Canning fermented, pickled foods

Varieties of pickled and fermented foods are classified by ingredients and preparation. Regular dill pickles and sauerkraut are fermented and cured for about three weeks. Refrigerator dills are fermented for about one week.

During curing, colors and flavors change and acidity increases. Fresh-pack or quick-process pickles are not fermented; some are brined overnight, then drained and covered with vinegar and seasonings. Fruit pickles usually are prepared by heating fruit in seasoned syrup acidified with either lemon juice or vinegar. Relishes are made from chopped produce cooked with seasonings and vinegar.

Be sure to remove and discard a 1/16-inch slice from the blossom end of fresh cucumbers. Caution: The level of acidity in a pickled product is as important to its safety as it is to taste.

Do not alter vinegar, food or water proportions or use a vinegar with unknown acidity.

Use only recipes with tested proportions of ingredients.

There must be a minimum, uniform level of acid to prevent bacteria.

Ingredients

Select fresh, firm fruits or vegetables free of spoilage.

Measure or weigh amounts carefully, because the proportion of fresh food to other ingredients will affect flavor.

Use canning or pickling salt. No caking material added to other salts may make the brine cloudy. Since flake salt varies in density, it is not recommended. White granulated and brown sugars are most often used. Corn syrup and honey, unless called for in reliable recipes, may produce undesirable flavors.

White distilled and cider vinegars of five percent acidity (50 grain) are recommended.

Reduced salt

Recipes for pickles with reduced sodium content are provided in Guide 6 of the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.

In the making of fresh-pack pickles, cucumbers are acidified quickly with vinegar. Use only tested recipes formulated to produce the proper acidity.

While these pickles may be prepared safely with reduced or no salt, their quality may be noticeably lower. Both texture and flavor may be slightly, but noticeably, different than expected. You may wish to make small quantities first to determine if you like them.

However, the salt used in making fermented sauerkraut and brined pickles not only provides characteristic flavor, but also is vital to safety and texture. In fermented foods, salt favors the growth of desirable bacteria while inhibiting the growth of others. Caution: Do not attempt to make sauerkraut or fermented pickles by cutting back on the salt required.

Firming agents

Alum may be safely used to firm fermented pickles. However, it is unnecessary and is not included in the recipes in this publication. Alum does not improve the firmness of quick-process pickles.

The calcium in lime definitely improves pickle firmness. Food-grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. Excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed to make safe pickles. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse, and then resoak the cucumbers in fresh water for one hour. Repea rinsing and soaking steps two more times.

Another way is to soak cucumbers in ice water for three to four hours in the refrigerator before adding other ingredients. To further improve pickle firmness, process cucumbers for 30 minutes in 180–degree water.

This process also prevents spoilage, but the water temperature should not fall below 180 degrees. Use a candy or jelly thermometer to check water temperature.

Preventing spoilage

Pickle products are subject to spoilage from microorganisms, particularly yeasts and molds, as well as enzymes that may affect flavor, color and texture.

Processing the pickles in a boiling-water canner will prevent both problems. Standard canning jars and self-sealing lids are recommended. Processing times and procedures will vary according to food acidity and size of the pieces.