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Patient or quick, ways to make perfect pickles.

Patient or quick, ways to make perfect pickles

"What's a perfect pickle?' "How do Imake old-fashioned fermented pickles?' "Can I make pickles quickly, without processing?' "Do I have to use all that salt?' "I've made pickles for years, but this year they spoiled. What happened?'

Prompted by these and other reader questions,we embarked on in-depth pickling experimentation; 475 pints and 22 gallons later, we share the results. They will surprise even experienced picklers and ensure success for pickling newcomers.

In addition to pickling logic and logistics,we give recipes for two basic kinds of dill pickles--quick and fermented--and for refrigerated pickles (these don't require water-bath processing). If you're watching your salt intake, you can reduce or omit salt from quick (but not from fermented) pickles, or use a salt substitute. For more on salt, answers to pickling questions, and an equipment check list, see the boxes on pages 84 and 85.

What is a pickle?

By reputation, a pickled cucumber is sourand salty, with just enough crunch. It's an unparalleled sandwich partner and a satisfying low-calorie snack.

Practically any food can be cured in acidifiedbrine--"pickled.' And because people have been pickling for centuries, there are dozens of methods for doing it. Our report is confined to two methods--quick and fermented (sometimes called kosher). Also, we're concerned here with sour pickles only--not sweet ones, such as bread-and-butters.

From a scientific standpoint, pickles aremade by increasing the acidity of cucumbers. This produces the typical sour flavor and is essential in preservation. You can increase acidity in two ways: by adding acetic acid (vinegar), which is called quick pickling, or by causing lactic acid formation, which is called fermenting.

Quick pickles taste rather sharp and vinegary.Fermented ones have a mellower, more rounded flavor.

What's involved?

Quick pickles. You start by adding seasonings,vinegar, and water to jars of cucumbers. Then, either refrigerate jars or process them in a water bath to store. Refrigeration has the advantage of speed, and pickles stored this way will keep up to six months. Refrigerated pickles are crisper than processed pickles and have more of a fresh cucumber flavor.

Water-bath processing mellows flavors,kills enzymes that would cause pickles to soften, and seals jars so you can keep them without refrigeration. Water temperature is critical: 180| is best; if much lower (under 175|), jars don't seal consistently. Higher temperatures overcook pickles and make them too soft.

Fermented pickles. This method isn'ttime-consuming in itself, but the cucumbers do need to sit 7 to 14 days at room temperature for fermentation to take place. Then they need to "cure'; this can take several weeks more.

Four stages are involved in making fermentedpickles. The first takes one to two days. You submerge cucumbers in a brine; helpful bacteria found naturally on the cucumbers begin multiplying, changing the cucumbers' color from bright green to olive.

Stage two, "bubbly fermentation,' usuallylasts three to five days. Bacteria break down sugars in the cucumbers, producing lactic acid (responsible for the good sour flavor), some acetic acid (vinegar; this gives a sharp flavor), and carbon dioxide (you'll see bubbling). It's much like what happens when you make sourdough bread or sauerkraut. Cloudiness in the brine is bacteria in suspension.

This stage of fermentation is over whenbubbling stops and the acidity increases to a pH of 4.2 to 4.6 (pH is a measurement of relative acidity, and lower numbers mean a more acidic solution). Watch for bubbles to disappear, or buy some pH paper from a scientific supply store and use it to check.

During stage three, "quiet fermentation,'more lactic acid is produced, and the pH drops to 3.3 to 3.7. This takes three to seven days. There are two ways to tell when this stage is over. You can check with pH paper. Or let the pickles progress to stage four at room temperature and produce one batch of scum yeast (it appears as an opaque film on the brine's surface), then carefully remove all the scum yeast. Chemically, scum yeast can't produce in quantity until fermentation is over. It's important not to rush stage three, because if the brine is not acidic enough and you go ahead and process pickles, any botulinum bacteria present could form toxins.

Stage four is curing. Now pickle color andtexture stabilize and flavor mellows, much as when you age a fine wine. No more fermentation is taking place; to keep scum yeasts from taking over and pickles from spoiling, you must either refrigerate or process the pickles. Curing is complete when you cut into a pickle and find it's an even, dark, translucent green to the center (step 4 on page 81).

Curing time depends on the variety andmaturity of the cucumbers you use and the temperature at which fermentation occurs. The process can overlap with fermentation and be done by the tme fermentation is complete (about 10 days). Or, the fermentation-plus-curing period can last up to seven weeks. Most of our pickles fermented in six to nine days and took another two to seven days to cure, but it's unpredictable. If you get tired of waiting, you can eat the pickles early-- they just won't have full flavor.

Some cucumbers contain more naturalpectin than others and are extra-firm; they cure more slowly. Smaller (younger) cucumbers often cure more quickly than larger ones.

Fermentation temperature is important,and 65| to 70| is ideal. Below that, fermentation will be considerably slower. Above, it will proceed too quickly, producing excessive carbon dioxide, which can break cucumber cell walls and result in hollow pickles. Softening and spoilage can also occur at higher temperatures.

To foster the growth of helpful microorganismsduring fermentation and curing, and to inhibit scum- and mold-producing organisms, you need an anaerobic (airless) environment. The bag of water you see in the pictures on page 80 accomplishes this: it holds cucumbers submerged in brine and keeps air out.

Ingredients: cucumbers and what else?

Basic pickling ingredients are cucumbers,flavorings, and water. For quick pickling, you also need vinegar. Salt may or may not be needed, depending on pickle type.

Cucumbers. Choose pickling cucumbers,the fresher the better: extra-fresh cucumbers make extra-crisp pickles. Cukes should be firm and bright green, with no soft or yellow spots, and no shriveling, which would indicate they'd been stored too long or were picked old. Older, larger (longer than 5 in.) cucumbers may have formed tunnels; if possible, cut one to check a batch before buying. (If you can, taste before buying: bitter cucumbers make bitter pickles.) Very large cukes are more likely than small ones to become hollow during or after pickling.

Cucumbers, especially young ones, arevery susceptible to shriveling. Once you pick or buy them, pickle them as soon as possible. If you can't use the cucumbers right away, cover them with damp towels and refrigerate up to two days.

Flavorings. Use fresh seed-head dill, soldin markets with pickling cucumbers.

Water. Tap water is fine, unless your waterhas an extremely high iron level, which could cause pickles to darken. In that case, use bottled distilled water.

Vinegar. Much of a pickle's flavor comesfrom vinegar and/or lactic acid. The acidity also helps prevent the growth of spoilage organisms.

Quick pickles gain acidity from commercialvinegar, which is 4 to 6 percent acid. Do not use homemade vinegars, which can vary widely in acidity. Our recipes call for distilled white vinegar. You can use cider vinegar if you like its flavor, but pickles will be somewhat darker in color.

Fermented pickles create their own acidityin the form of lactic acid and vinegar, so you needn't add commercial vinegar.

Salt. A certain level of saltiness is associatedwith a good pickle. In quick pickling, salt's only function is flavor; if you're watching your salt intake, you can omit it or use a salt substitute (but note: some testers felt pickles made with salt substitute had a bitter aftertaste). By omitting salt, you may taste more of the cucumber's natural sweetness.

In fermented pickling, salt inhibits thegrowth of spoilage organisms, while allowing good microbes to multiply. Do not make fermented pickles without salt.

Old-fashioned Fermented Dill Pickles

Making fermented pickles is not an exactscience, especially in terms of timing. It's a little tricky to know when the second stage of fermentation is complete (see fermented pickles, page 81). Consider buying a box of pH paper ($4 to $6.50) from a scientific supply store. With it, you'll be sure fermentation is complete when the paper reads pH 3.7 or less. Buy paper with a scale of about pH 3.0 to 5.5.

Curing--the final stage of pickling--may be complete by the time fermentation is over, or it may take several weeks more (see page 82). Be patient; the results are worth the wait.

About 3 1/2 pounds small (3- to 4-in.)pickling cucumbers, about 30


4 large fresh dill seed heads (eachabout 5-in. diameter)

4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut inhalf

12 black peppercorns

1 dry bay leaf

1 teaspoon whole allspice

4 small dried hot red chilies, optional

1/4 cup table salt

Wash cucumbers in cool water (do notscrub); pick off and discard any blossoms. Drain cucumbers and put into a clean 1-gallon glass or food-grade plastic jar with dill, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, allspice, and chilies.

In a container (at least 2 1/2 qt.), stir saltwith 2 quarts water until salt dissolves.

Pour over cucumbers in jar.

Fill a pint-size plastic bag 1/2 full withwater; close with a wire twist. Put bag into a second plastic bag; close with another wire twist. Set bag over cucumbers to hold them under brine. (Brine level should be near top of jar; if it's low, fill plastic bag 3/4 full of water.) Cover jar with a lid or plastic wrap and a rubber band. Set in a cool (60| to 70|), dry place (not in the dark, and not on a wood surface, which could be ruined if brine spills).

Together, the two fermentation stages(see discussion, page 82) can take 7 to 14 days. During the first stage, remove lid and bag of water once a day and examine top of brine; if you see any white scum on the surface, skim it off with a spoon and discard. Wipe off any scum inside jar. Rinse any scum off the plastic bag and return bag to jar; cover. (Scum is unlikely to form during this stage, but check anyway.)

The brine will bubble and may foamslightly; it will also turn cloudy. With bubbling, a little brine may spill out of jar; this is normal.

The first stage of fermentation is completewhen spontaneous bubbling (don't shake jar when you check) subsides. Bubbles may be small, so look carefully.

During the second stage of fermentation(3 to 7 days), you'll see no bubbling. But continue to check brine, jar, and bag for scum. Fermentation is over when pH paper dipped in brine reads lower than 3.7. If you don't have pH paper, let the pickles stand at room temperature and produce one batch of scum yeast to indicate the end of fermentation; then carefully remove all the scum yeast.

At this point, you must either refrigeratethe jar or process pickles as directed at right to keep the pickles from spoiling.

Than the pickles must cure to developtheir full flavor (see page 82). They may be cured by the time fermentation is over or take up to 5 1/2 weeks; usually, curing takes about 1 week.

To determine whether curing is complete,cut into a pickle. It should be an even, translucent dark green throughout (see step 4, page 81). If pickles are not yet cured to the center, refrigerate opened jar. About once a week, cut into a pickle to check curing. (You can eat cucumbers that aren't completely cured: they just won't have full flavor.)

In the refrigerator, pickles keep up to 1year if immersed in brine with water bag. Check jar about once a month; remove any scum on brine or bag.

To prepare for water-bath processing, setan 18- to 22-quart kettle filled about 2/3 full of water on high heat; cover and bring to simmering. Into kettle, put a canning or other rack that fits in pan. Also have a 2- to 3-quart pan of water at about 180| to replenish kettle water as needed.

While water heats, wash, rinse, and drain3 wide-mouth quart-size canning jars, free of nick or cracks. Heat 3 rings and new lids as manufacturer directs.

Pack pickles into jars with dill and spices.(Discard water bag.) Pour brine over pickles, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Discard any extra brine; also trim any pickles that stick up into the top 1/2 inch of jar. Run a plastic or wooden knife around inside of jars to release trapped air. Wipe rims clean. Set hot lids and bands on jars and screw on tightly, but don't force.

To process pickles, lower jars onto rack inkettle of water. If needed, add more hot water to cover jars by 1 inch. Bring water to 180|, then process, uncovered, at 180| for 20 minutes. Lift out jars with a jar lifter (do not tip jars or you may break a partially formed seal); set on a towel to cool completely.

Press centers of lids; if they stay down,jars are sealed. Remove bands from sealed jars; wipe jars clean to remove any brine. Eat, or store in a cool, dark place up to 2 years. Store unsealed jars and opened pickles, chilled, up to 6 months. Makes 3 quarts.--Selma Bloch, Seattle.

Quick Dill Pickle Spears

Amount of cucumbers varies, dependingon size and how you pack them into jars.


7 small cloves garlic, peeled and cutin half

2 or 3 fresh dill seed heads (eachabout 4-in. diameter)

3 1/2 teaspoons mustard seed

28 whole allspice

3 1/4 to 3 3/4 pounds small (3- to 4-in.)pickling cucumbers, 25 to 35

1 quart distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons table salt

Set an 18- to 22-quart kettle filled about2/3 full of water on high heat, covered, and bring the water to simmering. Into kettle, put a canning or other rack that fits the pan. Also have a 2- to 3-quart pan of water at about 180| to replenish the kettle water as needed.

While water heats, wash, rinse, and drain7 wide-mouth pint-size canning jars, free of nicks or cracks. Heat 7 jar rings and new lids as manufacturer directs.

In each jar, put 2 garlic pieces, 1/4 to 1/3 of adill head (6 to 10 flowerets), 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed, and 4 whole allspice.

Wash cucumbers in cool water; pick offand discard any blossoms. Drain cucumbers; quarter lengthwise. Vertically pack spears compactly (don't force) into jars. Leave top 1/2 inch of jars clear; if spears stick up into this area, cut them off.

In a container (at least 2 1/2 qt.), combinevinegar, 1 quart water, and salt; stir to dissolve salt. Pour over cucumbers in jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Run a plastic or wooden knife around inside of jars to release trapped air. Wipe rims clean. Set hot lids and bands on jars and screw on tightly, but don't force. Process as directed in preceding recipe (page 84). Makes 7 pints.--Beverly Hartman, Fresno, Calif.

Low-salt or Salt-substitute Quick Dill Pickles

Follow preceding directions for quick dillpickle spears, but use only 1 tablespoon table salt; or use 1 to 2 tablespoons salt substitute (potassium chloride).

No-salt Quick Dill Pickles

Follow preceding directions for quick dillpickle spears, but omit salt.

Refrigerator Quick Dill Pickles

Follow preceding directions for quick dillpickle spears, using 1 to 2 tablespoons salt. Use pint-size jars or plastic containers. Pack spears horizontally if using plastic containers. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 6 months. Do not process in water bath.

Whole Quick Dill Pickles

Follow directions for quick dill picklespears, low- or no-salt quick dill pickles, or refrigerator quick dill pickles, but use 3 or 4 wide-mouth quart-size canning jars, free of nicks or cracks. In each jar, put 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 of a dill head (12 to 16 flowerets), 1 teaspoon mustard seed, and 7 to 9 whole allspice.

Pack whole cucumbers into jars. Pour inbrine, leaving 1/2 inch head space, and process in water bath as directed for 20 minutes. (Do not process refrigerator pickles.) Makes 3 or 4 quarts.

Photo: Fresh ingredients--pickling cucumbersand seed-head dill--are in season during July, August, and early September

Photo: Step by step, these are fermented pickles

1. For fermented pickles, pourbrine over cucumbers, dill, garlic, and spices

2. Push water bag into jar so brinecovers cukes, creates airless environment for fermentation

3. Once a day during fermentation (7 to14 days), check brine top and inside of jar for scum; remove any you see

4. Cukes on left just went into brine, are whiteinside. Olive ones in middle have fermented; dark green edges mean start of curing. Cured pickles at right are green throughout

Photo: Snacker's specialis pickle from a jar of quick dills

Photo: Step by step, these are quick pickles

1. For quick pickles, first pack cucumber spears vartically inpint canning jars with spices, then add vinegar brine

2. Run a plastic knife between cucumbers and jar torelease air bubbles. Put on lids and bands; tighten

3. Lower into 175| to 180| water;cook 20 minutes. Lift out; cool
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1987
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