Outside of imperial Russia in winter, there has never been a better time to experiment with pickling. It works with almost any vegetable, is cheap, tasty, will give you a head start on genuine apocalypse prep, and will help limit your trips to the grocery store since you can stock up on as much produce as you can stuff into jars without worrying about it going bad. Though many who have taken pickling up as a hobby won’t admit this, it’s also incredibly easy.
What you need:
- Canning jars (mason jars with the two-piece metal lids)
- Non-iodized salt (pickling or sea)
- Vinegar (most commonly, white, apple cider, or rice)
- A pot big enough to submerge one or more of your jars in hot water
- Something to lift the jars out of the pot with (there are tools specially made for this called jar-lifters, but you can do it with regular tongs if you’re careful)
- Stuff to pickle
1. Sterilize your jar:
Bring enough water to submerge your jars to a rapid boil. Separate the lid. You want to boil the jar itself and the outer ring, but not the part of the lid with the seal on it, as this could damage the seal. For this, just run it under hot water for a few seconds. Boil the jar and ring for 15 minutes, then take them out and leave them to dry. Don’t throw your water out, and keep it hot.
2. Make the brine:
A standard brine has two parts vinegar, one part water, and one-half teaspoon of salt per cup of liquid, but you can adjust the ratio based on preference or what a given recipe calls for, so long as you don’t dilute the vinegar beyond an equal amount of water. You can also add some sugar to the mix if you want it a bit sweeter, and a couple of cloves of garlic if you like garlic. In another pot, bring this mixture to a slow boil, and stir until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved.
3. Prepare your future pickles:
No matter what vegetable you are using, cut any ends and stems off of them. These contain enzymes that turn the vegetables mushy. Then, cut them into whatever size and shapes you prefer. An obvious but good rule is that the larger your vegetable pieces, the longer they will take to pickle. A whole cucumber will take about a month, but if you cut it lengthwise into quarters, it will only take two weeks. The only other requirement is that the pieces are short enough to leave at least one-half inch of empty space at the top of your jar.
4. Stuff your jar:
Before you put your vegetables in, add any other herbs and spices you would like. A few popular additives are dill, mustard seed, allspice, chilli flakes, and celery seed, but the beauty of pickling is that you can really throw in anything you think might taste good and it’s probably going to turn out alright. Experiment a little. Then, put your vegetables in. You want to leave a little bit of wiggle room so no air bubbles get trapped inside later on. Pour the hot brine overtop, leaving an approximately one-quarter inch of headroom at the top of the jar. Run a clean butter knife under hot water for a few seconds, and then insert it into the jar and stir the contents around a bit to clear out any stubborn air bubbles. Make sure to move on to the next step while the brine is still hot.
5. Process and seal your jar:
This is the only tricky part. First, bring your large pot of water back up to a medium boil. Then, make sure to wipe off the rims of your jars with a clean, damp cloth. The tiniest bit of residue could stop them from sealing properly. Place the lid, and then screw the outer ring on — hand tight. Do not muscleman it. You need air to be able to escape in order to create the vacuum inside the jar.
Once the lid is on and the water is boiling, carefully place the jar inside, again making sure it is fully submerged. Let the jar boil for 10 – 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it sit for another five. Carefully lift the jars out of the water, and place them in a room-temperature spot out of any sunlight.
6. Let cool, and check your seals:
Let the jars sit for at least 12, but ideally 24 hours. Touch the jars as little as possible during this time, to avoid disturbing the seal. Once they are cool, there are several ways you can tell if they are properly sealed.
The first is to press on the centre of the lid. If the lid is slightly concave and does not move at all, the inside of your jar is at the correct, constant pressure and is therefore sealed properly. If the lid pops in and out or is slightly convex, the seal didn’t take.
The second is to hit the top of the lid with a spoon. A properly sealed lid will make a ringing sound, while an unsealed lid will give a dull thump.
The third is to remove the outer ring, and gently try to lift the lid off with your finger (don’t pry with your nail, as you can open sealed jars this way). If the lid comes off with ease, then obviously it isn’t sealed.
The good news is that if your jar doesn’t seal properly, you can keep it in the fridge, and they will still keep for two to four months, depending on the vegetable. This just leaves a much smaller window between when they are finished pickling and when they are safe to eat. If they do seal, keep them away from sunlight, and they will keep for a whole year. After you open the jar for the first time, store it in the fridge anyways.
There are plenty of pickle recipes you can find online if you are looking for something specific, but I much prefer the method of throwing together different combinations of your own favourite vegetables and spices until you find out what works. Here are two of my recent experiments that turned out especially well. Each will fill one 500 millilitre-jar.
Sweet and spicy corn:
2 ears of corn, off the cob (a Taber super sweet variety is best for this recipe)
1 quarter red onion, sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced into rings
3 sprigs of cilantro
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
3/4 cups water
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. honey
2 carrots, cut into half-inch sticks
1 parsnip, cut into half-inch sticks
2 sprigs of tarragon
2 sprigs parsley
1 tsp. dried juniper berries
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
3/4 cups water
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. granulated sugar