Should I use a family recipe for non-processed pickles?

Asked September 5, 2013, 12:17 PM EDT

For the first time this year, I'm making pickles at home from my grandmother's recipe, which is over 100 years old. These pickles are put up without processing - just putting cucumbers and hot brine in hot jars, sealing and setting in the sun for three weeks. My family has enjoyed these pickles for generations without problems, but I want to make sure that we're not going to have an issue eventually.
Is it possible that the recipe itself is sufficiently safe? It's not as high in salt or vinegar as some that I've seen, which is an additional concern. The tough part is that this recipe yields a fresh crispness and sizzle unlike any others, so I'd hate to mess with success.

Multnomah County Oregon

1 Response

Hello and thank you for submitting your question to Ask an Expert!

The science of food preservation has changed a lot over the past 100 years. Sometimes when family recipes get handed down over the years, important steps to ensure safety are left out, forgotten, or confused with other food preservation methods. All of your canning publications should have a publication date of 1988 or newer, to ensure that important safety improvements are included. Pickles are processed in a boiling water bath canner to prevent bacterial spoilage and make them safe to store for long periods of time at room temperature. If you do not process them, they should be stored in the refrigerator. Here are some other tips for safety when making pickles:

  • When making a "quick pickle" with vinegar, be sure that the vinegar you are using is 5% acid (look on the label).
  • The recipe should have at least 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. More dilute brines with less vinegar could result in spoilage.
  • Try utilizing the low-temperature pasteurization method of processing your pickles so that they stay crisp.
  • You can find all of the above tips and processing times in our Pickling Vegetables publication. You can find it here:
Happy canning!