For a few short months, our gardens and farmer’s markets are bursting full of the season’s fresh produce. If you find yourself with extra vegetables, one way to extend the life of your produce is a preservation method called quick pickling.
Making quick pickles is a good way to enjoy what you’ve grown and reduce food waste. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we waste about 30-40% of our food supply. That’s about 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food every year. Wasted food is the largest category of material placed in landfills, but gardeners or farmers' market shoppers who have more fresh produce than they can immediately use can keep it out of the waste stream. Follow these simple guidelines to quick pickle and add flavor and color to your meals.
Photo: Pickled Vegetables, Tanjica Perovic, Flickr
What are Quick Pickles?
Quick pickles are vegetables that are brined in a solution of vinegar, water, salt and sugar (if desired) and stored in the refrigerator. Unlike fermented pickles, they only need a few hours or days in the brine before they can be enjoyed. Quick pickles do not require canning when refrigerated, but lack the shelf life of canned pickles and should be consumed within a month. They are delicious as a snack straight from the jar. They are also perfect when added to salads, charcuterie or cheese boards, sandwiches, wraps and grain bowls.
How to Quick Pickle
The quick pickling process is practical and easy. Unlike canning, there’s no long simmering, no tricky water baths, and no standing and sweating over a hot stove for hours on end.
1. Prepare the jars, lids and screw bands. Wash glass jars, lids and screw bands in warm, soapy water and rinse well. Dry completely.
2, Prepare the vegetables. Wash and dry the vegetables. Cut them into desired shapes and sizes. Here are some suggestions:
Carrots can be peeled and cut into coins or spears.
Cucumbers and peppers can be cut into slices or spears.
Radishes, red onions, summer squash and jalapenos can be thinly sliced.
Beets can be roasted or boiled, peeled and cut into slices or wedges.
Cherry tomatoes are best left whole.
Low water content vegetables, such as green beans or asparagus, can be blanched in boiling water for a few minutes and then shocked in an ice bath to keep their color bright.
3. Add flavor. Divide your selected herbs, spices and other flavor enhancers among the jars. (See flavor ideas below.)
4. Add the vegetables. Pack the vegetables tightly into the jars. Leave at least a half inch of space between the rim of the jar and the top of the produce.
5. Make the pickling liquid. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour the solution over the vegetables leaving a half inch of headspace.
6. Remove the air bubbles. Gently tap the jar on the counter to remove all the air bubbles and add more solution if necessary.
7. Seal the jars. Place the lids on the jars and screw until tight.
8. Cool and refrigerate. Cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator. Flavor increases as they age. Most are ready to enjoy after 48 hours in the refrigerator.
The Pickling Liquid
A basic pickling brine is equal parts vinegar and water plus a little salt and sugar to cut the acid. All types of vinegar (white, red, apple cider, white wine, champagne and rice vinegar) work well. Balsamic or malt vinegars will color the vegetables. Here is a basic brine recipe from The Kitchn, an online food blog. You can alter the proportions to your taste preference.
1 cup vinegar, such as white distilled or apple cider
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional)
Spices and herbs are the keys to a great quick pickled vegetable. Use fresh or dried herbs like rosemary, dill, oregano or thyme to add flavor to your pickle. Whole spices like peppercorns, mustard seeds, dill seeds, bay leaves and red pepper flakes are excellent additions. Garlic, ginger and various types of fresh, hot peppers also add a punch.
Quick pickling is easy and a great way to use up your abundance of summer garden vegetables and farmer’s market finds.
Savory Sweet Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen by Beth Dooley & Mette Nielsen
The Quick Pickle Cookbook by Grace Parisi
Elizabeth Lorentz gardens at Mears Park in downtown Saint Paul. She loves cooking and growing native perennial plants and herbs. She is Master Gardener with the Ramsey County Master Gardener Volunteer Program.