Sunday, September 25, 2011

The pickle experiment

My attempt at making senf gerkin was a failure.

From September 2011

When we looked at the jars and realized that the pickles inside were translucent and soft, Emily and I decided to try an experiment to test what we did wrong.  The recipe called for heating the cucumber slices in the brine/syrup/vinegar prior to sealing in jars.  Our hypothesis was that excessive heat cooked the cucumbers to mush.  Emily was my scribe for the treatments. So we tested 5 methods with the same brine/syrup/vinegar and an additional brine with the leftover cucumber slices:

  1. The original recipe, cooking the cucumber slices in the brine, and then sealing the jars in a boiling water bath.
  2. Adding boiling brine to cold cucumbers and then sealing in the jars in a boiling water bath, letting the cucumbers sit in the hot brine prior to sealing.
  3. The same as 2., but immediate transfer to boiling water bath..
  4. Adding boiling brine, but no boiling water bath to seal the jars
  5. Cold brine, no boiling water bath
  6. I had some cucumber slices left so I made a different brine recipe for refrigerator pickles.
From September 2011

Emily made daily observations of the jars and recorded details of the pickling process for each treatment.  One of the jars from treatment three burst in the rolling water bath.  After two days all of the jars tops were sealed, even treatments 5 and 6 which were not sealed in the water bath.  Only when the cucumbers were heated in the brine and then sealed, treatment 1, look like jars of gloop.  Treatment 2 is intermediate between 3 and 4.  Five is definitely the whitest.

 The original recipe called for 2 weeks of pickling prior to opening the jars. I considered opening each of the jars and having a taste test today, but then what are we to do with all of the open jars but throw the leftovers away?  So for conclusions of taste and texture we will have to wait until we have tried each one.  Emily has kept her notes and wants to record our observations when we open each.

Our preliminary conclusions support our hypothesis and suggest that our previous mushy pickles from two years ago had the same problem: excessive heat.  The brine and vinegar really are all that is needed to preserve the pickles, but sealing the jars with a rolling water bath certainly reassure me that they won't rot over the months between pickling and eating.  So, the cucumbers should be kept on ice until the moment they are added to the brine in the jars and sealed.  That way the heat of the canner won't have as much time to seep into the cold cucumbers.  They probably don't need very long in the canner either.

Update:  As I was cleaning up I opened the refrigerator pickles (treatment 5 and 6).  Nice and crunchy.  Touch of sweetness, but still tangy. They reminded me of the summer quick pickles I make with vinegar, sugar, and salt.

No comments: