Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In a Pickle - Q and A

Okay, so I was asked - first, if I would be interested in opening up a Q&A forum, and I would, but I don't really know how to go about doing that without making it just as confusing and, ultimately, cumbersome as all of the others.

I thought, as an alternative, if there are specific questions, perhaps, just doing a post about it - that would be spidered and eventually would end up in searches and with the opportunity of having people comment on their solutions - might work in the short term. I could label all of them "Q&A", and, at some point, when there are enough questions, I could put Q&A menu in the side bar.

The second part of the request was to answer a specific question about pickles, and the problem is (and I've had this problem, too - by the way ;) that I've canned these beautiful pickles, careful to following the guidelines regarding fresh PICKLING cucumbers, exact measurements for brining solutions, etc. At first, the pickles are wonderful and crispy, but after a few months in the jar, they turn to mush. They're still safe to eat. They're just not very ... palatable.

The first part of the dilemma is the question of whether or not this is normal, and if there is a way to avoid it.

The second part of the dilemma is the question of what to do with all of those mushy pickles.

For the first part, my personal suggestion is to dispense with the canning altogether and instead do lacto-fermentation. It will result in much crisper pickles to begin with, as the process of fermenting the vegetables makes them crispier anyway. I would recommend the books: Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation and/or Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

The process requires a couple of weeks. The lacto-fermentation process is slowed with cold, and so the "finished" product should be stored, long-term, in a cold place, like a refrigerator or a root cellar, which might seem to reduce the long-storage option afforded by canning ... BUT, lacto-fermented vegetables are edible for MONTHS after they are ready to eat.

Plus, it's a live food, which makes it much healthier for us, overall, than canned pickles anyway.

As for using those mushy pickles, as long as they were properly canned and aren't contaminated but just mushy, I'd recommend adding them to some other recipe. Potato salad or egg salad comes to mind. One might also chop them up and turn them into a kind of relish.

For me, unless I suspect that it might poison my family, I'm loath to throw out a failed canning experiment, and I'll find another way to use it. Like "runny" strawberry jam is used as a sauce for drizzling over ice cream or pancakes or for adding to smoothies and/or yogurt. I won't simply throw it away.

For mushy pickles, what other recommendations/solutions do you folks have?


  1. I'd chop them up and add them to something else like you suggested. I suppose you could try pureeing them and making them into a kind of ketchup, but I've never heard of a cucumber ketchup... think I'd be more inclined to make tartare sauce to go with fish (or whatever else you fancy).

    For an authentic tartare sauce mix chopped cornichons/pickled gherkins/cucumbers with chopped capers (I use pickled nasturtium seeds), chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon with some mayo, but you could add/substitute chopped mint, chives or dill, substitute natural yoghurt for part or all of the mayonnaise, add grated horseradish or chopped garlic etc.
    I've seen versions that use coriander leaf and lime juice for a sauce on a completely register.

    Alternatively I'd make a decidedly non-Mexican salsa using those same Scandinavian herbs. I love dill, but you could use whatever grows well in your garden- chives, parsley, spring onion (scallion), mint, sorrel. I'd either keep it as a green sauce (using the tartare sauce ingredients but without the mayo or yoghurt) to serve as a condiment or stir into pasta/couscous (think tabbouleh)/potato salad/hot new potatoes or stretch it and make it less intense by adding chopped vegetables like peppers, fresh cucumber, tomatillos or tomato.

    Or you could chop them and add to cheese or egg for a sandwich filling; top a burger; mix with chopped capers and cream cheese (and chopped soft green herbs of your choice) to make a sandwich spread or add to tomato sauce destined for pasta as a kind of Caponata. This version doesn't actually use pickles, but hey! You could make an aubergine (eggplant) free version.

  2. I am eating pickles from two years ago and they are quite crisp. The recipe I used called for a several day process which soaking them in salt, pickling lime, and then fresh water every day for three or four days. It worked very well. I think the lime process has been around a while.

  3. Wow, Hazel! Awesome ideas! Who knew pickles were so versatile? ;)

  4. @ Kris - how long do your pickles stay crisp in the jar? The original question, as posed to me, stated that the pickles were originally crispy, but after eight months in the jar had gotten soft.

  5. Years ago I managed to recover my Grandmothers recipe for sour mustard pickles. After a LONG evening of canning, I put the pickles on a shelf and waited patiently for them to be "ready". Unfortunately, I believe the secret to the pickles, left this world with Grammie's passing, as my pickles had the crispness of jello. Sigh . . . maybe somethings can just never be properly replicated . . . perhaps, in this case, it is better that way.

  6. Hazel, how very creative! All I could think of was relish. For burgers, egg salad, etc. ..but still relish.

    Kris, I'd love to read your process/recipe.

    Wendy, yes, they taste fine..just not crispity/crunchity. ;o) I will look for those books. I've been afraid to try the fermented pickles, in case I poison my family and friends. My refrigerator isn't very big, and down here in Ga, heat is a problem, even in the basement.Still, I'm willing to try it...if I can find a willing guinea pig.

  7. I had the same problem and was terribly disappointed in them... I haven't tried to pickle since... :(