I love pickles so much, I can never make my jars last more than a day before I devour them. It's like once I crack open that lid, I've been put under a spell that I can only break free from as soon I see the bottom of the jar. In theory, I'd like to be able to snack on my pickles all week long—or at least until my next grocery shopping trip—but because I can't restrain myself around the little green guys, most of my meals remain relatively sad and pickle-less.
At least, that was the case until I started pickling my own vegetables. Now that I've made it a habit, I have pickles in my fridge round the clock. It's an extremely easy project that doesn't require fancy kitchen skills or equipment, and it's a great way to save any vegetables you have that might be on their last leg. Even though it may seem daunting, all you really need is vinegar, salt, sugar, and a jar to turn anything just about anything you desire into something crunchy and tangy. Here's everything you need to know about how to pickle from the lessons I've learned. Plus: some tips from experts.
If it's edible, you can probably pickle it.
There are so many other things besides cucumbers that you can pickle. Bell peppers? Yup, you can pickle those. Cauliflower? Of course! Heck, you can even pickle fruit, if you're so inclined. "Experimenting with different vegetables and fruits is half the fun of making your own," Tyler Dubois, co-founder of The Real Dill, tells SELF.
In fact, the only thing Dubois cautions against pickling is anything that's very delicate, like leafy greens. Everything else is fair game.
All you need is vinegar, salt, and sugar for an easy, all-purpose pickling liquid.
No matter what I'm pickling, I use the same pickling liquid. It's a simple combo of 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup water, a tablespoon of salt, and one tablespoon of sugar. I bring it to a boil and add it to a jar of whatever kind of veggie I'm pickling, then in 48 hours, I have a bunch of snacks. For the purpose of this article, I individually pickled cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers, cucumbers, and carrots with the same exact liquid in each and they all tasted great.
To make the liquid, you can use just about any kind of vinegar you like.
In general, I use white vinegar to make my pickling liquid, but Dubois says that you can use white wine, red wine, apple cider, and rice vinegars if you prefer. The only vinegars he doesn't recommend using are fancier kinds, like balsamic and sherry—the strong flavor from these will overpower any spices or herbs you try to use.
Don't fear the sugar!
For as much as I love pickles, it may come as a surprise that I hate sweet pickles. I don't use the word hate often when it comes to food, so you know I'm serious—so serious that when I first started making my own, I completely avoided using sugar, even if the recipe called for it.
But a little bit of sugar won't make your pickles sweet, it'll just round out the flavor, says Dubois. Without any sugar, my original pickles were so sour, they made my eyes twitch—not exactly a pleasant experience. Since then, I've always added about a tablespoon of the sweet stuff, but if you do like sweet pickles, you can gradually add more until the brine suits your taste.
Before you add the pickling liquid to any vegetables, taste it!
Dubois says that one big mistake people make when pickling is not tasting the brine before you add it to your veggies. "The brine is going to be what ultimately decides the flavor of your pickles," he explains, "so make sure to taste it as you go."
Different vegetables work better with different flavors, so don't be afraid to experiment with spices and herbs.
When I make pickles, I usually keep it simple. To my carrots, cauliflower, and bell peppers, I added some garlic and sliced jalapeños for spice to the jar before I topped everything off with the pickling liquid. With my green beans and cucumbers, I included dill and black peppercorns. But really, you can use anything you like. Dubois recommends pairing carrots with cardamom and ginger and cauliflower with curry powder, lime leaves, and thai chilis. Let's just say, I know what I'll be putting in my next batch of pickles.
Once your pickling liquid is ready to go and your veggies are sliced and diced, put everything into a Mason jar.
Dubois says that Mason jars are the classic pickling vessel for a reason. "[They're] tried and true, and they allow you to look at everything in the jar." Alternatively, you can reuse any old, leftover honey, tomato sauce, or pickle jars you might have lying around.
Once you have a jar in your possession, start by adding the spices and herbs, then pack the vegetables in so that there's not much space between them, and finally top everything off with the boiling pickling liquid until it's within a 1/2-inch from the top of the jar. Gently tap the jar on a counter to release any air bubbles, close it up tight, and let it cool. Once it's cool, transfer it to the fridge.
And the only real work you have to do is wait until they're ready.
"The longer you let them sit, the deeper the flavor will be," Sheila Fain, co-owner of Gordy's Pickle Jar, tells SELF. So while it may be tough not to eat all those almost-done pickles staring at you from your fridge, give it time. I let mine sit for 48 hours before I finally crack them open, but you can wait even longer if you prefer an even stronger flavor. Trust me, they'll be worth it.