Canning season is here - we need advice on how to keep our pickled veggies crunchy!
August 24, 2009 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Canning season is here - we need advice on how to keep our pickled veggies crunchy!

Mom and I are gearing up for our yearly canning weekend. Last years batch was a huge success (taste-wise) but our veggies weren't as crunchy as we would have liked them to be.

What tips can you give us on making our veggies as crunchy as possible? (And any tried and true recipes that you love are welcome as well - the stronger the kick the better!)

We're going to be doing:
Cauliflower, celery and carrots
Garlicky dilly beans
Pickles (if we have the time)
posted by pghjezebel to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how it will affect vegetables like cauliflower, but a few grape leaves or oak leaves in the jar will help keep your cucumber pickles crisp. A pinch of alum will do the same thing. Cutting off the blossom end helps too.

Part of the problem is the extended heating involved in processing pickles to be canned and shelf-stable. Refrigerator pickles will always be crisper than the same pickles that have been processed for canning. Still, the crisper the vegetables you start with, the better. So pickle them as soon after picking as possible. You can also give them a good soak (like, a couple of hours) in a sink or tub full of ice water before you start.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:41 AM on August 24, 2009

Someone will advise you to use a sulphate or a nasty preservative like MSG. Please don't.

Honestly, I've had good success cold-canning a variety of my veggies, which has worked well for me in the past. (eg. pickled okra)

Cold canning is heating your mason jars/lids/seals in the oven on a tray to ~$350 and then only cooking your veggies as long as you feel you need to. For pickled okra (to my taste) it's really just a couple minutes to get the vinegar/spices to just below boiling. Then you remove the mason jars from the oven after ~25 mins or so and dump in your hot veggies, moisten the seal, screw on the lid. It will seal as the product cools.

Read a better instructional on cold canning than that---doing it wrong will mean it won't seal or you'll shatter your jars, neither is cool.
posted by TomMelee at 6:07 AM on August 24, 2009

Do you know about Pickle Crisp powder? It's a salt — calcium chloride — packaged and sold by Ball for this purpose.
posted by veggieboy at 6:10 AM on August 24, 2009

The old recipes called for alum as a firming agent, but the FDA is recommending against its use in food. (Alum does not cause Alzheimer's disease, but it's not wholesome, either; one ounce is a fatal dose for an adult, so, when you are using it, you absolutely must keep it out of the reach of small children who can be sickened at a much lower dose.)

The jars of pickles and canned vegetables at the grocery store often contain calcium chloride as a firming agent. Unfortunately, Ball Pickle Crisp seems to have been discontinued (or was that only temporary?). You might be able to find food-grade calcium chloride elsewhere. Don't use anything that is not food grade.

The FDA has recommended substituting the use of food-grade pickling lime (calcium oxide) for alum in homemade pickles. Used correctly, the calcium will firm up your vegetables. I found a jar of this in a grocery store in Alabama once and bought it immediately just because it was an interesting chemical. Use it only as a presoak, and rinse thoroughly before adding your vegetables to your recipe; don't just add pickling lime to the usual recipe, because the high pH of any of these calcium products will interfere with the preservative properties of the low pH of the vinegar. (See the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service document, Preserving Food: Pickled Products [PDF].)

Incidentally, MSG is not a preservative, it's a flavor enhancer. It's never used to make pickles crisp.
posted by Ery at 6:33 AM on August 24, 2009

Your problem may be as simple as how long you're processing the food. For example, when I make pickles, I sterlize the jars and pack them with the cucumber slices which have been rinsed of their salt brine. While the jars are still hot, I pour in the just boiled pickling syrup, close and put them into a water bath. If the directions of the recipe I'm using says to have them in the water bath for 10 minutes, then it must be 10 minutes. If I do it longer, then the cucumbers heat up enough to start cooking and they are no longer crisp. Really pay close attention to the time you allow the jars to sit in the hot water bath.
posted by onhazier at 6:34 AM on August 24, 2009

Don't know much about the canning and pickling process, but the vegetables in the Southeast Asian pickle dish, acar are always sun-dried for the perfect crunch. No fancy chemicals. Here are some recipes if you have the spices on hand.
posted by hellopanda at 7:34 AM on August 24, 2009

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