By Toole Co. Agent Alice Burchak -

The gardens are doing well this year and gardeners will soon turn their thoughts to preserving some of their great produce.  Pickling is option to consider for certain vegetables. Crispness is a hallmark of a good pickled vegetable. That crispness comes from the vegetable’s natural pectin--the same pectin that we extract from apples and citrus to make jams and jellies. The following steps will help ensure crisp pickled vegetables.


Use only just-picked vegetables for pickling

The most important factor in getting crisp pickled vegetables is to start with fresh, just-picked vegetables. Vegetables become soft as their pectin

structure changes due to microbial activity, excess heat or improper handling. As each day passes, vegetables   lose crispness. Once a vegetable is soft it cannot be made firm again.


Use only top quality vegetables for pickling

For cucumber pickles, use cucumbers intended for pickling that are no more then 2 inches in diameter. Remove the blossom end. The blossom harbors microbes that can cause softening.


 Use only safe, research-based recipes to pickle foods

It is important to have the proper acidity level to produce safe pickles. Only research–based recipes such as those found in the USDA Complete Guide to Canning, the National Center for Home Food Preservation Web site, or the Montana State University Extension Web site should be used


Use low-temperature pasteurization

Cucumber pickles shoould be processed for 30 minutes at 180-185°F. Check with a thermometer to be certain that the water temperature remains above 180° during the entire 30 minutes. Keep the temperature below 185° to avoid breaking down the pectin, which will cause softening of the pickle.


Making refrigerator pickles

Instead of heat treating pickled foods, some recipes call for keeping them at refrigeration temperatures. For many years this method was thought

to be safe. However, recent evidence that Listeria monocytogenes can survive in these foods has led to a recommendation against this method until further studies are performed on its safety. Until those studies are completed, it is recommended to use the low temperature pasteurization method above, even if the foods are placed in the refrigerator.


Use of alum

If good-quality ingredients are used and up-to date methods are followed, firming agents are not needed for crisp pickles. If you choose to use firming agents, alum (aluminum potassium sulfate) may be used to firm fermented pickles, but has little crispness effect on quick-process pickles. Alum will increase firmness when used at levels up to 1/4 teaspoon per pint. Addition of greater then 1/4 teaspoon alum per pint will decrease firmness.


Use calcium to firm pickles

Lime (calcium hydroxide) can improve 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 re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for 1 hour. Drain and rinse again.


Ball Calcium Chloride Pickle Crisp. This product is a food grade calcium chloride salt. It provides the calcium to help firm pectin, but does not have the hydroxide component that can lower the acidity of pickled foods. Follow the manufacturer’s directions.


Another method is to ensure crispness is to soak cucumbers or other vegetables in ice water for 4 to 5 hours before pickling. This will help to make sure the vegetables are as crisp as they can be.

Anne's note: The website has over 5,300 recipes for pickled vegetables. Most are traditional cucumber pickles, but there are also recipes for pickled beets, onions, green tomatoes and more! Click HERE to go to the search results page.