Pickling vegetables is a process with multiple benefits. It is an excellent method of preserving produce that you otherwise might throw away, and, more importantly, produces a delicious end product and a sense of accomplishment. If you have a garden, it is a great way to deal with your extra vegetables, or an alternative to simply eating your last harvest of the summer. Of course, you need not have a garden to pickle vegetables–you may simply buy them from the supermarket and make pickling a year-round hobby. There are, however, certain methods that you should follow, and certain things that you will need to successfully pickle and preserve vegetables. If you are interested in learning how, read on.
Pickling vegetables is a relatively easy process that requires only a few key ingredients. For a basic pickling mixture, you will need white or cider vinegar (5 percent acidity), sugar, salt and fresh garlic. Although this is a good mix to begin with, you may feel free to experiment with different herbs and additions to suit your tastes. An easy pickling brine with a bit more pizzazz can be created with the addition of some crushed red pepper and halved jalapeno peppers.
Once you have decided on a brine that you like, you will need some basic equipment. Those making their first foray into pickling would be advised to take the easy route and simply buy some Mason jars, which will be sealed by boiling. However, if you will be pickling many jars, you might want to purchase a pressure canner in order to seal them more quickly and ensure they do not spoil. In addition to the jars and the canner, you will need two pots, and a bowl large enough to hold all of the brine you plan to make.
The basic pickling and canning method is as follows: fill one pot with water and submerge the jars and their lids. Bring the water with the jars in it to a boil, and allow it to boil for about 15 minutes in order to sterilize the jars. This step should not be skipped even if the jars are fresh out of the package. After they have been sterilized, remove them with tongs and allow them to cool. Meanwhile, remove all inedible parts from your vegetables (such as the ends of carrots). Parboil in the second pot for anywhere from 90 seconds to two minutes. You do not want them to cook, or else your end result will be mushy. When they are done, remove and place on a cutting board.
While the jars and vegetables cool, combine the vinegar, salt and sugar. Set aside the garlic and any other additions for now; these will be used shortly. Discard the water the vegetables were boiled in, and use the same pot to bring the vinegar mixture to a boil. Once it has reached a boil, allow it to simmer for a minute or two, and pour it back in the bowl to cool.
At this point, the jars and vegetables should be mostly cool. Chop the vegetables to fit the jars with about a half inch to spare at the top. Place a clove of garlic and half a jalapeno with a pinch of red pepper flakes (if you choose) in each jar. Fill your jars snugly with the chopped vegetables, but allow enough room for the brine. Pour the brine over the vegetables, filling each jar. Again, leave about a half inch at the top. Let everything cool completely, and then tighten the lids. Place the jars into the pot they were initially boiled in, and boil them for another 15 minutes or so to seal the lids. Let stand for at least 24 hours and enjoy.
Final note: almost every vegetable can be pickled, although some of the simplest are cucumbers, carrots and onions. Try whatever you like!