Preserving the Harvest: Fun with Pickles | Civil Eats

Preserving the Harvest: Fun with Pickles

Pickling is one of the ancient arts of preservation. It is known in the United States largely for the eponymously named pickles, or pickled cucumbers. Pickling remains a high art in much of Asia, however, with many regional variations for every kind of pickled food you could imagine.

When I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii I learned to pickle from some Hawaiian families who had been pickling for generations, and who had originally learned the method from the early Japanese settlers to the Islands. We pickled a number of Hawaiian specialties like taro root, wild ginger and the stalks of the giant Hopu’u tree fern. But I also learned how to pickle “regular” foods – modulating the recipe for variations in the foods texture, water content, and thickness.

In the simplest terms, pickling is just preserving foods with vinegar and salt. The acid in the vinegar preserves the food by preventing the growth of common bacteria. There are many complicated pickle recipes out there, where you have to be concerned with the proper acid percentages and salt ratios, but for the beginner the basic “refrigerator pickles” are fun and easy.

Post Thanksgiving, pickling is a great way to preserve food you might have bought too much of – green beans, broccoli, cabbage, etc. Use the guidelines below more as a template for experimentation than as a recipe that is set in stone.

Easy Refrigerator Pickled Vegetables

What to pickle: Green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, pearl onions, carrots, etc. Use what you have.

For the broccoli and cauliflower, separate into small one-inch florets. Remove the ends of the green beans and cut into 3-4 inch pieces. For cabbage, slice in half and remove the stem, then cut into ¼ inch wedges. Make thin angled slices with the carrots.

Prepare a large pot of salted water (about 2 Tbs salt per quart) and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, create an ice bath, with ice cubes and cold water, in a bowl deep enough to hold all the vegetables.

Blanch the vegetables in the boiling water. Blanch the cabbage and pearl onions for 20 seconds, and all the other vegetables for about 40 seconds. Pour quickly into a strainer and dump into the ice water to cool.

Gather clean wide-mouth jars and fill losely with the cooled vegetables. In the beginning, you might want to keep each vegetable separate so you can learn their individual characteristics, but the brave at heart can mix them with little fear. Adjust to recipe below to make enough liquid to fill all your jars:

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2 cups brown rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup raw sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbs salt

Bring the mixture to a simmer and pour into the jars, being careful to cover the vegetables completely. For more interesting flavors, incorporate one of the variations listed below as you heat the vinegar. Be sure to add all the addition ingredients evenly between the jars you are pickling.

Allow to cool on your counter, then cover and place in the refrigerator. The pickled vegetables should be ready in several days, but will stay good for at least two months.

Additions and Variations:

For each volume of vinegar above, add:

Hot Pepper Pickles

1 jalapeno – quartered lengthwise, seeds removed
1 Tbs peppercorns
1 tsp red chili flakes

Sweet Sesame Pickles

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1 Tbs sesame oil
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 Tbs additional sugar

Herb Pickles

1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 Tbs mustard seeds
1 tsp dry crushed oregano leaves

Once you know the basics, the sky’s the limit with what you can do. In the spring, try pickling wild ramps and fidlehead ferns. In the summer, cucumbers and grapes, and in the early fall experiment with pickled sour plums.

Photo: rachel is coconut&lime

Chef / Ecologist Aaron French is the Environment Editor at Civil Eats. He is the chef of The Sunny Side Cafe and is writing his first book "The Bay Area Homegrown Cookbook" (Voyageur Press, 2011). He has a Masters in Ecology and is currently working toward his MBA at UC Berkeley, with a focus on sustainable business practices. Read more >

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  1. This is great! I do not have the proper pots to actually put anything up with the "boiling method" (my tallest pot is still too short for quart jars). Making refrigerator pickled vegetables is a fantastic solution to preserving the bounties of this fall's harvest.

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