Processing methods for pickled products

How your process your pickled products will make all the difference when you open the jar in a few months.

As mentioned in earlier pickling articles, this form of preservation is one of the oldest. Because it is one of the oldest forms doesn’t mean you should be using ancient recipes. Pickling is defined as the process of preserving a food by either anaerobic fermentation in brine or immersion in vinegar. The resulting food is called a pickle. Pickling can add a special flavor to food by themselves or mixed in with other foods.

  • Quick-pack or quick-process pickles use the acetic acid from vinegar instead of the lactic acid from fermentation. This process is a great way to begin your exploration into the pickling process. It is something that is quick from start to finish, keeping in mind the flavor will develop in your product over a few weeks once the product has been processed. Recipes will vary from using cucumbers, fruits to relishes will fall into this process. Utilize resources from Michigan Fresh fact sheets, The National Center for Home Food Preservation or other research tested recipes.
  • Fermented or brined products will need to cure for several weeks. Curing involves changes in color, flavor and texture of the product. Lactic acid is produced during the fermentation process, helping preserve the product. Remember quality, safe products happen when proper procedures are followed. It is important to use correct proportions of vegetables, salt, vinegar and spices. Suitable containers are also an essential component for this process. Crocks are commonly used, but they must be free from cracks and chips. Food- grade plastic or glass containers may also be used. A 1-gallon container is suitable for 5 pounds of fresh vegetables, a 5-gallon container is good for fermenting approximately 25 pounds of fresh cucumbers. Do not use garbage bags, trash liners or plastic buckets that do not meet food specifications.
  • Relishes and salads are a great way to preserve low acid vegetables using a water bath canner because the vegetables have been acidified. Following a research tested recipe for a pickle relish, corn relish or dilly bean allows you to try different combinations of produce safely. These products also make wonderful gifts if you plan ahead.
  • Refrigerator or freezer pickles is another quick way to use up garden produce. There are several recipes available to utilize a variety of veggies. This method allows a bit more creativity. Keep in mind these products are not shelf-stable, they have a short shelf life in your refrigerator of about one month.
  • Sun pickles are not considered a safe way to make pickles. The temperatures inside a jar sitting in full summer sun exceed that at which fermentation occurs (below 72 degrees Fahrenheit). Above this temperature, the yeast dies and fermentation will not take place.

Pickling is a fairly easy way to test the food preservation waters. Following a recipe and utilizing fresh produce can result in wonderful treats for the family in the fall and winter months. Remember: Pickled products will need to “rest” once they have been processed to allow the brine, spices and flavors to blend and become more delicious. Michigan State University Extension recommends utilizing fresh produce, reviewing recipes and consulting a Food Safety Extension Educator if you have questions on food preservation. 

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