Does anyone have experience with lime or alum for pickling? Where do I find them, how do they work? Recommended? Risks?
Meg is a trusted home cook.
Here's an excellent source of reliable information:
See "Firming agents" under "General Information"
One place you can find pickling lime in Mexican markets under the name "Cal" (short for calcium hydroxide).
As I understand it, issues may arise if the lime is not properly flushed from the pickles before canning.
An easier tack may be to use calcium chloride instead. It is sold under the name "Pickle Crisp" by Ball (the jar and lid makers).
Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.
Great resources, but I just wanted to put in a vote for Team Vinegar. If your vegetables are in season, you don't need to use lime or alum to keep them crisp! Plus, it's all natural and risk-free.
I don't mean to be argumentative in any way but I submit that calcium hydroxide is as natural as sodium chloride and acidic acid. I don't think anything we do in the chemical laboratories we call kitchens is exactly risk free either. Most certainly not pickling as botulism is one possible outcome. We only need to understand the risks and practice the best methods of avoiding them.
Toward that end, I failed to fully explain the risk in my answer above: If the lime, an alkali, is not fully removed, it will partially neutralize the acid in the vinegar. Without sufficient acidity, the aforementioned botulism could be the result.
That said, I have full trust in the NCHFP. If they didn't feel the home cook could safely accomplish a procedure, they wouldn't approve it. As with all food preservation, follow approved and tested recipes and methods to the letter.
And don't miss the tip about removing the blossom end of the cucumber.
Thank you thank u thank u!! Will report back, made a batch of watermelon pickles without lime or alum yesterday, will try some more and let u know. Recipe 2 follow. So excited, haven't had watermelon pickle since my momstopped canning about 40 yrs ago. :))
ChefOno is exactly, right, on with his advice.
Kenzi - I'm sorry to say that vinegar alone is not always sufficient to keep pickles crisp (hence, I'm sure, the question). Much has to do with the actual type of cucumber used (best results: stay with pickling cucumbers and avoid all the table varieties) as well as the method and recipe. And for all that is important to you in life: if you want a shelf-stable result stay with tested recipes!!! Unless you are making quick pickles that will always be in the fridge, DO NOT IMPROVISE!! While it may seem like a great and fun idea to add more onions or other items to your pickling recipe, that can throw off the ultimate acid balance with potentially AWFUL (and I'm not talking taste, I'm talking paralysis or worse) results.
I love tweaking recipes in the kitchen, using my creative flare to adjust recipes to my taste. But I also know where the boundaries are, and they are in all canning that is intended to be shelf stable. There, improvisation is absolutely forbidden.
Having said all that, I'm now focusing on "watermelon pickle". When I make those, I'm not concerned about crisp in the same way I would be with dill pickles. I made them recently using the Ball cookbook recipe and it did not call for adding any pickle crisping agent, and I didn't add one. They aren't really a crisp pickle anyhow.
So, pickle crisping agents are great when you want a crisp (not soggy) result. But with watermelon rind pickles, that isn't really an issue so I'd skip it.
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