Why Do You Soak Cucumbers Before Pickling?

harvesthunt(6)July 2, 2007

This weekend we tried our first batch of pickles, and I was curious why they need to be soaked before pickling? Some recipes had you pour boiling water over them and let them set. Some called for ice. Some talked about salt water.

I guess my question is why? What does this do to them?

Also, they seemed to be packed tight, but are all floating around now. As long as there's enough liquid in there to reach the required headspace, they'll be okay, right?

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jimster(z7a MA)

Soaking is to rehydrate the cucumbers in case they have softened at all from loss of water. This is more likely to have happened with purchased cukes. Home grown cukes should be crisp without soaking if they are picked in the cool of the morning on the day they will be used. Ice water makes more sense to me than boiling water.

I can't answer your second question. Sorry.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 4:49PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Salt water will draw out some of the water in the cukes, as will salting sliced cukes. The end tips of BOTH ends must be removed from all the cukes prier to soaking, salting or brining. Boiling water is a harsh way to kill off surface bacteria, and will soften the cukes even more. Suffice to say if you want a tightly packed jar or pickles, the salt brine soak or salt only will shrink them a little, bit they do need a rinse after that few hours in the salt soaking. The cukes will not shrink as much when they have their final brine added to the jars. I don't do this, and no matter how tight I pack the jars with whole or speared cukes, they always shrink some, and I usually have an inch or more of open space on the bottom as they also tend to float a little. Next years cukes will get the salt soak first, and then I expect I will get more packed in a quart jar.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 8:37PM
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glad you asked the question harvesthunt, I've been reading and searching for answers....
From what I've read, Jim is right about the ice water soak. Even though I buy my cukes from a local farmer, by the time I get them home they have lost a great deal of moisture and the ice water perks them back up.
I've used salt and salted water soaks in my relishes. And I THINK the purpose is to draw off excess water which would dilute the product.
The boiling water is the one I want to hear about from LINDA LOU ... she pours Boiling Water over the whole cukes when making her Sweet Pickle Chunks .. in fact she does it for four days. Is it to kill bacteria as Ken suggests? Or is it a pretreatment to keep the chunks from shriveling?? I've never made her pickles but from all reports on the forum, they do not shrivel and are crisp despite the BWB.
By the way, Ken, please do not take away the handy handle on my whole cukes. NCHPF sez, cut 1/16 off the blossom end to get rid of any enzymes lurking there.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 10:36PM
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Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

The boiling water is to remove impurities from the cucumbers in the sweet pickle recipe so they don't shrivel. That, and it toughens the skins. That is what I was told, anyway, but I can't find any information to post that would give credit to it. I suppose we could ask Elizabeth Andress.
The ice water does help to keep fresh pack pickles crisp. Just like if you have limp carrots or celery , if you soak them in ice water they will crispen up.
I keep carrot sticks in fridge in water for a few days to eat on to keep them crisp and from drying out.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 6:50PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

With Linda Lou's recipe, the blossom ends do get trimmed off only, as that end does harbor the bacteria. But for all intents and purposes, the both ends should be trimmed when making most other pickles, especially if they are whole cukes. Even my pepperoncini got all their stems removed. These stems tend to take up valuable space in the jars and have you leave little stems, most people don't eat anyway. Cutting off both ends of a whole cuke, helps to get the brine inside. Usually pickling cukes at their stem ends are bigger and more dense compared to the blossom ends. It seems that every canning book I have seen mentions removing of both ends.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 1:42PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

My experience has been contrary to yours, Ken. All the recipes I have seen say to cut off the blossom end and leave 1/4 inch of stem.

BTW, the reason for doing so is to remove a concentration of an enzyme which accumulates in that area, not because it harbors bacteria. It's an enzyme similar to (maybe the same as) the ones you neutralize by blanching fruits and vegetables in boiling water prior to freezing them. Absence of the enzyme halts further ripening, which would lead to softening and spoilage.

Possible it's also the reason behind putting the cukes in boiling water in preparation for pickling. But that's speculation on my part. I've never heard of it before this thread.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 3:32PM
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NCHPF uses boiling water in it's recipes for Sweet Gherkins and 14-day sweet pickles


    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 8:41PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Indeed they do! I don't make sweet pickles, so I never noticed that.

What do you think is the purpose of the boiling water soak? Maybe to break down the cells of the cukes for better absorbtion of the pickling solution?


    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 9:23PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

An enzyme is also mentioned as being the cause of bitter cukes, and that seems to be originating the stem end. It may not be the same as what is on the blossom end, but I have been doing it my way without any adverse effects, except for the occaisonal bitter cuke that is bitter throughout its length. Haven't seen a commercial pickle having any stem left in tact.
In my trimming efforts, its much easier to slice off the tips of both ends, as opposed to just one end. It certainly will not affect the texture of the pickle. I did find that 'burpless' cuke varieties are not recommended for making pickles, as they tend to get very soft.

The boiling water soak, as I mentioned in this same thread, was probably used to somehow 'sterilize' the cukes. I feel that if you do that, you are needlessly applying heat which would be more appropriate when its the final brine thats poured in boiling.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2007 at 11:21PM
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I have no definitive information yet, although I have been looking here, there, and everywhere to try to find out what a boiling water soak does to cukes.... just wanted to bump this us as I continue my search. I'm thinking it does something to help the cuke absorb the sugar and thus crisps (or crystalizes) them ... but that's an assumption and you know what assume means ....

    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 7:10PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

It may only be to remove any fungus or bacteria from the cukes surface. Exposing fresh cukes to boiling water will soften them some.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2007 at 2:30AM
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according to another thread, the boiling water kills the bacteria which combines with the cucumbers to form lactic acid. As Linda Lou said, you do NOT want her pickles to ferment.
(I can't locate the thread now, but it was the one where someone didn't allow the brine to cool before pouring it over Chase's Dill pickles -- they did not ferment.)
Applying logic seems to get me in trouble, but I would think that in Linda Lou's recipe the boiling water kills the bacteria and then as they cool, liquid is reabsorved restoring crispness. Repeating the process for three days must be part of what makes her cukes so crisp. Of course, on the final days pouring boiling sweet syrup over the chunks (and repeats) also play a huge role -- sorta candies 'em.
If I ever get any decent cukes, I'm going to try that recipe -- it just might replace my Limed Pickles.

BTW, the boiling water technique is also used in the Sweet Gherkin on the NCHFP site.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 2:02PM
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zemmaj(z5 QC CAN)

I agree with Jim, for most recipes that talk about fermented pickles, they talk about picking cukes with stem and cut them with rather than pull them off the vine. The reason for this is when you pull them you create an open wound where soil and bacteria can come in the cuke. When I cut them, I cut longer than I need in the garden and recut with sterilized scisors when I am in the house. No wound, no soil. You cut the blossom end cos the enzymes can cause softening or keep the pickles from fermenting properly.
Salt does not only draw water out of veggies, by the same process it firms them a bit, they rehydrate with the vinegar, sort of. Watch out not to leave in salt too long, unless it is a 10% brine, they will rot in there after a couple of days (hummmmmm, personal experience, having forgotten some.........yuck)


    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 9:16PM
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Why do my 14 day sweet pickles shrink.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 3:54PM
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