Pickles date as far back as 2030 B.C., when cucumbers from their native India were pickled in the Tigris Valley, and throughout history, pickling became necessary in order to preserve fresh food for a long period of time. Don’t get stuck on the cucumber variety, though; pickling everything from fruits and vegetables to walnuts and eggs at home is easier now than ever before.
1. Pickle Possibilities
When you think of pickles, some standards come to mind – cucumbers, beets, peppers – but there’s a whole world of vegetables, fruits and other ingredients waiting to surprise you with their pickled flavor, texture and applications.
WHAT TO PICKLE
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
- Fennel bulbs
- Green beans
- Pumpkin/pumpkin rind
- Red onion
- Cherry tomatoes
- Watermelon rind
- Mustard seed
- Pig’s feet
Winning Combinations. Singular pickles are great, but a pickle is also a welcome addition to the table. Consider giardiniera, for instance: The Italian relish of pickled vegetables is packed with cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, carrots, onion and garlic. You can also combine berries and cherries, or mix up your corn and beans. If the flavor profiles align in your head, you’re on the right track.
2. Pickle Prep
Pickling is a time-tested technique that invites endless experimentation with flavor combinations. It’s easy to overthink it, but all you really need to know is: vinegar + water + sugar + salt = magic, the end.
Since guidelines bolster confidence, commit these to memory:
Vinegar. Always use the “plain Janes” – white vinegar, rice vinegar, white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Concentrated balsamic vinegars are a big no here; save them for dressing and drizzling.
Water. In order to balance the astringency of the mixture, water is a must. A standard 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water works, as does a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to water.
Sugar. A few tablespoons of white sugar or cane sugar balance the pucker of the vinegar and assist in preserving your bounty. For every cup of liquid, 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar should do the trick; consider what you’re pickling to help determine the exact quantity.
Salt. Kosher salt is perfect for pickling. For savory pickles, aim for 2 to 3 teaspoons per cup of liquid. For sweet pickles such as berries and other fruit, use a little less. It’s all about the flavor: Think about what you’re going for and how you want to get there.
Flavor boosts. Fresh dill, sprigs of thyme, rosemary or oregano, cilantro leaves, allspice berries, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, chile flakes, garlic cloves, peppercorns and mustard, cumin or fennel seeds are all solid additions to your pickles. Fresh herbs are always better than dried, and whole spices are a must – never use ground.
3. Pickle Protection
Quick pickling (a.k.a. refrigerator pickles, a.k.a. quickles) has become a favorite method of pickling in recent years because it’s fast, easy and far less intimidating than going through the entire canning process. Refrigerator pickles are ready to eat in a few hours, chilled and crisp, and they tend to keep their snap more than canned pickles because there’s less heat applied (only one dousing of hot vinegar brine versus a prolonged boil to properly seal canning jars during the traditional process).
For a novice or infrequent pickler, quick pickles cut out the intimidation factor: no special equipment required, no huge batches, no risk of sending anyone to the hospital because your sealing skills weren’t on point. The best thing about them? They last for a tidy amount of time in your refrigerator – although, if you’ve made them well, they’ll be gone long before their expiration date.
Always store your pickles in canning jars; vinegar is acid, and acid won’t react with glass like it will with metal or plastic. Keep the brine just above the soon-to-be pickles and a good ¾ inch below the top of the jar, seal the jars tightly with canning lids and store your pickles in the refrigerator. They will last for at least 1 to 2 months in the refrigerator, depending on the pickle. If they start to taste “off,” however, trust your instincts and show those pickles the door.