The first time I heard the question I thought it was a joke. We were teaching a group of people how to make pickles. I listened carefully and realized it wasn’t. By the third (and so far, final) time I heard it I realized that it was me who was lacking understanding and not the people asking me.
“Are you serious? Pickles are made from cucumbers?”
I’m a firm believer that there is no such thing as a dumb question. And this one is no exception – although many of us in North America think of ‘pickles’ as ‘cucumbers’ the truth is that there is an entire world of pickles and pickling. Lime pickles, pickled herring, pickled fruit, vegetables (onions and carrots are great), fish, eggs and even pickled sausage. And that’s just the beginning!
Regardless of using vegetables, fruit or anything else, pickles are generally made by adding vinegar (to increase the acidity) or by adding salt and water (which will assist fermentation and create good bacteria and acid. We’ll walk you through the basics below!
Vinegar Pickles – Type 1 – Quick Pickles
The gist: These are the easiest pickles to make! Vegetables, fruit or protein (i.e. eggs) are covered in brine (which is sometimes heated). Eaten fresh or stored in the fridge for weeks or months, these pickles tent to be crunchy as they are barely cooked and are easy to experiment with.
The taste: These tend to be acidic and are generally more subtle than other pickles due to the short time it takes to create them. You can experiment wildly when creating these!
The basics: Making quick pickles isn’t complicated – equal parts water and vinegar with honey to taste. Add a dash of salt and any flavouring ingredients you wish (hot pepper flakes, dill, garlic and ginger are all great). Bring to a simmer, toss vegetables (or anything else) into the brine, immediately remove from heat and cool! We do this often for dinner and eat pickles the same night we make them.
Variations: You can pickle anything with this method! It’s often used to pickle eggs, fruit (pickled cherries), onions (great on tacos), carrots, bowls of mixed vegetables and pickled spruce tips are all examples of quick pickles.
Vinegar Pickles – Type 2 – Waterbath Canning
The gist: Vegetables are covered with hot vinegar in mason jars and boiled to preserve them. They can be stored on a shelf and involve more work and cooking than their fermented cousins.
The taste: Because these pickles are cooked and aged in vinegar these tend to be the most acidic or ‘sharp.’ The texture can be a little soft if processed for too long. As this is a waterbath recipe you should use recipes from trusted sources and not experiment.
The basics: Vinegar pickles are synonymous with canning or water bath canning. A vinegar-based brine is added to vegetables (including cucumbers, carrots, hot peppers, dilly beans and onions). The food is sometimes packed into a jar without cooking (called ‘raw packing’) or cooked in the brine and added immediately after cooking (called ‘hot packing’). Brine is added to the jars before a lid is applied and the jar is processed under boiling water for a specified period of time (usually 5-15 minutes).
The gist: Have you ever had the pleasure of eating a ‘deli’ or ‘kosher’ pickle? They are made nearly identically to fermented carrots, kimchi, sauerkraut and a host of other fermented pickles (fermented radishes are awesome)! Vegetables are mixed with salt (and often water) and left at room temperature to ferment for several days-months before being transferred to the fridge (where fermenting virtually stops).
The taste: Fermented pickles are renowned for their sour and complex flavors. You can experiment wildly with fermenting!
The basics: Fermented pickles are generally created with vegetables, salt and unchlorinated water. A typical ratio of salt-to-vegetable is 1-2% (by weight) of non-iodized salt to veggies. The salt is mixed into the food (which is sometimes crushed such as the case of sauerkraut) and the salt will ‘pull’ liquid from the ingredients to create a brine. Water-dense food (such as cabbage) will often not need additional water while drier produce (such as carrots) will. The key to this process is to keep all ingredients submerged, cover with a lose cloth and to check it daily as it ferments. If any foam/skuzz (it’s not mould) appears on top just remove it with a spoon. The process is complete when you’re happy with the flavor/texture.