Pickling is a process that preserves food. It’s done by packing raw produce in a vinegar solution, with salt and various other spices, and letting it ferment for several days. This process reduces the pH of the food, making it hostile to bacteria and preventing it from spoiling. We all know that canning is not always safe, especially if we’re talking about low-acid foods like tomatoes which are prone to botulism.
However, there are many pickling recipes out there that don’t involve any canning equipment. You just need a jar or two, some fermentation crocks, or even plastic containers with lids; some fresh spices; and of course – pickling liquid.
What You’ll Need to Pickle Anything
Depending on which pickling method you’re using, you’ll need to invest in a few items. However, this investment is minuscule compared to the cost of a pressure canner, or a big enough pot to safely can low-acid foods in a water bath. Here are the basics:
– Jar/container: You’ll need to choose a glass jar (no metal!) or a plastic container with a lid that can withstand high temperatures.
– Spices: Choose your favorite combinations. Herbs, spices, garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds work particularly well.
– Salt: The amount of salt you’ll need will depend on the size of your container. For most recipes, you’ll need between one and two tablespoons of salt per quart of liquid.
– Pickling Liquid: A simple 25% vinegar solution consisting of 1 part vinegar and 4 parts water will do the trick.
How to Pickle Using a Jar or Container
If you’re canning, you’ll need to sterilize your jars and lids before you start. (Check out this guide for canning beginners.) If you’re using a jar, make sure you clean it well and use a clean, dry kitchen towel to hold the jar while you’re filling it with vegetables and spices.
Pickling vegetables is a little bit different than pickling fruits. You’ll still want to clean and chop the vegetables, but you’ll need to blanch them in boiling water first. This will help to reduce the chance of spoilage.
Pickled vegetables are ready to eat within a few days. You can refrigerate them, but after that, you’ll need to toss them out.
How to Make Pickled Vegetables
– Choose your vegetables: Cucumbers, green and red peppers, onions, beets, carrots, radishes, and cauliflower are all great choices for pickling.
– Slice the vegetables: Place the vegetables in a large bowl and add the spices.
– Make the brine: Put the vinegar, salt, and spices from the bowl into a saucepan; add the water, and cook over high heat until the brine is reduced to 2 cups.
– Pour the brine into the bowl with the vegetables and stir.
– Let the vegetables cool to room temperature, then place them in jars, adding a sprig of fresh thyme to each jar.
– Store the jars in the fridge.
How to Make Quick Pickles
Quick pickles are a bit different than regular pickles, so you’ll want to follow the recipe carefully.
Pickled peppers: Add sliced peppers, sliced onions, and sliced chili pepper to a jar, and pour over a simple vinegar solution.
Pickled cucumbers: Add sliced cucumbers, sliced onions, and sliced chili pepper to a jar, and pour over a simple vinegar solution.
Pickled beets: Add sliced beets to a jar, and pour over a simple vinegar solution.
How to Make Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented vegetables, so they’ll take a bit longer to make than regular quick pickles.
Sauerkraut: Add shredded cabbage to a fermentation crock or a big bowl, along with a bit of salt and a chopped-up hot pepper. You can also add shredded carrots, apples, or other vegetables.
Kimchi: Follow the ingredients for sauerkraut, but instead of hot pepper, add a chopped head of garlic and a bunch of chopped cilantro. Let the vegetables sit in the salt for 12 hours, then mix them with the chopped vegetables and spices (these can be the same ones you use for regular pickling).
Pack the vegetables into jars, and pour the pickling liquid over them. Let the jars sit in a warm, dark place for a few days. Refrigerate the jars once the vegetables are ready.
Bonus: 3 More Ways to Preserve Food at Home
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are preserved through fermentation, which is technically a form of pickling. Other ways to preserve food at home include drying, canning, freezing, and root cellaring.
Drying: You can dry foods like herbs and spices, nuts, and even fruit slices. You’ll need a dehydrator or a very sunny windowsill, and the process can take several days.
Canning: Perfect for low-acid foods like vegetables and meat, canning is a bit on the labor-intensive side but yields great results.
Freezing: You can freeze just about anything, from smoothies to soups, fruit, and vegetables.
Old-fashioned methods of preserving food are making a comeback, thanks to the popularity of the slow-and-low lifestyle. You can make pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and more without investing in expensive canning equipment. With these methods, you can enjoy fresh, homemade, preservative-free food all year round. So don’t throw away your vegetables after they’re past their prime. Pickle them and make them last longer.