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How to make pickles: these three basic methods put perfect pickling within the grasp of every preserver. Just pick a pickle recipe and get started!

Easy-to-prepare pickles pack a powerful punch of flavor and crunch. Even kitchen novices can learn in a flash how to make pickles and quickly concoct their own unique blends of preserved vegetables and fruits to add a tangy zing to everyday meals.

You can preserve vegetables using these three basic methods: lactic fermentation (cured with salt), canning (soaked in pickling lime) and refrigeration (immersed in a vinegar solution). Each type of homemade pickles described here includes a simple recipe for you to try.

Fermented Pickles

Many pickle enthusiasts swear fermentation yields more complex flavors than you get from pickles made with vinegar. Also called "crock pickles" or "brine pickles," they are acidified by lactobacilli bacteria and yeasts--microbes that thrive without oxygen while submerged in brine and that suppress the growth of other microbes that cause spoilage. The lactobacilli also produce B vitamins and flavor compounds. These probiotics may improve digestive, intestinal and immune function.

The basics: Mix food with flavorings and place inside crock. Make pickle brine and pour into crock. Cover with a weight to keep food submerged, and drape with a towel to keep out dust. Ferment at room temperature for 2 or more weeks. Check container daily, and skim any scum from the top. Fermentation bubbles may be visible. Taste pickles regularly.

When your fermented pickles reach a flavor you like, you have three options for storing them:

1. Refrigerate to slow lactic fermentation. Pickles should last 4 to 6 months this way. Note that pickled vegetables last longer than pickled fruits, which generally keep well for only 2 to 3 months.

2. Store in a dark, cool spot, such as the basement, where your homemade pickles will continue to ferment but should stay tasty for several months.

3. Can fermented pickles for extended storage. The heat of canning compromises their crisp texture and kills the beneficial bacteria, but the flavor will remain. Canned fermented food could last a couple of years.


This recipe, adapted from Linda Ziedrich's
The Joy of Pickling, uses grape, oak or sour
cherry leaves, which contain tannins believed
to help keep fermented homemade pickles
crisp. Store-bought, canned grape leaves will
also do the trick. Yield: 1 gallon.


Clean, gallon-sized glass jar or ceramic crock
Gallon-sized plastic bag or fitted
  crock weights


1 handful clean grape, oak or sour cherry
  leaves (optional)
Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch
  unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably
  freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed
Peeled cloves from 2 to 3 heads of garlic
2 quarts water
1 cup cider vinegar
6 tbsp unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
1/4 cup dill seed or 2 handfuls dill fronds

Place leaves in the bottom of a clean
crock. Slice blossom ends off the cucumbers
and pack cucumbers into the crock, smallest
ones first, adding garlic cloves throughout.
Do not fill crock more than two-thirds full.
In a separate container, stir together water,
vinegar, salt and dill until salt dissolves. Pour
this brine over cucumbers
until liquid is an inch above
cucumbers when you're pressing
them down. If your crock
has weights, set them on top
of the cucumbers to submerge
them. If you don't have special
weights, fill a gallon-sized
plastic bag with water and set
it on top to keep cucumbers
submerged. Cover crock with
towel to keep out dust.

Ferment pickles for 1 to 4
weeks at room temperature,
checking crock daily. Scum
may develop on top; this is normal. Carefully
lift off weight and rinse it to remove scum.
Skim scum from top of container before replacing
weight and towel. Don't worry about
getting every last bit, but do this daily.

You may notice bubbles after the first few
days, indicating lactic fermentation is underway.
After a week, begin tasting the pickles
daily. Keep fermenting until you enjoy the flavor.
Pickles should be translucent throughout.

To store, place crock in a cool, dry, dark
spot (the basement, for example), or remove
pickles to smaller, lidded containers in the
refrigerator. (If using metal lids, place a piece
of plastic wrap between the container and
the lid.) You may rinse fermented pickles
and cover them with fresh pickle brine and
seasonings, or strain and reuse your original
brine. Pickles' flavor will improve after about
a month in cooler conditions.

Note: The brine should develop a yeasty
aroma that is pleasant, never putrid. If
pickles become slimy or moldy during fermentation,
discard them and try again.

To can homemade pickles, process quart
jars with half-inch headspace in a boiling
water bath for 15 minutes. (Bone up on canning
how-to with our Home Canning Guide at Plus,
you can download our free How to Can app at --Mother)

Canned Vinegar Pickles

Most modern pickling recipes rely on an acetic acid (vinegar) solution and heat treatment to preserve the vegetables. The resulting flavor is simple and sharp.

Vinegar pickles can be sweet, spicy or extremely sour. Popular examples include bread-and-butter pickles, sour gherkins and dilly beans. You must use vinegar with at least 5 percent acidity to produce pickles that are safe for long-term storage. Distilled white vinegar is the popular choice because it's cheap and won't darken pickles, and because its flavor is mild in comparison with those of cider, malt and wine vinegars. Avoid using rice vinegar and homemade vinegars, because their acidity usually is too weak. Always use canning recipes that have been tested for safety (see "Be Safe!" on Page 48).

The basics: Heat vinegar, water and seasonings to make brine. Pack whole or chopped food into sterilized canning jars. Cover with hot brine, leaving appropriate headspace. Apply lids and rings. Process jars in a boiling water bath.


This combination of ingredients and
techniques makes the ultimate super-crisp,
complexly flavored sweet-and-sour pickle.
Pre-soaking cucumbers in pickling lime
keeps them very crisp. Yield: 4 quarts.


4 quart-sized canning jars with lids and rings
Water bath canner with rack
Candy thermometer


Approximately 6 pounds of 4- to 5-inch
  unwaxed pickling cucumbers (preferably
  freshly picked), scrubbed and rinsed

Soaking Solution

1 cup food-grade pickling lime
  (calcium hydroxide)
1/2 cup pickling salt
1 gallon cold water

Syrup Mixture

2 quarts cider or white wine vinegar
  (minimum 5 percent acidity; cider vinegar
  will darken pickles)
6 cups granulated sugar or 514 cups honey
  (honey will darken brine)
2 1/2 tsp unrefined sea salt or pickling salt
2 tsp mixed pickling spice, store-bought or
  homemade spice sachet (below)
3 pounds white or yellow onions, diced

Spice Sachet

1-inch cinnamon stick
1-inch piece of turmeric root, peeled,
  or 1/2 tsp of ground turmeric
1 bay leaf
1 small, whole, dried chile pepper
  or 1/2 tsp crushed, dried chile pepper
1 tsp dill seed
1/2 tsp white peppercorns
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp allspice berries
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp whole cloves

To prepare cucumbers for soaking, cut
them into quarter-inch slices and discard
the ends. In a 2-gallon or larger nonreactive
(glass, plastic or ceramic) container,
mix pickling lime with salt and water. Add
cucumbers and soak for 12 to 24 hours,
stirring occasionally. Scoop slices from
lime solution, rinse in a colander and soak
for 1 hour in fresh, cold water. Repeat
rinsing and soaking steps at least two more
times to completely remove the pickling
lime. Drain well.

In a large pot, whisk together vinegar,
sugar, salt and pickling spice or your
homemade spice sachet. Add onions.
Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes to
make a syrup.

Sterilize 4 quart-sized canning jars and
lids in boiling water. Pack cucumbers
and onions into jars and pour hot syrup
over them, leaving a half-inch headspace.
Use a knife or chopstick to eliminate air
bubbles. Wipe jar rims clean. Apply lids
and rings.

The pickles can be canned via low-temperature
pasteurization to avoid the
higher heat that softens them. To pasteurize,
fill canner halfway with water and
heat to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Set filled
jars in canner, and continually monitor
water temperature for 30 minutes. Make
adjustments to maintain 180 degrees for
the duration. The thermometer reading
should never exceed 185 degrees. (Learn
more about how to make pickles using the
low-temperature pasteurization method at

Alternatively, process jars in a boiling
water bath for 15 minutes. The flavor of
vinegar pickles will improve after about a
month in storage.

Refrigerator Pickies

Sometimes called "quick pickles," refrigerator pickles are technically vinegar pickles minus the canning. You can adjust a refrigerator pickle recipe--to use less salt or sugar or none at all--without food-safety fears. Refrigerator pickles stay crisp because the cucumbers are not subjected to heat. Making pickles using this method is as fast as the name implies. Refrigerator pickles are typically ready to eat within a day and should be consumed within a few months.

The basics: Prepare vinegar solution and pour over sliced vegetables. Cover and refrigerate.



My refrigerator Is nearly always stocked
with vegetable slices covered in rice vinegar.
I regularly add new vegetables to the
jar along with more vinegar to keep them
covered. Sometimes I toss in garlic, turmeric
or lemongrass. Because the refrigeration
inhibits spoilage, low-acidity rice vinegar
is OK to use in these homemade pickles.
Yield: 1 quart.

Two 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
1 sweet salad turnip
1 medium carrot
2 shallots
1 to 2 hot chile peppers, fresh or
  dried (optional)
2 to 3 tbsp honey or granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
1 handful cilantro leaves

Peel (if desired) and slice vegetables into
quarter-inch rings. Pack in a lidded storage
container. Whisk honey into vinegar and pour
over vegetables. Stir in cilantro. Refrigerate.
Pickles will be ready to eat the next day and
will stay good for roughly a month.

A Peek at the Primary Pickle Types

Salt and vinegar are essential pickling ingredients. Which one is more important depends on the pickling method you choose--fermentation via salt or acidification via vinegar. Salt amplifies flavors and draws moisture out of foods during fermentation, crisping them. Salt also keeps fermentation in check. A minimum salinity of 3.5 percent (2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water) is recommended for cucumber pickles.

Always use the type of salt called for in the recipe, because pickling, kosher and sea salts measure differently by volume. Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, writes that unrefined sea salt improves pickle crispness "thanks to its calcium and magnesium impurities, which help cross-link and reinforce cell-wall pectins." Common table salt contains anti-caking agents and iodide, which will make pickle juice cloudy. Pickling salt is granulated salt without these additives.

Vinegar must have at least 5 percent acidity to preserve foods that will be canned. Never alter the vinegar or water quantity in a canning recipe, and never over-boil the brine. Such changes can reduce acidity, making pickles unsafe in long-term storage. If the brine is too sharp for your liking, add sugar.

Pickle Type    Vegetables or      Key Preservation   Liquid
               Fruit              Ingredient

Fermented      5 to 6 pounds      Salt: about 2      About 1 quart
                                  tablespoons sea    water; may also
                                  salt or pickling   use small
                                  salt               amounts of
                                                     vinegar for

Vinegar        5 to 6 pounds      Vinegar: 5 to 6    About 3 quarts,
                                  cups (1 cup per    at least 50
                                  pound of food);    percent vinegar
                                  minimum 5
                                  percent acidity

Refrigerator   Any amount         Rice vinegar       Vinegar to cover

Pickle Type    Typical Seasonings        How to Store

Fermented      Dill, garlic, mustard,    Refrigerator; ceramic,
               hot peppers               glass or stoneware
                                         crock in cool, dry,
                                         dark place; canning

Vinegar        Salt, sugar, pickling     Refrigerator; canning
               spice, garlic

Refrigerator   Hot peppers, shallots,    Refrigerator

What Can I Pickle?

Most vegetables and fruits can be fermented, though some are better candidates for pickling because they're more apt to remain crisp. Popular fermented pickles include old-fashioned kosher dills (cucumbers with dill and garlic), half-sours (cucumbers pickled with less salt for a shorter amount of time), brined olives, sauerkraut (pickled cabbage), kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage, often spicy), beets, grapes, lemons, watermelon rinds, and Japanese plums. Fermentation expert Sandor Katz makes mixed vegetable ferments using whatever fruits and vegetables are available and seem appealing.

For a bounty of ideas on how to make pickles, we recommend The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich, Pickles & Relishes by Andrea Chesman, The Beginner's Guide to Preserving Food at Home by Janet Chadwick, and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. (You can order these pickling reference works on Page 64.)

Tabitha Alterman is a big fan of fermentation. One of the coolest things she's ever done was taking fermentation guru Sandor Katz's course at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.
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Author:Alterman, Tabitha
Publication:Mother Earth News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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