When I’m in the kitchen, I don’t make mistakes. I have “learning experiences.” A few years ago, I had an interesting learning experience, and since I write to share stuff like this with others, take note so you don’t have to repeat my learning experience. (There’s no need to thank me.)
This particular mist—um, er, learning experience—involved my first foray into pickle making. I had a nice stash of cucumbers, onions, jalapenos, and garlic from a local farm, and since my hubby doesn’t care for cucumbers (and there are only so many I can eat on my own), the combination before me screamed “pickles!”
I did some research and quickly discovered that “refrigerator pickles” were the way to go for me (since I’m not the most patient person around). The recipe I chose promised tangy, salty, garlicky goodness in only twenty-four hours. It did not lie. My refrigerator pickles were tangy. They were garlicky. Thanks to the jalapenos I added to the recipe, they were spicy too. And: They. Were. Salty. So salty in fact, that I almost threw the entire batch out. The recipe I used had an error, listing far too much salt in the ingredient list.
But then I remembered the wonders to be found on the World Wide Web and turned to the internet for a “pickles too salty” solution. Judging by the sheer number of posts offering solutions, I guess I’m not the only novice pickle-maker to have this particular learning experience. The secret is osmosis, the scientific reaction that creates pickles in the first place.
Say it with me, kids: Oz-mo-sis. You learned all about it in middle school biology, but here’s a refresher: “Osmosis is the net movement of solvent molecules through a partially permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, in order to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides.” It happens everywhere, including in our bodies. But, for pickles, think of it as the flavor delivery system.
When you put vegetables in a salty brine, the water inside the vegetables flows out into the brine, making the pickles crunchier, while the seasonings in the brine soak into the veggie’s flesh. This passage of water occurs because of the tendency of substances to move through a membrane — like a cucumber skin — from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration (osmosis!). In this case, the salty brine solution has a lower water concentration than the water inside fresh vegetables, so water will flow out of the vegetables.
So the fix for overly salty pickles? Drain off half to three quarters of your brine (depending on how salty your pickles are) and replace it with fresh water. At least some of the salt that the pickles sucked up earlier will flow right back out after a few hours’ soak. You don’t want to lose all of the flavor though, so taste and adjust the brine level every couple of hours.
My Perfect Pickle recipe is below, and I’ve modified the salt content, so you shouldn’t even have the problem for which I just spent three paragraphs outlining a solution. But you learned (or were reminded of) some cool science. (I’m a nerd, sorry.)
• 14 small cucumbers or 7 medium/large cucumbers cut into spears
• 40 sprigs of fresh dill
• 1 large onions, sliced thin
• 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
• 2 large jalapeno peppers, sliced thin crosswise
• 1 1/2 teaspoons pickling spices
• 1 quart of white vinegar
• 1/2 cup of canning salt
• 1 quart of water
Put cucumbers in big, heatproof glass bowl. Add the dill, onion, peppers, garlic, and spices.
In a large saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, and salt and bring to a boil. Cook and stir until salt is dissolved.
Pour the boiling liquid over the cucumber mixture; let cool completely. Then cover the bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Store the pickles in the bowl or in smaller jars in the fridge for up to two weeks.
SEE MORE “IN AND OUT OF A PICKLE” PICTURES HERE