The recipe below was graciously provided by my canning mentor and sisterwife Elizabeth, also author of the My Ukiah blog. I have been making another version of this recipe which involves lacto-fermenting the pickles before putting them in the refrigerator. Will share that soon. But for now, let’s start with the most basic of the basics (which is great if you’re afraid of canning, like I am).
Preserving food doesn’t have to be hard. I recommend starting with pickles because:
1) They’re easy to prepare and hard to screw up
2) The brine is mostly vinegar so acid isn’t a problem
3) They’re delicious
4) You can pickle everything
First, pick your recipe. There are a million books and websites to choose from. The most important thing from a food safety perspective is having enough acid in there to prevent bacteria from growing, which is not a problem given that pickles are packed in brine. For non-pickle preserving, most fruits are naturally acidic enough, though surprisingly tomatoes are not. This is a pretty simple fix and most recipes tell you to add lemon juice.
Right now I have jars of pickled zucchini, carrots, beets, radishes, eggs, and yes, cucumbers in my fridge. You can skip the canning process by putting pickles right in your fridge. They don’t last as long and they aren’t great for carrots which benefit from being cooked, but they’re ideal for zucchini which do not like the heat (key ingredient when pickling zucchini: cumin). It also make for an extra crunchy cucumber pickle.
There are lots of variations on pickles, but here’s a basic recipe:
- Whatever vegetable you’re pickling (or fruit, though I’ve made enough gross pickled fruit to shy away from it at this point)
- Apple cider vinegar and water in a 1:1.25 ratio (many recipes call for 1:1 – it’s up to you).
- About 1 tsp salt for every cup of vinegar. (Most recipes call for canning salt but I always use sea salt. Also, some call for up to 1 TBSP/cup, so use more if you like saltier foods.)
- Whole peeled garlic cloves
- A mixed pickling spice or any combination of bay leaves, mustard seeds, whole black peppercorns, whole allspice, coriander seeds, and dill seeds. (For sweeter pickles, you can also use cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, and add 1/3 C sugar to the brine for every 1 C vinegar, or more if you like really sweet things.) (NOTE: California laurel is a lot stronger than standard culinary bay, so use 1/3 to ½ of a leaf in each jar instead of a whole one.)
Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in a pot and bring to a simmer. Cut your vegetables however you want them (slices or spears, or even whole). Drop 1-2 cloves garlic plus the spices you want in the bottom of clean ½ pint, pint, or quart jars (I usually use pints and use 5-6 peppercorns, part of a bay leaf, and sprinklings of everything else). Pack your veggies in, including thin slices of onion if desired. Sometimes it’s easier to lay your jars on their sides and pack them horizontally. You want to leave about ½ inch of clearance between the top of your veggies and the top of the jar.
Once your jars are filled, pour the hot brine over them, leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top of the jar. I use a wide-mouth funnel so I don’t spill, but you could also transfer the brine to anything with a pour spout.
Assuming these are refrigerator pickles, close them up with a lid and a ring and stick them in the fridge. Most pickles will be ready in 24 hours, but will continue to get better after a few days.
In the interest of CYA/safety, most recipes say pickles only keep for about a week in the fridge. That is ludicrous! Some pickles will keep for months. If you find that your pickles are getting too strong, simply dump out half the brine and replace it with water. (Same goes if it’s too salty.)
Tune in for Part II on how to actually can these suckers.