Pickling has been around for thousands of years and is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Pickled produce was the earliest mobile foods, going on long journeys and feeding the traveling community. Pickling has been part of most cultures from the times of Cleopatra, Vespucci, Napoleon to use throughout India and the Jewish communities in Poland, Lithuania and Russia. Fast forward to John Mason and his patented canning jar.
Interested in food history?
Now onto making pickles!
The process of pickling can be done in a few different ways and is a very accessible process for new to seasoned cooks. The easiest way to learn is to find a recipe that sounds food and follow it precisely especially if you are canning or lacto-fermenting. Keep in mind many vegetables can be used for pickling – beets, radish etc. These recipes are centered around squash and cucumbers.
Canning or mason jars are commonly used. My experience is with mason jars so that is what I will refer to. Mason jars have 3 parts- the lid, the ring and the jar. If you are going through the canning process the ring and jar can be reused but the lid (which makes the seal) needs to be new. For refrigerator pickles all three parts can be reused.
This is submerging fruits or veggies in an acidic liquid that includes a number of flavorings – pickling spices, garlic, chili, fresh or dried herbs. White distilled vinegar and apple cider vinegar are the most common liquids used throughout. You will also need mason jars. Pint jars are good to start with. This way if you aren’t fond of the recipe, you haven’t invested too much time or ingredients. These jars need to be stored in the fridge and are not shelf stable. Start with clean jars, lids and bands – wash with hot soapy water and dry. If you find a recipe that includes instructions for the canning process but you are not interested, the recipe can still be used. The jars just need to be stored in the refrigerator.
Here are some recipes to try:
Pickles Preserved by Water Bath Canning
Pickles are one of the easiest items to can because of the acidic environment they are in. Committing to learning the technique correctly will carry you into canning other items like jam and tomatoes. Read instructions fully and have everything you need prepped and ready to go. Have your jars sterilized. I would start with a smaller recipe 3-6 jars.
I started with a basic Ball canning kit and that brought me through 3 seasons of canning then I upgraded a few tools.
When you are water bath canning the acid level for preservation is very important. This is not a time to wing it, use a tested recipe. Also once you remove your jars from the water bath canner and place on the counter to cool, place the jars on a towel. Many of us have stone, marble or granite counters, these are cooler. The hot jars on a cool counter can shock the jars and potentially cause a crack in the jars. Experience talking.
Once I started pickling, I was hooked. Year one everyone got pickles for the holidays!
The Fresh Preserving website has a wealth of information on techniques and recipes. I highly recommend reading through it.
Lacto-fermenting involves submerging veggie in a brine that is salty enough to kill harmful bacteria but not the Lactobacillus (which is the good bacteria). The Lactobacillus converts sugars in the veggies into lactic acid.
This creates an acidic environment which preserves the veggies.
Use a proven recipe. The salt, produce and water proportions are important to create this environment. Follow all steps in the recipe. Rinse dirt from the produce but do not scrub. The produce has the lactobacillus organisms on the skin, this will be needed. Know your salt. Canning salt is suggested but there are plenty of recipes using sea salt, Celtic salt etc. Do not use iodized salt.
Fermented foods continue to ferment and become more acidic and sour where canning holds the flavor and texture at a particular place. Once the fermented pickles have reached the taste you like, enjoy them.
Fermentation could be a course in and of itself, if you are interested in learning more the following books are fantastic!
Recipes for fermented pickles:
Time to make pickles!