I love pickles. My father places the blame at my mother’s feet since she apparently craved pickles and ice cream when pregnant with me and they remain two of my favourite foods in the world.
There are always pickles and, more recently, pickled vegetables in the house to accompany everything from salads and steaks to burgers and sandwiches. I love going to farmer’s markets and picking up local farms pickled produce to use at our table.
I’ve often thought it would be very cool to try to make my own but it always looked like so much work using the canner and you had to worry about safety issues like contamination. I just didn’t feel like I had enough time and knowledge to try to make my own pickles.
In one of those nostalgic moments when I was craving my grandmother’s pickled beets, I started looking online for recipes thinking I would set aside enough time and make a batch. My grandmother passed away when I was ten and that was more than three decades ago, so it should tell you just how good those beets were.
My own mother hates to cook, so she was no help at all. Then I happened upon an easy way to make pickled beets. It didn’t require a canner or hours of sweating over hot jars. While I’m quite sure this isn’t how my grandmother made hers, it was absolutely perfect for me.
The basics of making pickles or any other pickled vegetable are the jars, the brine or pickling liquid, the vegetables and the spices and flavourings you add to give them more zing or flavour.
Like making your own barbecue rub, this is a method that allows your own creativity and taste to shine through.
1. Sterilization & jars
You need mason jars with sealable lids and you will need to sterilize them. Canning jars are meant to withstand heat and have vacuum sealing lids. You can use other types of jars but make sure they are safe and heat resistant to avoid accidents.
There are a number of different ways to sterilize the jars. You can boil them in hot water or wash them by themselves in your dishwasher. You can also bake them on a tray in your over at medium heat for about 20 minutes.
Always handle them carefully to avoid burning yourself. If you are adding hot liquids they can still be hot but if your brine is cold, you should let your jars cool off first.
Pickles are traditionally cucumbers but virtually any vegetable can be pickled. Some do better if they are parboiled first but most will work well if a correctly seasoned brine. You can cut your vegetables into any shape and size you choose.
Small pearl onions and mushrooms can be left whole as can beans. If in doubt, thin slices tend to work well. Always parboil vegetables like peppers, beets, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower.
Cucumbers, tomatoes, turnips, tomatillos and asparagus are generally fine without parboiling. To parboil your vegetables submerse them in boiling water for about two minutes (five minutes for beets), then remove them from the water and immediately submerse them in ice water to stop the cooking process.
Then drain off the water ad your vegetables are ready for canning. Divide them among your jars, leaving approximately a half of an inch from the lip of the jar free.
3. Choose your seasonings
You can mix and match your choices here. Popular spices and herbs include dill, bay leaves, cumin, garlic, ginger, hot peppers like jalapenos, oregano, and celery seed. Remember that spicy things like hot peppers will get hotter the longer the items are in the jar uneaten.
This is fine if you like your food with serious bite but can be a deterrent if you intend to make a gift of your product. For your first batch, keep spiciness to a minimum. You can always increase it down the road.
For dried spices, ½ teaspoon is generally sufficient per jar. Pour it over the vegetables in the jar. For garlic, use ½ to a whole clove and slice it thinly before adding it to the jar. For fresh herbs anywhere from two to four sprigs is fine, depending on how strong tasting the herb is.
4. Make your brine
Brines can be sweet or vinegary. Most types of water are fine but, if your water is very hard, you may be better using bought water rather than tap water. You can experiment with different types of vinegar but make sure it has at least 5% acetic acid content.
The following brine recipes come from Eating Well and make approximately 6 cups each. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugars are dissolved. Let it boil for about 2 minutes and then remove it from the heat.
For a vinegary brine:
- 3 cups distilled white or cider vinegar
- 3 cups water
- 2 Tb sugar
- 2 TB plus 2 tsp sea salt, canning or pickling salt
For a sweet brine:
- 3 cups of distilled white or cider vinegar
- 3 cups water
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 TB plus 1 tsp sea, canning or pickling salt
Pour brine over vegetables and seasonings, leaving ½ inch of space between rim of jar and top of liquid. Put the lids on your jars and refrigerate.
5. Refrigeration & storage
Because these have not been canned in the traditional way, they must be stored in the refrigerator. Let them sit unopened for at least a week to let the flavours settle. Then dig in.
They are good for about a month and make an excellent gift for neighbours or hostess gift for a party. Just make sure that the refrigeration instructions and date they must be consumed by is clearly labelled. Enjoy!
Cover photo: cookingrut.blogspot.com