The Great Pickling Tragedy of 2009

July 21st, 2009

Last week, I took a break from blogging to get a few projects done around my house. I re-painted the center hall and created a family photo wall.  I tied up a few loose ends for our upcoming vacation, and believe it or not I found enough left-over strength to pickle a huge batch of my own home-grown cucumbers.

When I had finished all my projects, I promptly  fell into bed with a stack of movies and a bag of bite-sized snicker bars and then I weakly called out to my children to fetch their poor sick mama a nice hot cup of tea!   For some reason, my children were unable to hear my calls for liquid nourishment which was funny, because I could hear their blood curdling screams as they wrestled in the living room, hurled sharp pointed objects at each other and poked each other’s eyes out, perfectly fine.




But enough about me and my recovery process.

Let’s talk about making pickles!

Drew helped me to make them.





While he sliced and diced, I made a batch of pickle juice according to a recipe I found in a Ball Canning Recipe Book.






I made my own mesh bag for the pickling spices with some cheese cloth and twine. This small act of ingenuity was enough to make me feel like a useful, contributing human being for weeks.





I set up an assembly line… cukes, simmering pickle juice, canner with boiling water, and lids in a seperate pan of simmering water.





In the meantime, Drew filled the jars with cucumbers…





Both sliced and whole.





He took a few photos for me.






We poured the pickle juice into the jars, placed the lids on, and them set them in a boiling canner for 15 minutes just like the directions stated.






Nine quarts and two pints later, we were finished. 

I have never felt so satisfied with a project in my life.  This is real food people!  Grown from my own garden!  And it has been preserved to feed my family during the lean winter months when the blizzards blow under the flimsy door of our little dugout, and we cain’t git to town to buy any supplies!





The Ball Canning Book recommended that we test the lids on the jars after a few days to make sure they were sealed.

While we were at it, we decided to go ahead and sample our pickles…






Drew fished one out of the jar.

It was not exactly firm..

In fact, it had the consistency of gelatin…

Soggy gelatin…

Soggy sour gelatin…





He gave the wobbly pickle a try…





This is not just a response to the typical sourness of a dill pickle…






This is a full fledged gag reflex…






The pickles are terrible.


The whole pickles we canned are limpid tributes to culinary horror and the sliced pickes are sour mush bombs.

We threw them all in the compost pile.

I aim to try again, but it is going to be a while until I am strong enough.

A long while…

This winter might be extra hard without a batch of pickles to get us through… but then again, if we had been forced to eat those awful blobs of vinegar gone wrong, we surely would have died from acute gastric depression.


  • jamoody:

    Keep trying….I have had more pickle disasters than I care to admit, but the good patches are worth it!!!

  • Marilyn:

    Oh, this reminds me of an old Andy Griffith episode when Aunt Bea made her famous pickles…so funny! You didn’t tie that little bag of spices with jute did you? Next time, you might want to use baking twine or you will have jute hairs floating in your pickle juice…YUK. You know they sell pickles at the grocery store don’t you?

  • I’m sorry about your pickle problem.
    That’s how my experimental cooking usually end up.
    I tried strawberry jam this year. Followed the instructions EXACTLY and I got jam that is runny :o(
    It tastes good tho.
    And the yeast bread I tried to make this year was hard as a rock.
    Not. good.

  • Pickles can be tricky. Did you use alum? That’s what makes pickles crisp.

    I’m making my mom’s recipe, 14-day sweet pickles. I think they’ll be tasty enough, but I didn’t use the best kind of cucumbers for pickling.

    The thing is, I don’t even care much for pickles. I just wanted to use my mom’s recipe.

  • jamoody:

    I just remembered….my best recipe for pickles as far as preventing sogginess had you add a grape leave to the bottom of the jar….not sure why, but it works.

  • ks grandma:

    What? No 3 gallon crocks with pickles in brine held down by a plate with weights on it? In brine for days? Weeks? Sounds like you didn’t suffer enough. Maybe another time. (I remember that you had to be careful on wash day not to drip suds from your elbows into the crocks. They sat alarmingly close to the wringer washer.)

  • Linda:

    Did you use canning salt? I had a big problem with soggy pickles and I believed it was the wrong salt (iodized table salt). I haven’t made pickles since. You also have to scrub the cucumbers so that that are really clean.

  • nancy:

    Do not boil the jarred pickles. Boil the brine and quickly pour over pickles and seal the jars.

  • Anonymous:

    I think you used the wrong kind of cucumbers. Those look like the burpless type. Use pickling cucumbers, you do need to use canning salt, and after you make them let them set for a few weeks before trying.

  • MissTeach:

    They HAVE to be soaked in pickling lime first. I’ve never heard of this step being ommitted with sweet pickles. It comes in a small sack and is a powder you mix with water. Apparently the recipe was just for the syrup and left out this information. So sorry you did all this for nothing.

  • I come from a long line of gardeners and canners, yet I’m ashamed to say that I’m neither. I don’t see the line ending with me; I see both in my future.

    What did The Oracle say about this? He likes to share information he acquired while watching Alton Brown on FoodTV.

    I need to watch the Andy Griffin episode Marilyn mentioned.

    I’ve learned to embrace my mistakes and move on. It sounds like you’ll do the same. I don’t trust people who don’t confess to their mistakes.

  • Paula:

    K’s Grandma up above is cracking me up. “Sounds like you didn’t suffer enough.”…dripping elbow suds….


  • Pickles! They’re so darned challenging to get right! Luckily, I don’t care for pickles. So if hubby wants them, he makes them. And if he screws them up – it’s his loss! : ) Dilly beans however are a whole ‘nother story….

  • I have had this happen too! No fun! I have had much better success with refrigerator pickles.

  • What!?! You threw them on the compost?

    I’d make my kids eat them! Hardship donchaknow, builds character. Gives them something to laugh at. At least they don’t have to lick the grease off of someone else’s fish and chips wrappers, right?

    Try throwing some grape leaves in with the cucs when you load the jars. It helps them stay crispy. Also, I could tell you how to do refrigerator pickles that are crisp and snappy. So easy. I know you can do it.

  • That sucks. Nothing worse than a bad tasting, limp pickle.

  • Patti:

    sorry about your pickle mishap. i have not attempted pickles yet. give it another try! u can do it!!!!

  • Oh man! I really feel for you! I hate hard work, yet love pickles, so this would be a major disappointment for me too :)

  • Ok, so I have to say that now I’m scared to try pickles next year. I *had* been all excited, but now I’m not. See what you’ve done? You’ve enlightened me to the fact that I should just stick with buying store-bought pickles and making jam and salsa, and canning whole fruits. In fact, if you want lessons in THAT, I’ll be doing it tomorrow. Good luck if you do the pickles again! Sounds like you’ve gotten some great advice!

  • M.R.:

    Here’s my mom’s recipe for bread and butter pickles — different from any I’ve ever had elsewhere:

    Mrs. Cooper’s/Mrs. Wage’s Pickles

    Wash cucumbers and slice. Soak in mixture of 1/2 cup pickling lime to 2 gallons water. Soak overnight – at least 8 hours. Rinse well in 3 changes of water. Soak in ice water for 3 hours. Drain.

    Simmer for 30 minutes in mixture of 7 cups apple cider vinegar, 7 cups sugar, 2 teaspoons allspice, 1 tsp cloves. Put in sterilized jars. Seal.

    I didn’t hear you say anything about soaking and rinsing (3 times yet!) and soaking again!!!!!

    I have never made this recipe. I love that she gives no measurement for the amount of cucumbers.

  • i have totally sworn off making pickles for the very same reason. tons of cukes, sugar, jars and WORK~ all for crappy tasting mush! sorry it didn’t turn out. but only you can make terrible pickles sound so interesting and clever. keep up thegood work- and next time it will go better. most likely.

  • I also used to be a horrible pickle maker:) No offense of course! My advice, too, is to be a rebel. Do not boil the jars in hot water after packing them, even though all the books will say to do it. We made nearly 70 jars of various pickles last year and everyone of them was crisp and delicious (and stayed sealed)!

    I did not like all the pickling spices, so used this simple recipe. 1 cup white vinegar, 2 cups water, 1 Tblsp canning salt (makes about 2-3 quarts worth of brine). Bring to a boil. Pack hot jars with dill, garlic, and pickles. Pour brine over pickles and place hot lid (that has been boiled in water 2-3 mn) and ring. The jars seal themselves, and the result is crisp dill pickles. Let them set for a few weeks for better taste and serve cold.

    Or, refrigerator pickles. 2 qts sliced cukes, 1 sliced onion, 2 Tblsp salt. Mis and let stand 2 hours. Drain and rinse. Mix together 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup white vinegar and pour over cukes and onions. Can be eaten the next day or frozen for when the snow flies.

    Happy Pickling!

  • Diane:

    Don’t fret. Pickles are tricky. The only time they’ve come out TRULY right that I can remember was several years back and crocks and brine and wait time was involved. Now I see you have suggestions for the “new” way which is much simpler. Just be glad you tried them now. What if you had waited until you were really planning on them to add to a meal. Then you would have been truly bummed!

  • I don’t make pickles (let my mother-in-law handle that one), but I do can lots of other things and it can be very frustating, to say the least, when things don’t turn out.

    Speaking of pickles, have your tried Wickles? Oh, my goodness, they will change everything you know about pickles, they are so good!

  • It is episodes like this that made me swear off canning for life. It’s just so much easier to go to town and buy what I need…….although those pickle jars from Costco are so gosh darn huge that’s about all I can fit in the fridge for weeks :)

  • Jessica:

    My husband made pickles for the first time last year from the cucumbers he had grown in our small city garden. He used a simple recipe published in the KC Star last summer. It did not call for a cheesecloth to separate the spices from the pickles. It did not call for boiling the cukes, just the brine you pour over them. But most importantly, it DID say you have to wait at least two months for the cucumbers to “pickle.” Don’t give up!

  • I have the simpliest, most wonderful pickle recipe which involves few supplies. Adding a wild mustang grape leaf (or perhaps any other type of grape leaf) to the jar while packing the pickles will give your finished product a crunchy bite. I add a very small, whole, fresh jalepeno and it gives it just a little something with NO bite. Are you interested in the receipe? If so, let me know – I can send it to you. Also – salt pickles are great and they can be made simply by mixing them in a small crock or bowel, let sit for 7 days in a (not so cool) room and they will be GREAT! My husband eats way too many at once and worries me – not sure why it worries me – so I make these sparingly. Good luck with your next canning adventure.

  • martina:

    At least Drew had the appropriate tshirt. Try try again Rechelle. I agree that maybe waiting a bit longer for the pickles to pickle would have worked.

  • Nothing more frustrating! My Grams used to swear by the grape leaf thing too. She also warned against making pickles during “that time of the month” as the vegetables would go soft or spoil. (Since I was usually preggers at pickle making season, that wasn’t usually a problem.) We never opened a jar of pickles until my Dad’s birthday mid November. Maybe that’s where you went wrong … they needed to PICKLE for a few months??? I never cooked my pickles. I poured boiling hot brine over them, put hot lids on quick, turned the jars upside down, and covered up the upside down jars with a wool blanket overnight. The next day, I took the blanket off, turned the jars right side up, tested lids for seal, and put them away in the cellar until November. I know every expert out there says you gotta cook pickles, but my pickles got eaten every winter, and no one suffered any ill effects. Good luck next time!

  • MyRich:

    A previous commenter mentioned “dilly green beans” which I am assuming are green bean pickles…*drool* I have foundered myself on those more times than I care to admit. As for the pickles: My aunt makes some of the most fabulous pickles of all time, crisp and perfect. NO ONE can get her recipe to turn out the way she does. We have even gone so far as to get water from her well to make our pickles. Nothing works. They are good, but they are not HERS. Don’t let your first try get you down, pickles are just picky. :D

  • This same thing happened last year to Tadpole.

  • DirtyKSmama - Nikki:

    Can’t help you on the pickles – I know nothing there (yet!)

    But I love the Pickleball shirt! Whose idea was that? Very clever.

    At least you have a story to tell from this experience. ;)

  • There are just so many variables and tricks for these sort of things… everyone else has already given the good advice.

    But at least these things make good blog fodder!

  • I was loving the sounds of that jalepeno recipe until I saw that it involved bowels. That’s just all kinds of wrong. ;)

    I’ve never made pickles but my husband makes refrigerator pickles. The pickled onions in them are the best part. They’re sweet, sour, crunchy and delish!

    This is probably a stupid question, but are you sure all the salt and vinegar won’t mess up the compost? We dumped out the salty ice water from making ice cream in a bag on the front lawn last summer and it killed the grass in that spot for the rest of the summer. My husband asked if I hadn’t ever heard of salting the earth. Oops.

    Nice tutorial! Sorry it was sort of for nothing, but I learned a ton from the comments! :)

  • I too thought of Aunt Bea’s “Kerosene Cucumbers” from the Andy Griffin Show. Sorry, I hate it when so much work is for naught! Don’t let the pickles keep you down – Fight the Power!!! Show ‘em who’s boss – make another batch. :)

  • Did you know that you are suppose to let dill pickles “Ferment” in the jars about 6 weeks before opening (eating) them? I’m sure that’s why they taste like crap.

  • It was the boiling water bath. Seriously. The new Ball book kinda sucks in some regards because it’s very politically correct. My question to “them” being: So hundreds of years of our ancestors did it without the boiling water bath and did just fine, but were wrong?

    Sometimes – the way they did stuff 100 years ago was superior.

    Case in point with pickling. You’ve got some great tips here in your comments. I’d definitely chalk this one up to lesson learned and give it another go. Oh, and I second the other poster’s feeling that you had the wrong variety for pickling perhaps… they just didn’t look like picklers…

    Good luck!

  • kelsie:

    My father in law makes dill pickles and sweet pickles. If you are ever interested in trying his let me know. The dill are very easy but the sweet takes a little more time.

  • kathleen:

    Same thing happened to me when my son and I made pickles several years ago, I have never attempted it since. I see a lot of great suggestions above, I believe the answer is do not boil, makes sense doens’t it, its actually cooking the darn things after all if you do that.

  • KristifromKs:

    Rechelle- came to you by way of your sister’s blog. I am so glad to hear about your pickle debacle, because if you just substitute 2008 for your 2009- it could’ve been my exact story. I too used the Ball’s canning book recipe for hot packed dill pickles, and mine too were completely inedible. If you find out why- will you please let me know. I haven’t gotten enough nerve to try again, but I really want to. Maybe it’s Ball that’s got it all wrong. That’s it- it’s not US, it’s Ball. In that case let me know if you get a really successful recipe-will ya? :)

  • KristifromKs:

    BTW- I did let my pickles “ferment” for 8 weeks actually before we tried them. They were still putrid and limp. I used pickling cukes too. I am afraid not to water bath them because of all the bad things that can get into that jar, so now what?

  • Jill:

    not sure how I a came upon your pickle disaster….through other blogs I believe! 14 years ago I had the same issue….since then no disaster. a couple of hints….use the packaged pickling products I will find mine and let you know. and then only process them for 3 minutes….just long enough to seal the lids! I will send you my recipe!

  • Lucy:

    Just found this post and had to say that pickles are always better after they have stood for a few months.

    I take the ‘raw’ cukes -either sliced or whole- and layer them with course salt (maybe kosher?)in a LARGE bowl overnight. The salt helps draw the liquid out and make crispy pickles! The next day, just rinse rinse rinse before you start to pack them into jars.

    Don’t give up!!