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Questions about making pickles and new to canning

Posted by loki993 none (My Page) on
Tue, Sep 4, 12 at 10:37

Ok so I've wanted to try and make pickles for a while now and I figured it was an easy way to get into canning. I assumed that because of the vinegar it was fairly easy and for the most part safe and tough to mess up. I started doing a little reading though and I see warnings about messing with recipes and only using tested recipes and it got me a little worried.

My original plan was to do some bread and butters, but I wanted some that weren't as sweet and I wanted some spicy. I like to experiment.. So I was going to make some regular, I was going to cut the sugar in another batch and add some Habaneros to another group. Maybe tweak with the spices added a little.

From reading it seems that its all about PH, Does adding different stuff change the PH that much? I honestly cant see how adding peppers or cutting sugar would change it all that much. Reading all of that though I would assume that fresh vinegar would be something I would want to use instead of what I've had on the cupboard for a while and I'm sure its lost some potency.

So if one wanted to make their own recipe how does it get tested or how do you make sue its safe?

I was also planning on processing them. I have a large stockpot..that should be good enough for the boil right? Anything else I need to know or watch out for?


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

Vinegar does just fine on the shelf. The key is to use a vinegar which has been diluted to a consistent acidity for pickling purposes -- your basic jug of heinz or store brand white or cider vinegar will be clearly marked "5% acidity" on the front label. That's the stuff you want to use.

Messing with sugar level can effect the quality of the final product. If I were you and I was new at this, I would look instead for a lower sugar bread and butter pickle recipe. That being said, B&B pickles ARE sweet - check around for a "sandwich" pickle recipe, sometimes they're not as sweet.

You can experiment with spices with little problem. My family B&B recipe calls for boiling the sugar and vinegar with celery seed and adding mustard seed to the jars (or jug for fridge pickles) along with the onions and cukes before pouring the brine over the whole works. I also add a good bit of crushed red pepper along with the mustard -- basically making a sweet/spicy B&B pickle.

A large stock pot will work fine for processing jars of B&B pickles. YOu will, however, want some kind of rack in the bottom of the pot and you'll need to get yourself a jar lifter.

Make sure you follow the recommended processing times.

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

When you say quality do you mean just flavor wise or do you mean the possibility of bacteria growth? My biggest concern is safety at this point. I know the bread and butters are sweet. Its just I had some that someone made once and they weren't as sweet as your average bread and butters and they were quite good. Or maybe it had just been a long time since Id had then, because I remember my mother making them and they seemed awfully sweet.

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

loki, the problem with pickles is that they aren't cooked further, they are eaten right out of the jar. If the vinegar brine is not acidic enough, the low acid vegetables can spoil, causing food poisoning or even botulism.

I regularly cut sugar in things like jam, because they are high acid fruits, a much safer medium than vegetables. The rule of thumb for brined vegetables is 1:1 vinegar and water. Also, sugar is a preservative and the tested recipes are carefully balanced to be sure the acidity level is safe and that the final product won't spoil. Low sugar items tend to spoil more quickly than their full sugar counterparts.

As for peppers, you're talking about another low acid food. You need a ratio of acidity to low acid foods, whether that acidity be vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, etc. The more low acid foods in a recipe, the more acidity that's required.

Testing recipes? Best of luck to you. You can have it tested at a private lab but I can't even conjecture on the cost. It took me 5 years to get my salsa recipe tested and approved and that was years ago, when I had a good friend who ran the local extension service and intervened with the university. I couldn't even imagine trying to get something tested by the federal government.

Canning is a science. If you are new at it I wouldn't fool around changing recipes, I'd find one that suits you that's been tested and follow that recipe. when you are more familiar and know the safety rules, then it's your choice.

As another option, The Center for Home food Preservation still has the on-line canning/food safety classes, or did the last time I checked. They were free when I checked also. You might take some of those and become more familiar with the process and that might help you.


RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

Ok. The recipes I'm looking at are all vinegar recipes but they call for 5 percent vinegar. Im assuming messing with stuff will cause that to skew.

So another question then..looking through the internet all the recipes that are out there how do I know its tested and safe? So I just take an approach that if it doesn't say then don't assume?

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

Use vinegar clearly labeled as "5% vinegar," period, end of discussion. Doesn't matter how long it's been sitting on the shelf as long as it's 5%.

As for recipes, use the NCHFP site or a Ball Blue Book or similar when you're starting out -- NOT random recipes off of the internet.

After you've done this stuff a while, you learn to be able to check a recipe against an approved standard (proportions and types of ingredients, method and processing times ect.) and make a reasonable and informed judgment about whether it's likely to be high risk or not. You're not there yet.

A few slices of habanero in each jar aren't going to negatively impact the safety of your B&B pickles -- or you can just use a tsp of red pepper flakes, which is what I do. Now, if you were making a lower acid product like a salsa or chutney, you need to be more careful about adding pepper -- you generally can't increase the proportion of low acid ingredients without risking problems, although you might be able to substitute some measure of one low acid ingredient for another.

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

As annie said the rule of thumb for safe pickle recipes is 1:1 vinegar to water but it is important to note that is the MINIMUM approved ratio. More vinegar than water is always preferable. And straight vinegar in your jars (undiluted by adding extra water) is safest.

I like to experiment..

Not something recommended for those new to canning. First learn how to do it correctly and stick to approved, tested recipes only, and follow the recipe to the letter.

B&B pickles are sweet pickles so the sugar is needed but as Mary said you can add dried peppers or dried pepper flakes. You can always experiment with DRIED herbs and spices, but not with fresh. Fresh will change the pH.

And avoid using random recipes off the web. There are many unsafe ones floating around out there. Do some reading over on NCHFP (linked all over this forum and below) as it is the recognized safety authority. Then pick up a current copy of the Ball Blue Book.


Here is a link that might be useful: NCHFP

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

Ok, sounds good. One other thing, Im reading things that says use the cucumbers within 24 hours of picking. I got them yesterday and wont be able to do anything with them until tonight or tomorrow. will the still be safe to pickle?

RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

It isn't a safety issue, it is a quality issue. Quality of cucumbers declines rapidly - within 24 hours - so the best pickles result from the freshest cukes.

Older cukes produce much softer pickles with a bit more vinegar flavoring since the cell walls have already begun to break down and will absorb the flavor more rapidly.

You can gain a bit of time by submerging them in an ice chest filled with ice water but they need to be ASAP. And if they are store bought then they are already several days old.


RE: Questions about making pickles and new to canning

That 5% vinegar? It has to be AT LEAST 5%, but it can be 6% or 7.5% or whatever. Higher is fine, lower is not.


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