First, for fermented pickles, sauerkraut, etc. — use the Low Temperature Pasteurization Process outlined by the NCHFP. Because this process uses water between 180-185 degrees–which is below the boiling point–and a thermometer to determine/maintain temperature, there is no elevation adjustment for this process.
Second, pickles and pickled products fall into a several basic groups when it comes to elevation adjustments. The majority of them fall into various groups that can be split out on a three-stage elevation chart, which gives the elevation adjustment in easy five-minute increments:
Different recipes start with different amounts of basic time, then each goes up in increments of five minutes at a time, based on elevation. The time is increased once you go higher than 1,000 feet, and then once again when you go higher than 6,000 feet. See the chart above for a visual representation of where those breaking lines fall.
These three elevation-zone pickle recipes can easily be divided into three groups.
- in the 5/10/15 minute group (i.e.: the pickles that process in a BWB can for five minutes at <1,000 ft, ten minutes from 1,001 feet -to- 6,ooo feet, and fifteen minutes for those who are canning in a part of the world where they’re over 6,000 ft in elevation), you find pints of Sweet Gherkin Pickles, pints of 14-Day Sweet Pickles, pints or quarts of hot-packed Quick Sweet Pickles, pints of Dilled Beans, 1/2-pints or pints of Pickled Bell Peppers, pints of Pickled Mixed Vegetables, 1/2-pints or pints of Pickled Pepper-Onion Relish, pints of Piccalilli, and pints of Pickled Green Tomato Relish.
- in the 10/15/20 minute group, you find pints or quarts of Bread-and-Butter Pickles, pints of Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles, quarts of 14-Day Sweet Pickles, pints of raw-packed Quick Sweet Pickles, pints of Artichoke Pickles, 12-oz jars or pints of Pickled Asparagus, pints or quarts of Pickled Bread-and-Butter Zucchini, 1/2-pints or pints of Pickled Cauliflower or Brussel Sprouts, pints of Pickled Dill Okra, 1/2-pints and pints of Pickled Hot Peppers, pints of Pickled Jalapeño Rings, quarts of Pickled Mixed Vegetables, pints of Pickled Pearl Onions, pints of Pickled Sweet Green Tomatoes, pints of Pickled Yellow Pepper Rings, 1/2-pints and pints of Spiced Apples Rings, pints of Watermelon Rind Pickles, pints of Sweet Apple Relish, 1/2-pints and pints of Pickle Relish, pints of Oscar Relish, and pints of Fall Garden Relish.
- in the 15/20/25 minute group, you find quarts of Quick Fresh-Pack Dill Pickles, quarts of raw-packed Quick Sweet Pickles, pints of Bread and Butter Pickled Jicama, quarts of Kosher Style Dill Green Tomato Pickles, half-pints and pints of Marinated Peppers, pints of Pickled Baby Carrots, pints of Pickled Carrots, quarts of Pickled Sweet Green Tomatoes, pints of Spiced Green Tomatoes, pints of Cantaloupe Pickles, pints of No-Sugar Added Cantaloupe Pickles, pints of Fig Pickles, pints of Chayote and Pear Relish, 1/2-pints of Chayote and Jicama Slaw, pints of Dill Pickle Relish, pints of Fresh Dill Cucumber Relish, 1/2-pints and pints of Three-Bean Salad, 1/2-pints and pints of Pickled Corn Relish, pints of Rummage Relish, and pints of Tangy Tomatillo Relish.
Then you have the problem children, the recipes that have different processing profiles than the ones I just listed, despite the fact that they also fall into the same basic pickled food category. First, there’s the group that divides elevation up into four categories rather than three:
- 20 minutes for under 1,000 ft
- 25 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 ft
- 30 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 ft
- 35 minutes for over 6,000 ft
And, finally, we have Pickled Beets, which defy being plugged into any of the other groups … probably because beets are a root crop … and root crops are notorious for being hosts to some of the worst canning cooties. Because of that, pints or quarts of Pickled Beets both process the longest canning times of any pickles, namely:
- 30 minutes for under 1,000 ft
- 35 minutes for 1,001 – 3,000 ft
- 40 minutes for 3,001 – 6,000 ft
- 45 minutes for over 6,000 ft
What does all this mean? Well–first–it means that a lot of people have tried to pickle a lot of different things
Second, it means that … if you have a pickle that doesn’t fit into any of the standard NCHFP pickles … then you need to try to find one that uses similar ingredients. Spices are freebes in this category, too … so what you need to look at beyond the vegetable/fruit is the ratio of vinegar to produce. Sugar–if included–also helps keep your pickled foods safe long-term … but this is one of the areas where–if you use undiluted vinegar–you can easily substitute Splenda or other artificial sweeteners … and still be assured of maintaining food safety. And–as always–when in doubt, and when you can’t find any approved pickle recipe that looks anything like yours … try to adjust what you have to be closer to an approved recipe … and always use the greater amount, be it vinegar, sugar, or processing time … just to be safe. Don’t be afraid to try older family recipes, too … just remember, more acidity = a safer pickle … so–when in doubt–don’t dilute your vinegar with water … even if the old recipe says it’s safe to do so. Vinegar is cheap, and using it full-strength won’t change your flavor all that much. Better safe than sorry, right?