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Pickling 101

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Pickling 101

What is pickling exactly? Pickling is when a vegetable is soaked in salt brine, allowing the growth of bacteria that eat the vegetable’s sugars and produce tart-tasting lactic acid.

There are two basic categories of pickles. The first type includes pickles preserved in vinegar, a strong acid in which few bacteria can survive. Most of the bottled kosher cucumber pickles available in the supermarket are preserved in vinegar.

The other category includes pickles soaked in a salt brine to encourages fermentation—the growth of “good” bacteria that make a food less vulnerable to “bad” spoilage-causing bacteria. Common examples of fermented pickles include kimchee and many cucumber dill pickles.



At a certain salt concentration, lactic acid bacteria grow more quickly than other microbes, and have a competitive advantage. Below this “right” concentration, bad bacteria may survive and spread more easily, possibly out-competing lactic acid bacteria and spoiling your pickles.


Too much salt is also a problem: Lactic acid bacteria cannot thrive, leaving your vegetables unpickled. What’s more, salt-tolerant yeasts can spread more quickly. By consuming lactic acid, yeasts make the pickles less acidic—and more hospitable to spoilage microbes.



During fermentation, it’s important to keep your crock covered to seal out the air. That’s because oxygen encourages the spread of spoilage microbes. Any exposed pickle or brine becomes a breeding ground for the bad microbes, which can spread to spoil the entire batch.



A pickle-maker can also control the microbial garden in a pickle crock by adjusting the temperature. The ideal temperature range for lactic acid bacteria—and successful fermentation—is 70° F–75° F. If it’s too chilly or too toasty in the room, other microbes may gain a competitive advantage over lactic acid bacteria.

Additionally, temperature influences the speed of fermentation: The lower the temperature, the slower the pickles will ferment. By slowing fermentation, you can gain more control over the process.



Fresh-pack (or quick process) pickles are cured for several hours in a vinegar solution or are immediately combined with hot vinegar, spices, and seasonings. Examples include dills, bread-and-butter pickles and pickled beets.

Fermented pickles are vegetables soaked in a brine solution for 4 to 6 weeks. During this time, lactic acid bacteria, naturally present on the surface of vegetables, grows. Other microbes are inhibited by salt. The color of the vegetables changes from bright green to olive/yellow-green, and the white interior becomes translucent. Examples include dill pickles and sauerkraut.

Refrigerated dills are cucumbers marinated for 1 day to 1 week in a salt and spice brine (in the fridge) and then stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. No canning is required.

Fruit pickles are whole or sliced fruit simmered in spicy, sweet-sour syrup. Examples include spiced peaches and crabapples.

Relishes are made from chopped fruits or vegetables that are cooked to a desired consistency in a spicy vinegar solution. Examples include corn relish and horseradish.



Cucumbers:  fresh, crisp – not wilted, soft or overripe.

Quick Process Pickling mix:  It usually goes for about $2.00 to $4.00 per packet. A packet will make about a dozen pint jars. You can also make your own pickling mix.

Clear vinegar: 4 cups of 5% vinegar, apple cider vinegar works well.


EQUIPMENT (for most pickling)

1 large pot; Teflon lined, glass or ceramic. Be sure to use a NON-metal pot – or a coated metal (Teflon, Silverstone, enamel, etc.) without breaks in the coating. The metal reacts with the vinegar and makes the pickle solution turn cloudy.

1 Canner (a huge pot to sanitize the jars after filling). There are many sizes and types of canners for all types of stoves and needs.

Pint canning jars: Be sure to get wide mouth jars to fit the pickles in.  Pint size works best.

Large spoons and ladles

Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars)

Lids: Thin, flat, round metal lids with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the jar.  They may only be used once.

Rings: Metal bands that secure the lids to the jars.  They may be reused many times.

Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water where you sanitize them.

Jar funnel

Pickling Equipment notes:

The basic equipment used for pickling is similar to other types of canning. However, there are some differences:

1. Utensils made of zinc, iron, brass, copper, or galvanized metal should not be used. The metal may react with acids or salts and cause undesirable color and taste changes in the pickles or make pickles unfit to eat. Likewise, enamelware with cracks or chips should not be used.

2. Almost any large container made of stainless steel, glassware, or un-chipped enamelware can be used.

(This information was taken from:




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