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Pickle problems

Pickled pickles cucumbers.

Hollow pickles

  • If you experience problems with hollow pickles, the most common cause is too much time between gathering and pickling. Start processing as soon as possible after picking - preferably within 24 hours. If you cannot begin pickling immediately, refrigerate or spread out the cucumbers in a cool place with good air circulation.
  • Another cause is using poorly developed cucumbers. Check cucumbers during washing. Hollow cucumbers usually float on top. Use hollow cucumbers for relish or chunk-type pickles.
  • In fermented or crock pickles, the most common reason for hollow pickles is improper curing. Use proper brine strength and keep the product well-covered.
  • If the cucumber is too large, over 2 inches across, the pickling solution is not able to penetrate the core properly. Use smaller cucumbers for pickling.
Cucumber with curly vine screen

Shriveling

  • Shriveling happens most often in very sweet or sour pickles. Using too strong a salt, sugar or vinegar solution at the beginning of the pickling process causes shriveling. Measure ingredients carefully when preparing a cucumber pickle that requires the addition of sugar, vinegar or salt over a 3-day to 2-week time.
  • Whole and large pickles are more likely to shrivel than sliced or chunk pickles.
  • Overcooking, overprocessing or not using fresh cucumbers also causes shriveling.
  • Very dry weather can also contribute to shriveled cucumbers.

Off color pickles

Cucumbers with small brown spots should not be used.

  • Pickles may turn dark for several reasons. The most common cause is using water with too many minerals, especially iron.
  • Using ground spices rather than whole spices or using iodized salt, or cooking the cucumber brine too long with spices causes pickles to darken.
  • Cucumbers that have had a delayed growing season, or had been inadequately fertilized, produce a darker pickle product.
  • Do not use iron or brass utensils when preparing pickles. Use only unchipped enamel, stainless steel or heat-resistant glassware when heating pickles. For fermented pickles, use a stone crock, glass or heavy foodgrade plastic container for the process, not a plastic garbage container.
  • Sunburned or over-mature yellow cucumbers may produce a pickled product that is dull or faded in appearance. Cucumbers with small brown spots should not be used.
  • If the pickle liquid turns pink shortly after canning, over-mature dill may be the cause.

Overall appearance and safety

  • Soft water is best for pickling. If only hard water is available, boil it, skim away the surface scum and let it sit for 24 hours. Then draw water off the top of the container without disturbing any sediment at the bottom. Or buy distilled water.
  • A cloudy appearance or a white sediment may indicate the use of table salt rather than canning or pickling salt. Yeast develops and settles to the bottom of the jar. It may be a normal reaction during fermentation caused by bacteria. If the pickles are soft, they are spoiled from the yeast fermentation. Don't use them.
  • Using too weak a salt brine or vinegar solution may cause soft or slippery pickles, as can using moldy garlic or storing the pickles at too warm a temperature. These pickles are spoiled and should be discarded.
  • To form a tight vacuum seal, process pickles in a boiling water bath canner according to USDA recommendations. Use standard canning jars with new lids.

Marilyn Herman; Deb Botzek-Linn, former Extension educator; and Suzanne Driessen, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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