The tradition of pickling began nearly 4,000 years ago. Cleopatra claimed that pickles were part of the secret to her beauty. Julius Caesar even gave pickles to his soldiers for strength. Nowadays, pickles are a part of the American identity - with the average person consuming 9lbs of pickles every year!
While there’s no hard science to prove Cleopatra or Napoleon’s claims, it is proven that pickled foods are an often healthy, economical and delicious way to enjoy the taste of fresh food throughout the year.
Here at Mountain Feed, we’re proud to share the pickling excitement with homesteaders everywhere who are keeping the tradition alive - making delicious and nutritious pickles right at home. They’re the perfect afternoon snack, lunch time accompaniment, or even as a unique gift that will wow your friends and family.
This article gives you a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know to get started making your own pickled foods at home - and enjoying the benefits.
* The above historical facts above were pulled from the NY Food Museum’s “Pickle History Timeline”.
Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar, and can preserve perishable foods for months. Pickling is most often accomplished by canning produce in a vinegar-brine, most often using the water bath canning method, or by wild fermentation, using fermentation equipment like a pickling crock or a fermentation kit like the Perfect Pickler.
Pickling Using a Vinegar Brine - Using a basic mixture of vinegar, water & salt creates a brine that food can be pickled in. This option encompasses a variety of sub-methods, and often uses home canning techniques such as the water bath canning method. The main distinction here is that foods that are pickled in a vinegar brine are not considered fermented. Making pickles with the vinegar brine method uses the water bath canning method. See our water bath canning video workshop and our must-have list of canning supplies for more info. See our article all about the vinegar-brine method.
Pickling by Natural Fermentation - For foods with a high water content, pickling can be achieved by simply salting the produce to draw the water out to create a brine. This method is common for making foods like sauerkraut, and is referred to as natural or ‘wild’ fermentation. Fermented pickles are proven to contain healthy probiotics and other beneficial live bacteria that do not exist in vinegar-brined pickles. Making pickles by natural fermentation requires some kind of fermentation vessel, such as a pickling crock or a fermentation kit like the Perfect Pickler. Check out our fermented garlic dill cucumber pickles recipe to see it in action.
Fermented pickles are considered a type of ‘pickle’, while vinegar-brine pickles are not considered ‘fermented’. For instance, fermented cabbage (known as Sauerkraut) is considered ‘pickled’; however, regular old vinegar-brined dills are not considered ‘fermented’.
The benefits of eating pickled and fermented foods are too many to list! Eating fermented foods can lead to better digestive health, save money on the grocery bill & cut down on waste.
By learning a few simple home pickling fundamentals, you're guaranteed to easily enjoy the benefits of pickled and fermented foods - plus you'll be saving precious time out of your busy day! So here are the basic methods to be familiar with when embarking on your pickling journey...
There are three general methods for vinegar-brine pickling: quick-pickling, salt-brine pickling and the vinegar-brine soak and rinse method. Within those methods, there exist many variations, recipes and approaches to make things like relishes and chutneys. Each pickling method has its own benefits, and some foods lend themselves better to one method or another.
Quick Pickles - These are sometimes called “fresh pickles”. The basic method is to pack your fresh produce & any other spices into sterilized canning jars, pour a vinegar-based pickling brine into the jars to completely submerge the produce, and then preserve the jars with the water bath canning method. Certain produce, like asparagus, is blanched before pickling. Other produce like beets are cooked until tender (beets) and cooled before pickling. Cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, peppers and green beans are all great candidates for quick-pickling. Fruits such as cherries and crab apples also do well.
Quick-pickles are the easiest way to have delicious pickles ready to eat in just a few days or less. They may have less depth to their flavor profile, and may not be as healthy as fermented pickles; however, they are the perfect method for first-time and beginning picklers.
Salt-Brined Method - The salt-brined pickling method is specifically for pickling vegetables and produce that have a high water content. By ‘salting’ the produce before it is packed into the canning jars, you can draw some of the natural water content out of the produce. This allows the pickling liquid to soak deeper into the produce creating a better flavor, texture and shelf life.
This method is accomplished by dousing your produce with salt or soaking it in a salt-vinegar brine solution to draw the water out. After you have sufficiently salt-brined your produce, you’ll want to thoroughly rinse and drain the produce.
Once the produce has been rinsed and drained, you follow much the same technique as outlined above for ‘quick-pickling’. Basically, you pack your produce & any additional spices into canning jars, pour a vinegar-brine pickling solution over them, and then preserve the canning jars using the water bath canning method.
Bread-and-butter pickles, kosher-style dill pickles, cabbage, zucchini, eggplant and other high-water content vegetables are commonly pickled using the salt-brined technique - and make for delicious everyday snacks! Salt-brined pickles are the best way to make classic tasting pickles with the flavor, crunch & shelf-life that you would expect from your favorite store-bought brands. This method is perfect for the intermediate pickler.
Vinegar-Brine Soak & Rinse Method - This method is similar to the salt-brined method above, but requires an added layer of complexity to draw the maximum amount of water out of the produce. This allows the produce to be completely saturated by the pickling liquid, offering a more savory & well-textured pickle. This method draws the maximum amount of water out of the produce by soaking, draining and soaking again using a vinegar solution. Sometimes a salt-water brine and plenty of sugar are used in this process as well.
Classic recipes like nine-day, 12-day pickles and Sweet Gherkins are common uses of the vinegar-brined method. This method is also used for pickling watermelon rind and other soft fruits, although these fruits usually require less steps than vegetables. Vinegar-brined pickles are for the most traditional of picklers, offering an unmistakable crunch, texture and flavor.
Pickling by fermentation is pretty much an entirely different approach than the previous vinegar-brine methods we have discussed.
To make fermented pickles you completely submerge your produce under a salt-water brine, usually in a common fermentation vessel like a pickling crock or a fermentation kit like the Perfect Pickler. Pickling weights are used to keep your produce submerged at all times, ensuring that the produce is never exposed to any oxygen or bacteria that exist in the open air. You then leave the vegetables, submerged in the brine, to ferment over a period of days or weeks. Fermentation times vary depending on recipe, environment and personal preference.
While your produce is fermenting, the salt draws the natural water out of the produce. The naturally occurring microbes digest the sugars and form lactic acid and other beneficial bacteria. This process brings the Ph of the liquid low enough to preserve the produce and ensure that it stays safe to eat. You don’t need to add vinegar, sugar or citrus to aid the process of fermentation.
Fermented pickles have a unique flavor & aroma that is not achieved through the vinegar-brine methods listed above. Also, fermented pickles are the most healthy type of pickled food because they contain beneficial live bacteria and probiotics create during the fermentation process.
Sauerkraut is probably the most famous fermented pickle recipe, with classic deli-style dills or barrel-aged pickles following a close second. Fermented pickles are actually very easy to make! If you have a pickling crock (also known as a fermentation crock) at home, you can make everything from sauerkraut to dill pickles to kim-chi and more all from that one vessel.
Getting into the world of fermentation can be one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do as an expert homesteader, offering both delicious & nutritious snacks to your family throughout the year!
There are lots of ways to get creative with pickling your own food at home. One of our favorite ways to wow friends and family with unique, tasty pickled food is by making relishes, chutneys and more. Relishes and chutneys are basically pickled foods that consist of more finely chopped pieces, and often use a combination of fruits and vegetables to create a unique flavor and texture.
Lots of relish recipes use the salt-brine or vinegar brine methods to draw water-content out of the produce before pickling, allowing a more full flavor profile. Many chutneys are pre-cooked in order to create a jam-like consistency, but they still consist of the same basic ingredients & methods as relishes or other pickle recipes.
Relishes, chutneys and other unique pickling recipes are the perfect gift or appetizer for having friends and family over. They’ll also add an extra level of excitement and flavor to everyday meals.
There are lots of options when choosing your pickling & fermentation equipment. It really all depends on what types of pickles you want to make, and what your goals are.
Our team has put this guide together so that you can choose the best, highest quality pickling equipment to fit your needs. We’ve spent countless hours testing, tasting & experimenting with this equipment so that we can give you the perfect recommendations, detailing everything you’ll need whether you'll be making vinegar-brined pickles or fermented pickles.
It also includes a bonus list of handy pickling supply & equipment extras that will have you easily making your best pickles to date.
The list covers…
Check out our must-have list pickling & fermentation supplies. By the time you’re through with it, your equipment arsenal will be complete.
Karla’s Dilly Beans - This special recipe was developed by our Homestead Housewares expert, Karla. It's where the delicious taste of dill pickles meets the irresistible crunch of fresh organic green beans. See the full recipe here.
Classic Sauerkraut - See this video workshop and recipe with Farmhouse Culture founder Kathryn Lukas!
What are you waiting for? Start pickling with us and join the next generation of homesteaders. We’ve got everything you need. Whether you’re a first-time pickler, or whether you’ve been making vinegar-brine pickles for years and you want to enter the wild world of fermentation, you’re in the right place.
Here are some expert resources we’ve got for you…
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It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.
If you are not familiar with the water bath canning method watch our water bath canning video workshop. Always make sure you are following all safety guidelines outlined by the USDA when canning anything. Keeping a great journal leads to delicious results! Get inspired by new recipes, expert articles and homemade food adventures in our Monthly Journal.