Date: May 1989 (Revised April 1995)
Source: University of Wisconsin
There are many possible causes for poor quality homemade pickles. If you have difficulty getting good results, the following list may help you identify the reason.
Soft pickles may be the result of several things. The most common cause is failure to process the pickles after you pack them into jars. Many old recipes omit this essential step, and simply say "Pack in jars and seal." After you fill and cap jars, you should process all pickles for at least 10 minutes for pints and 15 minutes for quarts in a boiling water bath canner. This destroy yeasts and molds that can eventually grow and spoil pickles. Although processing for too long can overcook the pickles and make them soft, this short processing will help prevent softening and spoilage.
Another reason may be allowing too much time between gathering and pickling. A good rule of thumb is to start processing as soon as possible after picking--preferably within 24 hours.
Poorly developed cucumbers may cause hollow pickles. Check whole cucumbers during washing. The hollow cucumbers usually float. These should be taken out and used in relishes of "chunk" style pickles.
Fermented pickles will usually be softer than fresh-pack pickles, but if fermented ones become too soft you probably did not remove all cucumber blossoms before you started to brine the cucumbers. Or, you may not have removed all the scum from the top of the brine as the cucumber fermented.
Shriveling is another common problem. This happens when you put the cucumber in too strong a vinegar or vinegar-sugar solution. Cucumbers that are not freshly harvested are more likely to shrivel and become hollow, as are cucumbers you have harvested in very hot dry weather. Quick handling will help prevent shriveling.
If you have further questions, please contact your county office of the NDSU Extension Service.
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