Pickling may sound like the sort of thing best left to Grannies at the CWA, but we're here to show you how simple, cheap, and satisfying preserving stuff in pretty jars can be.
You can pickle more things than you might realise. Cucumber, of course, but also red onions, onions with fruit like cherries or berries, rhubarb, strawberries, baby carrots, baby daikon, broccoli stems… If you can name it, you can probably pickle it. And all you'll need is a glass vessel, some fruit or vegetables, and a few cups of spiced brine.
The great beauty of this kind of slow food is that a jar of pickles only takes minutes to prepare and then just sits on the shelf, getting better and better the longer you leave it to do its own thing. Pickles keep for ages and they're one of the easiest ways to sparkle up a meal without a whole lot of extra effort. Great news for lazy cooks and those of us in a perennial scramble for garnish because we can't manage to keep a herb garden growing!
The first pickle was discovered 4,000 years ago in Egypt when a cucumber was accidentally left for several weeks in a salty brine, and that's about all there is to it. While pickles-to-be float around in their jars, it's the salty liquid that stops the growth of bacteria as decomposition and fermentation begin. Over time the fruit or veg starts to exchange its water at a cellular level through osmosis for saline and acid and the longer you keep your jars in cool storage the tastier and crispier your pickles will be.
Vegetables can also be pickled using heat and vinegar to sterilise bacteria, but this doesn't offer the same pro-biotic benefits, plus it's more of a faff to undertake.
Simple Cucumber Pickle Recipe
Yield: Enough to fill a 1L jar.
Serve with burgers, sandwiches, smoked salmon, salads, cold meats, and on cheese plates next to a sharp cheddar.
3 medium cucumbers, cut into stripes
2 cups white vinegar
2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
a few sprigs of fresh dill
3 garlic cloves, sliced or smashed
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1.Place cucumber slices, sprigs of dill, garlic and peppercorns in a clean quart (1L) jar.
2. Bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil--just long enough to dissolve the salt and sugar.
3. Pour over the cucumbers and put lid on the jar.
4. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using or eating, preferably one day. Place in refrigerator and use within a month. When pickle slices are gone, replace with fresh slices.
Simple Pickled Red Onions Recipe
Yield: Enough to fill a 500ml jar.
Serve with barbecued meats, Mexican dishes, on top of smashed avo or chop them into a potato salad.
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 cinnamon stick
6-8 whole peppercorns
a few allspice berries
1. Heat vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a small pot, just until everything is completely dissolved.
2. Slice the onion (preferably with a mandolin—so much easier!) and place the slices in your clean jar. Slide in the cinnamon stick and top with the peppercorns and allspice berries.
3. Pour the vinegar mixture over the onions and cover with the lid.
4. Let the jar sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour if you're in a rush, but it's better to leave them at least overnight.
Pickled onions will last for a few weeks stored in the refrigerator.
Sweet Pickled Strawberries Recipe
Yield: enough to fill a 235ml jar.
Serve in a glass layered with bits of store-bought vanilla pound cake and ice cream for an easy, flavourful dessert; use pickled strawberries to brighten rich or earthy dishes like roasted beetroot or slow-roasted pork; include the jar on a cheese platter; use the liquid in place of a vinaigrette.
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 a vanilla bean (or a drizzle of vanilla extract)
4-6 whole peppercorns
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
A handful of fresh strawberries
1. Slice your strawberries in half, or leave whole if they're very small. Place the berries in a jar with a cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and thyme.
2. In a small pot combine the water, vinegar, sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and pour the hot liquid over the strawberries.
3. Pop on the lid and allow the strawberries to sit for 4-8 hours. Because this liquid isn't very salty these sweet pickled strawberries won't last as long, so keep them in the fridge and eat within 5 days.
Want to learn how to pickle absolutely anything? Check out our step by step instructions on how to make pickles.
Image Credit: The Spring Blog and Monika Grabkowska