Pickling Vegetables

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Category : Whatcom Locavore Basics

Pickling VegetablesIn past articles, I’ve talked about how eating as a locavore (eating only locally grown foods as much as possible) means learning how to store and preserve summer harvested foods in order to have them available later in the winter. There are multitudes of ways to do that: root cellaring (even if you don’t have a root cellar), canning, freezing, smoking, dehydrating, salting, fermenting, etc.

One of my favorite food preservation methods is pickling. Crispy pickles make a nice treat as a side dish, condiment, or snack and the variety of flavors and possible combinations of ingredients are limitless.

When pickles are mentioned, people usually think of pickled cucumbers. That’s a good place to start, but in reality almost any vegetable–and even fruit–can be pickled into something wonderful.

Two main processes are used to make pickles: water bath canning, and quick pickling (also called refrigerator pickling). Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. The amount of ingredients, how well they hold up to heat, the amount of storage space available, and how much time you have are all factors to help you decide which method is best for you.

Refrigerator pickles have to be stored in a refrigerator, so if you have a lot of ingredients you’ll probably need to use the canning method. Canned pickles can be kept on shelves at room temperature or cooler, as long as they don’t freeze. If the ingredients you are using soften quickly when heated, the quick method will result in better quality. Vegetables like green beans which hold up to heat well can easily be canned. Finally, if you don’t have much time or experience, the quick method will produce good results in a small amount of time with a small amount of ingredients. Once you’ve learned how to make quick refrigerator pickles, there are only a few more steps to learn to do the water bath canning method.

Making refrigerator pickles starts with obtaining perfectly ripe, freshly picked ingredients. The ingredients are cut into the desired size and shape and packed into jars. The jars don’t have to be sterilized, but should be clean. I run them through a dishwasher before use. Once the jars are packed, a simple pickling brine (usually water, apple cider vinegar, salt, and honey) is heated to boiling on the stove along with the desired spices. The liquid is poured over the ingredients already in the jars, and then the jars are lidded, cooled, and put in the refrigerator. After 1-3 days the pickles are usually ready to eat. They will usually keep for at least a month, and some will keep much longer than that. I have a couple of refrigerator recipes for cucumber pickles that consistently keep for up to a year, if they aren’t eaten first!

You can be creative in selecting vegetables to pickle. Choose the ones you like most from what’s in season at the time. Use one or two, or combine as many vegetables as you like. Many different herbs and spices will work, too, though you’ll want to use flavors which blend well.

Here are some locally grown vegetables that make good pickles: fennel bulb, garlic, onion, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, daikon or other radishes, green or wax beans, peppers (bell, jalapeno, etc.), green tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, turnips, celery, cabbage.

Local herbs for flavoring your pickles include: dill, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, parsley, peppers and dried pepper flakes, coriander, ginger, celery seeds, cilantro, fennel seeds, and more.

Consider experimenting with pickles made from fruits, too. Here are just a few possibilities: strawberries, apples, pears, plums, etc. Mint makes a good herb to go with pickled fruits.

Want some protein, too? Put in a peeled, hardboiled egg. Here are some particularly tasty recipes:

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