Thinking of ways to make our fruit and vegetables last longer and reduce food waste often leaves us in a pickle. Whether it’s cafés or restaurants over-buying stock or the green-fingered among us enjoying riches from their fruit and vegetable patch, preserving fresh produce is important.
Pickling vegetables is a delicious, wholesome, and sustainable way to bring new life to your veggies. Let’s dig a little deeper and discover more about this food preservation method so you can enjoy out-of-season produce all year round.
What is pickling?
While many of us enjoy the mouthwatering tang of pickled foods, we need to become more familiar with the old culinary technique of pickling. Pickling means submerging something in a solution of vinegar and water (ratio adjusted to your preference), so bacteria can’t survive.
The solution’s acidity extends the shelf-life of your fruit and vegetables and alters their texture and flavour profile. The exact flavour will vary depending on your choice of vegetable or fruit, the ratio of water to vinegar, the type of vinegar, and any optional ingredients or seasonings you add.
Pickling can preserve perishable food for months by encouraging the growth of good, benign bacteria and preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.
Types of pickling
There are two pickling methods — quick pickling and water-bath pickling (also known as canning). While they’re based on the same concept (preserving vegetables), they are, in fact, very different.
Quick pickles are also referred to as “refrigerator pickles”. They undergo a fast and simple process by being pickled in brine and stored in the fridge for a short period. They will last anywhere from several weeks to several months but only require a few days in the pickling solution before they can be enjoyed at their best. Quick pickling is best for pickles you plan to consume sooner rather than later, as they will begin to lose their crunch the longer they remain in the brine.
On the other hand, the canning method allows for long-term storage and is used for preserving foods with high acid levels (jams, jellies, relishes, etc). These jars of prepared food use a more pungent brine and are heated in a boiler water bath for a specific amount of time.
Submerging the jar in boiling water forms a vacuum seal and keeps the contents from spoiling. It also requires specific steps to prep the food, but canned pickles that are processed and stored correctly should be safe for one year.
Why pickle vegetables?
Like any food, the proof arises when you eat it. Pickled fruit and vegetables will leave an exciting flavour explosion of salt and tang in your mouth, especially if you grow your own. They are a delight eaten alone or a great addition to recipes.
Pickled foods can also be used as toppings for various dishes, such as pizza and salads, or adding extra crunch and taste to your lunchtime wraps.
Pickling will save you time and money, as it is inexpensive and will mean less time traipsing to the supermarket to buy canned pickled goods. Sustainably preserving fresh produce also enables consumers, restaurants, farm shops, and food suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing food wastage. Even better, you can re-use your glass jars (after washing them in hot, soapy water) to position your green credentials further in the limelight.
Lasting way longer than fresh vegetables, the benefit of a long shelf life means your pickled vegetables will service the months ahead. You can enjoy the pickled fruit and vegetables you prepare in the autumn through winter and even on long journeys when food usually spoils.
Not only do fruit and vegetables retain their minerals and vitamins when they are pickled, but they can also do wonders for your health. From boosting immunity to improving cholesterol levels and digestive health, pickling offers a wealth of health. They are also a great source of antioxidants, helping your body fight inflammation and protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals.
How to pickle vegetables
As canning is a bit more involved and technical, we’ll cover the more straightforward process of quick pickling vegetables so you can get a taste of pickled life.
Almost any vegetable can be pickled, but it’s best done with young, super-fresh vegetables (use as soon as possible after picking) that are free of bruises and blemishes. When choosing vegetables and fruit for pickling, try to select similar sizes.
For quick pickling, you’ll need a clean glass jar or glass tupperware with their respective lid, water (ideally purified), vinegar, pure sea salt, and sometimes sugar. You can experiment with different kinds of vinegar, like apple cider or rice wine vinegar for refrigerator pickles. However, avoid aged or concentrated vinegar like balsamic or malt varieties. If desired, you can also add fresh or dry flavourings such as bay leaves, mustard seeds, or turmeric.
Now you’re ready to pickle, let’s run through the process step-by-step.
- Prepare the vegetables
Scrub the vegetables you’re pickling with a vegetable brush under running water. Make sure to remove soil or any soft spots remaining on the vegetables, as they may possess bacteria that can cause the pickles to spoil.
Cut or slice the vegetables into rounds, slices, or spears. Ensure they are the same size, as the pickling brine should penetrate the pickles uniformly. Remember, small vegetable pieces will pickle faster than large vegetable pieces.
- Wash and label your jar
Wash your jar with hot, soapy water, rinse well, and air dry, or dry entirely by hand. Neatly attach a label to your jar so you are not left wondering what the magical flavours are and when your preserved food was created.
- Add the flavourings
Add any garlic, herbs, or spices you are using to the jar. Some flavour choices are commonly used for pickling, but you can experiment with ones you enjoy.
- Add the vegetables to the jar
Pack the vegetables into the jar tightly without smashing them. Leave ½ inch of headspace from the inside of the jar lid to the tops of the vegetables.
- Make your pickling brine
A basic solution is equal parts vinegar and water, but you can tweak this to suit your taste. Place in a small saucepan with salt and sugar over high heat until boiling. Stir the salt and sugar until dissolved and cover the vegetables with the hot brine, almost filling the jar to the top but still leaving ½ inch of headspace. You may have leftover brine, which you can use for your next pickling activity.
- Let it pickle
Place the lid on the jar (or container) and let the jar and its contents cool to room temperature. You can then store it in the refrigerator for at least one hour. However, we recommend resisting for at least 48 hours before picking at your pickles — like a fine wine, they improve with flavour as they age.
How long do pickled vegetables last?
Your quick pickled vegetables will last at least three to four weeks in the fridge, possibly longer if unopened. Pickles that have gone through the correct water bath canning process will typically keep for about a year.
How to serve pickled vegetables
Pickled vegetables and fruit are incredibly versatile, so don’t hesitate to get creative. You can incorporate the fruits of your pickles into many of your favourite meals and snacks. Think charcuterie boards, omelettes, spring rolls, deviled eggs, or even as an excellent garnish for a Bloody Mary cocktail.
Whether you’re a food establishment with zero-waste ambitions or a family pickling fresh produce to cut down on food waste, we hope this guide helps you pickle like a pro.