Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lime Pickles or Lime Pickles?

Half of my cucumbers...

We're renting a garden plot where I've planted more cukes!

The kids were curious about "lime pickles," so I thought I'd write a post about it.

Slaked Lime/ Calcium Hydroxide

Lime Pickles
I've had a mild curiosity about these pickles for some years.  Last week my husband brought home a jar from a friend's.  Needless to say, he loves them.  Everyone agrees that they're wonderfully cruchy.  Now I feel a little obligated to make a batch.  We already have 10 gallons in the pantry!  But, it's only August and the cukes are on steroids this year.

7 pounds (4-inch-long) cucumbers
1 cup pickling lime
6 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
6 cups sugar
2 tablespoons pickling spice
1 tablespoon salt

Cut cucumbers lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Combine cucumber slices, pickling lime, and water to cover in a nonaluminum stockpot; stir well.
Cover and let stand at room temperature 12 hours.
Drain cucumbers; rinse with cold water, and return to stockpot.
Add fresh cold water to cover, and let stand 1 hour.
Repeat procedure 2 times.
Drain cucumbers, and return to stockpot.
Combine vinegar and next 3 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Pour vinegar mixture over cucumbers in stockpot; cover and let stand 6 hours or overnight.
Bring cucumbers and vinegar mixture to a boil over medium heat; cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring gently, 35 minutes.
Pack cucumbers into hot, sterilized jars.
Pour vinegar mixture over cucumbers, filling to 1/2 inch from top.
Remove air bubbles; wipe jar rims.
Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands.
Process in boiling-water bath 5 minutes.
Refrigerate pickles after opening.

Pickling lime is calcium hydroxide or slaked lime.  In pickles it's a crisping agent.  The calcium in the lime reacts with the pectic acid in the cucumber to form calcium pectate, which adds to 'crunchiness'.  Cucumbers (and other vegetables) contain natural calcium pectate - soaking in lime water simply helps to maintain this.
It's very important to rinse the product thoroughly to assure any residual lime is removed from the cucumbers.  Pickling lime is caustic and has to be handled carefully to avoid burns.
Some Extension sites still provide recipes calling for pickling lime, others advise not to use it. You can achieve similar results with Pickle Crisp, which is another form of calcium, without the risks.

Regarding flavor, if the cucumbers are adequately rinsed, you shouldn't notice anything beyond the sugar-vinegar-spices.  Where pickling lime does make a difference is in products like hominy or masa harina.  Authentic tortillas would be made from corn treated with lime.

Lime Pickles
A whole different kind of pickle.  These are from India and full of flavor.  Obviously, they're very spicy!  I'm sure we can tweak the recipe here.  These are a pickle to make in the warm summer months.

10 fresh limes
1-2 cups salt
1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tbsp. mustard seeds
1 tbsp. fenugreek seeds
20-25 dried red chillies
1 tsp. turmeric powder
Cut the lime into small pieces
(Preseve the juice while cutting)
Put lime pieces in a large pickle or glass jar and add salt.
Shake jar to coat all pieces.

Keep aside for 5-6 days till lime becomes tender.
(stir it with a dry laddle once everyday.)

Dry roast the cumin, mustard, fenugreek, and red chillies.

Add turmeric and grind to a powder.
Add ground powder to the lime pieces.

Mix well with a clean dry spoon.
Allow 4-5 days before eating.

Preserve in clean dry airtight jars.

Heat 2 tsp. oil and fry 1 tsp. mustard seeds and add 1/2 tsp. asafoetida to it.
Add this to the pickle and mix well.

An indian pickle is served as a condiment on the side of the plate.  They are most often eaten with the main curries, flatbreads, or rice dishes.  It will almost always be too intense to eat on its own.
A 2 pound batch of citrus can make enough to last a year or more. for the best keeping quality follow these precautions:
  • when making them be sure that the peels are absolutely free of water, they must be completely dry. water-wet peels going into a jar are pretty much guaranteed to foster mold.
  • once it has completely broken down, and for long term storage in the fridge, make sure all of the citrus is submerged in the gel-like liquid.
  • a clean and dry spoon must be used to take out what will be served. place the cap right back on, and if you go back for more, use a new spoon. if there is an uneaten portion, never put it back in the jar, just eat it later!
  • when making big batches i transfer them to smaller jars before putting in the fridge, and go through them one at a time. doing this usually eliminates any problems as you are not going in and out of a jar for over a year.

Gingery Lime Pickle
This recipe is from Tigress in a Pickle.  Don't you just love that name?  I plan to try this because of the ginger.  I'm a fan, both of flavor and for it's soothing effect on the tummy.

8 large organic limes
juice of 3 limes (or 2 lemons)
1/2 cup sea salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cayenne powder (or paprika, or 1/2 & 1/2)
1 cup julienned ginger
3 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
powder or with a mortar and pestle.

 Substitute ¼ tsp asafoetida powder with ¼ garlic powder + ¼ onion powder.
1/2 gallon jar

1. wipe limes clean with a wet cloth, and then a dry. let sit in a warm place for an hour or so to dry completely. slice off button ends, and quarter.

2. place one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and asafoetida powder in a dry skillet and toast for about 3-4 minutes, until the fenugreek seeds are just a shade darker. (if you have never smelled asafoetida powder before, don't be alarmed, it's supposed to smell that way). let cool and grind in a spice grinder

3. fill the jar with limes and ginger. add the spice powder, fenugreek seeds, salt, sugar and turmeric. add the cayenne powder, paprika, or some mixture thereof. or you can earn your tigress stripes and go for this:

extra hot cayenne pepper. do take note, that though this seems like a lot of hot it mellows out during the preserving process - and you do want a bite.

4. pour the lemon juice into the jar. place the cap on and give it a good shake this way and that, making sure that the spices distribute evenly around the ginger and citrus.

5. place it in the sun, giving it a good shake once a day. if you see the cap lifting in the center from pressure, or the whole thing hisses at you when you walk by, don't take it personally, slowly open it and release the fermentation gasses. gently. if it's hot outside when you make these, put them outdoors, making sure to bring them in at night. or just keep them on a sunny windowsill.

6. this indian pickle generally takes about 6 weeks, and sometimes up to 8 or 9. test after the 5 week mark. limes are usually slower to break down than lemons. you want to be able to sink your teeth into them, and your mouth should explode when you do

It's not very midwestern, as we can't grow citrus up here, but it was a fun article to write.  It also taught me something new and delicious about another culture.  We certainly do have sunshine and summer here!  And we can purchase these ingredients.  I'm sure we can find asafoetida somewhere.


  1. I think Mark would love those Indian pickles! I think I would too. There is a local Indian market I've been to a couple of times too that might have that spice. Or, you can order it online.

  2. I'm definately planning to try these next summer. Ill have to blog a tutorial then. :D
    Let me know if you make them!


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As long as I'm on this journey, rambling through life's exhilarating highs and trudging heavily amongst it's incapacitating lows, I might as well share whatever may be gleaned from my little bits of wisdom and my many missteps. No room for judgment from this broken mama. I'm writing from my heart: raw, open, messy, but saved. And I'm still thanking God!