How to Pickle Almost Anything
How to Make Homemade Pickles
Pickles—crunchy, tangy, and a touch sweet—make an addictive, healthy snack and are the perfect way to extend the life of seasonal produce. The method I’m about to show you is for quick refrigerator pickles. I prefer these to shelf-stable pickles because they’re faster and far less of a hassle. You don’t need fancy canning equipment—just a clean container with a lid or cap and five basic pickle ingredients: vegetables, water, vinegar, salt, and sugar, plus four or five spices.
Basic Pickling Ratio
Refrigerator pickles don’t need to follow a strict vinegar to water ratio like shelf-stable pickles do, because you don't need to ward off bacteria growth—the fridge does that. But I’ve found that using one regardless makes the process a whole lot easier. However, to meet Cooking Light nutrition guidelines, we chose a ratio that minimizes sugar and salt (don't worry, they have plenty of flavor). Cheryl Slocum’s Quick Refrigerator Pickles, serves as the perfect guide:
½ cup water : ½ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar : 2 teaspoons salt (for every 1 cup of total liquid)
This ratio fills one pint-sized Mason jar. You can scale it up however, if you plan to use multiple jars or bigger containers.
Step One: Choose Your Vegetable
Traditional pickles use cucumbers, but why stop there? When it comes to pickling, the sky is the limit. Is it a vegetable? Is it crunchy? If yes, you can pickle it. Here are a few ideas:
- Green beans
- Broccoli stems
- Pearl onions
You can also pickle fruit! Peaches, strawberries, grapes, and watermelon rind are all classics. But as you may want to adjust the salt and sugar ratios for sweet pickles, we'll stick to veggies for this particular guide.
Step Two: Gather the Ingredients
Now that you know what you want to pickle, let’s round up the other pickling ingredients. Again, this formula is loosely based on Slocum’s recipe:
- 1 pint-sized Mason jar
- Vegetable of your choice (such as English cucumber, cauliflower, or carrots)
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 sprig of fresh dill, tarragon, basil, or cilantro
- 1/2 cup white, rice, or apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
As long as you stick to the basic ratio, you can customize the ingredients however you like. White vinegar gives a more traditional pickle flavor, while apple cider vinegar adds a touch of sweetness. Fresh dill is a classic pickle herb, but you could also try fresh tarragon, basil, or cilantro.
Step Three: Cut the Vegetables
After you’ve chosen your pickling vegetable, cut it into smaller pieces so that it fits inside your Mason jar. For cucumbers, slice them into about ¼-inch thick coins. If you’re using a whole head of cauliflower, cut it into smaller florets. For carrots, cut them into ¼-inch thick batons (the perfect size for snacking!) or coins.
Cut enough vegetables to fill the Mason jar so that there is about ½ inch of space left from the rim. Add the garlic (I like to crush it first with the side of my Chef’s knife) and fresh herbs to the jar, then pack the vegetables in as tightly as you can without crushing them. Set the jar aside.
Step Four: Prepare the Brine
Place the vinegar, water, and remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring until dissolved. Heating the mixture helps to dissolve the salt and sugar while also infusing the spices. Once the ingredients are fully combined, remove from heat and let stand for about 5 minutes.
Step Five: Add Brine to Vegetables
Slowly pour the brine into your Mason jar. You should have the perfect amount of liquid to fill the jar nearly to the top.
Step Six: Cover and Refrigerate
Screw the lid onto the jar and place in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days. The pickles are ready when they have a tangy flavor and a crisp-tender texture. Keep in mind, the longer you refrigerate the pickles, the stronger their flavor will be. Keep refrigerated and enjoy within 2 weeks.
What to Do With Homemade Pickles...
The better question is, what can’t you do with pickles? I love to pile them over a burger, stuff them into a pita sandwich, or add a handful to a whole grain or green salad. Try incorporating homemade pickles into these easy recipes:
...and Leftover Pickle Juice
If you’re out of pickles, that doesn’t mean the party has to stop. Leftover pickle juice is packed with health benefits and it has a plethora of culinary uses. Try pickle juice as a tangy base for vinaigrettes and cocktails (make this Bloody Good Bloody Mary) or use it as a marinade for tofu or meat.