Pickling is as easy to do at home as making jams or chutneys and is great fun to try. Always use clean, firm and fresh ingredients. The basic method involves soaking vegetables in brine then packing into preserving bottles and covering with vinegar.
You will need:
- A stainless steel or enamel pan
- A plastic bowl
- A stainless steel or nylon sieve
- A stainless steel funnel
- Muslin bags
- Preserving Bottles
Make sure these are clean, dry and sterilised and have an airtight lid. Metal lids can be corroded by the vinegar so use plastic or clip-top lids. Speciality glass bottles are available for preserving with suitable lids. Remember to label your preserving bottles with the contents and date they were filled.
Fruits and Vegetables
You can pickle various fruits and vegetables but large items such as cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage or marrow will need to be cut into chunks first. Smaller foods such as pickling onions or mushrooms can be left whole but should be peeled. Tomatoes should also be peeled and the seeds removed. Small fruits such as cherries and plums should be pricked before cooking or they may shrivel and go dry, while berries tend to go too soft and are unsuitable for pickling. Apples, peaches are pears are good for pickling. Boiled eggs and some nuts are also great pickling targets, especially walnuts.
Spices for Preserving Bottles
Use sea salt or cooking salt as table and iodised salt are unsuitable, leaving a cloudy or odd-tasting finish to the pickling juice. Use 450g of salt per 4.5 litres of water to make the brine for soaking the vegetables. The vegetables should be completely covered by the brine in a plastic bowl. It can be useful to cover the vegetables with a plate and weight them down so they don’t float.
Use good-quality vinegar with at least 5% acetic content. You can use white or malt vinegar but white is best for a light coloured finish. Cider or white wine vinegar can be used for pickling but their stronger flavours may be overpowering and they are more expensive.
Add whole spices to the vinegar for flavouring and as a preservative. Ground spices will turn the juice cloudy so whole are best, tied up in a muslin bag. Steep them in cold vinegar for about 7 weeks before you start pickling. You can buy ready-mixed pickling spices or come up with your own flavours.