A Pickling Primer – Tips and Hints to Making Perfect Pickles

A basket of goodies to pickle!

A basket of goodies to pickle!

Here is a pickling primer that will provide some basic guidelines on making your very own homemade pickles.

There are no recipes but here are some basic steps to follow to ensure your pickles turn out amazing.

I really want to encourage you to try making your own pickles!

Sterilize everything you use. Use the Sanitize button on your dishwasher or boil jars, utensils, and lids to ensure no bacteria will interfere with the pickles fermentation process.

While this step sounds intimidating, please be assured, it isn’t.

Wash towels you use in a bleach cycle, then heat dried.

If you don’t have a dishwasher, simply bring a very large pot of water to boil in the stove and then, using tongs, dip the jars, lids and seals, spoons etc. into the boiling water and let them sit until ready to use. (Turn the heat down to a low simmer once it boils). It is not necessary to cover the pot but you can if you like, to control the amount of humidity in the room.

Pickling Hints and Tips

  • Select perfect produce. No blemishes or scars, cracks, avoid bruised food.
  • Gently scrub produce to remove garden debris and lurking insects. Soak for 30 minutes in water that has 1/2 cup salt per gallon.
  • Do not trim or cut produce for the soaking step, soak them whole. Remember, produce can float so move it around some while it is soaking.
  • Placing a plate on top will help hold the items under the water.
  • For cucumbers, trim 1/4 inch from the blossom end only. It contains an enzyme that can make pickles mushy.
Pickled beets

Pickled beets

  • Use plain white or apple cider vinegar. You need 5-7% acidity.
  • Sugar is used to counteract the bitterness of the vinegar and salt. If you must substitute, experiment to ensure you like the flavor of the brine. Personally, I don’t care for artificial sweetener.
  • Be sure to wipe the rim of the jars after filling to ensure a good seal.

    Pickling Jars with wire bales and silicone or rubber seals

    Pickling Jars with wire bales and silicone or rubber seals

  • If canning, follow directions exactly. Take a class to learn the safety features.
  • Always use a water bath canner, NEVER a pressure canner! A pressure canner will turn all of your pickles to complete mush. Ew, who likes mush?
  • Pickles will keep for up to 12 months in the refrigerator. I don’t bother to process my jars, just refrigerate them.
  • Use a non iodized salt. Using table salt with iodine will make the brine cloudy and leave an off bitter taste. Pickling salt or Kosher salt works well.
  • If your pickles become slimy or have pink floaties and bubbles,  don’t taste them, just throw them away. These are signs the pickles have become contaminated with something. It could be yeast or bacteria but either way, don’t eat it. This is why it is so important to have very clean equipment, jars and hands when pickling.
  • All the pickles recipes found on Spoon Feast are for small batches and are ready to eat typically within a day or two. But, they continue to improve with age.

About Recipes:

Try pickling something this summer! Please let me know how it goes.

If you have any questions, I’m here to help, just ask in the comments below.

If you have a Perfect Pickle Tip please share below!

Pickled Turnips

Pickled Turnips

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Arugula and Pickled Beet Salad

Today’s shared bounty is some lovely arugula (aka rocket). The added bonus of this shared bounty is roots! After washing what we would eat, I choose some to plant and grow more.

Thanks Adria!

Washed and refreshed, arugula is ready for a terrific, quick and easy salad from things created over the last few days for posts on Spoon Feast.

Picking some fresh red-leaf lettuce from the garden, combining it with arugula, garnishing with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, steamed artichokes, pickled beets and hard-boiled eggs.

All food gathered from a walk to the farmers market Saturday and shared bounty from friends and colleagues. Oh, add salmon, wild caught, from Alaska.

We tossed the salad with a chive blossom vinaigrette to bring it all together then added croutons and slabs of fresh bread and a few shavings of cheese.

You could use the beet juice from the pickling jar and drizzle a bit of olive oil for the dressing.

I drank champagne; Robert, Stella Artois.

We got to eat the duck, kale and white bean soup earlier

This is how we get to use up a weekend of playing in the kitchen. I don’t just write about recipes and food, we live it. Every day, every meal.

Only a small percentage of what I really cook ever gets written about. I call that “cooking without documentation.”

I cook and create food every single day for as many meals as I can. Sounds like we would be fat porkers, but we aren’t.

Eat responsibly is the key. Love and enjoy food but don’t overdo it.

Robert loves the results. I must admit, it sure is fun to finish with all the cooking and writing and photography; go take a bath and fall asleep. The next day go down to the kitchen and enjoy all the tasty things there are to eat over the next couple of days.

It leads to more posts, more food and photographs.

Robert does not like his food photographed.

Arugula and Pickled Beet Salad with Salmon

So, I make a plate to shoot before we eat. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t like his food photographed, he wants to eat first.

I try not to waste food by eating what is photographed. Sometimes it is necessary to dedicate a plate to the shoot. Others, the plate gets consumed as soon as the camera lights fade.

This time of year is my favorite as there is so much produce, fruit, and flowers available to play with.

I encourage you to try using arugula/rocket in a salad. It is great to top a pizza or drop into soup.

Use arugula/rocket just as you would spinach, raw and cooked. The home-grown varieties  seem to have more peppery flavor than commercial products.

Let me know how you like this crazy green.

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets jumped out at me this weekend while at the farmers market. I brought home a beautiful bunch of beets with the greens, for just $2.50 this was a real steal.

I made a list of what I could do with them: Roasted beet salad with blood orange vinaigrette, Beet chutney, beets in butter with a splash of rice vinegar and in the end, pickled beets won.

I suppose I thought the bunch of beets was larger than it really was.

The first step in all the recipes is to cook them.

There are several ways, the best method and least messy is to steam them.

Here’s the thing about beets. They will “bleed” this lovely magenta color everywhere and leave a legacy of stains behind them.

Trick of the trade: Don’t cut, nick or peel them before cooking.

Trim leaving 1-2″ of stem; soak to remove soil and sand.
Do not peel or cut.

Trim the roots from the stems by cutting at least 1-2 inches of stem remaining on the root end. Leave the tap-root end in tact also, don’t trim it, just tuck it out-of-the-way.

Gently wash the beets to remove excess soil and sand. Don’t scrub them as they have a thin skin. Soaking for a few minutes is usually good.

Keep the greens. Set them aside in a large deep bowl of cold water. Remove any yellowish or ‘spotted’ leaves you wouldn’t want to eat.

Soak the leaves in cold water. Swish the leaves in the water gently. The sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the leaves from the bowl without disturbing the bottom and repeat at least 4 times. You will be amazed how much sand and soil the leaves can hold.

Soak greens to remove dirt, and sand.
Change water 3-4 times

Lastly, rinse the leaves under running water, wrap in a towel, cover with plastic wrap or bag and store in the refrigerator until you want to use them in the next couple of days. That is another post.

How to use the beet greens is another post coming soon. The greens need to be cared for as soon as you remove the root ends so you don’t lose quality. If the greens look limp at first, they crisp up during the soaking process.

If you buy beets with greens and plan to use them later, separate the green tops and the root ends because the greens will pull nutrients, sugars and moisture from the roots during storage. (same with radishes, carrots, bulb onions etc.)

This recipe for pickled beets is simple and very flavorful. Some folks say they can eat the entire batch at once but that’s not recommended.

Steaming the beets takes the longest amount of time.

So here is how to make Pickled Beets:

Pickled Beets

  • Servings: 2 quarts
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

1 bunch of beets (8 medium size beets as close to the same size as possible)

Steam the beets by placing them in a steamer pot with a tight-fitting lid. Use good quality water to steam the beets. You will use 1/2 cup of this water in the pickling brine.

Steam the beets until tender

Steam the beets until easily pierced with a paring knife, just as you test a baked potato for doneness.

Do not pierce the beets often or all over as they will “bleed”. You want them to retain the color. Just test the biggest ones.

When the beets are done,  save the water in the bottom pot and place the beets in a big bowl of cold water. Once they are cool, underwater, using your hands, slip the skins off.The skins slip off very easily.

Set the peeled beets aside in another bowl.

Peeling underwater helps keep your hands from staining magenta.

Using a cutting board you can bleach later, trim the top and bottom, then slice the beets into thick slices and place them back into the bowl.

Make the brine and have the jars or containers you are going to store the finished beets in ready to fill.

Pickling brine

  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water from steaming pot with beet drippings
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or any non-iodized salt)
  • 3-4 black peppercorns
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 small sweet onion sliced

Bring the beet water and vinegar to a boil, add the remaining ingredients, including the onion and return to a boil. Boil for 1 minute.

Pour the hot mixture over the beets and gently stir with a rubber spatula to ensure all the beets are coated.

Pour the hot brine over beets, place in storage jars, cool. Serve cold.

Gently place the beets and all the brine into the storage jar. Allow to cool then refrigerate.

The pickled beets are ready to eat after 24 hours. One of my favorite parts are the onions that get pickled too. Slightly crunchy and  what a taste treat!

Pickled beets

Pickled Beets – I could eat the whole jar!

Serve very cold.