7 Tips for Troubleshooting Pickle Problems

Did your pickles turn out less than crisp and delicious? Get to the root of the problem with these pickling tips.

by Cathy Barrow

7 Tips for Troubleshooting Pickle Problems - Photo by iStock/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)

While pickling is straightforward, there are a few disappointments that every pickler may encounter along the way. Here are seven conundrums that may leave you in a pickle—and how to fix the issue.

1. Mushy, Limp Pickles
Pickles should never be limp. Use only the freshest produce. Remove the blossom end from cucumbers (or, in a pinch, slice off a small piece from both ends, without fretting about which is the blossom end). And do not use chlorinated water.

2. Turquoise Garlic
Yes, really. Some garlic contains anthocyanin, a pigment that is activated in acid solutions like brines. Other garlic has sulfur compounds and when brined in water with a high sulfur content, will turn blue or green. The color change freaks everyone out but the good news is that the pickles are fine to eat—there’s nothing wrong with them or the garlic. It’s a little startling, but no big deal.

3. Exploding or Foaming Jars
The first time I made garlic dill pickles, I put the jars in the garage to cure for a month. Whether I’d failed to remove the blossom end of the cucumber or used tap water, I’m not certain, but whatever I did caused the jars to explode. I walked into the garage one morning to a sea of cucumbers, glass and funky smells. Avoid my mistakes. Always cut off the blossom end; use fresh water; and take the rings off the jars before storing them. If I had removed the rings, the buildup of gases in the jars would have only lifted the lids, not broken the glass. Remove. The. Rings.

4. Way Too Salty
I know what you did. You read the recipe and noted the yield of three jars and the salt called for—hmmm, 3 tablespoons. You put a tablespoon in each jar, didn’t you? Make the brine separately and then pour it into the jars. Often there will be leftover brine, and if the salt is in the jars, not the brine, the ratios will be wrong.

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5. Shriveled or Slippery Pickles
Here’s another reason to purchase a scale for preserving projects. Using too strong a brine or too weak a brine will alter the science. Pickling is science. Salt should be weighed for pickling projects.

6. Soft Pickles
Make sure the pickles are entirely submerged in the brine. This is challenging, fitting the pickles into the right-size jar. Jars with shoulders (not wide-mouth) tend to hold the pickles below the surface of the brine.

7. Bitter Pickles
Using ground spices instead of whole spices is a mistake. The spices will not distribute easily and will make a murky pickle. Boiling spices for too long in the brine will make pickles bitter and tannic. Follow the recipes exactly.

Beware of cucumber pickling in dry summers. Cucumbers do not grow well under the stress of drought conditions—they have a very high water content and need the rain. I can promise you, the pickles will be disappointing. In those years, forego pickling cucumbers and explore other vegetables.

Most pickle recipes can be scaled up or down. Make half a recipe, or make a double recipe—just keep to the brining ratios indicated in the recipes and everything will work out fine.

Try these pickle recipes from HobbyFarms.com:

  • Watermelon-Rind Pickles
  • Pumpkin Pickles
  • Bread-and-Butter Pickled Radishes
  • Great-Grandma’s Pickled Beets
  • Wild Pickled Fennel and Radish Slaw

Reprinted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving by Cathy Barrow. Copyright ©2014 by Cathy Barrow with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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