Ain’t nobody likes a mushy pickle…
It’s a problem that’s plagued pickle-makers for centuries: how do you find a pickle recipe that results in perfectly crisp cucumbers with that highly sought-after ‘crunch’ when you take a bite?
In the past when I’d go to make my homemade pickles, Prairie Husband would always cautiously raise an eyebrow and say in this questioning tone of voice, “They’re gonna be crunchy pickles, right?”
To which I respond, “Er, sure honey… you bet.”
Honestly, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get consistently crunchy pickles– I tried all sorts of things, and had mixed results. And like with anything else, if you talk to a dozen different people, you’ll get a dozen different answers.
In my quest for the ultimate crunchy pickle recipe, I’ve collected a number of little tricks, so I decided to compile a list. Keep in mind you don’t have to use ALL of them though- and the first two ideas are the ones that make the most difference… At least in my humble opinion.
5 Secrets for Crunchy Pickles
1. Use small, firm cucumbers. This is, hands-down, the most important! If you start with a big ol’ soft cucumber, you’ll end up with big ol’ soft pickles. Always, always select the smallest, most firm cucumbers and leave the big soft ones out of the pickle jar. It’s a natural law of sorts– if you are using ginormous, overgrown cukes for your pickles, ain’t nothing gonna turn them crunchy… No matter how creative you get or how many prayers you say while they are in the water bath canner.
2. Jar them immediately after picking, or as soon as possible. Going straight from the vine to the jar is the best, and I always try to plan room in my schedule to can up a batch right away on pickle-picking day. However, I’ve still had good results using farmer’s market cukes– providing they are firm when I buy them, and I don’t leave them on the counter for days and days.
3. Soak cucumbers in an ice water bath for a couple hours. If I can’t get to work canning my cucumbers immediately after picking them (or when I get home from the farmer’s market), submerging them in an icy bowl of water in the fridge will help them firm up/stay firm.
4. Cut off the blossom end of cucumber. The blossom-end of a cucumber is said to contain enzymes which can cause mushy pickles. Cutting it off is your best bet.
5. Add tannins to the jar. This may include oak leaves, grape leaves, or black tea. Honestly? This trick is always recommended, but I’ve had hit-or-miss results with it… If you have oak leaves or grape leaves handy, it definitely can’t hurt to toss one in each jar. Or, add a 1/2 teaspoon of loose black tea to each jar. But again, it won’t turn already-soft cucumbers magically crispy.
What about Alum? Back in the day, it was recommended to add alum or food-grade lime to pickle recipes to help with crispness. It’s not really recommended anymore, due to safety considerations. (I’m not really interested in having aluminum in my pickles, thankyouverymuch.) Therefore, I have no personal data to share if these options are really that effective. However, I’m pretty darn sure if you use the tips above, you won’t even need to consider alum or lime.
What if I STILL get mushy pickles? Well, then you might as well just quit this whole homesteading gig and go back to buying everything from the store…. Nah, not really. 😉 Sometimes mushiness still happens, even if you do everything in your power to prevent it. Mushy pickles are still quite edible, and if I get super-duper mushiness going on, I usually use those for chopping up to add to potato salad, etc. Just keep experimenting– you’ll get into your crispy-pickle groove eventually.
OK… now how do I make the actual pickles? I knew you were going to ask that, so I have my favorite old-fashioned brined pickle recipe all ready for you right here. Or, if you looking for a water-bath canned version, this is a good one.