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Say "No" to Old Pickle Recipes

Pickle JarsThe Question:

“I recently made homemade dill pickles by my grandmother’s recipe; I have made pickles by this recipe for a very long time. This year the pickles were bubbling when I opened them. There is a white film in the jars. They taste just fine but I am wondering if they are safe to eat. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 cup water
  • ¼-1/2 cup pickling salt
  • Whatever spices
  • Then bring brine to boil, pack cucumbers in sterilized jars, cover with hot brine and so on.”

The Answer:
These pickles are not safe. Please do not eat the bubbling dill pickles with white film in the jar. These pickles are spoiled and only a microbial analysis can tell what is spoiling them and whether it is harmful. Growth of either bacteria or yeast can produce gas. Growth of bacteria, yeasts and/or molds can cause the film. Molds growing in pickles can use the acid as food thereby raising the pH. A raised pH increases the chance that harmful organisms (such as the organism that causes botulism) can grow.
 
The proportion of vinegar to water in this pickling brine is 1 to 4 and is too low to be safe. A safe, tested quick dill pickle recipe is included below; the ratio of vinegar to water in this recipe is 3 to 4. Cucumbers contain very limited acidity and typically have a pH of 5.12 to 5.78. Making sure enough vinegar is added to the cucumbers is important to make safe pickles; Clostridium botulinum can grow in improperly canned, pickled foods with a pH higher than 4.6.  It is critical to use scientifically tested recipes for making pickles to ensure their safety.

Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles (from HGIC 3420)

Ingredients:

  • 8 pounds of 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
  • 2 gallons water
  • 1¼ cups canning or pickling salt (divided)
  • 1½ quarts vinegar (5 percent)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons whole mixed pickling spice
  • 3 tablespoons whole mustard seed
  • About 14 heads of fresh dill OR 5 tablespoons dill seed

Yield: 7 to 9 pints

Procedure:

Wash cucumbers. Cut 1/16-inch slices off blossom ends and discard, but leave ¼ inch of stem attached. Dissolve ¾ cup salt in 2 gallons water. Pour over cucumbers and let stand 12 hours. Drain. Combine 1½ quarts vinegar, ½ cup salt, ¼ cup sugar and 2 quarts water. Add mixed pickling spices tied in a clean, white cloth. Heat to boiling. Fill jars with cucumbers. Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1½ heads fresh dill (or 1½ teaspoons dill seed) per pint jar. Cover with boiling pickling solution, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process pints for 10 minutes or quarts for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.

My recommendation is to dispose of the spoiled pickles where your pets (if any) cannot get to them (See HGIC 3000 http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/food_safety/preservation/hgic3000.html for recommendations for safe disposal of spoiled canned foods). See the following links for tested information about making cucumber pickles from our Home and Garden Information Center.