Spring in a jar: How to start pickling

Spring into the season by whipping up a batch of homemade quick pickles and ferments. The exciting, innovative flavours add zing to everything from salads to stir fries. And better still, with these super-speedy methods your sandwiches can have a satisfying crunch in just 15 minutes flat. What are you waiting for?

Pickle or ferment, what’s the difference?

Most of us are familiar with jars of pickled onion, beetroot and red cabbage. Pickling is a time-honoured way to preserve produce for long winter days. When pickled, vegetables are preserved in a brine (salt or salty water) and an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. For a quick pickle, a mixture of water and vinegar will do. All you’re looking for here is a bit of osmosis: you want to replace the water in the vegetables with the brine.

Using just water and vingear (for a quick pickle) means you can’t store the produce for longer than about a week or so, but you can create your pickled vegetables in minutes. It can be as straightforward as taking a bunch of radishes, adding vinegar, sugar and a pinch of sea salt and leaving them for 10 minutes. Such as in this Jamie Oliver recipe.

Fermented veggies, on the other hand – another ancient technique to preserve produce – are soaked in salt or salt water, allowing for the growth of bacteria. The bacteria ‘eats’ the sugars and produces lactic acid. This is the process known as lacto-fermentation. It produces a tangy, sour taste, think kimchi or sauerkraut, and is supposed to be healthy for your gut.

There’s a bit of an overlap when it comes to pickling and fermenting. Some fermented veggies are first soaked in brine, which means they’re technically a pickle too. Some pickles (though not usually the quick methods or many of the commercial ones) are fermented.

Three pickle recipes

Some recipes use salt (sea salt or pickling salt). This can preserve the vegetables for longer. For example, this spring veg pickle with salt from Splendid Table. However, sometimes you can get away with only using vinegar. The ingredients in this recipe are a starting point only. These ingredients can be scaled up or down to suit portion size.

What is good to pickle? Use anything you like – from cauliflower to carrots, courgettes, beetroots, radish, peas, cucumber or red cabbage. You can use jars of separate produce or mix colourful combinations.

  1. Standard pickle recipe

    Ingredients:
  • 500g fruit or veg. Washed and chopped, grated or ribboned (the smaller it is, the quicker to pickle). Some soak up flavours better if you blanch them first. Cauliflower, for example, does better after a dip in boiling water, but most are fine raw.
  • 200ml vinegar
  • 75ml water (spring water can be best, or try filtered or boiled)
  • 1 tbsp sugar or honey
  • Herbs and spices (go for whatever you like best – a tsp of black peppercorns, a handful of dill, a shaving of lemongrass…)

    Method:
  • Grab a pile of fresh fruit or veg.
  • Pick a vinegar. Red, white wine or cider vinegar work well. Malt or fruit vinegar can be overpowering. And don’t forget balsamic – it’s great with finely shredded red cabbage.
  • Mix the vinegar with the water. You can either do this cold (this works well for delicate produce like cucumbers or finely grated carrots), or you can warm the liquids (this is best for cauliflower and beets).
  • Add the sugar or honey and dissolve.
  • Add your herbs and spices.
  • Pour the liquid over the veggies and place into a clean jar or bowl. Pop in the fridge once cooled (if hot). The grated veg will be ready in 15 mins, or it can be left up to three days. It should keep for at least a week, as long as the vegetables or fruit are kept under the brine.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Cucumber is great with mint (especially in salads). Or try cumin with beetroot, coriander with carrots or cauliflower and nutmeg. Cabbage and chilli also works well, and red onions with rosemary.

2. Joanne’s Infused Cucumber Pickle Recipe

  • Grab about a quarter of a cucumber (around 125g) and thinly slice.
  • Pour over a mix of 50ml vinegar (I use cider or white wine vinegar), 20ml water, a tsp of sugar and a handful of herbs and spices. I use black peppercorns and fresh dill.
  • Stick it in the fridge and leave for 15 mins, or up to 24 hours.


3. Joanne’s
Gingery Carrot

  • Roughly grate around 250g of carrots.
  • Pour over 100ml cider vinegar, 40ml water, a thumb-sized piece of grated ginger, black pepper and fresh chilli (powdered ginger and chilli flakes work just fine too).
  • Leave to infuse in the fridge for at least 30mins, then drain. I add this to cold salads and stir fries. Folding it through cooked noodles or rice a minute before serving is also delicious, especially with chopped spring onions, garlic, sesame seeds and a dash of Tamari.

Pickled radishes. Joanne O'Connell

Quick Ferments

Ferments take longer than quick pickles, but they’re just as straightforward to make. Like the pickles, you can experiment with flavours and ferments (taste after a couple of days, then try again after a week). It’s best to sterilise the jar first – you only want ‘good’ bacteria here.

The basics: you need about 1tbsp of salt for every 500ml of water. Once you’ve tried them and liked the taste, stick them in the fridge to halt the fermentation process.

Quick cucumber recipe for you to try at home

Ingredients

  • One cucumber. Wash, deseed and cut into lengths to fit the jar.
  • Sea salt (or kosher salt). Measure how much water will fill the jar. Add 1tbsp for every 500ml of water.
  • Spices and herbs, such as dill and black pepper (optional).
  • Water.

Method

  • Put the cucumbers in the jar. Mix salt and water and pour it over the cucumbers.
  • You can add a clean cabbage leaf to keep them submerged (if you have some to hand). Read more about how that can work here.
  • Seal the jar and leave on the kitchen counter for a few days.
  • You can add flavours, such as cloves of garlic, fresh herbs or spices.
  • Once your cucumbers have fermented, you can serve them in salads and sandwiches with a sprinkle of salt.

Need more inspiration? Read the following…

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit (Bloomsbury) is brilliant.

For other great pickle ideas, see FIVE by Rachel de Thample (Ebury Press). She’s so creative she even does little turnip pickles.

The Hedgerow Cookbook (by Wild at Heart) has recipes for pickled plums and pickled samphire (takes longer but is delicious).

To ferment everything from carrot sticks to jalapeños see sites like Cultures for Health.

About

Joanne O'Connell

Joanne O'Connell

Joanne O'Connell is a freelance journalist who writes for The Guardian and The Observer. Her new book The Homemade Vegan is out now. In 2013, she lived without supermarkets for one year.

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