Pickles Keeping their Crisp

The next time you make a batch of pickles, try these tips to ensure that every bite has a satisfying crunch.

| May/June 2020

Crispy Pickles 
 Photo by Getty Images/Micolino

This is adapted from Andrea Chesman's book, The Pickled Pantry (Storey Publishing, 2012). 

When it comes to making crispy pickles, heat is the enemy. Although you could guarantee crisp pickles by never subjecting them to heat, that would mean avoiding the canner, which is necessary for long-term storage.

When you’re making pickles to preserve from your garden surplus, the challenge becomes how to make and process them in a way that preserves their texture. Luckily, you can follow several tricks to make crisp pickles while still following the safety guidelines established by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Some people remember the shatteringly crisp pickles their grandmothers used to make. These preservers had two tricks in their apron pockets. The first was alum, an aluminum salt, which is no longer recommended because it’s toxic in large quantities. Though alum helps create crisper pickles, it’s not necessary when you use higher-quality ingredients and modern canning methods.

Grandma’s second trick for crispness was lime, or calcium hydroxide, the same chemical that’s applied to farm fields to raise the soil pH. In food-grade form, the calcium in lime bonds with the pectin in a vegetable’s cell walls and increases its firmness. But after soaking in a limewater solution for 12 to 24 hours, the excess lime must be removed to make safe, edible pickles. To do so, you must drain, rinse, and soak the vegetables in fresh water for an hour. This rinsing process is repeated several times to remove all traces of lime. At the end of the process, the cucumbers are left with no flavor at all. When compared with a cucumber that’s soaked in salt water (a common step in pickling), the difference is obvious.

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