Monday, 4 July 2011

Make your own pickles

Pickling, also sometimes referred to as brining, is a very old method of preserving surplus produce. Unlike chutneys, pickles take less time to cook and are generally made from a single fruit or vegetable. It is also possible to pickle walnuts and boiled eggs. Like chutneys there are numerous pickle recipes available to try which range from hot and spicy to sweet. 

The first step in pickling is the removal of excess moisture from the produce, which is necessary to prevent bacterial growth and produce a crispier texture, by either soaking in brine or salting. 

Salting, for up to 24 hours depending on the produce, is used only for high water content produce like cucumbers or marrows. After salting produce should be rinsed several times to remove excess salt before pickling. You should use coarse or sea salt for salting or brining as table salt, due to the additives included, tends to cloud pickles. The brine solution should be made up from 50g of salt for every litre of water and the produce should be completely immersed by use of a plate over the surface of the container. For salting, layer the produce in a container with a very thin layer of salt between each layer and finish with a thin layer of salt.

Produce used for pickling must be fresh, firm and without blemishes or damage. Large vegetables and fruit such as apples, pears, cucumbers, cauliflowers or marrows are best cut. However, smaller produce, such as peeled onions and cherry tomatoes can be pickled whole.  

You can use your homemade wine or cider vinegar for pickling but prepare in advance by adding whole spices in a muslin bag for about 6 weeks. Do not use ground spices which will cause clouding. Your spiced vinegar can be used either cold for vegetables that are best crisp, such as cauliflower and onions, or hot for fruit pickles. 

Pack your produce as tightly as possible into pre-sterilised jars and add either hot or cold spiced vinegar - depending on your selected recipe. After placing on the lids, label and date. Leave for a month or two before use to allow the flavours to infuse and use within 12-18 months. Keep your jars in a dark and cool place but once opened keep in the fridge.

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