Pickling Guide: How to Pickle & Preserve Vegetables
It’s one of the oldest methods of preserving foods, and yet is still consistently popular due to the unique flavours that it produces. It’s called pickling, and we’ve put together this helpful article to guide you through the process of how to pickle a wide range of vegetables in the comfort and convenience of your own kitchen.
Pickling foods is actually quite easy, and only requires a few simple ingredients and tools to get started. It’s also a great way to experiment with some new flavour combinations, as the pickling ingredients can easily be customized with a diverse array of seasonings and spices, allowing your culinary creativity to shine through.
First, we’re going to give you a brief overview of how pickling works, and why this traditional method of preserving foods is still so popular even today.
Why Pickle Foods?
The origins of pickling as a food preservation process go back as far as 4000 years, where ancient civilizations used the process to effectively store foods for long periods of time, while simultaneously maintaining a pleasant taste experience. The brine used in pickling wards off the decay of the foods, allowing civilizations who relied on farming and cultivating to store food and avoid succumbing to temporary droughts or poor growing seasons.
Pickling imbues the foods with acidic taste properties that give them a ‘bite’ on the taste buds that is often used to complement or accompany other types of tastes. This is why pickles and pickled foods such as sauerkraut are so popular as a topping on grilled meats. The mixing of savoury flavours with the briny taste of pickled vegetables is extremely popular in the cuisines of different cultures all over the world.
Types of Foods to Pickle
While we obviously think of traditional pickles, made from cucumbers, when we talk about pickling, the reality is that there are many different types of vegetables that are suitable for pickling. Pickled cabbage, also known as sauerkraut, is extremely popular. Other commonly pickled vegetables include such foods as beans, asparagus, beets, and peppers.
As pickling has gained in popularity in recent years, and chefs and food aficionados have explored new ways of using the process with unusual foods, many other types of pickled foods have emerged. For example, carrots, cherries, tomatoes, and onions are all potential pickling candidates and have been used to create some fascinating taste experiences. However, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to stick to some of the basics.
Essential Pickling Ingredients & Equipment
When it comes to the mechanics and process of pickling, things are actually quite simple. Here are the essential tools that you’ll need to complete the job:
Clean, sterile, airtight jars – Mason jars or similar types of airtight glass jars are commonly used for pickling. Make sure they are sterilized prior to use to ensure the longest possible shelf life of your pickled foods.
Large Pots – Some vegetables can be pickled from raw, but there are others that may need to be cooked or blanched first. Beets for example, need to be cooked before they can be pickled. Other types of vegetables, such as beans or asparagus, are often blanched before pickling to ensure they retain their colour and crunch but are just soft enough to be easily eaten.
In addition, you’ll need to be able to boil your jars to both sterilize and seal them, so a great big pot is a picklers must have.
Knives, cutting boards & kitchen tools – While you certainly can pickle vegetables whole, it’s often preferred to cut them in to slices or smaller portions to make it easier to eat or work with in cooking. You’ll also need to chop, slice, and dice other ingredients to use in the pickling process, so common kitchen tools will be used to help prepare the ingredients.
Aside from your vegetable of choice, you’ll also need some essential ingredients to perform the picking process. Here are the basic ingredients & seasonings needed for a classic pickle brine:
Vinegar – White vinegar is most common, but this is also up to your personal preference. Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, and rice wine vinegar are also suitable for pickling and bring different flavour characteristics to the brine.
Salt – Sea salt is the preferred salt type for pickling, as it tends to be a purer form than common table salt. You’ll want to pick a salt that has no additives, so natural sea salt is ideal.
Sugar – Not all pickle recipes call for sugar, but many do. This can be common white sugar, but you can also substitute brown sugar, honey, or other sweeteners to achieve the same effect. Low carb dieters will want to either skip the sugar or use their preferred alternative sweetener to avoid adding extra carbs.
Water – The water you use for pickling should be as pure as possible and filtered to remove hardness. Clean and pure filtered water will help the vegetables retain their colours longer.
Herbs & Spices – Garlic, mustard seeds, peppercorns, dill, hot peppers, coriander seeds, and bay leaves are all common seasonings and spices used in pickling. This is a part of the process that is entirely up to you to customize. If you like a very garlicky pickle, then add in some extra garlic cloves. For a spicy, zesty pickle, include some hot peppers or red pepper flakes to add some heat.
Beginner’s Recipe for Pickling Foods
Here, we’re going to give you a basic recipe for making your own pickles at home. You can use this as a starting point for creating your own recipe by swapping in different types of vegetables or alternate seasonings to give different flavours a try.
Starting with a batch of fresh, small cucumbers, chop or slice them in to your desired pickle shape. Slice along the length of the cucumbers in to quarters to produce long spears. Slice across the width of the pickle to create bite-size disks or try using a crinkle-cutter to give your pickle slices some visual depth.
Add the sliced cucumbers to your jars and add your preferred seasonings, such as garlic cloves, fresh dill, sliced hot peppers, or others.
To make the brine, combine equal parts water and vinegar in a pot, along with sea salt, dill seeds, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and sugar/sweetener (if desired). In general, about 1 teaspoon of each seasoning per 4 cups of brine (2 cups water, 2 cups vinegar) is sufficient to produce a nice flavour.
Bring the brine to a boil, remove from heat, and pour the brine in to the jars to just cover the tops of the sliced cucumbers. Seal the jars and refrigerate.
It usually takes a few days for the flavours of all the ingredients to diffuse throughout the jars and in to the pickles. We recommend waiting around 5 days before cracking open a jar to ensure the flavours are at their best.
Use YouTube to find inspiration and ideas for pickling – the ideas are almost endless!
Enjoy the Taste of Pickles
Now that you’ve got a batch of your own pickles, why not use them as a garnish for a fantastic low carb sandwich? And don’t forget to put out a bowl of them to top burgers at your next low carb backyard barbecue. Of course, if you’re short on time and need some pickles today, you can always pick up a jar of delicious Mt. Olive pickles to satisfy your craving until you can make your next batch.
We hope that you’ve found this beginners guide to pickling helpful, and that you’re now inspired to try making your own pickles and pickled vegetables right at home. Once you taste the difference of fresh, homemade pickles, you’ll be hooked!