The exact origins of pickling are unknown, but the practice has been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as 2030 BC when cucumbers were pickled in the Tigris Valley of Mesopotamia. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch “pekel” or northern German “pókel”, meaning “salt” or “brine”— both very important components in the pickling process. Pickling originated as a preservation method.
While you can pickle almost anything from Beets to Swiss chard stems to Strawberries, for the sake of this month’s theme we will focus solely on cucumbers. Pickles are created by immersing fresh fruits or vegetables in an acidic brine, a typical ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar. The cucumbers sit in the liquid until they are no longer considered raw or vulnerable to spoilage. Cucumbers commonly come to mind when we think of pickles.
Pickled cucumbers are often lacto-fermented in a saltwater brine. During this process, lactic microbial organisms develop, which turn the naturally occurring sugars of foods into lactic acid.
The recipe below is a simple guide, but the flavor of pickling brine is versatile as long as you maintain the 2:1 ratio of water to vinegar. Once you get the hang of it, you can interchange the vinegar, sugar and spices to fit the flavor profile of your choice. Glass jars work best when pickling cucumbers as the flavor of the brine is absorbed in plastic.
Vinegar: Vinegar is important in the preservation of the Cucumbers because the acidity makes it impossible for the food to spoil. Choose light bodied vinegars as the acid intensifies the longer that the cucumbers sit in the liquid. Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, wine vinegars such as prosecco, red wine, moscato vinegar, and flavored vinegars such as chipotle vinegar would do well. While white balsamic vinegar is an excellent choice, do not use balsamic vinegar.
Sugar: Sugar serves to balance out the acidity of the vinegar. Each sugar has its own flavor profile, while white is the typical sugar used, you may substitute brown sugar, muscovado sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar etc.
Spices: The good thing about pickling is that you can add pretty much any spice, again, depending on the flavor profile that you are going for. Also be cognizant of the amount of spice that you are adding. Some spices are pretty heavy and flavorful.
Basic spices include: all spice, bay leaves, celery seed, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, fennel seed, juniper berries, mustard seed, peppercorns, and pepper flakes.
Herbs: Herbs also add flavor to the pickling liquid, but you want to use heavier herbs because something light like chives wouldn’t work.
Some basic herbs include: dill, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and thyme.
Produce: Incorporating flavorful produce also adds a level of depth to your pickling spice.
Some basic flavor enhancers include: chili peppers, garlic cloves, ginger, jalapeños, lemon, and onion.
Basic Pickling Liquid
4 cups water
2 cups vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
1 bunch dill
- Bring the water and vinegar to a boil; this helps to dissolve the salt and sugar and allows the spices and herbs to release more flavor.
- Add in the sugar and salt; stir until it dissolves.
- Add your herbs, spices, and produce.
- Let sit for 10 minutes. This lets the flavors meld and cools the liquid. (Adding boiling hot liquid in glass can cause it to break.)
- Place your cucumbers in a container that will allow them to be completely submerged in liquid. Pour the liquid over and let sit for 2-3 days.
What are your favorite spices for pickling?