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How to Pickle and Preserve Vegetables

Updated on April 11, 2013

How to Pickle and Preserve that excess garden produce that you can't eat all at once.

For anyone with a productive garden, the making of chutneys and pickles is a great way to use up your excess produce, especially of damaged and poorly shaped fruit and vegetables that probably wouldn’t get eaten otherwise. For making pickles or chutneys the appearance of the fruit or vegetable is of no consequence.

In the acid environment of foodstuffs cooked and preserved in vinegar, bacteria cannot grow and so you can extend your growing season with less food wastage.

Picklings and preserving has been around for hundreds of years, before the freezer was invented, in order to provide the family with good healthy produce all year round.

It is also extremely economical to buy fruit and vegetable produce when it is in season locally, when their prices are at their lowest, and turn them into pickle or chutney that can not only feed all your family but can make lovely and welcome gifts for friends and family.

Choosing fresh produce at market
Choosing fresh produce at market

Equipment Needed for Pickling

Choose enamel-lined or stainless steel pans. Avoid brass, copper, iron and aluminium as they either impart an unpleasant metallic taste, or in the case of aluminium, the metal can dissolve into the liquid. For the same reason use a nylon sieve. Jam jars or special pickle jars can be used. Cover them with one of the following:

1. Metal or Bakelite caps, with a vinegar-proof lining,

2. Greaseproof paper and then a round of muslin dipped in paraffin wax or fat,

3. Preserving skin (sold in rolls) or vinegar-proof paper,

4. Large corks (previously boiled) covered with a piece of greaseproof paper and tied down with string.

If the jars are not adequately covered, the vinegar will evaporate causing the preserve to shrink and the top will dry out.

How to Make Spiced Vinegar

Ingredients

1 L (1¾ pt) vinegar

30ml (2 tbsps) blade mace

15ml (1 tbsp) whole allspice

15ml (1 tbsp) cloves

18-cm (7-in) piece of cinnamon stick

6 peppercorns

Method

Place the vinegar and spices in a pan, bring to the boil and pour into a bowl. Cover with a plate to preserve the flavour and leave for 2 hours, then strain the vinegar and use as required. An even better result is obtained if the spices are left to stand in the vinegar for 1 – 2 months.

Notes: If the individual spices are not available, use 25 – 50 g (1 – 2 oz) pickling spice. Different brands of pickling spice will vary considerably, e.g. some contain whole chillies, and give a hotter result.

The Vinegar

This is the preserving agent and is almost the most important factor. It should be of the best quality (especially for pickles), with an acetic acid content of at least 5%. Barrelled vinegars are usually only 4-5% acetic acid and are not so good. The color is no indication of strength; further distilling has the effect of rendering vinegar colorless. This white vinegar gives a better appearance to light-colored pickles such as onions or cauliflower, but malt vinegar gives it a better flavour. The vinegar is normally given extra flavour by being infused with herbs and spices.

Note:  Simmer chutneys uncovered, to permit evaporation.

How to Make Sweet Spiced Vinegar

Ingredients

1.7L (3pt) malt vinegar

450g (1lb) brown sugar

7.5ml (1½ level tsps) salt

5ml (1tsp) whole mixed spice

5ml (1tsp) peppercorns

2.5ml (½ tsp) whole cloves

Prepare as for Spiced Vinegar.

Of course, you can always nip out to the shops and buy some ready prepared pickling vinegar which has already been spiced.

Pickles

Choose crisp, fresh vegetables and wash them. Chop or otherwise prepare your vegetables according to whatever recipe you are following. Then you must brine them to remove excess water, otherwise they will dilute the vinegar and render it too weak to act as a preservative.

Dry Brining

For cucumber, marrows, tomatoes, and French beans. Ayer the prepared vegetables in a bowl with salt (ordinary table salt will do), allowing 15ml (1 level tbsp) to each 450g (1lb) of vegetables. Cover and leave overnight.

Wet Brining

For cauliflower, cabbages and onions. Place the prepared vegetables in a bowl. Cover with a brine solution, allowing 50g (2 oz) salt dissolved in 500ml (1pt) water to each 450g (1lb) of vegetables. Put a plate over the surface, to ensure the vegetables are kept under the surface, cover and leave overnight.

Finishing

Rinse the vegetables well under cold running water to remove some of the salt. Pack the brined, well rinsed and drained vegetables into jars to within 2.5cm) (1 in) of the top. Pour spiced vinegar over; take care to cover the vegetables well, giving at least 1cm ( ½ in) extra to allow for any evaporation which may take place, but leaving a small space at the top of the jar to prevent the vinegar coming into direct contact with the cover. Cover securely.

Use the vinegar cold for crisp, sharp pickles – e.g. cabbage, onion – and hot for softer pickles such as plums and walnuts.

Store pickles in a cool, dry, dark place and mature for 2 – 3 months before tasting, except for red cabbage which loses its crispness after 2 – 3 weeks.

mango chutney
mango chutney

Chutneys

The making of chutneys involve the preparation of the fruit or vegetable for chopping it up  and cooking it slowly in a mixture of sugars and vinegars. Once prepared, they last a long time even after the lid has been opened, and are served as an accompaniment to meats, fish, and poultry dishes.

Cast your vote for spiced vinegar for pickling

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