If you’re looking for an easy way to preserve the bounty of your vegetable harvest, why not give pickling a try? You can pickle just about anything: artichoke hearts, beans, beets, eggplant, garlic, onions—you’re only limited by the amount of space you have to store them. Whether you’re new to pickling or an experienced canner ready to experiment with unique flavors and recipes, these pickling tips will help you get started!
10 Pickling Tips
- Use the correct vinegar. Vinegar must have a 5 percent acetic acid content (or more). The high acid is necessary for safe, long-term preservation. Distilled white vinegar (or plain white vinegar) is most often used: it is clear and will not change the color of the vegetables in the recipe. Do not dilute vinegar unless the recipe calls for the addition of water. Some vegetables such as onions need a higher solution of vinegar than others, so don’t swap veggies. As long as they have 5 percent acetic acid, apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar, and wine vinegar may be used. (So-called “salad” vinegars do not usually have enough acid, so avoid them).
- Pick the right pickling salt. Salt is the other key ingredient in pickling – it also helps to prevent harmful bacteria from destroying the food. Use pure sodium chloride when preparing pickles. Table salt usually contains iodine and anti-caking agents (which help make the salt pour easily). While table salt can be used in pickling, the extra ingredients may result in cloudy or discolored pickles. Purchase “pickling” or “canning” salt instead. The added benefit with pickling salt is that it is fine grain and will dissolve easily. Kosher salt may be used as well. Other salts such as sea salt or flake salt have different grain sizes so they are not interchangeable in recipes. (If you measure by weight, not volume, you may be able to arrive at the correct amount, but it’s easier to use the salt that is indicated in the recipe).
- Which water matters. Hard water will sometimes discolor pickles. To soften water, boil it first and then let it sit for 24 hours. Skim off any deposits and then use. Distilled water may also be used.
- Sugar selection. Sugar is often used in pickling, especially in sweet recipes. Do not substitute sugars or use an alternative sweetener unless the recipe specifies that it is safe to do so. There are many cookbooks and recipes available online for no-sugar pickles and preserves; use them if you want to avoid refined sugar.
- Follow the instructions! Never alter recipes; don’t double them or substitute ingredients. This could affect the taste of the pickles or increase the risk of spoilage. If a recipe isn’t to your liking, find another one that uses the ingredients you have.
- Properly process. For proper shelf-stable storage, pickles must be processed in a boiling water canner. This eliminates any bacteria that remains after the pickles are made, as well as prevents harmful yeasts and molds. You don’t want to get botulism from your food! Process for the time indicated in the recipe and adjust the time according to the altitude of your location. If you don’t want to process your pickles, be sure to refrigerate them and consume them within a few weeks.
- Food-grade lime may help make your pickles crunchier, but it should only be used if the recipe calls for it. Carefully follow the instructions for using lime—it must be rinsed several times before the pickles are ready to be placed in jars. Crunchy pickles without the use of lime are achieved by harvesting good quality vegetables, picking them when temperatures are cool, and processing them immediately.
- Use good quality vegetables. Only the freshest fruits and vegetables should be used in pickling to ensure a quality product. Choose fresh, firm, unblemished vegetables.
- Skip the taste test. If you notice any spoilage while your pickles are in storage, throw them out right away. Don’t taste test them.
- Waiting game. For best results, let your new pickles sit for a week or two before eating – it may be difficult to resist, but the waiting period enhances the flavor.
Refrigerator Crunchy Pickled Red Onions
Pickled red onions are a delicious, crunchy treat and can be used in place of raw red onions, on burgers, in salads, or sandwiches.
Refrigerator Crunchy Pickled Red Onions
- 2 large red onions, peeled, thinly sliced
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons pickling salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional and to taste)
- Place the sliced onions in a large glass bowl.
- Combine the water, vinegars, sugar, salt and pepper flakes in another bowl and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour the liquid ingredients over the sliced onions.
- Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for about 12 hours. Then pack the contents into two 1 pint glass jars and refrigerate until use.
- Yield: two 1 pint jars
- Do you have pickling tips to share? Tell us in the comments below…
Sheryl Normandeau, BA, is a Master Gardener and writer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her articles and short stories have appeared in several international publications. She is the co-author (with Janet Melrose) of the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series.