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I have used an old German dill pickle receipe forever that doesn't use a water bath. I make brine and boil, pour over prepared jars, put on heated lids and leave them to seal on their own. These are yummy and SO crisp (because of no water bath). I have 2 that didn't seal this time. I did the usual 'push down' on the lids after they set overnight, and one of them stayed down and the other came up after several hours. Are they OK? If not, can they be kept in the refidge? How long are they good for?

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Are these fermented pickles, or refrigerator pickles? Please provide your full recipe. –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 24 '13 at 20:39
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When I pour the hot brine over the pickles and close the lid I turn the jars upside down, so that, while the pressure is still high inside the hot jar, some liquid will come out if the lids don't seal properly. The pressing-on-the-lid test is not necessarily telling you that it is not sealed, as some lids are harder and will hold their shape, and will not be pulled in by the vacuum when the jar cools. However, the safest will be to keep the suspicious ones in the fridge now and eat them first ... even open dill pickles keep in the fridge for a while (depends on the strength of your brine). –  Martin Turjak Jul 24 '13 at 22:17
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@MartinTurjak This method (inversion sealing) of canning is no longer recommended by most authorities for long term storage. nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_processing_j_j.pdf –  SAJ14SAJ Jul 25 '13 at 10:37
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2 Answers 2

In general, you shouldn't trust anything with a poor seal to last outside the fridge. In the fridge, they'll last just as long as a well-sealed jar that you've just opened. Commercially processed pickles can last a year in the fridge. I wouldn't expect homemade ones to last as long but they should still be good for long enough to eat them all, at least months!

The solution in the future is simply to switch to a different canning method, for example this lower temperature one or a boiling water bath one. Here's an example recipe - you could certainly adjust the spices to match the recipe you like, but it's of course safest to stick to that trusted recipe for the bulk ingredients.

Your problem is that this canning method doesn't reliably produce good seals. The similar inversion method, mentioned by Martin in the comments (turning the jar over after filling and closing) does work better, but even that doesn't always make a good seal! See for example this USDA source, which says:

Some other methods of sealing jars call for inverting a closed, filled jar of hot product for anywhere from thirty seconds to one hour. (Inverting is turning the filled jar upside down on its lid.) While this inversion process can be successful in producing a sealed jar, it works best with very hot product. Individual variation in practicing this procedure or unexpected interruptions can result in delays between filling jars, getting lids screwed on, and inverting the jars. If the product cools down too much, the temperature of the product can become low enough to no longer be effective in sealing jars or preventing spoilage.

When the inversion process does work, the vacuum seals of filled jars still tend to be weaker than those produced by a short boiling water canning process. A larger amount of retained oxygen in the headspace may allow some mold growth if airborne molds contaminated the surface of the product as the jar was filled and closed. More complete removal of oxygen from the headspace also offers some longer protection from undesirable color and flavor changes with some types of fruit products. A weak seal may be more likely to fail during storage.

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I use a similar recipe from Cooks Illustrated for Bread and Butter Pickles. We have left them in the fridge for a very long time and have eaten them over a timeline of a year. Opening and closing the jars.

  • Smell the pickles
  • Look to see if they are breaking down unusually fast
  • Look to see if there are any floating clumps of bacteria in the pickle brine
  • Look to see if there are molds growing around the rim or in the lid

Note: I do not know what is in your brine, but mine had enough vinegar in it to keep out bacteria.

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