover the pickles completely with brine? If your pickles were shriveled, then chances are your brine or vinegar was too strong or your cucumbers were picked several days before pickling.

Sometimes, pickles will turn dark. The usual cause of this is hard water. Copper, brass, galvanized metal, or iron pans and utensils can cause this as well. Using ground spices will also darken cukes.

Are your pickles hollow? They were either over-mature, or sunburned, or even grown in unsuitable conditions in soil that lacked nitrogen.

How about that white sediment that sometimes occurs? Using regular table salt that contains iodine instead of pickling salt will cause this or they were stored in either a too warm or too cold place.

Lids didn't seal? Proper head space was not maintained when you sealed them. Too full or not enough brine was the problem. Using the wrong jars or lids will cause this so do yourself a favor and buy new jars and lids. Always wipe the lid and rim of the jar to remove any food particles before sealing.

Has the garlic clove that you added ever turned blue? This is caused by hard water and doesn't affect crunch or flavor, so don't worry. I once threw out a whole batch because I read somewhere that nature has a way of telling us what not to eat by using color as in indicator. Blue is not a safe color especially when it comes to mushrooms that grow in the wild. Blue garlic in pickles, however, is A-OK.

A big warning sign that something is wrong with your pickles is if a jar spurts liquid and foams upon opening. Do not attempt to eat them or you will be visiting a doctor.

How to achieve success? Always use pure course salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt. Iodized will do but will darken your pickles. Use a high-quality vinegar of at least 4 to 6 percent acidity. Cider vinegar will give pickles a mellow, fruity taste. Distilled vinegar gives a sharper light-colored pickle. Never use less than the recipe calls for, as bacteria could invade.

If you want sweet pickles use white sugar or honey. Brown sugar will darken your product. Always use fresh spices and if you don't want them floating around in the jar, put them in a little cheesecloth bag and remove them before packing. I prefer the visual appeal of whole spices and I suspect one achieves a stronger flavor by packing the spices right into the jar.

Here is a recipe that will allow you to make a small batch of dills at first so you can practice. If you are successful, then simply multiply the ingredients by eight to give to pickle lovers.

Dill Pickles by the Quart

1 quart (1-1/2 pounds) pickling cucumbers
1 clove garlic
1 red hot pepper, diced or 1/2 tsp. crushed dried red peppers
1 tbs. pickling salt
2 tbs. white vinegar
2 or more fresh dill heads or 1 tbs. dill seed
Boiling water.

Wash cucumbers and pack into a hot sterilized quart jar. Add the garlic, pepper, salt, vinegar and dill. Cover with boiling water and seal jar. Store in the refrigerator. Pickles will be perfect in six weeks if you can wait that long. Anytime after two weeks will do but, longer is better.

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Copyright © 1998 Greg Duncan/Log Cabin Chronicles/9.98