Food Science Camp: Dill Pickles

The following post is from Shaina of Food for My Family and Olmanson Photography:

source: Food For My Family

In the summer when the weather is hot, the cucumber vines produce plump green orbs at a crazy rate. Unable to possibly consume them all in the amount of time it takes them to grow, it’s time for another food science camp with the kids to teach them how we can make those cucumbers last just a bit longer.

The Science Behind Pickling for Kids

Pickling works because it creates a hostile environment for bacterial organisms which would normally cause your vegetables to breakdown and decompose.

There are four main reasons why pickled food remains preserved and resists going bad.

1. Acid: A 5% solution of vinegar is acidic enough to kill 99% of bacteria. So, as a main ingredient in the pickling process, it not only adds that sour tang that we want in a pickle, it is also working to keep your food safe.

2. Salt: When organisms come in contact with a salt solution, they attempt to balance their internal salinity with that of their surroundings. This causes them to become chemically imbalanced and leads to their demise.

3. Heat: We’re all familiar with pasteurization, most microorganisms can only survive up to a certain temperature before they give up the ghost. The simmering/processing done during canning will ensure that these conditions have been met.

4. Oxygen: Oxygen can cause food to decompose so the act of heating and sealing the jars creates a vacuum in the jar that quickly becomes devoid of oxygen.

All four of these process working together make it impossible for food destroying critters and conditions to breakdown your food.

Pickling Tips

  • Use soft water for pickling to keep vegetables fresh. You can soften hard water by boiling for 20 minutes and allowing to cool. Ladle water off the top so as not to disturb sediment that settles on the bottom of the pan.
  • Use freshly-picked vegetables (within 24 hours of being picked) for the crispest results post pickling. The longer the vegetables sit, the softer they will be.
  • Use pickling salt with no iodine or anti-caking additives that can darken pickles or cause cloudy brine.

Basic Dill Pickle Spears

  • 3-4 pounds large pickling cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt
  • 2 teaspoons pickling salt
  • 3 1/2 cups soft water
  • 3 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bunch dill
  • 4 quart-sized canning jars and lids

Scrub the cucumbers in cold water to remove the prickly bits from the surface. Cut 1/8″ off both the stem and blossom end of each cucumber and cut into spears. Sprinkle cucumbers with pickling salt and cold water to cover and allow to stand at a cool room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Rinse and let cucumbers sit in cold water bath overnight.

Sterilize canning jars, keeping warm in a canning pot or filled with hot water. Sterilize lids in a separate pot, leaving them in the simmering water until ready to seal jars. Rinse and drain cucumbers.

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 teaspoons pickling salt, water, vinegar and garlic to a boil. Boil for one minute and lower heat to a simmer. Fill sterilized jars with a few peppercorns and a sprig of dill. Pack jars with cucumbers. Ladle hot vinegar solution over the cucumbers, allowing for 1/2″ headspace in the jars, being sure not to have any air bubbles trapped on the sides of the glass.

Wipe rims with a clean cloth, top with lids and screw rings on tightly. Process in a hot water canning bath for 15 minutes. Remove jars using jar lifters to a towel-lined surface, keeping a few inches between jars. Allow to cool.

Any jars that don’t seal can be refrigerated and eaten within a week.

This recipe makes 4 quarts dill pickle spears.

Are you canning anything this summer?

Shaina Olmanson is the freelance writer, photographer, and home cook behind Food for My Family. Cooking daily with and for her four kids and husband, Ole, drives her desire to inspire other families to do the same. Shaina is also the author of Desserts in Jars and contributes regularly to a variety of online sites and traditional print magazines.
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