By Ashleigh Smith, True Leaf Market
Photographs courtesy of True Leaf Market
Gathering a bountiful harvest is perhaps one of the most exciting phases of the growing season. Sometimes you may reach a point of wondering what you should do with everything your garden produces. There are many popular methods of food preservation, such as canning, juicing, drying, freezing, etc. Though one of the easiest methods for a gardener of any experience level is pickling. Very few supplies, and little experience or time are needed compared to other food-saving options. Plus, the supplies you use can also be used for fermenting.
Like fermenting, pickling can be done with most vegetables, although cucumbers are the best known. Be sure to use pickling cucumbers, as they have thicker skin and retain a more desirable crunch compared to slicing types. Whether you want something that will be ready in a few hours, days, or months, pickling is for you.
While the pickling and fermenting preparations are similar, they are two very different processes. Fermenting is the process of beneficial microorganisms converting sugars and starches into acids that preserve vegetables. A simple brine, along with the natural juices that are pulled from the vegetables, create many unique textures and flavors. Ultimately this is a natural anaerobic chemical reaction that results in a preserved food product. The resulting fermentation may be stored for a few months.
Pickles, on the other hand, rely on the acidity of the pickling solution to preserve the vegetables and kill any harmful microorganisms. Saltwater brine, vinegar and herbs are used to both preserve and flavor your vegetable harvest. Instead of creating something new, pickling preserves the vegetable in a way that is shelf-stable for over a year. This process also gives you more freedom to create different combinations and flavors based on the chosen vegetables, the type of brine used, and the combination of herbs selected. Generally, pickles are more palatable as most people are familiar with their taste throughout childhood. Fermented foods are not as common to the American diet, making it more of an acquired taste for some people as fewer vegetables can be fermented.
When making pickles, there are two common techniques, quick and traditional. Quick pickles are ready in a matter of hours or days and have a short shelf life. They are also known as refrigerator pickles and can easily be made by anyone. This method uses hot temperatures in combination with a vinegar solution that is usually not as strong as that used for the traditional method. This allows the pickle flavor to be achieved quickly. It is then stored in the fridge. While not intended for long-term food storage, it sure hits the spot for a pickle craving. The only supplies needed for this method are a jar and coil to immerse the vegetables. Both are offered by True Leaf Market in the fermentation kit, which can also be used for pickling.
The traditional method is what you want to use to achieve a shelf life that can last over a year. While not quite as simple as the quick version, the traditional method often requires less vegetable preparation than usual for canning because of the natural cleansing effects of the vinegar. By using clean jars and the water-bath canning method, you can create numerous vegetable and herb combinations to be used throughout the year.
Once you settle on the pickling method that best suits your needs, you may be wondering exactly what vegetables are able to be pickled. The answer is pretty much anything. Not only can vegetables be pickled, but also meat and eggs. It really comes down to what flavor combinations you will like, so keep in mind that pickling brines create a salty, sour taste.
Some of the most common vegetables include cucumbers (the perfect pickling vegetable), carrots, cauliflower, onions, peppers, beets, radishes, and green beans. Popular herbs for flavoring your pickled vegetables include dill, mustard seed, coriander (cilantro seed), ginger root, black peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, crushed pepper, and nutmeg. While the vegetables are the focus of the final product, the herbs are the real stars in the pickling process.
Whether you are looking for a quick fix or long-term storage, pickles are the answer. They are tasty, delicious and convenient! Don’t let your well-deserved harvest go to waste. Pickling is the perfect way to preserve the last of your summer harvest, as it doesn’t require large amounts of any one vegetable. Beat the winter blues by keeping vegetables in your diet all year long. Remember, pickles are quick, easy, affordable, and require few supplies to get started.
Ashleigh Smith is the Managing Editor at True Leaf Market with a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. True Leaf Market is a nationally certified organic, non-GMO seed and horticultural company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The True Leaf Market staff specializes in supplying a large selection of conventional, heirloom, and organic seeds to home gardeners everywhere. Learn more about our seeds, supplies, and other growing ideas: www.trueleafmarket.com.
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