PICKLES_02Pickling is the process of preserving food in brine or marinating and storing it in an acid solution, usually vinegar which allows perishable foods to be preserved for months.

This process began 4000 years ago using cucumbers native to India, called ‘achar’. Pickling was then used as a way to preserve food for out-of-season use and for long journeys – think salt pork or salt beef for sailors on their way to Australia for instance.

While borne out of necessity, today pickles are made by choice to capture the flavor of ingredients at their seasonal peak. They can also make lovely gifts and give a nostalgic air to any pantry.

You’ll need to follow a few rules to ensure safe practices, mainly to do with sterilization and sealing, but this process needn’t be overly complicated, so if you want to enjoy the abundance of summer all year round, this is a good time to head to the markets and get pickling.

What can you pickle?

The answer to this question is simple: almost anything your heart desires although some foods like fruits and vegetables are easier and safer than meat or fish to start with.

+ Fruit : mango, lime, lemon, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries…
+ Vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, zucchini, eggplant, chilies, garlic, onion, carrots, asparagus, cabbage, olives… 
+ Meat: beef, pork, sausages…
+ Fish: herring, rollmops, salmon, tuna…
+ Eggs

Pickles go well with…

Pickles are usually used as a side and go well in sandwiches (hamburger, hot dog, Pastrami…) or alongside platters of rich cheeses, cured meats, charcuteries, with pork or duck…

Pickling agents: 

An acid or salt solution is usually used for pickles. Pickling agents can be used alone or in combination based on desired taste.

+ Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar for its soft flavor, or black, rice wine, white wine, malt and champagne vinegars also work well. 
+ Salt: either dry which will extract the moisture of certain ingredients, for example when making kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) or to preserve meat, or mixed with water to make a brine often used to preserve fish or lemons.
+ Oils, especially olive oil. 
+ Alcohol: Brandy, Gin, Sherry, Rum are all very popular when preserving fruit. 

What you’ll need: 

+ Pickling jars: pint jars and bands, and new lids,
+ a pair of preserving tongs to get jars out of boiling water without burning yourself,
+ a large pot to sterilise jars,
+ labels to keep track of what and when you preserved each jar.

How to sterilise jars and make safe pickles?

This is an important step and insures that your preserves last a long time and more importantly, stay safe.

Prepare clean jars and new lids by dipping them in boiling water or running them through the dishwasher, which leaves them clean and hot.

When the jars are dry but still hot, pack the produce into the jars. Do not half-fill jars as that might upset the balance between the liquid and produce.

Pour in the pickling solution to cover the food. Leave a couple centimeters of air space above the solution. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel dipped in hot water, place the lids on top and screw on the bands.

Prepare a boiling-water bath in a deep pot with a rack inside for the water to circulate around each jar. Place the jars on the rack and pour water over them, making sure the jars are completely covered. Bring the water back to a rolling boil over hight heat, reduce heat and gently boil for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and wait 5 minutes before removing the jars with tongs. Let them cool on counter untouched, 4 to 6 hours.

After 12 to 24 hours, check the seals. To do so, unscrew the bands on the jars and lift each jar up by its lid. Then press the lid to make sure the center is sucked down tight.

Store in a cool, dark, dry place for at least 4 weeks before using and up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.

Recipe: bread and butter pickles

This recipe is from the January 2013 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

Serves 6
Cooking Time Prep time 30 mins, cook 30 mins (plus cooling)


+ 14 pickling cucumbers (about 150gm each), thinly sliced widthways (see note)
+ 2 white onions, halved, thinly sliced
+ 85 gm (1/3 cup) fine sea salt
+ 1.75 litres white wine vinegar
+ 200 gm caster sugar
+ 2 tbsp mustard seeds
+ 1 tsp ground turmeric


1 – Combine cucumber, onion, salt and a tray of ice in a large bowl and set aside to remove excess liquid until required.
2 – To sterilise jars and lids, place in a large saucepan of water over high heat and boil for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars and lids with tongs and set aside open-side up to cool. (or run through the dishwasher).
3 – Bring vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and turmeric to the boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Drain cucumber and onion, add to pan, bring liquid back to the boil and remove pan from heat.
4 – Transfer pickle to jars, being careful not to spill liquid on the rims and leaving a 1cm gap at the necks, and secure lids.
5 – Return jars to large saucepan of boiling water and boil over high heat to seal jars and preserve pickle (10 minutes). Remove jars from water with tongs and set aside to cool.
6 – When cool enough to handle, test seals, date jars and store to pickle (at least 2 weeks).

Note:  Makes about 2 litres. Bread and butter pickles will keep stored in a cool, dry, dark place for three months. You’ll need to begin this recipe two weeks ahead. If pickling cucumbers are unavailable, substitute Lebanese cucumbers.

Visit The Essential Ingredient Newcastle to get your gear and start pickling.