Pickling the summer harvest from asparagus to zucchini
At this time of year I am always busy finding ways of preserving my summer harvests. At the height of summer I have been been pickling a lot and preserving as much of the season's fresh produce as I can so that I can enjoy them through the dull winter months. This year I have been particularly successful in growing a variety of different cucumbers, each with there own individual taste, colour, shape and texture.
While I have enjoyed eating them fresh and using them in recipes, there have been far too many to keep up with. I always put up some "Bread and Butter Pickles" to eat with cold meat and cheese, burgers and curries, but faced with prolific crops this year I have needed to be more creative in my choice of pickling spices and liquors. Of course it is not just cucumbers that can be pickled. Vegetables from asparagus to zucchini can be home preserved by pickling.
Pickling is my quick fix to preserving summer freshness. Once you understand the principles of pickling, virtually any vegetables and and fruit can be preserved this way and it isn’t as fiddly and time-consuming as you might think. Unlike jam and jelly making there are no timings to worry about, no pectins and setting points to make you anxious and they are usually lower in sugar too.
The correct combination of acid, spices and sugar with cucumbers creates the acidic food preserve known as pickles. Vinegar is used in pickling because it has a few key properties that make it ideal at slowing or stopping food from spoiling for long periods.As well as other properties such as flavour compounds and vitamins, vinegar is a liquid or solution that commonly has between 5% – 10% acetic acid. Pickling is a process that uses the pH or acidity of vinegar to kill most bacterial growth; it is important to use a good quality vinegar with at least 5% acetic acid.
When preparing to pickle your preserves there several considerations to make;
Vinegar: Which type of vinegar is really a matter of personal preference. What kind you use depends on the colour and flavour you want to have in the pickled preserve. Knowing the characteristics of different types of vinegar can help with that choice.
Distilled white vinegar is the clear, colourless vinegar made by fermenting grains. It has a mellow aroma, tart acid flavor and does not affect the colour of the light-coloured vegetables or fruits.
White wine vinegar has a mild flavour and gives a better appearance to light coloured pickles, such as those made from, cauliflower or cucumber.
Red wine vinegar is better for pickled beetroot or red cabbage.
Cider vinegar, with its apple base, is particularly good for sweet pickles. It has a mellow, fruity flavor that blends well with spices. However, it will darken most vegetables and fruits. Cider vinegar may be substituted for white vinegar of the same acidity.
Malt vinegar was the traditional pickling vinegar for many years, it has a strong taste which some people love, though I prefer to save it for my chips!
Sherry vinegar and balsamic vinegar can be used half and half with wine or cider vinegar in order to impart their special flavours.
Use cold vinegar for crisp pickles and hot vinegar for a softer texture.
Don't use other vinegars unless you're sure of acid content
The vinegars listed above must contain 5 percent acetic acid. Occasionally you will find 4 percent acetic acid vinegar. This is salad vinegar and not strong enough to make a good quality pickles that will be heat processed.
Vegetables and fruit: The stars of the show! Make sure whatever you are using is young, firm and as fresh as possible. Under ripe is better than over ripe; brown, bruised or mouldy bits should be removed. All produce should be washed. Exact quantities are not too important, but your chosen fruit or vegetable should be cut into even size pieces that fit snugly into your jars when covered by the pickling liquor.
Remember to put the ingredients in the jar in an attractive way so that you can admire your row of pickles once processed.
Salt: Use pickling or canning salt without iodine or anti-caking agents. Other salts contain anti-caking materials that may make the brine dark and cloudy.
Sugar: Use white sugar unless the recipe calls for brown sugar. If you plan to use a sugar substitute, follow recipes developed for these products.
Spices: Your choice of spices provide the flavour, aroma and heat in your pickle. Use fresh whole spices for the best quality and flavor in pickles. (Powdered spices may cause the product to darken and become cloudy.) Of course you can buy ready mixed pickling spice, but is more fun to make your own mixes. A general rule of thumb is to use 15 -30g of spices per litre of vinegar. You can choose from ginger, cinnamon, mustard seed, chilli- flakes, allspice, coriander seed, star anise, peppercorns, fennel seed, dill seed and tumeric etc. to name just a few. You can add the spices to the pan, or put in a muslin bag to keep the liquor clear; again the choice is yours.
Before you start to pickle your vegetable or fruit you must make sure all your equipment is clean and sterile.
Jars should be sterilised: I do this by washing them really well in hot soapy water, place them on a baking tray and putting them in a low oven at about (110C) for at least 20 minutes. This ensures they are still warm and completely dry before filling. I place lids in boiling water for 10 mins to ensure they are also sterile before putting on jars.
I recommend water bathing the filled jars to make sure any yeast and moulds and other acid-tolerant bacteria are destroyed. Immerse jars in a deep pan of water, covering lids with water by at least 2-3 cm. Boil jars for no less than 10 minutes. Of course many fresh pack pickles can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks without heat processing. However, discard if you see any signs of spoilage.