How to pickle just about anything….
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With all the bounty from your garden getting ready to explode…..it’s time to figure out what to do with it all.
After all, you can only eat so many zucchini, green beans or cucumbers at a time. So why not plan to preserve some of your crop to enjoy later.
Pickling has been around for thousands of years so as far as “vintage skills” go, it’s pretty darn vintage.
HISTORY OF PICKLES
Pickles have been around as far back as 2030 BC when residents of the Tigris Valley in India grew native cucumbers and pickled them. Rumors suggest that Cleopatra loved them.
Pickling used to be a necessity before refrigeration, ice, and the like was available, especially if you were traveling. The pickling process preserved the food for a very long time. The word pickle comes from Dutch “pekel” meaning “salt” or “brine”.
The basic process for making pickles involves submerging fruits or vegetables into either an acidic liquid or a salty brine until they are no longer considered raw, and thus would not spoil. The chemical process that takes place causes microbial organisms to develop which turn the natural sugars into lactic acid. Bacteria cannot live in this acidic environment, so the food doesn’t spoil.
The old-fashioned method for making pickles usually involved piling vegetables into large wooden barrels with spices and salt and very clean water. This was then left to ferment for weeks to months. It was then stored in a cool dark location and fed the families during the winter when no fresh produce was available.
Home pickling became much easier and more sanitary in the 1850s with the invention of a couple of essential tools which are still used today…..paraffin wax and Mason jars.
TYPES OF PICKLES
When you think of pickles, dill and cucumber probably jumps to mind first. But the variety of pickled vegetables that make a great addition to your pantry is endless.
They can be sweet, sour, salty, hot or all of the above. Pickles can be made with cauliflower, radishes, onions, green beans, asparagus and a seemingly endless variety of other vegetables and fruits. When the English arrived in the New World, they brought their method for creating sweet pickles with vinegar, sugar and spiced syrup. Eastern Europeans introduced various forms of lacto-fermented cabbage, known as sauerkraut. The French serve tiny, spiced cornichons with heavy pâtés and pungent cheeses. In the Middle East pickles are served with every meal, from peppers to olives to lemons. Russians pickle tomatoes, among other things. Koreans have their kimchi, the Japanese pickle plums and daikon, and Italians pickle eggplants and peppers. Each area of the world has its own beloved variety of pickle.
The above information was gleaned from a great article on the PBS.org blog: Read it here.
There are basically four ways to make pickles:
- Quick Pickles — the vegetables are trimmed, cut or left whole. They may be blanched to preserve their color. Then they are packed in jars which are filled with a hot pickling liquid of vinegar, spices, sugar, salt.
- Salt Pickling — can either be dry salted or brined. This method is good for vegetables that need some of the liquid drawn out of them before pickling such as some cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant.
- Vinegar Brined — this method also draws out water from the produce usually in several stages over a few days. Watermelon rinds and some fruits work well here.
- Fermenting — this method takes the most time as produce is submerged in a salt water brine and left to ferment at room temperature for several days, sometimes weeks. Fermented food is making a huge comeback in popularity right now for its health benefits. Think about sauerkraut and kimchi here.
While processing your pickles in a hot water bath is not necessary, it can be done to give them a shelf life up to a year. However, doing this will cook the vegetables a little and usually results in a softer texture. If you want to keep your pickles nice and crunchy, don’t process them — keep the jars in the fridge for a few weeks.
Here are a few recipes I like for pickles of all sorts. But don’t stop here — try your hand at anything that sounds interesting: carrots, cauliflower, hot peppers, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, green tomatoes, crab apples, baby corn, basically whatever is in your garden or farmer’s market!
Please let us know if you make some awesome pickles — we love to hear about what others try.