Ever wanted to pickle your own veg? Not sure where to start? This guide has all you need, from a Q and A, some top secret ingredient tips and some excellent recipe ideas to get you started. Now get pickling!

 

Q: Well preserved - Does it really matter what type of vinegar I use to make pickles?

  • You should use only high quality vinegar with an acetic acid content of at least 5 per cent, which includes all wine vinegars and most others. Malt vinegar, which was once the staple of the traditional English pickle, is the most economical but it has a distinctive taste. Brown malt vinegar has the best flavour.
     
  • White distilled malt vinegar, with its concentrated acidity, is useful for pickling watery vegetables such as cucumber, but there are more subtle, less harsh alternatives you can use as well, such as cider vinegar and red or white wine vinegar.
     
  • Sherry vinegar and balsamic vinegar can be used half and half with wine or cider vinegar in order to impart their special flavours.
     
  • When choosing a vinegar, try to complement the vegetable or fruit that is being preserved. Think about the colour and flavour you wish to create. For example, white vinegar gives a better appearance to light coloured pickles, such as those made from gherkins, cauliflower or cucumber, whereas dark red wine vinegar is best for pickled beetroot or red cabbage.
     
  • Cider vinegar, with its apple base, is particularly good for sweet pickles. Sherry vinegar, which is a deep caramel colour, has a very mellow flavour. It is perfect for giving a boost to pickled shallots.

 

Q: What else besides vinegar can I use to give pickles more flavour?

  • Sugar, herbs, and hot and sweet spices can be added to pickling vinegar to give extra flavour. Sweet pickles are produced by adding a spiced sugar and vinegar syrup to the ingredients.
     
  • The vinegar must rise above the pickling ingredients by 1-2.5 cm (½ -1 in) to allow for evaporation. When crisp vegetables such as onions are pickled, cold vinegar is used. For softer pickles, such as peaches or walnuts, the vinegar should be heated.

 

Q: What is the best way to seal jars used for pickles?

  • Lids with plastic-coated linings or specialised preserving jars with glass tops and rubber sealing rings are essential. Never use paper or cellophane covers for pickles (or chutneys) as the jars need to be completely airtight.
     
  • If the jars are not adequately covered, the vinegar will evaporate and expose the ingredients to the air and harmful bacteria. The preserve will shrink and the top will dry out.
     
  • Avoid using metal tops for jars as the vinegar in pickles will corrode them, leading to possible rust and contamination. If the vinegar does evaporate during storage, top it up with more as the ingredients in the container should stay covered.

 

Q: Can you give me some ideas for pretty or unusual pickles I could make as Christmas presents?

  • Homemade preserves, like Pickled Quail's Eggs, Pickled Shallots and Sweet Pickled Peaches make good Christmas presents. They taste superb with ham and cold meats, cheese, pork pies or freshly baked sausages.
     
  • The best time to make them is when you can obtain a large quantity of ingredients at bargain prices, which is usually late in the summer.
     
  • Put the pickles into attractive jars and decorate with labels that state the contents, when the pickles were made, how they should be stored, the date by which they should be eaten and some serving suggestions.
     
  • Make little hats or collars for the jars and tie the tops with pretty coloured ribbon. The following recipe for Pickled Quail's Eggs would make an especially dainty and sophisticated present.

And now for some recipe ideas...

 

Pickled shallots

Fills: 2 x 1 litre (1 pint 15 floz) jars
Preparation time: 30-40 minutes, & 2 days brining & 2 hours infusing
Cooking time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 115 g (4 oz) sea salt
  • 900 g (2 lb) shallots
  • 600 ml (1 pint) white wine vinegar
  • 300 ml (10 floz) sherry vinegar
  • 2 blades mace
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • 4 allspice berries, lightly crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 black peppercorns

Recipe method:

1. Using a large, nonmetallic bowl, dissolve the salt in 1.2 litres (2 pints) of water, then add the trimmed and peeled shallots with the root end intact. Rest a weighted plate on top of the bowl to keep the shallots submerged. Leave them for two days, stirring the shallots occasionally.

2. About 2 hours before you are ready to start pickling, bring the vinegars, spices and bay leaf slowly to the boil in a large pan. Remove from the heat and leave the mixture to stand for 2 hours or until cold.

3. Rinse the shallots under cold running water, drain well and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Pack the shallots into sterilised jars.

4. Strain the spiced vinegar through muslin, then pour over the shallots so that it covers them completely.

5. Seal the jars with nonmetallic vinegarproof lids then leave them in a cool, dark place for at least a month before using. This resting period will allow the flavours to develop. The shallots will be at their best when eaten within a year.

 

Sweet pickled peaches

Fills: 1 litre (1 pint 15 oz) jar
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 350 g (12 oz) granulated sugar
  • 2 teapoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole mixed peppercorns
  • 5 cm (2 in) piece cinnamon stick
  • 8 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 600 ml (1 pint) white wine vinegar
  • 10 ripe but firm peaches

Recipe method:

1. Put all of the ingredients, except the peaches, into a large saucepan or preserving pan. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Halve the peaches, remove the stones, then drop them into the boiling water a few at a time for 30-40 seconds, depending on their ripeness. Remove them with a slotted spoon and slip off the skins, using a potato peeler if necessary.

3. Add the peeled peach halves to the vinegar and sugar mixture, bring them to a simmer then poach for about 5-10 minutes, or until tender when pierced. Transfer the peaches to a warmed, sterilised jar.

4. Boil the syrup rapidly over a high heat to reduce it by half. Strain the syrup and pour it over the peaches, making sure the fruit is completely covered and there are no air pockets. If necessary, weigh the peaches down with crumpled greaseproof paper, removing it after a week.

5. Seal with a nonmetallic vinegar-proof lid and store in a cool, dark place for six weeks before using. 

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