Food Preservation Techniques: Learn How to Pickle

Pickling can capture the tremendous flavors of crops when they’re at their seasonal peak — which is also when they’re least expensive! — so you can relish them year-round.


| November 17, 2010



Well Preserved

Make the riches of seasonal foods last with “Well-Preserved,” a guide to traditional food preservation techniques as well as low-tech methods, such as freezing and oil preserving. The book also includes more than 50 delicious recipes that will remind you why you put up your fare in the first place!


COVER: RANDOM HOUSE

The following is an excerpt from Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone (Random House, 2009). This hybrid cookbook/training manual will teach you techniques for putting up small batches of foods to make them last beyond their season, and show you how to savor your preserved bounty with scrumptious recipes such as Scallop and Tomatillo Ceviche, Smoked Chicken and Wild Rice Salad, Concord Grape Walnut Tart, and more. This excerpt is from Chapter 1, “All About Canning.” 

I am not an enthusiastic cucumber pickle eater. I pretty much like two kinds: bread-and-butter pickles made into a relish to eat with hamburgers and hot dogs and little sour cornichons to eat with pâté. However, there are many dishes I eat that call for vinegar, as in sausages with cauliflower, and so there was a certain logic in preparing pickled cauliflower: Having it on hand meant that instead of adding vinegar when cooking the sausages and then blanching the cauliflower and adding it as well, I could simply dump the contents of my jar over the browned sausage and be done. So, besides the pleasure of preserving a food when it is cheap and seasonal — and there is nothing more tempting than a fresh, tight, white head of cauliflower and little more disappointing than watching it brown over the course of a week in the fridge — I have the added satisfaction of knowing all I need to make dinner is to pick up a pound or two of fresh sausages and a bunch of fresh parsley to prepare a delicious (and quick) meal.

What is pickling? Pickling is the process of preserving foods in a high-acid solution, either by adding vinegar or naturally by means of fermentation. Spoilers cannot grow in a high-acid environment. This state of high acidity is achieved in two ways: by means of salt and with vinegar (though when you pickle with vinegar, you add salt as well).

Pickling With Salt

Pickling with salt falls into two categories: dry salt and brined. The dry salt method combines dry salt with vegetables in quantities above what you would add for seasoning purposes. Liquid (watery juices) is pulled from the vegetables, and this liquid combines with the salt to create a brine — a salty, watery solution. With the premade brine method, a vegetable is placed in a combination of salt and water. In both cases, the vegetables are covered in brine for a prescribed amount of time. In this submerged, airless state (below the brine line), the vegetables ferment. Fermentation is the process by which the natural bacteria in the foods convert the sugars into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative. Depending on its strength, microorganisms will not grow in lactic acid because of its low pH (high acidity). As a result, low-acid foods such as cabbage can be canned safely in a water bath canner and stored on the shelf for up to a year after fermentation is complete. Lactic acid also supplies that yummy sour taste — hence the name sauerkraut.

Pickling With Vinegar

Pickling with vinegar is a much quicker process. In vinegar pickling, the vegetable does not ferment. Usually, the vegetable rests for a short time in a brine (to add crispness and flavor), is drained, often brought to a boil in a vinegar solution, packed into jars, covered in the remaining hot vinegar solution, and water bath canned for long-term preservation. The acetic acid in vinegar brings up the acidity of the vegetable to a point where no microorganisms can thrive. Acetic acid, by the way, is flavorless and colorless. When a recipe calls for vinegar that is 5 percent acid, that means the vinegar is 5 percent acetic acid.

When making pickled foods, it is critical that you use very fresh ingredients. If you start out to make sauerkraut with an old, soft cabbage, your end product will be mushy. Basically, crisp into the brining pot means crisp out of the brining pot. (And this is true of all preserving: Don’t put up foods that are on their way out. Preserving is not a way to postpone eating something that has been aging in your refrigerator. Rather, preserving is capturing a food’s optimum freshness in time.)

cynthia parke
2/2/2011 1:17:43 PM

Page 5 of the Feb-March 2011 issue indicates, "Food Preservation:Learn How to Pickle"...I went on line, my mouth watering for a recipe....alas, there were none...a few interesting comments, but no recipe...why are you teasing us like this ? One good recipe would have been WONDERFUL to give those who have never pickled a "taste"....for MORE.....


monica
12/3/2010 2:03:00 PM

So nice to see an article on lacto-fermentation. I wish you would have included the health benefits of lacto-bacilli to improved digestion. That having been said, both salt and vinegar pickling are age-old, tried and true methods of food preservation (without addition of chemical agents). Thank you for a fine article.






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