I’m a big fan of homemade pickles. First, because they are delicious, but also because they are easy and quick to make and people usually lose their shit over homemade pickles. Another great reason to make pickles is that you can make one big batch, which will keep you in pickle supply for a few weeks. And, better yet, you will still have enough left over to give as gifts.
There are so many vegetables that are perfect for pickling: yellow and green beans, carrots, beets, asparagus, cauliflower, cucumbers, fennel—almost any firm veggie will work. Go to the farmer’s market, see what’s fresh, and pick yourself a peck. Peter Piper won’t care.
Another great thing about pickling is that you can use the bones of the recipe and riff on it. If a Grateful Dead song was a snack food, it would be pickles. Sometimes I like to throw a little curry into the pickling liquid; sometimes it’s all about the dill, a few cloves of smashed garlic, and a healthy sprinkling of red pepper flakes. If I’m using cucumbers, I usually add more sugar than if I’m using beans. You really can’t mess them up as long as you have water and vinegar and a few spices, and showing up to your friend’s house with a jar of pickles will definitely earn you rock star status.
I know some recipes call for sterilizing the jars, yada yada yada…but the pickles never last long enough at my house to go through all that trouble. If you are planning on storing them in your cellar along with salt pork, preserves, and potatoes to get you through winter, then, by all means, please sterilize your jars. Otherwise, consume within three weeks and it’s all good, ’cause, you know—vinegar!
I like to serve pickles in a pretty dish as part of my appetizer spread. They go nicely with some salty nuts and a creamy, mild cheese to cut the vinegary tang. And when you are going to visit your friend, tie a ribbon around a jar of those beautiful pickles and bask in the glow of their delight!
Here are some tips for using different veggies:
BEANS – Wash and trim. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about four minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling. They will still be crunchy, but won’t have that raw flavor.
CAULIFLOWER – Wash and cut into florets, then follow directions above for similar results.
ASPARAGUS – Wash and trim ends so stalks are the size of your jar. Drop them into boiling, salted water for about two minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath before pickling.
BEETS – Roast before pickling. To roast beets, preheat oven to 400° F, wash and trim ends,* wrap beets in foil with a little water and place in a baking dish to roast until a knife pierces easily (about 45 minutes for four medium beets). Once cool, slip off skins with your fingers and slice into rounds or wedges. *If the greens are fresh, save and sauté with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper—delicious!
CARROTS – Peel and cut carrots in half and then half again (and half again if your carrots are large). Trim to the size of your jar. Carrots can go in the pickling liquid raw. If you boil them, they get flabby. Nobody likes a flabby pickle.
FENNEL – Wash fennel and trim fronds (which can be put in the jar along with, or instead of, dill), remove any wilted outer layers. Cut bulb in half and slice crosswise.
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BASIC VEGETABLE PICKLE RECIPE
2 lbs. veggies
2 cups water
2½ cups distilled white vinegar
¼ cup kosher salt
⅛–¼ cup sugar (optional)
2–3 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
2 tsp. whole peppercorns (optional)
2 tsp. whole coriander seeds (optional)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Bunch fresh dill
You will need three half-liter canning jars. I like Weck 742 half-liter Mold jars. They have a really nice shape. (Sold in sets of six only. They are cheaper here than at Amazon. You can also get canning jars at World Market, Target, and most grocery stores.)
Combine water, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and red pepper flakes in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pack veggies into about three half-liter jars and add several sprigs of dill. Remove garlic from pickling liquid. Fill jars with hot liquid and cap immediately. Admire the majesty of your pickles!
Keep one, give two away!
Other variations to try (aka channeling your inner Jerry Garcia):
- Add 1 tsp. curry powder.
- Replace dill with fresh tarragon, basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, or mint (or a create a combo).
- Include several strips of lemon peel.
- Substitute whole fennel or mustard seeds (or try half and half) for coriander seeds.