To create your own pickle making kit, you need four main, ‘magic’ ingredients.
Be suspicious of any recipe that does not include water in the brine liquid! The finished pickle will be way too sharp, so unless you like your pickles eye-wateringly sour, choose a recipe that has water in the ingredients.
Most tap water contains additives that can interfere with the pickling process and discolor your vegetables over time. If you live in a place with hard water it’s a good idea to boil or purify it before you use it.
You can experiment with different types of vinegar for different flavor combinations such as apple cider or malt vinegar, the important thing is to check the label to ensure that they are at least 5% acetic acid to keep the pH of your brine balanced and safe. Also note that some vinegars such as balsamic have a very strong flavor and will overpower your vegetables and any spices you add, and red wine vinegar will turn your vegetables pink!
If possible, it is best to use salt that is specially designed for pickling as this salt does not contain any additives that may make your brine cloudy.
How much sugar you use in your brine is up to personal taste, be aware usually that any recipe that calls for more than a ¼ of a cup of sugar will result in a more syrupy brine. However, if you prefer a sweeter pickle it might be worth looking for sweet pickle brine recipes that use sugar in place of salt.
For Safe Pickling – An Additional Piece Of Equipment
While there is no need to be afraid of pickling and canning your own foods, if done without proper safety measures there can be a risk of food poisoning. The process of preserving food involves creating an environment that limits the growth of bacteria to safe levels, extending the lifespan of the preserved food. Pickling is all about raising acid levels in food, with salt and vinegar, protecting it from harmful Microbes and pathogens that cause sickness and rot.
Microbes like to live in a pH level of 4.6 to 10, so your pickle solution must have a pH range of 2.1 to 4.5 to err on the side of caution. When home-pickling food you might want to consider buying a home pH tester. Although you do not necessarily need a pH checker to pickle your food if you are going to be pickling frequently, I would recommend it to assure that what you are eating is safe and will last a long time. Either way, you should not deviate from the ingredient ratio in your recipe otherwise your brine might not have a low enough pH to kill that nasty botulism-causing bacteria!
And Let’s Not Forget!
- Canning containers for creating the product and
- Canning containers to hold the finished product, as well as
- Herbs and spices. Pickles without extra flavoring can be a little underwhelming! Try mixing and matching flavors such as paprika, dill, black peppercorns, mint, and chili. If you want to try something more adventurous, look to different cuisines for inspiration. India, where pickling originated has many exciting flavors to experiment with, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, ginger or garam masala would be wonderful complements to vegetables.
Three Main Types Of Pickling
These types of pickles are made in a simple, salty brine and left at room temperature to ferment. During this fermentation process, good bacteria eat the sugars in your vegetables, releasing lactic acid and turning the brine acidic. Many people are fans of this type of pickling for the complex flavor and probiotic content.
The downside of this type of pickling is that it needs to be stored properly in a cool environment such as the fridge or cellar. Improper storage makes this type of pickle susceptible to mold. The good news is that it is easy to tell if there is something off with these pickles, they will smell, look and taste unappetizing.
You might have seen these called ‘quick pickles’ and they are definitely quick and easy to make. Simply pack your vegetables into a jar, cover with your brine of equal parts water and vinegar, a little sugar and any herbs or spices you fancy. This pickling technique is good if you only need your vegetables to last less than a couple of months and have easy access to a fridge. The even quicker way of making ‘quick pickles’ is using the left over brine from a jar of store bought pickles and popping your own produce in. Make sure you buy pickles that are kept refrigerated in the store as well as the house for a better quality product!
Vinegar Pickles – Hot water bath
This is the long-lasting method used in commercial pickling, the vegetables followed by brine are packed tightly into sterile jars then submerged in a water bath or a water bath canner, specifically designed for canning foods and boiled for around 10-15 minutes. The objective of water bath canning is to bring the contents up to a temperature that kills the bacteria inside and then keep the jar air-tight so no new bacteria can find their way in. The downside of this method is that the heat processing reduces the vitamin content in the vegetables compared to the other techniques, it also usually lacks the complex flavors as fermented recipes. As heat processed pickles can be stored for a very long time it is important that safety measures are adhered to especially since botulism is flavorless and odorless.
Choosing What To Pickle
Pretty much any vegetable can be pickled, apart from fragile, leafy greens (which turn into a soggy mush). You can even pickle fruit if you feel like experimenting with some exotic flavors such as umeboshi (salted pickled plums) of Japan. Do not feel you need to stick to the basics, as I mentioned before, pickling transcends borders meaning that there is a whole world of recipes out there for you to try.
Whatever vegetable you choose you will want it to be fresh to achieve a crispy pickle at the end, to aid in this crispiness make sure you trim the blossom ends of your vegetables, especially cucumber which contain softening enzymes.
Be aware that different vegetables need different treatment, some tougher vegetables need to be boiled a little before pickling more delicate ones such as cucumber and zucchini should be pickled raw.
In survival situations it is common knowledge that bountiful times do not last forever and preparation is key to success. If you are aiming to be self-sufficient in food then knowing how to preserve food yourself is essential and pickling is a tasty and easy way to extend the life of vegetables from your garden.
Pickling has been a reliable method of preserving food over 4,000 years. It is a global tradition that can be found in almost every country in the world from corned beef in Ireland to Kimchi in Korea, and there is a very good reason this practice has stood the test of time.
If you have fallen in love with this practical, tasty preservation technique, you could expand your horizons away from vegetables, try pickling fish, meats or eggs, do some research and you will be a pickling expert in no time!
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