Kitchen Intuition: Pickling all the things

Authored By aliceodea

I discussed quick cucumber pickles not long ago, but given that it continues to be too hot outside to play with cooked food, I recently decided to pickle even more stuff. Once I got started, out of curiosity I looked in to how many other things can be pickled in this stupidly simple manner-and it turns out that it’s pretty much just about anything. If you have something that grew out of the ground, it can probably be pickled.

Forget about all the intimidating stuff you may have seen about canning pickles. I’ve tried going through the elaborate hot-processing method, with all the equipment, sterilizing jars, exacting measurements and fussy instructions, and it’s a lot of work. And it’s kind of scary, too, because if you mess up, people could get sick. I’d rather leave that to the professionals. All I want to do is make delicious pickles from fresh food-and once they’re done, I just want to eat ’em. I don’t need to put them up on a shelf somewhere.

Making quick pickles, on the other hand, is a great entry-level food prep that anyone, no matter their level of cooking experience, can do for fun and experimentation. If you have a jar, vinegar and salt, you can turn whatever you want into pickles. Since this method of processing uses refrigeration-not chemistry-to keep the food safe, it’s an area where even beginners can play. If you’ve got kids who are old enough to chop food, this is something they can do with very little assistance.

After I’d been playing around for a bit, I opened up a social media feed somewhere and there was an article from Lucky Peach about how you can easily and simply pickle all the produce. It was a timely confirmation that the methods I was using were sound-and that I’m not the only one obsessed with refrigerator pickles at the moment.

Note that although a lot of recipes (including the one from Lucky Peach) call for sugar in the brine, it’s not necessary for food safety. It’s just there for flavor. My policy has been to make a small amount without sugar and see how it comes out. So far, I’ve liked all the results. It’s surprising to find out how much natural sweetness is already there-cucumbers definitely need no help in that department, but even some root vegetables, like carrots and beets, have a sweetness that really comes through once they’ve been sitting in brine for a while.

Use whatever kind of vinegar you want or a blend to make things interesting. The vinegar acts as a preservative, gives the pickles flavor, and depending on the variety you use, can also add color. Salt also enhances flavor and can improve the texture of the pickles. The smaller the pieces of fruits or vegetables you use, the faster they will be ready to enjoy. Shredding, thinly slicing or chopping into smaller cubes will speed the process along.

If you would feel more comfortable working from a recipe, there are plenty available online, and they can be followed closely or used as a general guide. When searching, it helps to use the phrase “quick pickled” to avoid getting results that include hot-processed or pressure-cooked instructions (for example, “quick pickled chanterelles“).

Just a few things to consider pickling, besides mushrooms and cucumbers, are fruits such as green apples, pears, watermelon rind, lemons, mango or papaya; roots like daikons, turnips, carrots, shallots, beets, celery root, onions or pearl onions; and vegetables like sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, long beans, string beans, fennel, bok choy, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, celery, green tomatoes, zucchini, okra, snap or snow peas, or hot or bell peppers.

Other flavors you might want to add to the mix include lemon rind, onion slices, garlic, dried chiles, fresh jalapeños or horseradish root; spices like peppercorns, cloves, fresh dill, fennel, allspice berries, thyme, bay leaf, anise, ginger root, cinnamon sticks or red pepper flakes; and seeds such as cumin, celery, mustard, caraway and coriander.

This is so quick and easy, there’s no reason not to start a new batch as soon as you see the current one is getting low. Once my cucumber pickles run out, I’ll have some pickled beets ready to go, and after that, I’ll chop up something else and throw it in a jar with some vinegar. Or I might stuff multiple things into a batch, because that’s allowed, too. Give it a try, and happy pickling!

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.