Saturday, August 28, 2010

Crisp Pickle Voodoo

To my mind, crisp dill pickles are the peak of excellence. The challenge is in maintaining the crispness of the product. Our quest for crisp dills took several years of experimentation and feels like ritual magic, but it works…usually. Here’s what we do:

  1. Get the best cucumbers possible. If they are rubbery when you start, you can’t expect them to be crisp when they are done. It also seems like larger cucumbers get, the more likely they are to become soft as the seed cavity makes up a larger part of the flesh.

  2. Trim off a small portion of the blossom end. Commercial studies in the 1950’s determined that a pectinolytic enzymes which cause softening were present in the blossom of the cucumber. If blossom material remained on the cucumber during brining the pickles would soften. This is apparently from yeast like fungus that lives on the blossom and can be present in the basal connection. Trimming the blossom end removes the possible enzyme containing portion of the cucumber. Does this enzyme remain active in raw pack pickles? I don’t know but, we’ve added the trimming of a small portion of the blossom end to our process. I think it also allows an easy entry point for the brine to enter the cucumber.

  3. Chill the cucumbers. We fill a 70 qt. ice chest part way with ice and then enough water to cover the ice. The cucumbers are trimmed then submerged in the ice bath for several hours.

  4. Pack the pickles and add a grape leaf on top. Folklore said that the grape leaf would keep the pickles crisp. It has been determined that tannins in the grape leaf actually counteract the pectinolytic enzymes, we talked about earlier. Since we are trying to eliminate the enzyme by cutting off the blossom end, this may be redundant, but we add it anyway.

  5. Use an approved recipe and make sure your brine is properly acidic by using a proper vinegar. Process for the minimum time recommended by the recipe.

Generally we find that this gives us pretty crisp pickles. We’ve steered away from using agents like Alum, or food grade lime, as it just doesn’t sound appealing. We are planning to explore low temperature pasteurizing, using a recipe that processes at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. Keeping the temperature below 185 degrees maintains the pectin structure and further preserves crispness.

1 comment:

  1. Calcium chloride is what I use - it keeps pickles very crisp and it's just a salt like sodium chloride (it's been used for ages in the making of brie and in beer brewing). This can be used for other vegetable pickles like beans and carrots as well, and if you're doing bread and butter pickles (or any other where the veg is cut into pieces), this is far superior to a grape leaf.