How to keep pickles crisp when canning

By Charlotte King

Nobody likes a mushy pickle, right? But, with canning, oftentimes this is what you get when you unseal the jar and are ready to bite into that crunchy pickle. You get a mushy mess. Understanding how to keep pickles crisp when canning will not only result in the fresh and crisp taste you love, but that elusive sound and texture you want to hear/taste when you do bite into a pickle.

How do you keep pickles crisp? These are a few simple tips to ensure the canning process doesn’t eliminate the crispness and rich taste you love.

Use the Right Cucumber for Pickling

How to keep pickles crisp when canning

The first way to ensure pickles are crisp when you do consume them after pickling and jarring is to make sure you’re using the right cucumbers in the pickling process. When choosing cucumbers to pickle, the best ones are the smaller and firm cucumbers. If the cucumber is soft to begin with, what do you expect once it’s pickled and you bite into it? Obviously, you’re going to get that soft mush you want to avoid.

Think about it, you can’t make a mushy cucumber turn crunchy… it has to start that way if you want it to end that way when consuming it. This really isn’t rocket science, but it does require the right eye, and paying attention to what you’re placing in the pickling jar. Start with the right ingredients, you’ll get the best tasting dish (outcome) when you’re finally ready to consume it.

When sorting through cucumbers to pickle, always choose the firmest and smallest varieties, as this will equate to the crispiest and that elusive crunch sound and texture you enjoy when consuming pickles.

Add Tannins into the Canning Process

Black tea, oak leaves, or grape leaves, are all great options you can add to the canning jar when pickling cucumbers. Add a few larger leaves into the mix, or a teaspoon of loose black tea into the canning process. Tannins are naturally found in tree barks and help preserve their strength/rugged exterior in the woods. So, imagine what it can do when used in a pickling jar, to help create a crunchy pickle. Remember, you still have to start with the right cucumber for pickling. Tannins are great and can help increase that crunchy texture and bite, but it won’t produce any miracles and turn a soft, mushy cucumber, into a firm pickle out of thin air.

Sea Salt

In the brine water you make for your cucumbers, which consists of the tannin soaked bath, you’ll also want to add some sea salt into the mix. The obvious reason is that salt helps with food preservation, but we also love a salty pickle, right? Sea salt also contains minerals which help to reinforce the exterior cell walls during the fermentation process. This is going to help create a firmer cucumber, which is what we’re looking for from the onset when we’re canning them. So, adding a few dashes of sea salt into the brine might not be the make or breaking point, but will help in the fermentation process to maintaining the cucumber’s firmness.

Puncture the Skin

Puncturing the cucumber’s skin is another way to help ensure the crispiest pickles when they’re ready to consume. If cucumbers are harvested later in the year or picked off the vine after having remained on it for extended duration, this will cause the skin to become firm. Using a pairing knife, you can prick a small hole into the exterior layer of the cucumber. This will help ensure the brine penetrates the cucumber quickly and they culture a little bit faster throughout the process.

Immediately Jar Them after Pickling

If you can, go from vine to jar when pickling to preserve the texture and crispness. If you purchase cucumbers at the farmer’s market or grocery store, then you’ll want to can them immediately when you get home (obviously after you wash them and sterilize your jars). Don’t let them sit in the fridge overnight or sit on top of the counter for too long. The sooner you can jar them, the more they’ll retain that firm texture, resulting in a crispier pickle, which is what you’re after.

Cut the Cucumber’s Blossom End

canning pickles

There are enzymes in the blossom end of cucumbers, which have been linked to causing mushy pickles after the canning process. Simply use a knife to remove a thin slice off the end of the cucumber and cut off the blossom’s end. This will help to preserve the firm texture. And, we keep harping back to the first point, but if the cucumber isn’t firm when you can it, you can’t expect it to turn out firm, and produce firm and crispy pickles when they’re ready for consumption.

Soak them in an Ice Bath

An ice bath for cucumbers, really? Yes, if you can’t can them immediately after you purchase them or pick them off the vine, allowing the cucumber to sit in an ice bath for some time will help ensure firmer pickles. Simply submerge them in an ice bath and make sure they are completely covered. You can even place this in the fridge for a few hours, or until you get home and can start the canning process. This will help maintain that firm texture that you want in the cucumbers you are canning, as this is what will produce the crispiest and crunchiest pickles when they’re ready to be eaten.

Obviously, the most important factor is to have small and firm cucumbers from the onset, if you want the end result to be a crunchy and crispy pickle when the canning jar is ready to be opened up for consumption. However, there are other steps you can take along the way when canning cucumbers to produce that great pickle taste you love. These are a few simple tips you’ll want to employ in the canning process, to ensure the best taste and crispy result you desire, when biting into the pickles from your canned cucumbers.

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