Making pickles, chutneys, jams and curds is an increasingly popular hobby because it’s easy and very rewarding. If you use good quality basic ingredients, follow the correct maturation period and use these hints and tips, you can’t go wrong.
The basics of making pickles
Pickling is a historic form of preserving fruit and vegetables which sees them left whole or in large pieces and soaked, raw or only lightly cooked, in a sweet or spiced vinegar mix. Pickling tends to be easier than making jams and curds because you don’t need to worry about things like pectin levels and setting points, it’s just an easy and delicious way to make seasonal produce available all year round. At this time of year red cabbage is in season and makes an absolutely fantastic pickle, adding a vibrancy to cold meats and cutting through the grease. Vegetables are the usual base for pickles but can be made more interesting by adding seasonal fruits such as apples and pears.
Hints and tips for making pickles
- Make sure you use good quality fruits and vegetables rather than those which are past their best or damaged in any way. After you have salted them, rinse and drain well.
- When packing your pickles in their jar, don’t cram them in too tightly or you risk bruising them.
- Don’t pack your fruits and vegetables right to the top of their jars. Leave at least 2.5cm free at the top of the jars so that you can add enough vinegar.
- Almost any glass jar is suitable for preserving pickles, but you must make sure you seal it with a vinegar proof lid. Metal lids corrode and can taint the contents of the jar with a metallic taste. For this reason, while it may be tempting to re-use old jars, you are better off making sure you buy something suitable for the job, or at the very least use new, vinegar proof lids.
- When preparing pickles, the key is sterilisation. Start by making sure your storage jars and lids are sterilised to prevent germs and bacteria from contaminating your preserves, which can cause them to spoil too soon or even cause illness.
- One of the most important parts of the pickling process is maturation. You must leave your pickles to mature in a cool, dark place for at least four weeks to allow the flavour to develop. For a more intense flavour, leave the pickles to mature for even longer.