What is Pickling? Pickling is a technique used for preserving food, particularly vegetables. It allows us to make the crops that we grow in the summer and fall last through the winter. It requires putting foods into a vinegar and salt or brine solution with the intent of keeping the produce from spoiling or breaking down.
Salt and vinegar solutions tend to suppress mold, bacteria, and yeast growth, allowing the vegetables that are soaking in them to stay intact and last much longer than if they were exposed to the air. Unlike purely canning, when something is pickled, it gains a fermented element that alters the taste of the pickled item.
Interested in more information about pickling? We’ve compiled some pickling tidbits and tips so you can join in on the food preservation bandwagon and make the most out of your harvests so you can have your yield on hand all year long. Learn more in What is Pickling?
What is Pickling Salt?
You might wonder what is pickling salt and how does it differ from traditional table salt? All salt is not considered equal when it comes to food preservation. Pickling salt is a variety of salt that is specifically formulated for pickling and canning methods.
It is pure, fine-grained salt, allowing it to dissolve quickly and easily in solution, making for an even distribution of salt. This results in a brine that makes pickled foods preserve effectively, helps them maintain the integrity of the foods (other salts can cause discoloration and cloudiness), and makes them safe to store and eat.
What is in Pickling Spice?
Recipes might call for pickling spice which might leave you pondering, what is pickling spice? To put it simply, pickling spice is a blend of spices and herbs that add a well-rounded, full-bodied flavor to pickled foods. Infusing herbs and spices into a brine enhances the flavor profile of the foods that you are pickling. You can find already combined arrays of herbs and spices that are marketed as pickling spices.
The primary seasoning ingredients in these spice bundles include the following spices in varying amounts:
- Mustard Seed
- Bay Leaves
- Chili Flakes
- Dill Seed
What Can You Pickle?
Now that we’ve answered the question, what is pickling, it is vital to note that it is not reserved solely for cucumbers. The truth is that you can pickle just about any fresh food depending on your needs. While we mainly think of traditional pickled cucumbers, a wide array of fruits, vegetables, eggs, and even meats have been successfully pickled.
How To Pickle
If you have a bumper crop of fresh-picked cucumbers and are looking for a way to use them, you can easily make homemade pickles to store in your pantry so that you will never have to buy pickles from the store again.
- Pickling Salt
- Desired Pickling Spices
- White Distilled Vinegar
- Water bath canner
- Canning jars, seals, and rings
- Large pot
- Canning funnel
- Oven Mitts
- Thick hand towel
Pickling at Home
When pickling at home, you have many choices available to you, from the type of pickles, the flavor, the level of preservation, and the method. Pickling can be done using the canning process for longer preservation or can be done using the refrigerator method, which gives you great-tasting pickles but will only keep for a week or two in the refrigerator.
Follow these steps for making refrigerator pickles at home:
- Select cucumbers that are at the peak of freshness and plan to begin the pickling process right away.
- Rinse cucumbers thoroughly in cool water and trim away the stems—slice pickles into slices or spears per your preference.
- Pick out a recipe for the type of pickles that you would like. Types might include sweet pickles, which require sugar added to the brine solution, dill, or spicy pickles. The recipes will vary based on your desired pickle type and whether or not you are using a saltwater brine or a fermented pickle method.
- Pack the canning jars with cucumber pieces and desired herbs and spices.
- Create your brine in a small saucepan. Combine water, vinegar, and salt and bring the solution to a boil, constantly stirring until all salt is dissolved.
- Remove the pan from heat and let the brine solution cool for 10 minutes.
- Pour the liquid into the canning jar, over the cucumber pieces leaving 1/4 inch of headroom.
- Seal the jar, and shake it.
- At this point, you can either allow the jar to cool completely and refrigerate for up to two weeks OR process the pickle jar using the water bath canning method for more extended preservation.
Follow the below steps to continue preservation with the canning method:
- Remove any air bubbles, wipe the rim of the jar, and secure the seal and ring in place.
- Place the jar in the warm canner and proceed to fill the other jars according to the instructions above.
- When all jars are in the warm canner bath, bring to a boil and process for 20 minutes.
- Then raise your jars up out of the water.
- Allow jars to rest for 5 minutes.
- Remove jars and space them on a thick towel a few inches apart from each other to cool for 12 hours.
- When they are cooled, check the seals, add labels to the jars and store them in your pantry for up to 12 months.
Best Foods to Pickle
Pickling is a common and effective way of preserving fresh produce for all-year consumption. Vegetable and fruit flavors are enhanced by vinegar-brine solutions and spicy accouterments and pair well with salads, sandwiches, and snacks.
Once you have success making traditional pickles out of fresh cucumbers, try your hand at pickling some of these fresh and tasty foods, so you can have them on hand even when they are out of season.