How to Make Pickled Foods
Pickles are foods preserved by the action of the vinegar and salt. Pickles are usually made from vegetables and sometimes fruit, but you can also pickle meats and eggs.
Vinegar and salt create environments that are inhospitable to the growth of micro-organisms and slow the decay of food.
Traditionally, pickles were made by fermentation, where natural acids were produced by bacteria during the fermentation process.
Rather than having to use fermentation to produce acids to preserve foods, the process evolved to using vinegar to make the pickle.
When people make pickles these days, this is usually how it is done (although there has been a resurgence of fermented foods as people have started to understand the value of the good bacteria in fermented food for health).
You should also be aware when buying store bought, mass-produced pickles - these are often made using other preserving methods, just using vinegar for flavour.
The vinegar used for pickles is usually spiced vinegar. This is vinegar that has been steeped with spices – ideally for at least a month.
Sometimes, however it isn’t practical to wait a month or more.
Here are two ways you can make spiced vinegar:
The long version: Put a variety of spices, such as cinnamon, allspice, mace, cloves, and peppercorns, in vinegar and allow to steep for a month or more. Use whole spices, rather than ground spices, as ground spices make the vinegar go cloudy. When you are ready to use it, strain out the spices. Use approximately 60g of spices for 1 litre of vinegar. You can also add herbs, chilli, ginger, and mustard for taste.
The short version: Using the same combination of spices and vinegar as above, put all ingredients into a heatproof basin, jug, or similar. Stand it in a saucepan of water and cover with a plate or similar (to avoid losing the flavour). Bring the water in the pan to the boil then remove from the heat. Set it aside and allow it to cool (still in the water) for 2-3 hours to allow the spices to steep in the warm vinegar. When it’s cool, strain the vinegar and it is ready to use (alternatively you can put the spices into a muslin bag so you don’t have to strain it – just remove the muslin bag).
Preparation of ingredients:
Produce - Select produce that is crisp, fresh, and unblemished.
Different pickles will call for different preparations – they may be chopped, sliced, shredded, or left whole. Some recipes require the produce to be blanched, or salted.
See below for more information.
Vinegar - A malt vinegar is often used, which is brown in colour.
You can use a white distilled vinegar for a lighter coloured pickle. As mentioned above, the vinegar is usually spiced.
Sugar or honey is sometimes added to produce a more subdued flavour in a pickle. To keep a lighter colour, use white sugar.
It is sometimes suggested, particularly for moist vegetables, to salt the produce first to remove excess water.
Salt is used to extract moisture from the produce (which would otherwise dilute the vinegar).
This can be done by either sprinkling the vegetables with coarse sea salt, or steep them in a brine – 450g salt to 2 L water for 24 hours.
Rinse the vegetables thoroughly after salting.
Sterilise jars that are to be used.
There are several different ways to make pickles, and it will depend on the produce to be used, and the specific recipe. Over time, several different techniques have evolved. Here is a basic overview of some different techniques – make sure that you follow the instructions of your recipe.
Pickled raw: This is for crisp pickles, where vegetables are prepared, then placed in a jar and covered with spiced vinegar. The jars are then sealed and left to mature. Suitable for vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbage, beetroot and onions.
Cooked: Other recipes may involve cooking the produce in spiced vinegar until it is soft, and the liquid has been reduced. These are then placed into warmed jars and sealed. This method is suitable for tomatoes, plums, pears, carrots, mushrooms.
Blanched: Some recipes call for vegetables to be blanched. This may be done by cooking in boiling water, or by covering the produce in boiling water for a period of time.
Heating the vinegar: Another technique is to place raw produce into a warm jar, and bring the vinegar, salt and sugar (if desired) to the boil and pouring over the raw ingredients.
Pickles must be left at least 2 to 4 weeks to mature before eating.