By Harold McGee
Most pickled fruits and vegetables are eaten raw as a condiment, and are preferred crisp. The use of unrefined sea salt improves crispness thanks to its calcium and magnesium impurities, which help cross-link and reinforce cell-wall pectins. Especially crisp cucumber and watermelon-rind pickles are made by adding alum (aluminum hydroxide), whose aluminum ions cross-link cell-wall pectins, or by presoaking the raw materials in a solution of “pickling lime,” or calcium hydroxide, whose calcium ions do the same. (Lime is strongly alkaline and its excess must be washed from the ingredients before pickling to avoid neutralizing the pickles’ acidity.) When subsequently cooked, pickles may not soften because their acidity stabilizes cell walls. Tender pickles are produced by precooking the vegetable until soft.