"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me?" ~ Ayn Rand, "The Fountainhead"

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Food Preservation, Part 5, Pickles and Fermenting

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the May, 2012 issue of the Owl Creek Gazette, placed here with their permission.  For more great articles you can read the latest and all archived monthly editions of the Owl Creek Gazette online!

Food Preservation for Self-Reliance - Pickles/Fermenting 
By Roxanne Bare, Owner of Terra Mater
 After a couple weeks of near -summer weather and then a cooling down to more normal weather, my early spring garden is doing well.  An abundance of asparagus, lettuce, radishes and spinach is to be had right now.  Various herbs are growing like weeds (some of them are weeds...more about that another day) and soon warm weather crops will be blooming and producing.

So far in this five part series, we have covered the ‘whys ‘and ‘hows’ of various food preservation methods.  This part we will look at another all-time favorite method of preserving food: Pickling and fermenting. Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word pickling, is the thought of crispy dill pickles or yummy sweet relish for your grilled hot dogs there is so much more that can be preserved in this way though.

There are four general classes of pickled products: 1) Brined or fermented pickles, 2) fresh pack or quick process pickles, 3) fruit pickles, and 4) relishes.

Brined or fermented pickles go through a curing process in a salt and water solution (brine) for one or more weeks. Curing changes the color, flavor, and texture of the product. If the product is fermented, lactic acid is produced that helps preserve the product. If the product is not fermented, acid in the form of vinegar is added later to preserve the food. Sauerkraut falls into this category. It is a fermented product made by brining cabbage but acid is not added to it.

Quick process pickles are covered with boiling hot vinegar, spices and seasonings. Sometimes they may be brined for some hours and then drained, before being covered with the pickling solution. They are easy to prepare and often have a tart flavor. Quick process pickles will have a better flavor if allowed to stand for several weeks after they are sealed in jars. 

Fruit pickles are prepared from whole or sliced fruits and simmered in a syrup made with vinegar or lemon juice. Relishes are chopped fruits and vegetables cooked in a spicy vinegar solution. 

The level of acidity in pickled products is as important for food safety as it is for texture and flavor.  Therefore, you want to make sure to follow recipes accurately so you do not upset the proper balance.  After making the recipe, pickled products are normally canned in a hot water bath canner. Pressure canning is not necessary for pickles. Some recipes call for you to just store the product in the refrigerator.These are not meant for long-term storage. 

Select tender vegetables and firm fruit when choosing produce for pickling. If making cucumber pickles, it is best to use varieties that are meant for pickling rather than slicing cucumbers. For the best quality of product, begin the recipe within 24 hours of picking the produce from the garden .Wash produce well and remove a thin slice off the blossom end of vegetables. There is an enzyme in the blossom end that will cause a soft product. 

Common ingredients in pickling recipes are salt, vinegar, sugar, spices, water and some older recipes may call for firming agents like lime or alum. Use salt especially processed for canning or pickling. Regular table salt has anti-caking additives or iodine added that affect the recipe unfavorably. Vinegar can be white or cider vinegar. Just make sure the label says that it is 5-percent acidity. If you use an older recipe that calls for alum or lime, be sure to follow the directions carefully, especially with lime. The lime must be food-grade and must be completely rinsed out of the pickles after the allotted sitting time.There are also some old recipes that use grape leaves during the fermenting process. Grape leaves contain a substance that inhibit the enzyme the causes softening.  However, by removing the blossom end from the vegetable, you don’t need to add the grape leaves unless you just really want to.

The USDA Home Guide to Canning has a section dedicated to preparing and canning pickled products.  This can be found online at http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html.  Besides a lot of recipes, you should also find a FAQ section that answers why things might go wrong with texture and quality of pickled products. The Ball Co. canning guide also has a nice selection of pickle recipes.

Confession time! I make a mean 14 day sweet pickle but can’t make a decent dill pickle.The dill pickles are always too soft and unappetizing. I have done all the things according to books and recipes but just don’t have success with dill pickles. I know others have much better luck than I do with dill pickles. It’s ok though....sweet pickles are delicious and I can buy a jar of dill pickles when I need to.

14 Day Sweet Pickle Recipe
Into a clean stone jar put 2 gallons of cucumbers, washed and sliced. Regardless of size, cucumbers must be sliced for this recipe. Dissolve 2 cups of salt in one gallon of boiling water and pour while hot over the sliced pickles. Cover and weigh down pickles and let stand for one week. I use a large plate and something for weight to keep the pickles submerged. Each day skim off any scum that may develop. On the eighth day, drain and pour 1 gallon of fresh boiling water over pickles and let stand 24 hours. On the ninth day, drain and pour 1 gallon of boiling water with 1 T. of powdered alum over the pickles. Let stand 24 hours. On the tenth day, drain and pour 1 gallon boiling water over pickles again. Let stand 24 hours then drain again. On the eleventh day combine 5 pints boiling vinegar with 6 cups sugar, 5 tsp celery seed, 3 T. broken cinnamon stick. Pour this over the pickles. Drain off into a pot the next three days, adding one more cup of sugar each day, bring to a boil and pour back onto the pickles. On the third day, (day 14), after draining pickling liquid into a pot, pack the pickles into canning jars within ½” of top. Cover with the hot pickling liquid. Place lid and screw band firmly tight. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes


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