Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Lost Art of Pickling

The term "pickling" refers to the process of preserving food by using acid to prevent the growth of bacteria. This can be done two ways. You can simply add an acid such as vinegar, or you can cover the food with salt water and allow the fermentation process to create lactic acid.

Some times both methods are used. The food is fermented for a certain period of time, then the salt water is removed and vinegar is added.

Spices are usually added for flavor. When the food that is pickled is small or is cut up into small pieces, the finished product is often called a relish. When a fruit is pickled, the finished product is often called "chutney."

Once upon a time (before the invention of canning jars) people simply put their vegetables in a stone crock, added the brine, and weighted it down to keep the vegetables submerged. While acid prevents the growth of bacteria, it does not prevent the growth of yeast and mold, so you occasionally had to skim this off from the top of the crock. Today we can prevent the growth of yeast and mold by canning our pickles.

Once upon a time, people pickled just about anything they could. After all, you don't want to starve to death during the winter. As the options for preserving food increased, the amount of pickling that is done, decreased.

Before writing this post I wandered through the grocery store aisles just to see how many pickled foods I could find. There was a very big selection of pickled cucumbers. There was also a nice sized selection of pickled olives and pickled cabbage (i.e. sauerkraut). Since vinegar is used as a preservative in canned salsa, that means that salsa also technically goes into the category of pickled foods. The Mexican section also had a nice selection of pickled jalapeños.

I also found a variety of other pickled foods such as okra, cauliflower, carrots, watermelon rind, etc. However all of these foods combined took up less space than half of the pickled cucumbers.

While I certainly would not want to go back to the days when not pickling food meant the possibility of not making it through the winter, I do think that pickling more than just cucumbers is a nice way to add fun and variety to my diet. Personally I always pickle some of my garden produce just for the fun of it.


  1. My husband would love me forever if i could pickle. I'm waiting on cucumbers right now.

  2. My mother was very big into relishes and pickles. My favorite were her bread & butter pickles... aaaah... so good!

  3. I just made some fridge know, cucumber, and cabbage....nice to have those crunchy salad in summer time, that stimulates the appetite.

  4. I love pickles and the idea of pickles other than cucumbers really appeals to me. I grew radishes for the first time because they're a quick and easy early crop, despite the fact that I don't really like radishes. I thought maybe I'd like them fresh from the garden. I didn't. But I did like them quick-pickled: mix 1/4 cup water with 1/4 cup rice vinegar. Heat to just below boil, and add 3 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt and flavorings if you like (I added sliced ginger, dried Thai chili, and a pinch of fennel seed.) Thinly slice the radishes and add to the cooled pickling solution. Refrigerate overnight. Yum!

  5. That sounds like a nice recipe. I will have to try it. Thanks.


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