By Kaytea Petro
Pickles are like potato chips, only better. The salty, crunchy goodness combines well with almost any food, yet pickles are pretty healthy. Vinegar pickling is one of the easiest ways to preserve foods for later; it’s also a great way to add savor to almost any vegetable.
Because they are so easy to make, pickling is a great project to do with children. By pickling, kids can learn how herbs and spices affect flavor, and develop an interest in cooking. Little ones with shorter attention spans and less motor control can help spice the pickles and pack the jars with veggies. Older kids can help clean and chop the vegetables. Tweens and up can mix the brine on the stove top, blanch the clean veggies, and even do the canning process. Because this project does involve boiling water and sharp knives, it is best suited for small groups.
Basic Pickle Brine
This is a proportion, so use this ratio to make the quantities you want.
2¾ cups vinegar
¼ cup sea salt It’s important that the salt is non-iodized, since iodized will make the pickles cloudy.
4 cups water
4 lbs vegetables
Many people use store-bought “Pickling Spice,” but instead, if you line all the spices out on a counter, you and the kids can pick and choose what goes into each jar. You’ll end up with better-tasting pickles (or at least more interesting ones). Use some, none, or all of these spices.
Black cardamom pods
Cinnamon stick bits
Sichuan peppercorns (hua jiao yan)
You can pickle almost anything, but here is a list of common popular items. Ideally, you will pickle vegetables 6-12 hours after harvest, but the essence is freshness, so try to get the most robust-looking veggies!
Brussel sprouts, cut in half
Step 1: Fill a large stock pot up with water, cover, and set it to boil. Get the jars, lids, and bands in an accessible place. For each person, make a pickling station with a towel and access to all the spices and vegetables.
Step 2: Wash all the vegetables carefully. Peel the vegetables that can be peeled, and prepare to blanch veggies that can’t be peeled by putting them in a colander in the sink.
Step 3: Mix the vinegar, salt, and water in a saucepan and heat it up until the salt dissolves.
Step 4: When the water boils, submerge the clean jars, lids, and bands into it and boil them for 10 minutes (add an additional minute for every thousand feet of elevation above sea level).
Step 5: Using jar tongs or a silicon glove, pull the jars out and pour the hot water in them over the veggies waiting to be blanched.
Step 6: Arrange the jars in a line on the clean towel at each pickling station. Put spices and flavorings in the jars, then pack in the vegetables.
Step 7: Pour the hot brine within 1/2″ of the top of jar. To release trapped air bubbles, gently tap the jar on the counter or slide a plastic spatula between the jar and veggies.
Step 8: With a clean towel, wipe all the excess liquid off the tops of the jars, put the lids on, and screw the bands on finger-tight.
Step 9: One by one, place the jars into the pot of boiling water. Once they are all in, make sure they have at least 1″ of water covering the lids, and bring the water back to a boil.
Step 10: The USDA recommends 10 minutes (plus one minute for every additional thousand feet above sea level) of boiling — open kettle processing — for safe canning of vinegar pickles in 1-quart jars. Some people prefer crisper pickles, and process the jars for less time. It’s up to you, but it’s a good rule of thumb to boil them for at least 5 minutes.
Step 11: When the time is up, use your jar tongs or silicon gloves to pull the jars out of the boiling water. Place them on a clean towel on the counter, spaced about 1″ apart. If they are placed more than 1″, they’ll cool too fast and your jars can break; less than 1″ and they’ll continue to cook one another.
Step 12: As the jars cool, you will hear a soft popping sound as the lids get sucked in. When they have cooled, the lids will be concave, demonstrating that they are sealed. You can test the lids by gently poking them. If the lid doesn’t move, it’s sealed. If its moves, it’s not sealed and you need to either keep the pickles in the fridge or process them again in the water bath.
About the Author:
Kaytea Petro is the founder of Neighborhood Fruit, a service that connects people to fruit grown in their communities, and a passionate advocate for all things homemade. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and his underground restaurant.