November 11, 2013

ISO a Crisper Home Canned Pickle

ISO = in search of

In my all years of canning, something that has remained elusive is a crisp home canned pickle. My pickles have been good flavored (depending on the recipe), but kinda limp. Very disappointing compared to crisp, store bought pickles.

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!


Surviving the Meltdown said...

I read the technique but where's the actual recipe? Would love to have it.
The Old Fart

Leigh said...

Hi Gary,

Thank you for the blog visit! I confess I didn't include the recipe out of respect for the author's copyright. That said, it calls for 2 - 6 inch long cukes, fresh dill heads (or 1 tbsp dried seed), onion slices, and peeled garlic cloves. The proportions for the brine are 1 qt vinegar, 3 qt water, and 1 C canning salt. As I mentioned, everything is hot and boiling. Processing time is 10 minutes for quarts. I refrigerate the leftover brine and add it to the next batch. :)

Farmer Barb said...

Hi Leigh! I was reading it with a note of sadness, as NO ONE in my family will eat pickles but me. However, I HAVE been doing the boiling solution over raw vegetables ALWAYS. I make a wicked spicy raw pack pickled green bean : 1 tsp salt, one garlic clove, 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, as many green beans as you can cram into the jar, fill with 1/2 and 1/2 boiling vinegar and water solution and process. I would have to look up the minutes in the book, but search out raw pack if you need it quicker. The beans are spicy and piquant and stand up in your fingers. CRISP! My grandmother would be proud.

Frank and Fern said...

Hi Leigh,

I have yet to make a pickle that is tasty and crunchy! I'm glad you shared this information and the title for another book. I will probably need to add it to my library.

The new thing I experimented with this summer was grape leaves. Some folks had shared a pickle recipe with me that contained alum. After I researched alum, I knew I would not be adding it to any of my food. So I opted to try grape leaves. The pickles were crunchy, but I didn't like the recipe! So, on to the next recipe next summer.

Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

Like Frank and Fern, I have also used grape leaves, but they were used in a FERMENTED pickle recipe, no water bath canning. But I purchased some Cherry Leaf pickles at a farmers market and they were canned and crunchy.

But I like your thought about the PROCESS being the key to crunchiness! I'll have to try it next year. I would like to add your post to my Pinterest page on food preservation so I don't forget this. Hope you don't mind? Thanks for the tip.

Meredith said...

I've read that the "Low-Temperature
Pasteurization Treatment" keeps pickles crisp. I haven't tried it yet - so far I just use whole, SMALL pickles and that keeps them crisp since their structural integrity stays intact. The Penn State Extension has instructions for the "Low-Temperature
Pasteurization Treatment" online at

Ed said...

I love to read posts like that where people experiment and keep notes enough to explain what they tried to others. With that said, I too have always got my pickling brine boiling before pouring over the vegetables and with the exception of the first canner load, the subsequent loads are already almost boiling water when I put the jars in. I did it that way because that was the way my mom did it. Now I know the science behind it. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I have only successfully grown cucumbers once in the last several years as the squirrels demolish them just prior to picking. Since moving to the ranch I have restructure by garden beds and fencing so I have high hopes I will have success next time I plant. I am going to keep your advice in mind and definitely check back to see what others have had success with getting "crisp" thanks Leigh!

Renee Nefe said...

My mom always failed at making crisp pickles too. I believe that the secret to crispness is a well guarded secret.
Usually I just make refrigerator pickles. They keep really well, but alas I can't can them.

Leigh said...

Barb, I confess it's only been recently that I've appreciated pickles! I will definitely have to try your recipe next year, when the green beans are abundant!

Fern and Mrs. T, your mention of grape leaves rings a memory bell. I seem to remember reading that years ago and trying. But I know I didn't have grape vines and so probably used Muscadine leaves. I don't remember success, so it must mean table grapes. It would be interesting to experiment!

Mrs T, lacto-fermenting does help foods stay crisp longer, although eventually I notice the foods tend to get softer.

Thank you for asking about Pinterest. I don't mind at all. :)

Meredith, that's something I've not heard of. Thank you for the link. I will definitely take a look.

Ed, I take it both you and your mom always produced crisp pickles!

Jen, that would be frustrating. About the squirrels I mean. I hope you have great success next summer!

Anonymous said...

I never made crisp ones, i always assumed that store bought pickles has chemicals so i accepted my unsuccessful soft cucumber pickles:) i'll try this recipe next week thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

I am new to canning and made my first pickles this year. I tried refrigerator and water bath canned pickles. We like the bread and butter variety. I know it is probably not cool but all I did was buy the Ball bread and butter pre-mix and followed the directions. The cucumbers were fresh picked and overnighted in the refrigerator and then processed the next day. They are crispy and everyone loves them. First batch was refrigerator and second was water bath canned. My brother steals a jar everytime he comes over.

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Anonymous said...

I will have to ask my aunt or the kids to let me know if my pickles are crisp or not next time they open a jar. I don't eat them lol. Great tip you shared, and I will be adding that cook book to my wish list.

Leigh said...

Gasilhane, I'd love to know how it goes!

3c82.....8a73, hello and thank you for the comment! Congratulations on your first batch of pickles and that they turned out so well. I've never tried the Ball pickle mix, but I do use Mrs Wages on occasion. It all depends what you want to do. :) I'm delighted to hear your pickles were crisp. I'll have to check out the Ball mix sometime.

Stephanie let me know! I hope your pickles are delightful. I actually never started liking pickles until I started lacto-fermenting. I still do those, but for overwintering I can them.

A lot depends on the sourness. Vinegar is sometimes too sharp, but lacto-fermented is wonderfully sour. That's the way I like it.

Angie said...

My mother's crock pickles are crunchy and use grape leaves in the recipe. They may get soft after a while but we've usually eaten them all before that can happen.

Michelle said...

Last year I made dill pickles for the first time, using an old recipe from a friend's mother. They are lacto-fermented on the counter; my friend said "they may or may not turn out, but when they do, they're good." Well, mine turned out and I'm pickled pink to not have to buy dill pickles again!

Valerie H said...

Low temperature method works like a charm... 180-185 for 30 minutes... It was also recommended by America’s test kitchen