I've researched this from time to time and tried several recipes claiming to produce crisp pickles. In my early days of pickle making, pickling lime was said to be the key to crisp pickles. When I investigated this, I ran across a cautionary statement warning that pickling lime can be dangerous to use. All I saw was "lime" and "dangerous" and became alarmed. For years I assumed that lime was a poisonous food to eat!
Then I bought Nourishing Traditions and learned about pH and how certain foods react to it. I was shocked that lime was recommended for nixtamalization of the corn. This is the process of soaking corn in an alkali solution to increase nutrient content, digestibility, and flavor of the corn. It is a common practice for all corn products in Mexico.
When it came to my pickles, I realized the problem was not the lime itself, but the pH. To be safe, water bath canning is recommended only for acidic foods. By using lime to crispen pickles, the danger would be that the pH might not be acidic enough for water bath canning. Pressure canning them would turn them to mush! Because of that, I decided not to try lime in hopes of a crisper pickle.
A couple summers ago, I ran across a recipe touting crisp results without the use of a pH changing agent. The recipe called for soaking the cucumbers in ice water or in the refrigerator overnight. I decided to give that recipe a try. I have to say that the pickles themselves were delicious, but not very crisp.
This summer I probably would have used that same recipe but couldn't find it. I thought about my Practical Produce Cookbook and decided to look there for a recipe. I like this cookbook because it's arranged alphabetically by vegetable. Besides recipes, it includes gardening and harvesting tips which I find useful. I decided to try the "Fresh Pack Dill Pickles" on page 91, because the recipe gave ingredients in proportions. That meant I could adjust it for as many cucumbers as I had.
There are 1000s of pickle recipes out there but this was the first one I'd seen with instructions to fill the jar with boiling pickling solution and then put the jars into the canner with the water already boiling. Timing starts immediately, as soon as the jars are put into that boiling water bath. Usually I turn off the heat after I scald my jars, turn it back on with all the jars are filled, and then start timing when the water starts boiling again.
This recipe never said anything about "crisp" or "crisper" but those pickles are. Crisper I mean. They don't droop and actually have some crunch! And delicious too. It's a keeper of a pickle recipe.
I can only assume that it was the processing that made the difference. It would be interesting to try this technique with other recipes, although I like this one very well. Made with my fresh garden cucumbers, garlic, and onions, plus homegrown dill, I can't imagine changing a thing.
I'd be interested in your pickling experiences. Are you satisfied with the crispness of your home canned pickles? I'd love to hear your tips!
ISO a Crisper Home Canned Pickle © November 2013