A Kitchen Inspired by Pickling Everything
I know there are probably people out there who don’t like pickles. But I’m sorry, I will never understand you. I’ve always liked pickles, especially the zesty, garlicky, sour classic dill ones. And lots of folks (including my family) have been making many different varieties of pickles for generations. But more recently, pickles of every variety you can imagine have been turning up on menus and in recipes everywhere.
Vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs; it seems that anything can be pickled. So, not to be behind in the trend, I decided to venture into figuring out what’s so cool about pickling. Things have gotten out of hand. In the first few weeks of my personal pickling adventures and experimentation, I have pickled everything I could get my hands on – from cucumbers to peaches; purchased over 6 gallons of varying vinegars, hunted down spices in multiple cities, ordered books, supplies, and even a crock on the internet, stayed up into the wee hours of the morning over boiling brine on several occasions, and talked non-stop about what I’ve pickled, what I’m pickling, and what I’m going pickle next to anyone who would listen. (My apologies to those on the receiving end of my recounts… I’ll make it up to you with a jar of homemade pickles!)
There are tons of varieties of pickled and fermented foods in every culture. The practice of pickling has been around in some form or another for over 4,000 years. Basically, it is the process of preserving food by making it acidic, helping to prevent bacteria growth and delay spoilage. The two most common types of pickles are fermented and quick process.
Fermented vegetables, while very tasty, take a lot more time due to the fermentation process and are a little more intimidating for beginners. Quick process, also known as fresh pack pickles, are preserved with vinegar. While they don’t preserve quite as long as fermented, they are tasty and fun to make. They can be made in small batches, which is really nice, especially for those without a cellar for storing. In general, with quick process, you cover produce in a glass jar with boiling vinegar brine and spices, leave it to cool for the flavors to penetrate, and then either refrigerate and enjoy within a few weeks ,or can to preserve up to a few months.
Because pickles are vinegar based, and are therefore high acid, they are one of the easiest foods to can and keep preserved even longer. This means you can pickle many jars at a time and they’ll keep 6 months or so outside of refrigeration. (Yay, Christmas presents for everyone done in August!)
Canning pickles requires what is called the hot water bath method. This process is fairly simple, but keep in mind it should be done precisely to keep the food safe. The basic process is to heat the canning jars and lids in hot water to sanitize them, fill them with pickles, place the lids on, then the bands, and then boil the filled jar in water, totally submerging it. Recipes vary, but most pickles require a 10 minute hot water bath.
The jars are then allowed to cool on a towel until they seal. You can actually hear a “pop” when they finally seal and can test the seal by pushing down on the lid. If it pops back up when pushed, it’s not sealed. If you have jars that don’t seal by the time they are cool, no need to worry, just refrigerate those and eat them within a week or so. For more information the Ball canning jar website has great resources on all types of canning, and here are instructions for the hot water bath method of canning you can download.
If you are looking for an intro into adventures in pickling, the Classic Dill Pickle is the way to start. To begin, make sure you always use ripe but firm vegetables or fruits when pickling. This should not be a way to use up food on its way out, but preserving it at its peak. If you use soft vegetables in the brine, soft pickles will come out… and nobody likes a soggy pickle!
Kirby cucumbers are the classic pickling cucumber variety, but there are many others that produce small firm vegetables with little seeds. Wash the cucumbers well and trim about 1/16 of an inch off the blossom end. The blossom of the cucumber contains an enzyme that will cause the pickle to become soft and mushy… and again, nobody likes a soggy pickle! So this step is important to a crisp, snappy pickle.
My great grandmother’s recipe calls for adding a grape leaf to every jar, which after some research I realized was also to help with crispness. Since I happen to have grape vines in my backyard, I too add a leaf to every jar (who am I to mess with tradition). Some also add alum, which I believe is unnecessary-but to each their own. The next step is deciding on the spice. For classic dill pickles, you can use just garlic and fresh dill, but most use a pickling spice. This can be purchased pre-mixed and will contain some combination of at least most of these spices: mustard seed, allspice, dill seed, coriander seed, fennel seed, whole cloves, peppercorn, ground ginger, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. I prefer a pickling spice with less of the sweeter spices and more of the spicy spices. This is my more savory recipe, but you can add any of the above spices to your liking.
2 T. mustard seed
2 T. dill seed
2 T. coriander seed
2 T. fennel seed
2 T. peppercorns
1 T. dried red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves crumbled
Combine and store in an airtight container and use as needed, a hefty teaspoon per quart of pickles.
Alright Columbus, here it is… one of the family secret recipes, my Great Grandmother Julia’s recipe for the classic dill pickle. Enjoy!
Great Grannie’s Dill Pickles
Quantities for 1 quart
½ c. distilled white vinegar
1 ½ c. water
1 T. salt
1 clove garlic
1 grape leaf
1 head dill
1 t. mixed pickling spice
Fill a quart jar with pickling cucumbers. Heat to boiling; vinegar, water and salt. Add the garlic, grape leaf, dill, and pickling spice to the jar. Pour boiling vinegar over the pickles, filling jar to ½ inch from rim. Put caps in place and tighten lids. Process in hot water bath method. Remove and set out to cool. They are ready to eat in 2 weeks. (I can’t ever wait that long though…)
Cucumbers aren’t the only thing you can pickle. I’m fairly certain there isn’t anything you can’t pickle. So far, in the last four weeks of my newfound pickling obsession, I’ve pickled Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peppers, green beans, carrots, peppers, asparagus, watermelon rind, black raspberries, grapes, and peaches, all in a variety of styles and combinations. Though there are lots of recipes out there, I have found a brine I like and just play with the vegetables and spices (and sometimes the vinegars) and usually just make a jar or two at a time and store in the refrigerator. Without the time and equipment needed to actually can the pickles, it’s very fast and easy, and the pickled veggies can be enjoyed for a few weeks. If they actually last that long!
Basic Pickle Brine
Makes 2 quarts or 4 pints (I like to use pints because they are easier for sharing.)
1 c. distilled white vinegar
½ c. champagne vinegar
1 ½ c. water
3 T. kosher salt
1 t. sugar
Bring to boil. Tightly pack fresh vegetables of choice into sanitized quart or pint jars. Add garlic, spices and herbs of choice. Pour boiling brine in jars to ½ in. of rim. Wipe rims, place caps, tighten and cool. Keep refrigerated and enjoy for a few weeks.
Saffron-Rosemary Pickled Cauliflower-use 1 clove garlic, 3 threads of saffron, a sprig of rosemary, and a few peppercorns in each pint jar. Tightly pack each jar with cauliflower and use the basic brine.
Giardiniera (variation of an Italian pickled vegetable blend)- use 2 cloves of garlic, a dried chile pepper, 1 teaspoon of fennel seed, and a few peppercorns per pint jar with Brussels sprouts cut in half, baby carrots, cauliflower and red pepper. Tightly pack in each jar and use basic brine.
Asparagus with Thyme– use a clove of garlic, ½ bay leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme and a few peppercorns in each pint jar with asparagus and use the basic brine.
For those looking for a more daring pickle… How about fruit? For fruit, a similar method is used but often the brine is cold so that the softer fruits hold up in the vinegar solution. This recipe also works well with berries or any other stone fruit.
Pickled Ginger Peaches
3 allspice berries
½ inch piece of peeled fresh ginger
1 bay leaf
½ stick of cinnamon
½ small shallot
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 c. white wine vinegar
2 c. water
½ c. sugar
3 T. kosher salt
1 ½ lb peaches, cleaned and sliced
Crush together the peppercorns, allspice, cloves, ginger and bay leaf. Add into saucepan with cinnamon, shallot, thyme, vinegar, water, sugar and salt. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Cool to room temperature. Pack sliced peaches into sanitized pint jars. Pour brine over peaches and refrigerate. Wait one week before serving. Keeps about 2 months refrigerated.
Serve on grilled meats, or with pungent cheeses. Also great on salad with mixed greens, goat cheese, sliced almonds, and the brine as vinegar along with olive oil.
While I’m certain that those around me will soon tire of my asking for their garden vegetable surplus, my constant pickle ramblings and the faint (or possibly strong) scent of vinegar and garlic that surrounds me; no one has complained of taste-testing for me. I’m sure all will appreciate the zesty gift of summer-in-a-jar they will receive this winter for putting up with my latest obsession for a few months now. Because really, pickles are just so good! Now go ahead and play in the kitchen. Dive into the brine and preserve the season… just pickle it.
Do you have a favorite food to pickle? Do you like a sweet pickle or a savory one? Tell us in an email to [email protected].
Canned pickles and dill photo by Stephen Davis. Others by Kathleen Tozzi.
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