Pickling Basics

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Recently our Family and Consumer Science team at the NC Cooperative
Extension office here in Brunswick County conducted hands-on classes on
how to make-your-own dill pickles. These classes were so popular that they
filled quickly and there was a waiting list.

The instructor for these classes was Avery Ashley, the Family and Consumer
Science Extension Agent for Brunswick County. Avery has a passion for
food preservation and he enjoys sharing this with others.

Pickling is one of the oldest known methods of preserving foods.
Cucumbers are the most popular pickled product, but other vegetables and
fruits can be safely and successfully pickled at home.

There are several types of pickles that can be made by the home preserver:

Brined or fermented pickles go through a curing process in a salt and water brine for one or more weeks in a crock or large container. After the curing time these pickles are placed in jars and boiling water bath processed.

Fresh-pack or quick-process pickles are brined overnight in the refrigerator
and then placed in jars and covered with a boiling hot spiced vinegar and
then boiling water bath processed. They usually have better flavor if
allowed to set a few weeks after they are sealed in the jars before eaten.

There are also refrigerator pickles that are not processed. These pickles
must be kept at refrigerator temperatures and will keep for up to one
Avery shared some basic rules for making pickles with the class:

  • Use high quality ingredients. Unwaxed pickling cucumbers are the
    best. For best quality, pickle fruits or vegetables within 24 hours of
    harvest. Avoid over-ripe or damaged vegetables.
  • Follow tested recipes precisely. Do not alter recipes. The only
    changes that can be made to a recipe are altering the dried spices
  • Do not add additional ingredients. Adding garlic, peppers or onions
    could change the pH and could make the product unsafe.
  • Use vinegar that is 5% acetic acid. Do not dilute the vinegar unless
    the recipe specifies. Do not use homemade vinegar.
  • When cleaning and preparing cucumbers, remove all blossoms and
    cut a small slice from the blossom end of the vegetable and discard.
    The blossom ends contain enzymes that can cause softening and
    result in an unacceptable product.
  • Use canning or pickling salt. This is pure granulated salt that does not
    contain anti-caking agents or iodine. Do not alter the salt
  • Firming agents—a number of firming agents such as alum and grape
    leaves have been used in recipes over the years but are no longer
    recommended. If you use freshly picked cucumbers, follow an up-todate recipe and heat process the pickles for the correct length of
    time, pickles will turn out crisp and shouldn’t need a firming agent. If
    you feel you must use a firming agent, there is a food-grade calcium
    chloride called “pickle crisp” that can be used to create a firmer
    pickle. Follow the instruction on the label carefully. If you add too
    much you’ll get a too crunchy pickle.
  • Make appropriate adjustments if processing at higher elevations.
  • Use a tested up-to-date research-based recipe to be safe. Pickles may
    spoil if untested recipes are used. Recommended sources are from
    Cooperative Extension, USDA and the National Center for Home Food
    Preservation. A highly recommended reference is a book called “So
    Easy to Preserve” from The University of Georgia. The recipe used in
    the class was Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles from Colorado State
    University Cooperative Extension.

Avery is planning additional food preservation classes in the future. Email
him at arashley@ncsu.edu or call him at 910-253-2610 to get on the food
preservation class mailing list. Upcoming classes will also be announced on
the N.C. Cooperative Extension—Brunswick County Center Facebook page.

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at NC Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at