How To Easily Pickle Anything

Everything you need to know about how to get started pickling your favorite fruits and vegetables.

October 7, 2016
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Almost any food can be pickled, but cucumbers, sweet peppers, green tomatoes, and corn are among the best and most popular. Though pickled foods are preserved in a salt brine or spiced vinegar solution, remember that they must also always be canned. Here's how to get started.

Related: 23 Pickling And Canning Recipes Made Easy

This article was originally published by our partners at Rodale Wellness.

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Choose Fresh-Pack Or Quick-Process Pickles

Very easy to prepare at home, these pickles made from whole or sliced vegetables can be processed either with or without salt. In the salt method, the foods (cucumbers are most common, but beets, cauliflower, green beans, and okra are also pickled in this manner) are soaked in a low-salt brine for several hours or overnight, then drained and processed with boiling vinegar, spices, and herbs.

In a no-salt method that some cooks use, the foods are initially cooked with a spiced vinegar, then packed and processed immediately. Alternatively, the foods are first packed in the jars, next the spiced vinegar is poured in, and then the processing is done. Pickles made without salt tend to have a soft texture and sharp vinegar flavor.

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Consider Fruit Pickles

To make these pickles, whole fruits such as peaches, pears, and watermelon rind are simmered in a spicy, sweet-sour syrup, then packed and processed.

Related: Top 10 Things To Do With Leftover Beer

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Make Relishes

Mixed fruits and vegetables that have been chopped into small pieces, seasoned, and then cooked, packed, and processed make up this broad category of pickled foods. Hot and spicy, or sweet and spicy, relishes include condiments of all types: ketchup, chili sauce, chowchow, chutney, corn relish, and piccalilli.

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Brined Pickles

Cabbage (for sauerkraut) and cucumbers are the vegetables usually preserved by curing in a brine. The curing process takes about three weeks in either a low-salt or high-salt brine. After curing, the pickles are packed and processed. 

Related: How To Make Your Own Homemade Stocks

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Consider Unexpected Fruits and Vegetables

Although cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, green beans, green tomatoes, onions, peaches, pears, sweet peppers, and watermelon rind are among the fruits and vegetables most commonly pickled, almost any tender one of top quality is a good choice. For the crispest, most flavorful pickled foods, allow no more than 24 hours (preferably less) to elapse between picking and processing; and refrigerate the produce immediately after picking if it will not be processed within an hour.

When possible, select slightly underripe produce; it will result in crisper pickles than if ripe or overripe produce is used. Avoid moldy or badly bruised produce since off-flavor and mushy texture cannot be overcome by seasoning, curing, or processing. And do not use waxed cucumbers or green peppers; the waxed skin will not absorb the brine. To reduce chances of rot, do use cucumbers with a short piece of the stem left on the fruit. Rinse fruits and vegetables gently but thoroughly under running water. Drain on towels and tenderly blot dry. Remove any blossoms since they are frequently the source of softening.

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Vinegar

Cider vinegar or any other vinegar with a mild flavor makes tasty pickles (and you can even make your own vinegar). But cider vinegar and red wine vinegar discolor light vegetables and fruits such as cauliflower, onions, and pears. Choose white distilled vinegar (it has a somewhat sharp, pungent taste) for those vegetables to preserve the integrity of the color. 

Related: 8 Ways To Use Vinegar

Whichever vinegar you choose, be absolutely certain its acidity is four to six percent. Any less acid can almost guarantee spoilage and dangerous eating. If you find the pickles too sour with the recommended acidity, add sweetener, but never dilute the vinegar.

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Sweetener

Granulated sugar or honey can be used in pickling, but note that honey changes color and flavor when boiled. To prevent these changes, instead of boiling the honey, vinegar, and spices together, boil only the vinegar and spices. Then add the honey to the vinegar-spice mixture and bring the syrup to a very brief boil. Add the syrup quickly to the pickles.

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Herbs and Spices

Fresh herbs and spices lend the most flavor to pickled foods. Tie whole leaves and seeds in a cheesecloth bag or stainless steel spice ball for easy removal before pickles are packed. Spices left in the jar through processing can cause off-flavors and dark pickles. Ground spices, too, tend to darken pickles, so avoid them.

Related: 7 Flavor Bombs To Spice Up Your Meals

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Water

Soft water (either natural or artificially softened) is best for attractive-looking pickles. Iron or sulfur in hard water will darken pickles while calcium and other salts can interfere with the fermentation process and often cause a white scum or precipitate.

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Pickling Equipment

Most of the equipment required for pickling is inexpensive and already stocked in the average kitchen. The few essential specialty items that run into more money, such as a canner and jars, can be used repeatedly. For heating and mixing the vinegar-spice liquid, use a stainless steel, unchipped enameled, or glass saucepan. Avoid aluminum and never use copper, brass, iron, or galvanized pans or utensils. These metals can react with the strong acid of the vinegar and cause unwanted color and taste changes as well as form poisonous compounds.

Related: 6 Veggies You Never Knew You Could Pickle

In the preparation of the fruits and vegetables, use standard household utensils. Some items you will find helpful are: a cutting board, paring knife, food grinder, ladle, wooden spoon, tray, tongs, and measuring equipment. For the actual canning process you will need jars and a canner, along with other equipment. For pickles, you'll need the boiling water bath type of canner. It is currently considered acceptable for canning pickled foods since these foods have an increased acid content from the added vinegar.

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Packing and Processing Pickled Foods

The packing and processing steps for pickled foods are identical to those for plain, high-acid fruits and vegetables, although the liquid used in pickling is a spiced vinegar instead of water, juice, or syrup. Be sure the vinegar mixture surrounds each piece of food. Process pickled foods for 10 to 15 minutes using the boiling water bath method.

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Storing Pickled Foods

Pickled foods are tastiest when the flavor is allowed to develop for at least three weeks before the jars are opened. Store pickled foods, like other canned items, in a cool, dry, dark place.

Adapted from The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook 

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