Create Unique Pickling Brines

Find all you need to develop your own recipes.

article image
by Adobe Stock/Artem ShAdrin

Years ago, when I was segueing my cooking career away from baking, I enrolled in a Master Food Preserver program. I’m a naturally experimental cook; I have an uncanny knack for what my father called “loaves and fishes,” or creating tasty meals out of meager pickings. The first day of the Master Food Preserver program, our esteemed instructors quickly told us that “canning is not creative cooking.” Yes, that’s a direct quote. They also said we needed to always follow established and lab-tested recipes.

I sat in that program greatly conflicted. Here I was, trying to enhance my cooking career while at the same time being told my creative expression was severely limited. So, I found a way to work around that notion. My career change brought me the good fortune of landing a position in recipe development for an international brand that does lab testing of all its canning recipes. I recall only twice creating recipes that didn’t meet the pH standard of lower than 4.6; neither were pickles. (For the curious, one involved persimmons, the other figs, both low-acid.) Let this inspire you to bare your creative pickling soul.

To help you on your way, here you’ll find all you need to develop your own recipes: brine measurements, as well as suggestions for aromatics, seasonings, and vegetables or fruits that are best paired with each brine.

Brine Building

Let’s begin with a safety checklist for pickling. My recipes rarely contain more than three vegetables. I also call for more acids than is necessary, for two reasons: I want you to have a brine template that’s safe to use — and sour is a great flavor when balanced with salt, a sweetener, aromatics, seasonings, and produce. You can create your own brine recipes following these guidelines:

Always use a mixture of at least 50 percent acids to other liquids. To play it safe, use more than 50 percent. A basic brine is 1-1/2 cups white vinegar to 1 cup water.

Vinegar used for canning pickles needs to be a specific percentage of acetic acid, so use commercial vinegars diluted and tested to at least 5 percent acidity; this ensures the pH of the finished pickle is safe to eat.

When adding another liquid flavor, exchange it with the water in a basic brine recipe (1-1/2 cups white vinegar and 1 cup water). You can replace all or half the water. Let’s use orange juice as an example. If you replace 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup orange juice, your brine recipe will look like this:

  • 1-1/2 cups vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Let’s keep building this brine. When adding or changing acids, your brine could look like this:

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar (or red or white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Now, add the salt and the sweetener: 2 teaspoons salt and 1 tablespoon sugar or honey. Add a few aromatics with 1 to 2 cloves crushed garlic and 1 tablespoon grated ginger or turmeric, and a few spices with 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon coriander, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, all toasted. Your brine is now complete:

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey or sugar (optional)
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander, toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground or crushed cinnamon, toasted

Cauliflower, fennel, carrots, beets, and onions would be perfect in this brine. I base this on inspiring flavors I’ve had in other meals or have read about.

You can really make this; I’ve tested it. You can find it, with slight variations in flavor, in the Spiced-Orange Pickled Beets Recipe below.

More Ratios for the Perfect Recipe

Write down your brine recipe before beginning. Winging it could have repercussions, and writing it down means you can make it again if the pickle is amazing. A win! The acid amount will stay constant.

Lime and lemon juice are higher in acid than orange juice is, so they can replace a small amount of vinegar in the basic brine recipe, up to 1/4 cup:

  • 1-1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup water

White wine and red wine vinegars are even higher in acid than white or apple cider vinegars are. Brines using them will look like this:

  • 1-1/4 cups red or white wine vinegar
  • 1-1/4 cups water


  • 1 cup red or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine
  • 1 cup water

You can replace up to 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup water with another high-acid liquid. Or, replace 1/2 cup water and leave the vinegar amount at 1-1/4 cups.

If you want a bourbon pickle brine, you can use:

  • 1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup water

More strongly flavored liquors, such as mezcal, ouzo, pastis, and flavored liqueurs, should be used in smaller amounts, 2 to 3 tablespoons.

Enjoy the Pickling Journey

Once you’ve created your brine, it’s time to pickle! To preserve these pickles by canning, pack them into hot canning jars to process in either a water bath canner or steam canner. When the processing time is complete, remove the jars from the canner, place them on a folded dish towel, and leave them undisturbed until cool. Then, check each jar to make sure the lid has sealed; place any unsealed jars promptly into the refrigerator, and eat the pickles quickly. Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to one year.

Let the following recipes inspire you to create your own. Small-batch preserving lets you contemplate seasonal vegetables and fruits in a new way, especially those you wouldn’t ordinarily think to pickle. Preserving within the season allows you to obtain the freshest ingredients and capture their flavors and nutrients in your jars — a sure delight to have in your pantry when the season ends.

Discover more pickling inspiration and recipes:

Flavor Ideas Combining Acids

Autumn seasonal pickled or fermented vegetables in jars placed i

Orange combines well with white vinegar, red and white wine vinegar, and champagne and sherry vinegars. Boozy additions can include red and white wine, rum, bourbon, whiskey, tequila, mezcal, orange liqueurs, or pastis.

Pink grapefruit combines well with white vinegar and white wine vinegar. Boozy additions can include white wine, tequila, mezcal, orange liquors, and pastis.

Lemon combines well with white vinegar, white wine vinegar, and champagne and sherry vinegars. Boozy additions can include white wine, whiskey, tequila, mezcal, orange liqueurs, pastis, and ouzo.

Lime is limited to white vinegar, and then branches out with other additions, such as rum, tequila, mezcal, and orange liqueurs.

Tamika Adjemian is a recipe developer, culinary consultant, and developer of Edible Education programs for camps and private schools. Find Tamika at her website or on Instagram @TamikaAdjemian.

Is there anything better than biting into a crispy pickled cucumber spear, placing a few dill pickle slices on a sandwich, savoring a tasty pickled chutney, or relishing the tang of sauerkraut on a steaming bratwurst? After reading and experimenting with the recipes in Pickled to Please, your answer will be a resounding “no”! If you’ve been considering canning your own pickled products, Pickled to Please is perfect for you. Author Tamika Adjemian has put together a well-rounded collection of methods and recipes for your first foray into canning that will make it easier than ever. Intended for new and experienced home canners, this book covers food preservation methods, safety information, and teaches the “mix and match” approach that demonstrates the easy way to swap out seasonings and spices, vinegars and brines, and fruits and vegetables. Every cook will relish the tips in this cookbook, as Adjemian encourages experimentation with different flavors and combinations to find the perfect pickle. After you’ve mastered the art of pickling, the recipes included will help turn the ordinary into delicious at every meal!

Reprinted with permission from Pickled to Please: A Cookbook of Creative Mix-and-Match Recipes for Pickled Vegetables and Fruits by Tamika Adjemian and published by Ogden Publications, 2019. Buy this book from our store: Pickled to Please or by calling 800-234-3368. Mention promo code MMEPAJZD. Item #9505.

  • Updated on May 15, 2022
  • Originally Published on Jul 5, 2019
Tagged with: acetic acid, brine, pickling, recipe, vinegar