People tend to be intimidated by pickling and fermenting as they think there are lots of rules and percentages you need to know about. Trust me, you don’t! You also don’t need to spend hours hunting out impossible-to-find specialist equipment because you’ll probably have pretty much everything you need somewhere in your kitchen cupboard.The majority of the recipes in my book, Pickled, are refrigerator pickles. These are made by soaking (mostly) raw, fresh ingredients in a vinegar-based brine with sugar and salt, and flavoured with spices and herbs.
Now for the science bit; the salt pulls out the moisture, meaning that bacteria stands no chance of developing and the acidity in the vinegar helps to preserve the natural crunch of your fruit and vegetables by stopping bacteria growing. Because the pickles aren’t cooked or fermented, it’s quick and leaves them delightfully crunchy, for instance classic dill cucumber pickles or rosemary pickled plums, but also more unusual ones like pickled watermelon and pickled nashi pear.
The awesome thing about pickling and fermenting is how humble ingredients (vinegar, salt, sugar, fresh produce) are transformed into something extraordinary. You just combine the ingredients then wait – either a couple of hours or a few months – for the magic to happen in the jar.
Tips for awesome results
Buy the freshest, most seasonal produce you can. There’s no point preserving a vegetable that’s lost its crunch and freshness.
Garlic in brine can turn bright blue – don’t worry! It might look like a scary chemical reaction but it just means that the garlic is old. It won’t harm the pickle.
Use kosher, sea or pickling salt rather than normal table salt, which contains caking agents such as iodine, which can cloud the brines and inhibit the growth of beneficial bacteria during fermentation.
Avoid buying ready-made pickling bags. It’s far more interesting to experiment and add your own spices. Yellow mustard, coriander and fennel seeds are a good place to start, but try things like szechuan peppercorns with pickled watermelon, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass with shallots, or chipotle chillies with eggs.
I use apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, and my personal favourite, rice wine vinegar. Rice wine vinegar has a lower acetic acid content, and is sweeter and milder in flavour. You can also add flavour to your vinegar or brine by adding things like elderflower, shiso, liquorice or pineapple weed – don’t be afraid to experiment!
Some pretty cool pickle facts!
1 The world pickle comes from the Dutch word ‘pekel’, which means brine.
2 Although pickling and fermenting is trendy right now, both are actually an ancient process that started for various reasons: to preserve food (before refrigeration), to produce alcohol, or simply to add flavour. Mostly it grew out of the necessity to keep seasonal produce throughout the year.
3 When fermenting food, you’re transforming micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast and the enzymes they produce. Fermented food is very healthy and really good for your gut.
4 On the other hand, eating pickles that are preserved in vinegar-brine with sugar (and salt and spices) is probably not the healthiest thing in the world. However, if you make the pickles yourself, you’re in control of the amount of sugar added and you know what you’re eating, which isn’t always the case with store-bought varieties.
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