Salt: Pure granulated salt, such as "pickling" or "canning" salt should be used. It can be purchased from grocery, hardware or farm supply stores. Other salts contain anti-caking materials that may make the brine cloudy. Do not alter salt concentrations in fermented pickles or sauerkraut. Proper fermentation depends on correct proportions of salt and other ingredients.
Vinegar: Use cider or white vinegar of 5-percent acidity (50 grain). This is the range of acidity for most commercially bottled vinegars. Cider vinegar has a good flavor and aroma, but may darken white or light-colored fruits and vegetables. White distilled vinegar is often used for onions, cauliflower and pears where clearness of color is desired. Do not use homemade vinegar or vinegar of unknown acidity in pickling. Do not dilute the vinegar unless the recipe specifies. If a less sour product is preferred, add sugar rather than dilute the vinegar.
Sugar: Use white sugar unless the recipe calls for brown. White sugar gives a product a lighter color, but brown sugar may be preferred for flavor. If you plan to use a sugar substitute, follow recipes developed for these products. Sugar substitutes are not usually recommended, as heat and/or storage may alter their flavor. Also, sugar helps to plump the pickles and keep them firm.
Spices: Use fresh whole spices for the best quality and flavor in pickles. Powdered spices may cause the product to darken and become cloudy. Pickles will darken less if you tie whole spices loosely in a clean white cloth or cheesecloth bag and then remove the bag from the product before packing the jars. Spices deteriorate and quickly lose their pungency in heat and humidity. Therefore, store any unused spices in an airtight container in a cool place.
Water: When brining pickles, hard water may interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from curing properly. To soften hard water, simply boil it 15 minutes and let set for 24 hours, covered. Remove any scum that appears. Slowly pour water from the containers so the sediment will not be disturbed. Discard the sediment. The water is now ready for use. Distilled water can also be used in pickle making, but is more expensive.
Firming Agents: If good-quality ingredients are used and up-to-date methods are followed, the lime and alum are not needed for crisp pickles. Soaking cucumbers in ice water for four to five hours prior to pickling is a safer method for making crisp pickles. If you choose to use firming agents, alum may be safely used to firm fermented cucumbers, but does not work with quick process pickles.
The calcium in lime does improve pickle firmness. If you choose to use lime, purchase food-grade pickling lime from your grocer's shelves. Do not use agricultural or burnt lime. Food-grade lime may be used as a lime-water solution for soaking fresh cucumbers 12 to 24 hours before pickling them. However, EXCESS LIME ABSORBED BY THE CUCUMBERS MUST BE REMOVED TO MAKE SAFE PICKLES. To remove excess lime, drain the lime-water solution, rinse and then re-soak the cucumbers in fresh water for one hour. REPEAT THE RINSING AND SOAKING STEPS TWICE MORE.