Harvest time is nigh and it’s time to start preserving some of the summer’s bountiful harvest.
Freezing, dehydrating and canning are all excellent ways to stretch out the great tastes and nutrients of locally grown produce.
Sweet jams and jellies are a delicious method of preserving berries and fruit, and pickled veggies give us wonderful sweet and sour tastes.
One of the great things about making your own pickles is that you can customize them to suit your tastes – make them sweet or sour, spicy or hot, add extra garlic, or include only the basics.
And while pickling may seem to be a magical skill known to only the wisest of kitchen wizards, it’s actually a very straightforward process with only a few steps to follow.
So, let’s explore the steps and techniques to making delectable pickles your family and friends will love. And, following up at the end of the post are 6 different recipes for you to try, featuring a variety of different flavors and ingredients.
Just remember to make enough for friends and family as homemade preserved veggies and fruit are always a welcome gift.
While making pickles is a straightforward process, it does require some specialized equipment.
The basic kitchenware and canning utensils needed are:
• A hot water bath or pressure canner.
• A rack for the jars to sit on in the canner.
• A set of jar lifters or tongs that are strong and wide enough to grasp the jars securely.
• A good pair of oven mitts that go up to the elbow to avoid steam burns.
• Clean and sterilized jars and rings with new lids.
For a comprehensive list of equipment and accessories, more tips, and Foodal’s recommendations on canners, check out our earlier post on how to start canning at home.
And of course you’ll need the ingredients you plan on pickling. It’s a good idea to read all recipes right through to the end, to ensure that you’ll have everything you need on hand before beginning.
Basic pickling ingredients may include:
• Pickling salt.
• White vinegar or pickling vinegar.
• Spices and herbs.
• Flavor intensives such as garlic, hot peppers, cinnamon sticks, cloves, etc.
• Prepared fruit or vegetables as per your recipes.
• Soft water (please see below).
The key to successful pickling is to create an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria, while preserving the flavor and texture of the vegetables.
And this important job is where the amazing ingredient that is vinegar comes in.
A 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water will keep brined vegetables crisp in the fridge for up to a week, and it’s also acidic enough to be used to safely preserve veggies at home while maintaining the integrity of their texture.
The Keys to Great Pickles
Use produce that is fresh, crisp and blemish free. If possible, grow your own ingredients or shop at local farmers’ markets to get the freshest veggies and herbs possible.
Wash all produce thoroughly in cold running water, and refrigerate if not using immediately.
When making dill pickles, ensure you’re using fresh pickling cucumbers, not salad cucs. And don’t use any that have been waxed, as this will prevent the brine from penetrating the cucumber.
Remove blossom and stem ends of cucumbers, and cut a thin slice off of the blossom end, a scant 1/16 inch – this will release enzymes that can make a cuc bitter.
Use only pickling salt, or pure sea salt free of additives, not table salt. Table salt contains iodine, an element that can darken pickles. And, anti-caking agents in table salt may cause cloudiness in the brine.
Use commercial grade white vinegar with at least 5% acidity. Cider and malt vinegars will add their own unique flavors, but they may also darken light-colored vegetables.
You can also use a pickling vinegar, which has 7% acidity, to make your pickles more sour.
Using soft water is recommended for pickles, as soft water has low levels of minerals and chlorine. Hard water (water with high mineral levels) can lower the brine’s acidity, possibly affecting food safety.
To soften hard water, boil a pot of water for 15 minutes, cover, and then allow it to stand for 24 hours. If any surface scum forms, remove it before carefully ladling the water out without disturbing the sediment on the bottom, as this is where the minerals are.
Fresh herbs and spices will impart the best flavors and can be used whole, crushed, chopped or ground. For outstanding flavor and aroma, use a mortar and pestle to grind or crush spices just before adding. Avoid any spices that have been sitting in the cupboard for a year or more as their taste will be stale and dull.
Add whole spices tied in a spice bag – use a large square of cheesecloth or unbleached muslin and knot with the spices in the center. Avoid using any fabric that has been dyed or otherwise colored.
Premixed pickling spices are convenient and available at the supermarket, but making your own mix is where the fun is. Use our recipe for Pickling Spice Mix below, or just wing it if you’re comfortable combining flavors and balancing quantities.
Some of the possibilities for your own designer spice mixes are:
If you would like to know more about utilizing spices and hot ingredients in pickling, get to know the process a little better by listening to the latest episode of the Foodal Podcast: managing editor Allison Sidhu discusses the world of spicy, fermented condiments with Kirsten and Christopher Shockey, fermentation experts and authors of the new cookbook a new cookbook called Fiery Ferments.
Steps to Pickle Making
1. Assemble equipment.
Before starting the pickles, set up all the equipment you’ll need.
• Wash and sterilize jars, lids and bands as per manufacturer’s directions and have them ready for filling.
• Set up the canning equipment.
• Pull out any mixing bowls, measuring cups, sieves, etc. that will be required.
2. Prepare ingredients.
Prepare the vegetables and other ingredients as required, then line them up on the counter or kitchen table in the order called for in the recipe.
Chop or slice veggies as required, peel tomatoes, and blanch any ingredients as needed. Prepare spices and herbs, and mix the brine or any other liquids.
3. Divide the vegetables.
Divide the prepared vegetables equally among same-sized canning jars, and have the lids and bands standing by.
4. Add flavor intensives and brine.
Add fresh or dry herbs and spices for flavor, then fill with sweet or sour pickling brine and allow adequate headspace.
Carefully wipe rims and threads clean with a damp cloth, cover with lids and bands as per recipe directions, and process in a hot water bath or pressure canner. Do not shorten canning times.
Check out our best tips for success with pressure canners for your canned pickles, if you need some new techniques and methods!
6. Label and Store
Before putting your jars away for storage, remember to label and date them to ensure they’re eaten within a year.
Shelf Life and Storage
Many home-canned pickles and relishes will retain their quality and integrity for up to a year, if stored under optimal conditions. To enjoy the best texture and firmness, eat your pickles within six to eight months of canning.
A number of recipes include a resting period to allow the pickles’ flavors to blend and mature for a month or so before eating. But after this initial ripening period, they don’t become better with age and should be consumed with a year.
For the best shelf life, store homemade pickles in the same manner as other home canned goods. Store pickles in a cool, dry area such as a basement, cellar, garage or unheated room to extend their longevity.
While exposure to light doesn’t necessarily make them unsafe, it can affect their quality and turn pickles soft and mushy, or cloud the brine.
To get you started, here are 6 of our favorite recipes for brined preserves, plus one for creating your own pickling spice mix.
Pickling Spice Mix
For pickles with robust, full flavors, use your own freshly made spice mix.
Seal any leftovers in a glass jar with tight fitting lid, and store in a cool, dark cupboard for up to two months.
Garlicky Dill Pickles
A classic in the pantry, these dill pickles are crisp, juicy, tart and garlicky! The perfect garnish on sandwiches and burgers, they’re also great as a side dish at most meals.
Dilly Green Beans
Dilly green beans are crisp and sour like their dill pickle cousins, and can be used in the same manner.
However, they do have the advantage of being a perfect garnish for a Spicy Caesar or dry martini!
Spicy Red Tomato Relish
If you enjoy the flavors of the Southwest, you’ll love this spicy red tomato relish. Increase the heat of this tasty condiment with some extra jalapeños or even habaneros.
Wonderful served with any sort of meat, or as a pickle with a cheese and cracker platter.
Sweet Pickle Relish
A tasty condiment for any type of meat, this sweet relish is particularly good on hamburgers, hot dogs or brats – really, anything done on the grill.
This recipe doubles up nicely, and makes a great gift for family and friends.
Spicy Sweet Pickled Beets
These beets have a robust flavor that’s sweet and spicy at the same time
Mandatory for family picnics, they’re great on a salad or sandwich, and serve up well as a savory side to complement meat, poultry and fish.
Wickedly Good Antipasto
This is a slight adaptation from the old Best of Bridge recipe book – a tried and true preserve that always gets rave reviews, it’s a highlight of holiday entertaining. Superb served with crackers, toasted baguettes and flatbreads along with a variety of cheeses.
Use what you can from the garden and buy the rest of the ingredients when they come on sale. There’s a lot of chopping involved, but don’t succumb to the urge to use a food processor – plan an antipasto-making party instead.
Invite friends and neighbors to share in the cost, labor and rewards of this delicious appetizer. Just double or triple the recipe as required, have your guests bring another canner and their favorite knives, and plan for a fun afternoon spent together in the kitchen.
A bottle of grappa doesn’t hurt either!
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.