We’ve all had pickles on our sandwiches or hamburgers at one point or another. They provide a delicious tangy flavor that is excellent not only on sandwiches but also in salads, dressings, and much more. How exactly do pickles get that delicious tangy flavor that most people enjoy?
The pickling process consists of immersing a food (usually a vegetable) in an acidic solution. This most commonly takes the form of vinegar or brine of some kind. The acid in the vinegar or brine preserves the pickles. The entire process can take up to a few weeks to complete.
There is a lot more to the pickling process than most people know. Pickles bought from the store are great. But have you ever wondered what it’s like to make your own pickles? If you’re itching to try your hand at it, here are a few tips that will help you to get started!
How to Make Pickles
Let’s talk about how to get going on the pickling process. It might take a little bit of time, but making pickles is a pretty straightforward process for the most part.
Tools Needed for the Pickling Process
Here’s what you need to make pickles.
First, you need the food you want to pickle, usually cucumbers. You also need spices, jars, and brine. Most pickle brine consists of vinegar, water, salt, and sometimes sugar.
The most used spices for pickling include salt, garlic dill, and red pepper flakes, if you want some added spice.
If you don’t like dill, no worries! There are many flavors and varieties of pickles to satisfy every taste preference.
Quick Pickles Vs. Canned Pickles
You can pickle vegetables two main ways. Quick pickling is the first way. Quick pickles are fast and easy, and don’t require any special equipment. All you have to do is prepare the food you want to pickle, add the brine, and refrigerate.
Canning pickles is the second option. This requires a large pot or water bath canner, and some basic canning tools. I like this set of canning tools available on Amazon. Canned pickles are shelf stable. This means they don’t require refrigeration. Canned pickles also last a year or longer, compared to around a month for quick pickles.
Don’t fret if you don’t have a canning pot. You can just as easily improvise with a large stockpot!
Pro Tip: If you want to learn more about how to can with just a stock pot, read my article, Is Canning Without a Canner Possible?
What Can You Pickle?
Cucumbers are probably the first things that come to mind when you hear the word, “pickles.” It’s true! Pickled cucumbers are the most common pickles in most local grocery stores.
However, that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to pickling cucumbers.
Believe it or not, you can pickle a fairly large variety of vegetables. These include onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, peppers, garlic, cauliflower, and more. Fish and eggs are also pickle worthy. You can even pickle certain types of meat, such as ham hocks, venison, sausage, bologna, and a few other types as well.
The Pickling Process
It’s time to get started!
First, when making quick pickles, sterilize your jars before using them. Here’s the method I use to sterilize jars:
If at an elevation of 1,000 feet or less, boil the jars for ten minutes. For every additional 1,000 feet of elevation, add another minute. As an example, my current elevation is approximately 1650 feet. Therefore, I boil jars for 11 minutes to sterilize them.
To better understand how altitude impacts canning, check out my article, How Altitude Impacts Canning | How to Adapt Canning Recipes Based on Your Altitude
Pro tip: If you plan to water bath can your pickles, you don’t need to sterilize the jars. Just wash them in hot soapy water.
Once you have prepared the jars, cut up the cucumbers (or whatever other vegetable you’re using). Pickles are most commonly cut into chips, spears, or sandwich slices. Make sure there are no bad spots.
How to Prepare Pickle Brine
The next step in the pickling process is brine preparation. Pickling brines usually consist of water, salt, vinegar, and sometimes even a little sugar. You only need to add sugar if you want to offset the sour, bitterness of the pickle. Some people enjoy that, however, so the use of sugar isn’t always necessary. Make sure you use pickling or kosher salt when you prepare your brine! Table salt doesn’t hurt pickles. The only problem it causes is that it makes the brine cloudy, which is less attractive.
Here’s a good, basic pickle brine recipe:
- 1 1/2 cups vinegar. You can use apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar, or any other vinegar of your choice. The only thing that really matters the acidity level. Choose vinegar with 5% acidity.
- 1 1/2 cups water.
- 1 teaspoon pickling, canning, or kosher salt
Simmer all ingredients until the salt dissolves.
Fill the Jars
Now it’s time to fill the jars. Start by putting seasonings such as garlic, dill, mustard seeds, and red pepper flakes into the jars.
Just make sure they’re whole spices and not ground up, because ground spices can make for gritty pickles and an unattractive color in the brine. Once you’ve done that, carefully layer in the cucumbers and then fill the jar with brine.
After that’s done and you have sealed the jars properly in your canning pot, label the jars carefully. If you use this method, it’ll take a week or two for the pickles to become fully flavorful, so make sure you mark down when they’ll be ready to eat. There are other methods of pickling, such as barrel pickling that could take 9 days or even up to 6 weeks.
Quick Pickles vs. Canned Pickles: What’s the Difference?
It’ll take a little while to complete the pickling process, but it’s not very difficult, so give it a try sometime!
However, for those of you who may not have as much time on your hands, this might be a little too time-consuming. However, there might be a solution to your problem: quick pickles.
Quick pickles and canned pickles generally taste the same and are made with many of the same ingredients. The difference between the two lies mostly in the making process. Canned pickles, as you can see, take quite a bit of time. If you plan to cook up a batch, you need to spend at least an hour or two to complete the process.
Quick Pickles are Called Quick for a Reason!
Quick pickles (aka refrigerator pickles), on the other hand, will take a day or two before they are ready to eat.
Preparation still takes a little bit of time, but they won’t have to cure for as long as canned pickles. Plus, the prep process isn’t too hard, so if you plan well, you can have it all done in no time.
Much of the process is the same as the process for making canned pickles. You need to cut and prepare your cucumbers and make a brine to soak them in.
Use glass jars for your pickles. While it’s important to use canning jars for canned pickles, with quick pickles, any glass jar with a lid will work.
Fill the jars with the desired spices and the cucumbers, then pour the brine over the top.
Once you’ve put lids on those containers, pop them into the refrigerator and give them a day to ripen in flavor. Once that day is up, you can enjoy a nice bowl of pickles that tastes just as good, if not better, than the canned kind.
The only downside is that canned pickles are going to last you quite a bit longer, while quick pickles will go bad faster.
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Recommended Resources for Pickling and Fermenting
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you strive to stock your pantry with delicious pickled and fermented food! Here are some tools that I use that I’m hoping you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. Please know that these are the tools that I actually use and recommend and believe in 100%!
DIY Pickling: Step-By-Step Recipes for Fermented, Fresh, and Quick Pickles (on Amazon). This is the first pickling and fermenting book that I purchased. I love that it has great photos and very clear instructions. If you want to learn about both quick pickles AND ferments in a single book, this is the one I recommend.
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (on Amazon). One of my good friends grew up on a farm and has been fermenting food since he was a young boy. This is the one book that he says is an absolute must if you want to learn how to ferment food.
Stainless Steel Fermenting Kits (on True Leaf Market) I love using stainless steel products because they stand the test of time. Though they are a bit more expensive than other options, in the long run they save money because they last pretty much forever. I also love products that work with mason jars, and these certainly fit the bill.
Fermenting and Pickling Kits (on Cultures for Health) are the best way to start with fermenting if you want everything you need to (except the food!) to start fermenting. If you’re hit with the intimidation factor when it comes to pickling or fermenting, consider starting with a kit.