Pickle Recipes for the Picking

Ferment or quick pickle your harvest with this assortment of homemade pickle ideas from MOTHER EARTH NEWS bloggers.

jars of pickled food

You can pickle just about anything. Try a variety of pickling recipes from our bloggers.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Monticellllo.

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After seeing the variety of salad dressing recipes and tips our bloggers submitted for the April/May 2017 issue, we decided to call on them again — this time for their favorite pickle recipes. Reflected in the bloggers’ submissions is this welcome food-preservation truth: You can pickle just about anything. They’ve given us a variety of ideas — asparagus, beans, beets, and even eggs. Some of their homemade pickle recipes are true fermentations, taking advantage of the lacto-fermentation process. Others are “quick pickles” or “refrigerator pickles,” reliant on refrigeration. We hope this collection of methods and ingredients will spark your creativity in preserving your most prolific produce this season.

Kristi Quillen

Spicy Asparagus Pickles

By Kirsten Shockey

The worldwide practice of pickling has produced long-lasting and tasty veggies for millennia — lacto-fermentation is the original “quick pickle.” With a little salt and time, the process does all the work.

Asparagus is one of the season’s first truly great pickling vegetables, and if you have a good patch, it’s abundant. There are very few ways to preserve the sublime flavor of fresh asparagus. Fermentation comes close. In this recipe, the fiery burn adds a fun element. I use dried chile peppers to add spice because fresh hot peppers aren’t in season at the same time. If you want a mild pickle, simply omit the red pepper flakes and only add 1 to 2 dried chiles to the jar.

• 1 to 2 pounds asparagus spears
• 3 to 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
• 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
• 1 tsp black peppercorns
• 4 to 5 whole dried red chile peppers, such as cayenne or bird chiles
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 grape leaf (optional)
• 2 to 3 cups brine, made by combining 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp unrefined salt in 1 quart unchlorinated water

Snap off the woody ends of the spears. Trim the spears to 5 inches to fit into a wide-mouth 1-quart jar; you can use any small leftover non-woody pieces to make a jar of bite-sized pickles. To fill two narrow-mouth pint jars instead, cut the spears to 3¾ inches long.

Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a knife, just enough to break them. Put the pepper flakes, peppercorns, dried peppers, and bay leaf in the bottom of the jar. Arrange the spears upright in the jar, wedging the garlic and peppers between the spears. Put the grape leaf, if using, on top of the spears. Pour in the brine; make sure it fully covers the asparagus tips and the grape leaf. When the asparagus are tightly packed, they tend to stay in place, so you won’t need a weight, which could damage the delicate sprout tips. Place the lid on the jar and tighten. Store any leftover brine in the fridge for 1 week.

Set the jar on the counter, on a plate, to ferment for 5 to 8 days. During the fermentation period, “burp” the jar daily by opening the lid slightly to allow the carbon dioxide to escape. Do this over your plate or the sink, as some of the brine may bubble out. If this happens, simply top off with the reserved brine solution to keep pickles submerged.

These pickles will be ready when the spears are a dull olive-green and the brine is cloudy. I generally don’t taste-test these if I’m going to store them in the jar because I want to keep all the spears tightly packed. If you eat them immediately, you’ll find they’ll have softened (but won’t be mushy) and will have a pickle-y but not vinegary flavor. Tighten the lid and store in the refrigerator.

After about 1 day, check to be sure the pickles are still submerged. Again, top off with the reserved brine, if necessary. Your asparagus pickles will keep, refrigerated, for 12 months. The flavor will intensify over time.

Pickled Olives

By Anna Twitto

Olive groves are a dominant part of the landscape in many parts of Israel, where I live (and, indeed, in the whole of the Mediterranean). The tree is excellently suited to the local sunny, arid climate and requires very little watering and maintenance after it gets going. Many olive trees have gone wild, having been planted by someone but now not belonging to anyone specifically — and every year, our family takes advantage of their bounty.

The proper season for picking olives is around September or October — depending on the color you want. Olives can be picked green or black or anywhere in between, but not too early — a bright, shiny green indicates that the fruit isn’t quite ready yet.

Olives, when just picked, are extremely bitter and need to be soaked in water to remove some of the bitterness. I do that during the course of one week, changing water every day. After that’s finished, the olives are ready for pickling. It’s best to “break” them — slightly crush them with a press, hammer, or other heavy object to make them crack. Not breaking them might prolong pickling time, so you’ll want to take that into account.

Once you have your olives, prepare sterilized jars and fill them — don’t pack too tightly. Then, prepare a briny solution by dissolving 1-1⁄2 teaspoons of salt per each cup of water, and cover the olives in the brine. Leave about 1⁄2 inch of space between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jar. Pour a thin film of olive oil on top. If you’d like, add garlic cloves or sliced hot peppers to give the pickled olives an extra punch.

Tightly seal the jars and place them on a kitchen shelf but not in direct sunlight. Every few days, unscrew the lids slightly to enable any gas formed during the fermentation process to escape, and then close the lids again.

After about 3 weeks or so, the olives will be ready for consumption and can be transferred to the refrigerator, where they may be stored for several months.

Quick-Pickled Baby Beets with Stems

By Tammy Kimbler

These beets are only slightly sweet and work well with barbecue or meats — or anywhere pickles are welcome. Whole beets with the stems make a lovely accompaniment to a meal. I also like to chop the beet stems and sprinkle them on eggs and cooked vegetables or mix them into chicken salad, tuna salad, or egg salad. They add great color and bright flavor. Golden beets, ‘Chioggia’ beets, and red beets all work great here. The first two will maintain their color if kept separate or will turn dark pink if combined with the red beets.

Ingredients

• 1 bunch baby beets, about 1 pound
• 1 cup white wine vinegar
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• 2 tbsp honey
• 1 tsp coriander seed
• 1 tsp mustard seed
• 1 tsp black peppercorns

Directions: Wash beets well, leaving stems attached. Remove leaves (save them for sautées or salads) and trim stems to the desired length — I leave mine long. If beets are small (1 inch to 1-1/2 inch in diameter), leave them whole. Otherwise, cut them in halves or quarters, leaving stems attached.

Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Blanch beets for 2 minutes for firm beets, 3 minutes for softer beets. (If you like extra-soft beets, I recommend removing the stems, as they’ll get slimy.) Shock the beets in cold water to stop the cooking, and place in a heat-proof container, such as a canning jar or other glass container with a lid.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, salt, honey, coriander, mustard seeds, and peppercorns and bring to a boil to make the brine. Pour hot brine over the beets and set aside to cool. If you don’t have quite enough brine, pour up to 1/2 cup boiling water to cover. After they’re cool, store beets in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

Refrigerator Pickled Eggs

By John Atwell

Our family of six relies on refrigerator pickles for a ready supply of healthy, easy-to-prepare snacks and as fodder for our European-style picnic lunches each Sunday afternoon. At any given time, we have five or six varieties of these goodies aging in our kitchen. While almost any vegetable lends itself well to this process, one of our very favorite food items to prepare this way is eggs. Using a refrigerator and vinegar method not only turns out a very tasty product, it sidesteps contamination issues that can arise with traditional canning and pickling of animal proteins, if done incorrectly.

Eggs make a wonderfully neutral medium for pickling; they pick up flavors well. That said, pickled eggs lend themselves to creativity. Here are a few preparations that will help get you started.

Additional seasoning. We often use fresh dill or the following mixture: one head (not clove, but entire head) of garlic, chopped; and fresh hot peppers to taste, chopped (anything Capsicum annum will work, but we favor golden habaneros, green jalapeños, and black Mexican firecrackers for a splash of color); and a handful of whole black peppercorns. You can also use dry herbs and spices, but they’ll change the flavor.

• 1 dozen eggs (chicken, quail, or duck)
• Apple cider vinegar
• 2 tbsp large-grain sea salt (or small-grain, but scale back the amount)
• Additional seasoning, if desired (see note, bottom left)

Directions: Boil the eggs — soft- and hard-boiled both work well. Then, fill 1⁄3 of a mason jar (any size) with apple cider vinegar. Add salt and any additional seasoning. Add the eggs. Top off the jar with water. Over a sink, continue adding gently flowing tap water until the brine just begins to spill over the edge. Immediately seal the jar tight. The idea is to leave as little air as possible in the jar and ensure that all items being pickled are completely submerged in the brine. Rinse and dry the jar.

Label the jar with the date (grease pencils work well). Store in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 weeks before eating. You might want to gently invert the jars one or more times a day to help redistribute any seasoning that settles on the bottom.

Pleasantly Potent Pickles

By Tasha Greer

Delicious pickles start with great cucumbers. My personal favorite is the ‘Edmonson’ pickling cucumber, grown using seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. These peculiar pickles are nearly white except for the radioactive yellow tips and specks of black on the spines.

They’re easiest to fit into quart jars when they’re about 2 to 3 inches long and 1 to 1½ inches thick. But that’s hard to get just right with this cultivar. So, just pick anything over 2 inches. The 4-inch ones sliced into spears also work. Jar those up separately after fermenting and eat them first, and shave off that little black spot at the bloom end of each cucumber to keep pickles crisp.

Timing is everything when it comes to making great pickles — pickle promptly after picking. For best results, make a batch of brine before you pick. If you have a 5-gallon fermentation crock, you could even multiply this recipe by 5 to make up a 2-1/2-gallon batch. Then, pick cucumbers at their peak, every day, for up to 2 weeks. Just keep adding them to your crock until you can barely close the lid.

If you don’t have a crock, you can do the same with a 5-gallon food-grade bucket, or you can work in quart jars (though after those vines start producing, using quart jars is like bailing water from a sinking ship with a teaspoon).

I use Sandor Katz’s recipe from Wild Fermentation as my base but add my own seasoning. And if, like me, you happen to be growing giant prehistoric-looking cardoon plants, those spectacular leaves (pictured above) work great in place of the grape leaves.

Ingredients:

• Brine, made by combining 2 quarts water and 6 tbsp sea salt (for 5.4 percent brine strength)
• 3 to 4 tbsp dill seeds
• 2 to 3 heads garlic, peeled and smashed
• Pinch (about 6) black peppercorns
• 1 tbsp coriander seeds
• 1 tbsp mustard seeds
• 1 tbsp fennel seeds
• 10 juniper berries
• 1 handful grape, cherry, oak, horseradish, or cardoon leaves
• 3 to 4 pounds cucumbers

After you’ve mixed the brine, load your container of choice with the dill, garlic, peppercorns, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, juniper berries, and grape leaves on the bottom, followed by the cucumbers, tightly packed.

Make sure to entirely cover the cucumbers in brine — with fermenting weights or filled water bottles. Whenever you add more cucumbers, make sure to entirely submerge them in the brine.

Also, make sure your lid has an airlock that’s properly hydrated. If you don’t have one built into your crock or lid top, search “Fermentation Airlock DIY” online and make your own.

In about 2 weeks, take a peek, a smell, and a nibble to decide if your pickles are potent enough. If not, leave for a few more days and sample again. When the pickles meet your taste specifications, jar them up and refrigerate or store in your crock in a dark location below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pickled Beans

By Normandy Alden of Cairncrest Farm

Home gardeners are particularly suited to making lacto-fermented foods because only the freshest of vegetables are best for this process. I love to make pickled vegetables in summertime. I’m also a potter — I make and sell fermentation jars, having been frustrated with the clunky forms and dark colors of commercial jars. If I’m going to have something sitting on my kitchen counter for weeks in the summertime, I want it to be beautiful! However, I’m convinced that nothing I make in the studio can compete with the lovely shapes of the beans themselves, warm from the sun and hanging in tendrils on their vines.

Ingredients

• 5 tbsp sea salt
• 2 quarts water
• 4 large cloves garlic
• 2 tsp black peppercorns
• 3 tsp coriander seed
• 2 large handfuls dill flowers
• 1 pound fresh green beans
• 8 to 10 oak leaves (or something similarly tannic, such as grape leaves)

Directions: Dissolve sea salt in water and set aside. Place garlic, peppercorns, coriander seed, and dill at the bottom of your jar. Pack green beans into jar snugly. Pour the salt-water liquid over beans until the liquid completely covers the vegetables. Lay oak leaves over the solution and weight everything under the water. Cover with a lid and keep the jar at room temperature for 3 to 5 days. Temperature conditions will determine how quickly the fermentation happens. When you’re satisfied with the flavor, remove the oak leaves and place the jar in a refrigerator or root cellar.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

By Ed Hudson

This is a great recipe for those times when you have just a handful of cucumbers and want a quick homemade pickle. Be sure to use good, crispy cucumbers for a crispier pickle. This recipe has been modified from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

I’ve started using the reusable plastic lids for my mason jars on all items that go straight to the fridge or on items that we’ve opened and then refrigerated — which just reminds us that those items aren’t canned.

I make up a large batch of brine and then refrigerate what I don’t use for an even quicker pickle the next time. This recipe makes enough for 5 pints. 

Ingredients

• 5 tbsp sea salt
• 2 quarts water
• 4 large cloves garlic
• 2 tsp black peppercorns
• 3 tsp coriander seed
• 2 large handfuls dill flowers
• 1 pound fresh green beans
• 8 to 10 oak leaves (or something similarly tannic, such as grape leaves) 

Directions: To make brine, combine the white vinegar, water, pickling salt, sugar, and pickling spice in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt, and then cover and boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Slice cucumbers as desired, either in spears or slices. To a quart jar (I prefer quarts, but you can adjust the size), add the dill seeds, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and garlic. Fill the jar with cucumber slices or spears and add brine, leaving about ½ inch of headspace. Refrigerate at least 3 to 5 days, but the longer you leave them in the refrigerator, the better they’ll get. They’ll easily last 2 to 3 months, but you’ll probably finish them before then.

Beet-Flavored Refrigerator Eggs

By Lyndsay Mynatt

Not your typical pickle, beet-flavored eggs are a summer treat. The infusion of sweet beet juice and boiled eggs creates a quick antioxidant- and protein-rich snack. The ingredients are simple: Blow the dust off a jar of canned or pickled beets, and then add some vinegar and boiled eggs. Two weeks later, the conversion is remarkable. The sweetness of the beets tames the vinegar to create a delicate, tangy balance of texture and flavor. Eat pickled eggs as a salad or sandwich topping, egg salad, colorful deviled eggs, or straight out of the jar.

To keep a continuous stock of red beet eggs, start a second round after week one. Then, batches may be made at weekly or bimonthly intervals. This recipe has been a staple in my family for the last three generations and will continue to be “preserved.”

• 1 cup red beet juice (from canned beets, homemade or store-bought)
• Canned beets (whole or sliced)
• 1-1⁄2 cups apple cider vinegar
• 12 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

Bring beet juice, beets, and vinegar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pack the eggs (no more than 12) loosely into a warm, pre-sterilized quart jar or similarly sized container. Pour the hot pickling solution over the eggs in the jar, completely covering the eggs. Seal the jar with a lid and refrigerate immediately.

Allow the eggs to season for 2 to 4 weeks, keeping the pickled eggs refrigerated at all times. Eat within 3 to 4 months for best quality.

Cauliflower and Carrot Refrigerator Pickles

By Kurt Jacobson

Why toss out perfectly good pickle brine? I had a roommate who loved pickled pepperoncini peppers and bought them by the gallon. We experimented with using the leftover brine to pickle a variety of vegetables with great results. Our favorite mix was a combination of carrot slices and cauliflower florets. It would take a week or two for the pickled veggies to reach a level of flavor good enough to start eating. Over the years I’ve used a combination of leftover pickled jalapeño brine and dill pickle brine with similar results. Here are some guidelines for making your own.

Slice carrots about ¾-inch thick. Cut cauliflower into bite-sized florets. In a large lidded jar, add raw vegetables and cover with pickle brine. Let vegetables marinate for 10 days before sampling. Feel free to experiment with a variety of vegetables, such as kohlrabi, jicama, or beets. Most vegetables take 2 to 3 weeks to reach full flavor and stay fresh up to 2 months in the refrigerator. As long as vegetables are covered in brine, no stirring is needed.

Tarragon and Honey Refrigerator Pickles

By Darby Weaver

At Timpson Creek Farm in the mountains of Clayton, Georgia, we grow 2 acres of diversified organic vegetables, herbs, and fruits and offer on-farm education. With so much to do every day, tricks such as quick pickles help us enjoy the fruits of our labor without adding to it.

• 2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
• 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
• 2 tsp sea salt
• 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup honey
• 2 tbsp mustard seeds
• 2 tbsp black peppercorns
• 1 tbsp coriander seeds
• 4 sprigs tarragon

Mix sliced cucumbers, onion, and sea salt in a bowl and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Bring the apple cider vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan, and then remove from heat. Add the honey, mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and tarragon, and stir until the honey has dissolved and the spices have mingled. Allow to sit until cool enough to handle.

Pack the salted cucumbers and onions into 2-quart jars. Stir the spices, vinegar, and honey once more to release flavors, and then pour this mixture through a sieve into the quart jars over the cucumbers and onions. Allow the jars to reach room temperature before securing their lids. Place them in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours. Serve chilled. Pickles will remain delicious and edible for up to 1 month in the fridge.