If you have a small garden, or if you can’t face pickling a mountain of vegetables all at once, Andrea Chesman has good news for you. She has developed a quicker, simpler way to make one or two jars of pickles at a time, which enables her to choose the best cucumbers to pickle that day, and even inspires her to experiment. The best news of all is this: “If you can boil water, you can make pickles.” Though there are certain rules you must follow to ensure safety (these canning basics are addressed in a sidebar), making pickles is not challenging. Pickle jars are packed and processed in a boiling water bath to seal them; then they’re left alone for several weeks to let the flavors develop.
The rest of this basic class in pickling gives you a variety of useful hints. Most of us think of cucumbers when we think of pickles. Chesman adds beets, green beans, chiles, bell peppers, cauliflower pieces, sliced jerusalem artichokes, okra, and green tomatoes, and even some fruits (peaches, pears, and apples) to the list of things that pickle well. The substance that makes your pickles pickle is, of course, brine, which is made from vinegar, water, salt, and seasonings, such as garlic, herbs, and spices. Vinegar is the most important ingredient: it gives pickles their tart taste, and its acidity reduces the chances that microorganisms will spoil them. (Chesman prefers distilled white vinegar, because it does not compete with the flavors of the herbs and spices.) In the matter of salt, which enhances the pickles’ flavor, she prefers pickling salt because it is free of additives. Your brine’s finishing touch, the seasonings, vary the pickles’ flavors. We are all familiar with dill; tarragon, thyme, and basil are also good herbs to add. Experiment with freshly sliced ginger and strips of orange zest, as well as allspice and seeds (caraway, mustard, celery, and cumin). Use only whole spices: chopping or crushing them clouds the brine.
Your introduction to pickling ends with an equipment list. You will need canning jars. Chesman is always willing to tell you how you can improvise a piece of equipment that you don’t have, or let you know “what will do.” These inexpensive gadgets will make life easier: a wide-mouth canning funnel and a jar lifter. Recipes include: Dill Chips; Pickled Beets with an Orange Accent; Garlic-Herb Green Beans; and Pickled Green Chile Peppers.