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All About Pickling
Pickling happens all over the world, and with all sorts of ingredients. It is a process that preserves food by increasing its acidity and making an inhospitable environment for the microbes responsible for spoilage. Some pickles are fermented, a process in which anaerobic bacteria are encouraged to convert naturally occurring sugars in the food to lactic acid. The lactic acid is what flavors authentic kosher dills, sauerkraut, and kimchi. It is also responsible for preserving the vegetables. Other pickles, especially traditional American and British pickles, are infused with vinegar and canned or refrigerated for long-term storage.
If you are an old hand at pickling and canning, feel free to skip ahead to the recipes. If you have questions about ingredients, equipment, or heat processing, read on.
You can pickle just about every fruit and vegetable — and eggs, fish, and meats. So let's start with the main ingredient.
The difference between a good pickle and a great pickle is often the freshness of the ingredients you use.
Select young, even slightly immature fresh fruits and vegetables. The less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables that you harvest or buy can be used in cooked relishes, but not when you are making whole or sliced pickles.
Chill your produce as quickly and thoroughly as possible. This is particularly important with cucumbers and zucchini if you want a crisp pickle — and who doesn't? Your fruits and vegetables will make crisper pickles if they are harvested early in the day, before they have been wilted by the heat of the sun. Then it is important to get that produce pickled or chilled as soon as possible.
Ideally, you should make your produce into pickles as soon as you harvest. But that isn't always possible. If you are a gardener, you know that allowing a cucumber or squash to stay one extra day on the vine may result in an overgrown monster. And, if you are a CSA member, you know that your pickup is on Saturdays (or whenever) and you can't go to the farm anytime it fits your pickling schedule.
So what do you do when the refrigerator is full? My refrigerator is full even before the harvest season begins. My family jokes that I inherited my refrigerator-management skills from my mother, whose refrigerator contained archival records of meals served long ago. But, in my defense (and yours, perhaps?), it is inevitable that if you make pickles, you will end up with refrigerator shelves bursting with half-filled jars of pickles. If you find pickles piling up in your refrigerator, consider the recipes in chapter 7 as a means to use up your overflow.
But back to the problem at hand: chilling the produce. I find it convenient to store fresh vegetables in a large picnic cooler layered with ice made by freezing water in sealable plastic bags. The bags are heavy-duty and designed for the freezer; they can be reused. If you go this route, just remember that water expands as it freezes, so don't fill a bag more than two-thirds full, and squeeze out as much air as possible.
When a recipe calls for soaking the vegetables in ice water, you can use the freezer bags or ice cubes. If the recipe doesn't call for soaking, don't do it. Vegetables and fruits can become waterlogged and lose crispness. In fact, don't even wash your produce until you are ready to pickle. If you must refrigerate or store your produce over ice, store it unwashed.
If you don't grow your own produce for pickling, try to buy directly from local farmers — at roadside stands, at farmers' markets, or through a CSA. The produce will be fresher. If you buy your produce from the supermarket, beware of waxed fruits and vegetables. Supermarket suppliers coat some produce with a thin film of wax to prevent moisture loss and add a glossy shine. Pickling brine cannot penetrate the waxy coating, and it is impossible to remove the wax without using scalding hot water, which will cook the produce. Cucumbers, bell peppers, apples, grapes, and plums are most commonly waxed.
A Special Note about Cucumbers
The variety of cucumbers available to gardeners is vast. In the not-so-distant past, a gardener had a choice of pickling cucumbers (also called Kirby cucumbers) or slicing cucumbers (also called salad cucumbers or regular cucumbers). Today we have European and American pickling cucumbers (European cucumbers have a smoother skin than American pickling cukes and are perfect for harvesting tiny to make gherkins or cornichons) and European greenhouse cucumbers, Middle Eastern (also called Persian or Beit Alpha) cucumbers, and Japanese (or Asian or long-fruited) cucumbers. Armenian cucumbers are a different species altogether, but there's no reason not to pickle them.
For pickling whole cukes, a short pickling cucumber is best. Otherwise, for eating fresh and pickling slices, I really prefer Asian cucumbers for flavor, for productivity, and for quality retention on the vine. They do grow long — around 12 inches long — which is why you don't want them for pickling whole, and the fruit will curl and coil if not trellised. The big size can be a plus, though, because they don't hide under the cucumber leaves like pickling cukes do.
Many people turn to making cucumber pickles when they become overwhelmed by the quantity of cukes they are harvesting. There's no reason not to pickle a standard slicing cucumber, but the skins can be tough and the seeds large. I think they are best suited for recipes that call for the cucumbers to be peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks, or in relish recipes.
Salt is one of the most important ingredients in pickles. In fermented pickles, the salt is the preservative. In vinegar-brined pickles, it is part of the flavoring. Many vinegar-brined pickle recipes have a short brine with salt water. The salt draws excess water from the vegetables, resulting in a crisper pickle with more concentrated vegetable flavor.
As a preserving agent, salt creates a hostile environment for the microorganisms that spoil foods. When you make fermented pickles (i.e., salt-brined pickles), the fermentation process is a fight between the good microbes that can turn your vegetable into a sour delight and the bad microbes that can turn your vegetable into rotted slime. The salt undermines the bad microbes to give the good microbes a chance to turn the naturally occurring sugars in the vegetable into lactic acid. Then the lactic acid also acts as a preservative.
Old-time recipes often called for a brine "strong enough to float an egg." This is a 10 percent solution made by dissolving 1 1/2 cups of salt in 1 gallon of liquid, a very strong salt solution. Food cured in a 10 percent brine must be "freshened," or desalted, in several changes of water before it is edible. With modern-day refrigeration, preserving with this level of salt is no longer necessary (but it's a good survival skill to keep in the back of your mind). Most of the fermented pickles in this book use a brine of about 2.5 to 6 percent.
Most cookbooks recommend using pickling salt or canning salt (they are one and the same) for pickles because they contain no additives to keep the salt from clumping. The additives will not alter the effectiveness of the brine, but they may darken the pickles or make the brine cloudy. Using pickling salt, then, is an aesthetic decision, rather than a safety decision.
There are specialty food stores devoted to salt, but most of the differences people taste among salts are too subtle to be tasted in a complex pickle. Chemically there is little difference between edible salts. All are at least 97.5 percent sodium chloride.
Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits and includes a small portion of calcium silicate, an anti-caking agent added to prevent clumping. It possesses very fine crystals and a sharp taste.
Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and receives little or no processing, and so it may contain other minerals that flavor or color the salt. If you do use sea salt in your pickles, be sure the texture is the same as table salt or figure out the difference in weight and apply it to the recipes. Recently, fine sea salt, with no additives, has become available in the supermarket in the same easy-pour cylinders as table salt. If you switch over to this type of salt, you can use it for all your pickling needs.
Kosher salt takes its name from its use in the koshering process, where it is applied to draw blood out of the meat. It contains no preservatives and can be derived from either sea-water or underground sources. You can use kosher salt in pickles, but the volume measures in this cookbook will be off. The standard substitution for kosher salt is that 1 teaspoon table salt is equivalent to 1 1/8 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt. Because the size of the salt flake varies among brands of kosher salt, I can't provide a precise equivalent. The only way to figure out how much kosher salt (or flaked sea salt) to use is to weigh it out and do the math yourself. Figure that 1 tablespoon of pickling salt weighs 17 grams.
Pickling salt (also called canning salt) is inexpensive and comes with minimal packaging. I transfer the salt from the box to a glass jar and keep it handy for measuring out what I need. It has the same texture as table salt and can be used for all your regular cooking needs. I use flaked sea salt at the table and to finish dishes, but I don't taste any differences in the salt when it is in solution (in a brine, in a soup).
The Real Folks Behind Real Pickles
A couple of travelers down the locavore highway, Dan Rosenberg and Addie Rose Holland, are the real folks behind award-winning Real Pickles' Garlic Dills.
Rosenberg started the Greenfield, Massachusetts, business in 2001 after learning about the craft of pickle making while attending a workshop at a Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) conference in 1999. Fresh out of college, Rosenberg apprenticed at an organic vegetable farm and was excited about the benefits of locally grown food. He started pickling cabbage, turnips, greens, and other vegetables as a way to keep eating local through the winter.
Two years and countless batches of pickles later, Rosenberg realized that making pickles on a commercial scale could support local farmers and produce a healthy product that would enable people to enjoy local vegetables through the winter. Real Pickles was born. "My biggest reason for starting the business was to promote regional local food systems. I wanted to create more supply to help people eat locally in the winter," he says. A few years later, Addie Rose Holland joined as his life and business partner.
Real Pickles are all made by fermentation. "We make about ten different products: a few dills, a couple of sauerkrauts, beets, carrots. All the vegetables are from local farms."
Sourcing locally in New England means that all the production happens in the warm weather. The vegetables are fermented in 55-gallon barrels. "The cukes go into a saltwater brine. For the sauerkraut, we just pack the cabbage with salt in a barrel." Once the pickles are fully fermented, they go into refrigeration to stop the fermentation process.
Although the pickles are available only in the Northeast, they proved so popular that Real Pickles outgrew its original space in a community incubator kitchen. "Two years ago we bought a hundred-year-old industrial factory in Greenfield." This way they can keep up with the demand in the three hundred or so places, mostly natural food stores, in which the pickles are stocked.
To learn more about Real Pickles, go to www.realpickles.com.
Here is one of the few exceptions to the rule that homemade is best. To be sure the vinegar acts as a preservative, you need one that is 5 percent acetic acid, or 50-grain strength. While it is possible to determine the acidity of homemade vinegar, I can't vouch for the accuracy of any of the methods floating around the Internet, so I recommend you use commercial vinegars.
Distilled white vinegar. In the United States, white vinegar is generally made from corn, potatoes, or wood, though it can also be made from wheat, beets, and apples. The common Heinz brand is made from corn. Celiacs will be happy to know that the Celiac Disease Foundation has found that the distilling process makes this vinegar gluten-free, whatever its grain source. This sharp-tasting vinegar is popular to use for pickling, because it is clear and doesn't color the pickle. This is particularly important when you are making cauliflower or Jerusalem artichoke pickles.
Cider vinegar. Commercial cider vinegar made from apples has a more nuanced, slightly fruity flavor when compared to white vinegar. It is amber in color and is generally the preferred vinegar in sweet pickles and chutneys. (Unfiltered artisanal cider vinegars taste better still, but they rarely express the grain strength on the label and so should not be used for pickling.)
Malt vinegar. With many pickles of British origin, this is the vinegar of choice. It is made from cereal grains, has a delicate, almost sweet flavor, and will darken the pickles somewhat. Since it's often made from barley malt and not distilled, this vinegar is not gluten-free.
Wine vinegars. Commercially made red wine, white wine, and balsamic vinegars are used in many European pickles, and you can use them as well. Be sure the vinegar has a strength of 5 percent acidity.
Rice vinegar. Also known as rice wine vinegar, this is the one wine vinegar that should be used with caution. It is usually diluted to a strength of 4.3 percent acidity, so the USDA does not consider it safe to use for canned pickles. You can, however, use it in fresh pickles that are stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Its lower acidity is often a plus in terms of flavor. Buy unseasoned rice vinegar (if it doesn't say "seasoned," it is unseasoned).
As long as the vinegars have the proper level of acidity, they can be used interchangeably, and that includes flavored vinegars. Never reduce the amount of vinegar called for in a recipe for a canned pickle. If the brine tastes too sharp or too sour, increase the sweetener.
White sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup — they all have their place in sweetening vinegar-brined pickles.
Granulated white sugar. In many ways, white sugar is the sweetener of choice. It sweetens without adding extra flavor and does not affect the color of the finished product.
Brown sugar. Brown sugar is particularly suited to many sweet pickles, relishes, and chutneys. When measuring brown sugar, be sure to pack each cup firmly. Brown sugar will darken the brine. You can use light and dark brown sugars interchangeably.
Honey or maple syrup. Use these sweeteners cautiously because they will make a darker pickle and can overpower its flavor and make a cloudy brine. If you want to substitute honey or maple syrup, use ? cup for every 1 cup of sugar. Honey in any form should not be given to children under one year old.
Other sweeteners. There is no reason not to use alternative sweeteners, such as agave syrup, stevia, or even Splenda. But none of the recipes here have been tested with those products.
The water you use to make pickles should taste good. If you can drink it, you can use it for vinegar-brined pickles. On the other hand, if it contains too much in the way of off-tasting minerals or chlorine, then you might want to use bottled water.
Definitely don't use chlorinated water in salt-brined pickles. The chlorine may kill off the beneficial microbes. If you are on city water, there is chlorine in the water. Boiling the water for at least 2 minutes will vaporize the chlorine. Let the water cool before using it in a brine. Or better still, use spring water.
Hard water can, but doesn't always, interfere with fermentation. If you suspect that hard water is interfering with your process, boil the water for 15 minutes and let stand, covered, for 24 hours. Skim off any scum and pour off the clean water, leaving behind any sediment.
You may notice a mineral residue building up in your canner. To clean the canner, fill it with water, add 1 cup white distilled vinegar, and let it sit overnight. Then scrub away the residue. If more drastic action is needed, boil full-strength white distilled vinegar in the pot for a few minutes, let cool, and rinse with plain water.
Spices and Herbs
There are some traditional herbs and spices when it comes to pickles: dill, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, pepper, cloves, and mixed pickling spices. Mints, oregano, basil, fennel, caraway seeds, and tarragon also have their place.
It is very important to use fresh herbs and spices; once they age, they take on a dusty attic flavor. It is a good idea to date your herb and spice jars when you open them (or when you store your own freshly dried or freshly bought dried herbs) and throw them out one year after opening. If you buy herbs and spices, consider buying in bulk from natural food stores or ethnic food stores where the stock turns over rapidly. And don't store your herbs and spices in the cupboard over the stove — or on a tray right next to the stove — because heat destroys both flavor and color.
Excerpted from "The Pickled Pantry"
Copyright © 2012 Andrea Chesman.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction1 All About Pickling2 Fermented Pickles3 Single Jar Pickles4 Big-Harvest Fresh-Pack Pickles5 Salsas, Relishes, Chutneys6 Refrigerator & Freezer Pickles7 Recipes for Enjoying Homemade PicklesAcknowledgmentsIndex
What People are Saying About This
Andrea was researching and writing about pickling long before it was in vogue, and it shows in The Pickled Pantry! There's not a thing about pickling not covered in this book — a must for the pickling newbie and the avid pickler alike!
Excellent coverage of a broad spectrum of pickling techniques, including, but not limited to, fermentation. Andrea Chesman’s clear writing and simple directions make these processes accessible enough for first-timers, while her recipes are varied enough to provide new inspiration to longtime practitioners.
Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation
I opened this gorgeous book on a blustery winter's day. Two hours later I emerged, inspired and energized. Andrea Chesman has produced a book that makes one pine for pickles.
Kathy Harrison, author of Just In Case
What a fantastic resource - and, a fun read! The Pickled Pantry has much to offer to pickling enthusiasts at all levels. Andrea Chesman is a master of the craft, and her clear and engaging style will make anyone feel like they can be, too. One of the most comprehensive resources available on fermented pickles, in particular. Andrea Chesman does a superb job demystifying the process and conveying all the information one needs to know to make delicious pickles!