...the other day I noticed that the liquid had evaporated leaving
a white crusty coating on the inside of the pot. So now I'm
wondering: is it bad to let it evaporate like that?
Nan, you’re just undoing what you did when you mixed it up in the
first place. Then, you mixed a mostly white granulated solid with
water, to make the pickle. Over time, the water has evaporated.
That’s all. The chemical that makes it pickle is the white crust and
has not changed or given off fumes, so long as the pickle pot was
cold. So just add water back again. Because it’s not nice small
granules now, it may take longer to dissolve again, but letting the
pickle pot warm up a bit should solve that easily enough.
What is it doing to me (breathing in evaporated pickle) and
what is it doing to my tools, etc.
Sodium bisulphate, the chemical that makes up the pickle, is not
itself volatile. But if the pickle is actually boiling and perhaps
even if it’s steaming a good deal, the water droplets given off by the
hot liquid can carry tiny amounts of the chemical with it as an
aerosol. Mostly this is the case if it’s actually boiling. You’ll
know this since then the pickle pot will have an “acid” smell to it,
which it won’t have when cold. Those “fumes” are not so good for
your lungs, and will nicely corrode nearby steel tools (and some
other metals too.) The cure is that when your pickle pot is on, you
should try not to have it so hot as to actually boil, and it should
be kept covered whenever you’re not actually putting something in or
taking it out. The cover will serve to condense the droplets again,
thus returning the chemical to the pot, rather than letting it out to
the air. And if at all possible, try to have the location where the
pot is sitting, decently ventillated, especially while the pot is in
use and hot. When the pot is cold, and water is just slowly
evaporating, these risks do not generally exist.
Also, can I just add water to the pot and make a new batch?
Or do I need to scrape the white crust away (and do what with it?),
clean the pot, and then start with water?
You’re choice. That crusty dry crud is harder to dissolve than
fresh pickle, and if this was older pickle anyway, then it’s a fine
excuse to change it out.
One other comment. Letting the pot dry up while cold and unused is
quite different from letting it actually boil dry. If it actually
boils dry, and especially if you’ve forgotton it was on and left,
so it not only boils dry, but then continues to cook for some time,
you’ll find that it turns a brownish color, as the chemical
degrades. The brown washes off things like the inside of the lid
easily enough with water, but mixing water with the remaining
chemical will give you a really yucky looking pickle. Best then, to
clean out the pot and start fresh. Also, actually boiling it dry and
letting it cook like that, to the point where it’s evolving brown
fumes, is more harmful to you or the surrounding tools than letting
it dry out while cold, which does not degrade the chemical into
anything volatile. So try not to forget to turn the pot off when
you’re done for the day, OK? (this last paragraph based largely on
my own need to clean out my own pickle pot after forgetting to turn
it off last friday. What a mess it looked like when discovered.
Amazingly, the old 12 dollar rival crock pot that serves as my pickle
pot, didn’t mind the ordeal at all. Washing the cover off to clean
up the brown coating, and cleaning out the crock pot part, was all it
needed. Still, not a recommended procedure.)
As to disposal of used pickle, see the many long discussions in the
Archives for more, but the upshot is this. If the pickle is clean
chemical, then it’s just sodium bisulphate, a mild sulphuric acid salt
that has no different effect on the environment than, for example,
some of the stronger toilet cleaners you might use. Dispose of it
down the toilet if using municipal waste systems, along with lots of
water to dilute it (important). If you have a septic tank system,
you’d be best advised to consult your local waste disposal
authorities for how they wish it handled. The dry chemical might
just go in the trash in some municipalities. In others, it may be
considered hazardous waste. The real problem with pickle disposal
comes when it’s very used and spent, since then it will also have a
good deal of copper, and perhaps other, metal oxides dissolved in it.
As such, with metal salt contents, it may need more careful
disposal to avoid environmental effects. Again, consult local
authorities. Mostly, it’s likely safe in small quantities down the
toilet. But not always, and it does depend on the quantities