Summer is coming. I think there is nothing better than an icy cold martini on a hot summer evening. What food goes well with a martini? Something pickled! I love a plate of cheese and crackers with an array of pickled fruits and vegetables to accompany my martini.
Everything I’m going to discuss is a refrigerator pickle, not canned. They aren’t shelf stable and need to be kept in the refrigerator. This means you are free to experiment.1 I have read hundreds (literally) of pickling recipes in an attempt to come up with a base recipe that you could riff off of and create your own recipes – much like dressing is a 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio. I cannot claim that I have defined one from my investigation. The recipes are all over the place. Some have no salt or no sugar. Others use lots of sugar, but no salt, some use lots of salt and no sugar.
Michael Ruhlman in Ratio says a brine should be a 20:1 ratio of water to salt (2 ½ cups water to 2 T Morton’s kosher salt) and he uses it for some fermented style pickles, though not refrigerator pickles. Tamar Adler of An Everlasting Meal gives several suggestions. First, she says you can use nothing but vinegar and salt. For a brine, she suggests using one and a half times as much vinegar as water and for every four cups of liquid, add ¼ cup salt and ¼ cup sugar and simmer until they dissolve. Or, don’t measure and adjust the salt and sugar until you like it (Chapter 18). I find her suggestion a little too sweet and salty, so I adjust. The goal is to help you understand the techniques used.
In general, for the kind of pickles I’m talking about, you need vinegar, water, salt, sugar and spices. For my experiments, I use 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon each salt and sugar. Then add additional spices depending on what you are pickling and your own tastes. It is easy to scale up if necessary and I frequently adjust the level of salt or sugar.
I have used this to pickle cherries by adding cinnamon and cloves. Pack a clean jar with pitted cherries. Put the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a pan, add a cinnamon stick and a teaspoon of cloves and bring to boil (for the basic brine – scale up as necessary). Once the brine is boiling, remove from heat and pour over the packed cherries. Make sure all the cherries are covered with the brine. Let cool uncovered to room temperature, then cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are ready to eat after sitting overnight (12 hours). I love them with duck or tossed into a salad.
I’ve used this basic brine with cauliflower adding onion and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. I put the onion and thyme in the jar with the cauliflower and poured the basic brine over it. Again, cool to room temperature then close tightly and put in the refrigerator. They were crunchy and made an excellent addition to salads (as well as just eating them with a martini) or alongside fish.
The next few recipes all come from someone else, but are ones I really like. They also show the wide variety of pickling recipes. I will note that when I follow the recipes, I don’t often have enough brine. In those cases, I just top up the jars with vinegar. What I hope you learn is that there are many ways to make pickles. Each recipe is done in a different way.
First, are pickled carrots. I have this recipe written on a card and have no idea where it came from. I cut the carrots into matchsticks and slice onions thin. I pack them into a quart jar. Then, I toast 1 T mustard seed, 2 t coriander and 2 t black pepper corns. Then I add the brine ingredients. The brine is 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup water, 2 T kosher salt and 3 T sugar. Bring that to a boil, stirring to make sure the salt and sugar dissolve, then pour over the carrots. Cool to room temperature, then cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. I use them in fish tacos or serve them with pork chops. These are addictive and I make them frequently -they should last for up to a month though mine never last that long because I eat them a cup at a time. I also make smaller recipes and eat them, so that I don’t have to worry about getting bored. I’ve also used the leftover brine in place of vinegar in salad dressings. Works really well.
My pickled mushrooms recipe comes from the Washington Post. These are supposed to sit in the refrigerator for a week before eating. I never make it – day 5 I’m eating some of them with a roast chicken, a steak, or just on their own. The recipe says they will last for several months, but again, mine don’t last that long (though I usually only make half a recipe.)
Next are pickled grapes. The recipe comes from Simple, Fresh, Southern by The Lee Brothers. I enjoy these because they are sweet and spicy. I’ve given them to a neighbor who used them in martinis instead of an olive. I toss these in salads and also serve with roast pork. The recipe is 6 cups mixed red and green seedless grapes (I just use red), 2 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of water, 2 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed, leaves from a four inch sprig of rosemary, ½ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes.
Pack the grapes into 3 pint sized glass containers with lids. Put water and vinegar into a sauce pan, and add the salt, sugar, garlic, rosemary and chile flakes. Heat to a simmer, then remove from heat and divide among the three pint sized containers. Cover loosely and let cool to room temperature. Then cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are ready to eat after an hour in the refrigerator. Keep for two weeks if they last that long.
The last recipe I want to discuss is pickled apples. This recipe comes from the apple council and I don’t have a link. Served with cheddar cheese (and a martini), these are awesome. I’ve also laid pickled apple slices on top of a pork loin for the last ten to fifteen minutes of cooking. This recipe is different in that you don’t heat the vinegar mixture. Tamar Adler of An Everlasting Meal suggests just putting vegetables into leftover brine from pickles or capers and letting them pickle, so this is similar to that idea.
Use 1 English cucumber (unpeeled), sliced thin and tossed with 1 tablespoon salt. Let sit for 20 minutes, then rinse and drain. Meanwhile, core and slice thin two apples (unpeeled), 2 medium shallots (or ½ red onion) and 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced crosswise. Whisk together ¾ c apple cider vinegar, 1 cup water and ½ cup sugar (I use ¼ cup). Add a cinnamon stick and a star anise pod to the vinegar mixture and pour over the apples, shallots and jalapeno. Add the cucumber and toss. Let sit for 30 minutes and serve. Keeps in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for two weeks. These are great on sandwiches. I’ll also note that when I haven’t had a jalapeno available, I’ve substituted crushed red pepper flakes.
I hope the recipes I’ve shown here demonstrate the wide variety of things that can be pickled and the wide variety of pickling brines that can be used. I’ve also given you a few basic brines to use for experiments. I hope this inspires you try pickling vegetables or fruit. I can imagine using a basic recipe to pickle peaches with habanero peppers, or green beans with some marjoram and garlic. Much like salad dressings, pickling fruits and vegetables is an opportunity to experiment and be creative. There aren’t any wrong answers, just make what you like.
1 If you find a canned pickle recipe you like, you can use it for refrigerator pickles. You can’t go the other way. Don’t screw around with canning recipes. Botulism doesn’t make you sick; it makes you dead.