Homemade pickles provide a fresh and flavorful alternative to store-bought products and you can control what goes into them. In the past, pickling lime was used to ensure firm, crunchy pickles. Today, pickling lime is used less often due to dangers that arise from improper use of the powder. You can take precautions to avoid issues from pickling lime, but you also have alternatives available.
Pickling Lime Basics
Pickling lime is powdered calcium hydroxide, also called slaked lime. It should not be confused with industrial quick lime, burnt lime or agricultural lime, which are toxic. You can buy pickling lime at the grocery store in the pickling section or online.
Using Pickling Lime
The calcium in pickling lime fortifies the pectin in the vegetables to be pickled and you use it before you start the pickling process. The basic recipe is 1 cup of pickling lime in a bowl with 1/2 of canning salt over which you pour 1 gallon of water. After soaking the pickles overnight or for 24 hours, stirring them occasionally, you rinse them and then pickle them as usual. The solution can also be used for watermelon rinds and green tomatoes.
Pickling Lime Problems
Pickles that are not properly rinsed after being soaked in pickling lime solution can lead to botulism. Rinse the pickles in fresh water three times to ensure all lime is removed. If you don't rinse well enough, the lime can penetrate the pickle, which allows harmful bacteria to grow in the canning jar and increase the botulism risk. Don't use aluminum tools with the pickling lime, because it can destroy the surface of the pickle and allow harmful levels of aluminum to be absorbed. The powder is also dangerous when inhaled.
Pickling Lime Alternatives
Grape leaves added to jars of pickles help keep the cucumbers crunchy. Alternatively, 1/16 inch of the cucumber end can be removed before pickling. This blossom holds the softening agent and once removed, the pickles should remain crisp. Cucumbers can also be soaked in an ice bath for four to five hours to help make them firm. Lastly, the water bath used for filling the pickling jars should be between 165 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit to keep pickles crunchy.