The quick pickler’s guide

Time was, everyone pickled their garden and hedgerow glut, a few days each autumn set aside for the supremely satisfying task of suspending the best of the crop in splendid, vinegary animation and proudly arranging jars filled with all manner of things – beetroot, onions, walnuts, fruit, eggs – on cold pantry shelves.

What happened to this autumnal tradition? Well, we all started working longer and longer hours, which means the temptation to set aside a weekend for lovingly preserving produce in jars is easily scuppered by the more pressing need to de-frost the fridge or fumigate teenagers’ bedrooms.

The traditional method of canning fruit and vegetables is time-consuming, but you can make quick refrigerator pickles in minutes. All you need is a supply of quick pickling liquor; clean jars with plastic or glass lids (if you use metal lids, the vinegar reacts with metal and turns everything bad); and super-fresh produce to fill the jars. Then, use your imagination!

Virtually anything, but it must be super-fresh. If your garden hens have been in full flow, pickle their eggs. If you have a veg patch glut, pickle carrots, cucumber, green beans, cauliflower, fennel, beetroot, red cabbage, courgettes – anything. Fruits which respond well include apples, watermelon rind, pears, figs and lemons.

Salt vegetables to remove excess liquid, which can turn your pickling liquor cloudy. Simply peel and slice/dice vegetables and layer in a bowl, each layer sprinkled with salt, and leave overnight. Thoroughly rinse off salt and pat dry with kitchen paper before pickling.

Jars must be scrupulously clean, and given a good, hot wash either by hand or in the dishwasher before use. If you prefer, sterilise them.

First, add the fruit or veg you are pickling, then pour over pickling solution to cover the contents. Shake gently to free trapped air bubbles. Check the level after 24 hours and add more liquor to cover if necessary.

Cover with airtight lids. Ensure there is no exposed metal in the lid, because this will react with the vinegar. Hence, you’re best off using plastic or glass lids.

Keep in the fridge for 1-2 months.

If you want long-lasting pantry pickles rather than quick refrigerator pickles, make up Mrs Beeton’s basic pickling liquor as follows: 1.5 tsp each of crushed whole cloves, allspice, cinnamon stick, chopped fresh root ginger to 1 litre vinegar. Mix together, seal in bottle/s, put in a cool, dark place and shake every day for 1 month. Leave undisturbed for 1 more month. Strain out spices, put into a clean bottle/s and use as necessary. Vegetables which have had excess liquid removed by salting (above) will keep in this solution, provided you have a well-sealed jar with no metal in the lid, for months.

Quick pickling liquor

Water and vinegar in equal parts (use distilled white vinegar, apple cider, white wine or rice vinegar, unless you are pickling onions, in which case use malt vinegar)
To each 500ml liquid, add:
2 tsp sea salt or pickling salt
1 tbsp sugar (if you like sweeter pickles)
1 tbsp whole mixed pickling spices

Bring water to the boil, add salt and sugar (if using) and stir over a low heat to dissolve. Add vinegar and spices. When cool, pour over produce in clean jars.
In addition to pickling spice, experiment with further flavours, e.g:
• Fresh dill, thyme, oregano, and rosemary
• Dried thyme, dill, rosemary, and oregano
• Whole garlic cloves
• Fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
• Mustard seed, coriander seed, peppercorns and red pepper flakes
• Ground turmeric or smoked paprika

Pickled apples

3 large cooking apples
500ml cider vinegar
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 star anise
2 cloves
2 tsp juniper berries
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp sea salt

Thinly slice apples horizontally through the core. Layer in a bowl with salt and leave for at least 1 hour. Dissolve sugar in vinegar in a pan over a low heat. Add spices, remove from heat, and leave to infuse for 1 hour. When the vinegar is cool, rinse and pat dry apple slices, put in a clean jar, cover with vinegar and seal.

Pickled cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
2 tbsp sea salt
500ml apple cider vinegar
200g granulated sugar
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground tumeric
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 garlic clove

Break cauliflower into florets, place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Cover and leave overnight. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry the next day. Put spices, sugar and vinegar in a pan over a medium heat, bring to a simmer and stir until sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool. Put cauliflower in clean jars, pour over pickling liquor to cover. Seal and store for 1 week before tasting.

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