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How to Make Homemade Pickles

June 27th, 2009

making-homemade-pickles.jpgFor many people, the term “pickles” means pickled cucumbers, but making pickles is an ancient practice of preserving food, including a wide variety of vegetables. The pickling process uses salt and vinegar to naturally preserve vegetables, allowing us to enjoy the bright taste of summer throughout the year. Pickles can be so much more than just pickled cucumbers, but learning how to make this old time favorite is a great place to start.

There are two basic types of pickles: brined and fresh pack pickles. Basically, brined (fermented) pickles are cucumbers that are soaked in a salt solution (brine) for up to six weeks. The salt acts as a preservative by regulating bacterial growth, and it enhances flavor and crispness. Fresh pack pickles may or may not be soaked in brine for several hours first but are packed in vinegar for 4 to 6 weeks to cure and develop their delicious tart flavor. Both of these methods require fresh, high quality ingredients to produce good pickles.

Equipment requirements for pickle making are minimal. Since some metals will react with the acids and salts, it’s best to limit your bowls and utensils to stainless steel, glass, or plastic. A large, deep bowl or crock works well for pickling. A plate makes a good weight to keep the pickles under the surface of the liquid, and a large plastic spoon is good for mixing. A water bath canner and canning jars will also be needed for pickles to be stored safely.

Good pickles rely on solid science, and that requires paying attention to the details. The salt used in pickle making should be pure canning or pickling salt. Table salt may contain additives to prevent caking which will make the pickle brine cloudy. Iodized salt can darken the pickles. Use a white vinegar with a known acidity of 5% (sometimes listed on the label as 50 grain). This is important for the food to be safely preserved. Cider vinegar may also be used, but white vinegar won’t affect the color of the finished pickles. Fresh herbs should be used both for flavor and appearance.

Cucumbers should be very fresh, and washed well in cold water. Discard any that are shriveled, show any signs of spoilage, or float in cold water. Trim off 1/16 inch from the blossom end of each cucumber. The stem need not be removed.

Reliable recipes will result in pickles that are both tasty and safe to eat. The Ball Blue Book of Preserving has been the most recognized source of reliable information on preserving food for the past century. As with any method of food preservation, pickle recipes must be carefully followed to produce a quality product.

Homemade pickles can help us recall sunny summer days during those cold months of winter. Whether making simple cucumber pickles or pickling the entire harvest from your vegetable garden, those beautiful jars of summer bounty are a satisfying reward that will be enjoyed all year.

Cindy Tabacchi is an artist, writer and Culinary Scientist. Her background includes several years experience in recipe development and food industry product development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Nutrition.

How to Make Homemade Pickles — Informative Video

Here is an interesting video on making homemade dill pickles that was posted about a week ago by someone who is registered at YouTube under the username of “oldetownmusic”:

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