Extension Explores: Preserving Pickled Fruits and Vegetables

Pickles on a Board

School is starting back, but summer doesn’t have to end. The delicious fruits and vegetables of summer can last all year with food preservation. Pickling is one way to preserve the summer harvest.

Whether you are pickling fruit or vegetables, always select produce that is fresh, firm and free of spoilage. You can use odd-shaped or more mature cucumbers for relishes and bread-and-butter style pickles. After washing your cucumbers, cut 1/16-inch slice off the blossom end to help with firmness. 

In addition to cutting off the blossom end, there are also firming agents that can be used but are not required. Alum (Potassium Aluminum Sulfate) is a food additive that can help to create a crisp pickled product. It can be safely used in fermented pickles, but it does not improve the firmness in quick-process pickles. Calcium can also increase firmness. You can use pickling lime or other calcium-based pickling products. If using pickling lime, it is important to remove excess lime by rinsing and re-soaking the cucumbers.  

As you select your other ingredients, use canning or pickling salt. Other salts may have non-caking materials added that can make the brine cloudy.  White distilled and cider vinegars with 5% acidity are recommended, but white vinegar is usually used due to the color.  

You may also wonder about different pickle processes. Regular dill pickles are fermented and cured for about three weeks. Refrigerator dill pickles are fermented for one week. Fresh pack or quick-process pickles are not fermented. You can find safe, tested recipes for each type of procedure below from Extension, USDA and the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  

Canning Recipes:

Fermented Cucumber Pickles and Sauerkraut

Quick Process Cucumber Pickles

Pickled Vegetables

Pickled Fruits



Reduced Sugar/Sodium Recipes:


Frequently Asked Questions:

Pickling salt is the recommended type of salt to use. It doesn’t contain non-caking ingredients that may make the brine cloudy, like a table salt. You can safely use iodized or non-iodized table salt but they won’t look as good as the brine may be cloudy. Iodized salt can also cause color changes that are undesirable.

Flakier salts like kosher salt are not recommended as the density varies, affecting the measurements and safety of fermented pickles and sauerkraut.

Sea salt contains minerals that may react and cause undesirable color and flavor changes.

You can use reduced-sodium salts (like lite salt) for quick pickle recipes but they may have a different taste than expected. DO NOT use lite salt in fermented pickle or sauerkraut recipes as it will affect the safety.

Salt is essential for the safety of fermented pickles and cannot be reduced. Although it is not required for the safety of quick pickles, it can greatly affect the flavor. Therefore, if you wish to make reduced-sodium pickles, there are two recipes in the USDA Guide to Canning. One is for Sliced Dill Pickles and one for Sliced Sweet Pickles. See the recipes above if you want to make reduced sodium pickles.

Soft pickles can be caused by several factors. If there are any signs of spoilage or they are slimy or slippery, do not eat the pickles.

Use the freshest produce you can find (try to use the day the produce is picked) and make sure they are at peak ripeness, not overly mature. Be sure to use pickling cucumbers, not slicing or English cucumbers.

Make sure you cut a 1/16″ slice off the blossom end of the cucumbers as this area contains enzymes that can cause softening of the pickles. Older recipes may call for a grape leaf to be added to the jar to help negate this enzyme but is not necessary when removing a slice.

Use a vinegar of 5% acidity or else it may be too weak. Make sure when brining that there is a sufficient amount and the cucumbers are fully immersed.

Soaking the cucumbers in ice for 4-5 hours before canning can help firm them up.

Over-processing can soften pickles as well. Be sure that your water is at a gentle boil, not a violent boil. Watch the time carefully. For recipes that have a low-temperature pasteurization option, you may want to consider using that method.

As a last resort, there are several firming agents that can be used safely when directions are followed exactly. One is pickling lime. Make sure you follow the rinsing directions carefully to fully remove the lime. Another option is calcium granules which are added to the jar before processing. The third option is only useful for fermented pickles, not quick-processed pickles and that is alum.

This could be due to iron, tin, or aluminum in the cooking pot, water or water pipes reacting with the pigments in the garlic. Fresh garlic may also turn blue, so be sure the garlic is cured 2-4 weeks at 70 degrees F. before pickling. The pickles are safe to eat, but discard the garlic.

The minerals in hard water can cause a white precipitate that clouds the brine and can settle at the bottom of the jar. They can also darken foods and add an unpleasant flavor. If you have hard water, consider using filtered bottled water or a filter on your faucet. Some types of hard water can be softened by boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove the scum, cover and let water stand for 24 hours. When the sediment has settled to the bottom, pour off the water without disturbing the sediment. Discard the sediment and use the water to cook foods and fill jars.

Cucumbers can become bitter in dry weather, especially in the peel. Taste your cucumbers before pickling and don’t use if bitter.

If you use too many spices or boil the spices for too long in the vinegar, the pickles can be bitter.

The potassium chloride in salt substitutes (lite salt) when used in quick pickles can cause a bitterness (don’t use in fermented pickles).

Shriveled pickles can be caused by a brine that is too strong, vinegar that is too strong or a syrup that is too heavy. They can also be caused by overcooking or over-processing. Be sure to use 5% acidity vinegar and a reliable, tested recipe and follow the amounts and directions exactly.

Too much time between harvesting and pickling can cause hollow pickles. Try to process within 24 hours or if you must, refrigerate or spread in a cool place with good circulation.

Sometimes the cucumbers are hollow. When washing, watch for cucumbers that float. These are best used in a relish.

Don’t use cucumbers over 2″ in diameter or the pickling solution/brine may not properly penetrate to the core.

For fermented pickles, be sure to use the proper brine strength and keep them submerged and covered. Be sure they are fully fermented before stopping. Cut a cucumber in half and it should have the same color through to the center.

Keep fermenting cucumbers at 75 degrees F. or lower during the fermentation process.

Overly mature dill may be the cause of a pink cast to the liquid. If there are no other signs of spoilage, they are safe to use. However, yeast growth can also cause a pinkish liquid so look for signs of spoilage and discard if you detect yeast growth.

Pink sauerkraut is a sign of spoilage and will need to be discarded. The kraut may have been improperly covered or weighted during fermentation or too much salt was used or the salt was unevenly distributed.

Per Quart Jar:

3 heads of fresh dill =

1-2 tablespoons dill seed =

2 tablespoons dill weed

Pickle Relish Recipe
Pickling Salt Information

For more information or questions about food preservation, please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent at your local county Extension office. Click here for a list of the Tennessee Extension Offices.

Trade and brand names are used only for information.  The University of Tennessee Extension and Tennessee State University Extension do not guarantee nor warrant published standards on any product mentioned; neither does the use of a trade or brand name imply approval of any product to the exclusion of others which may also be suitable.