I’ve been hearing all week from people receiving their copies of The Complete Guide to Pickling. Now that it’s in your hands, I hope you’re excited to start making some tasty pickles. But where to begin, and what do you need?
In writing this book, I not only expanded my pickling repertoire but also tested a range of tools designed to make pickling easy and foolproof. I only had space to briefly describe some of those tools in the book, so this month I want to share some of my favorites and why you may want to add them to your pickling toolbox.
But let me be clear: you can make most of the pickles in The Complete Guide to Pickling using tools that are already in your kitchen or that you can pick up easily and cheaply. That’s how I first started pickling on my own, and I still reach for many of these tool hacks today. I recommend starting this way—you’ll quickly learn what should be at the top of your list for a tool upgrade.
You need two basic tools to make pickles: a container and a way to cover it. If you’re already a home canner and have boxes of canning jars and lids stashed away, you can use those for everything from quick to fermented pickles. If not, just reach for a nonreactive container with a lid: glass, stainless steel, food-grade plastic, and silicone all work.
Why nonreactive? Pickles are defined by their acidic brine, and vinegar and salt eat away at other materials. I know this firsthand, because for years I saved old tin-plated canning lids and rings, screwed them onto my refrigerator pickles, and watched them rust away. They work, but they don’t last.
- The hack: Any nonreactive container with a lid.
- The upgrade: Later this month, I’ll talk about when it’s time to invest in larger or smaller jars and bottles and nonreactive lids.
If you want to can your creations, you must buy jars and lids specifically designed for canning to ensure they seal properly. I’ll go into more details about these next week; you can find additional info in the canning primer here on the blog.
What you don’t need to invest in straightaway is a canning kettle. All you need to process pickles is a large pot with a lid. It should have a few specific features. It must be tall enough that the jars you’ll process in it can be covered by at least 1 inch of water without boiling over. When I want to can a small batch in 8-ounce or squat pint jars, I can do it in my stockpot. You can likely do the same using the largest, tallest pot already in your kitchen.
When you measure the depth, make sure you leave room for a rack in the bottom of the pot. This support protects the glass jars from direct heat and breakage. It doesn’t have to be fancy; I started by puzzling together a layer of old canning rings to cover the bottom of my stockpot. I’ve since upgraded to a silicone mat for my small batch canning; again, more on those next week.
- The hack: A large, tall stockpot with a lid and some old canning rings.
- The upgrade: A canning-specific kettle with a fitted rack that holds 7 quarts and up to 9 pints.
The key to a healthy fermentation is to keep the food submerged in the brine. Fermenting tools have come a long way from the giant crock my grandparents kept on their back porch, its contents weighed down by a football-shaped rock. Many modern crocks are smaller, more streamlined, and come with perks like fitted weights and water-lock lids. As more people fall for fermentation, inventive fermenters have come up with airlock lids, small weights, and other tools that help you pack your ingredients into glass jars.
I’ve become a fan of some of these tools; they help make fermentation easy and nearly trouble free. I’ll cover some options later this month. But you can easily start fermenting today the way I did: Pack your ingredients into a large jar no higher than its shoulders and cover with brine. Pour extra brine into a new zip-close bag or a smaller lidded jar, and fit it inside the mouth of your large one. Set the large jar on a plate, wrap it in a towel, and wait for the magic to happen.
- The hack: A large jar and a small sealed bag or jar.
- The upgrade: An airlock or water-lock lid and weight are the best tools to keep your ferment healthy; they reduce the aroma of fermenting too.
Twice as Tasty
Now that you know how to make pickles with simple tools, where should you start? If you want to feel like a pro in minutes, I recommend the first recipe in The Complete Guide to Pickling: Sunomono (Japanese-Style Pickled Cucumbers). It’s easy, ready in minutes, and delicious. Since pickling cucumbers are out of season in most parts of the world, just make it with the thick-skinned cucumbers common in grocery stores.
Feeling inspired? Move on to Chinese-Inspired Carrots or Curried Green Tomatoes. You’ll have no problem finding carrots to make the former; if you’re a Northern Hemisphere gardener, you’re likely rich in green tomatoes right now.
If you’re set up for canning, ‘tis the season for Water Bath‒Processed Beets. They take a little more effort than some pickles, because you first need to roast them (or go big and smoke them). But once they’re prepped, the canning process is quick and straightforward.
If the probiotic goodness of fermented food appeals to you, Shaved and Fermented Carrots let you get into the process while cutting down on the wait time. Chinese-Inspired Brined Beans are another of my easy, trouble-free fermentation favorites—especially because I have ideas for using them in my newest recipe collection: The Pickled Picnic.
Get a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Pickling and the The Pickled Picnic, available exclusively through Twice as Tasty. Click here to order.