Now is the perfect time to pickle and preserve the wonderful flavours of summer, writes Lisa Featherby.
We are pickle fanatics here at GT. What began as a way of preserving food by immersing it in an acid or salt solution is continued today quite simply because pickles taste so darn good. A dish of pickled vegetables or sweet chutney enlivens platters of rich cheeses, cured meats, charcuterie, pork or duck.
Now is the perfect time to make pickles to capture the wonderful flavours of summer and make the most of fragrant ripe peaches, apricots and plums, and cucumbers, radishes, zucchini and eggplant at their best. And once you've mastered pickling fruit and vegetables, you can always turn your hand to meat, seafood and eggs.
The first step to making pickles is to lay hands on vegetables or fruit in peak condition, free of blemishes and bruises, and clean of dirt. We also like to salt our vegetables to remove any excess liquid, giving them extra crunch.
Whatever you're pickling, it's crucial to sterilise your equipment. Place jars and their lids in a saucepan of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Remove them with sterilised tongs, carefully tipping out the water, and transfer them open-side up to a clean tea towel, being careful not to touch them with your hands. While they dry you can prepare your pickles.
When it comes to a vinegar solution, an organic apple cider vinegar is our pick, as it has a softer flavour than other vinegars. The organic nature of this vinegar can make the pickle a little cloudy, as it still contains the "mother" of vinegar - a cellulose substance of highly acidic strains of bacteria. The cloudiness doesn't affect the taste. Other vinegars such as black, rice wine, white wine, malt and Champagne are also great, but they should have an acid level above five per cent to preserve well (check the labels). Salting, usually with a brine solution of salt and water, is another simple method of preserving food, as with kimchi, preserved lemons, and fish, for example.
Foods that are naturally high in acid, such as most fruits, or that have had an acid such as vinegar added can be preserved using a hot-water canning method, as their acidity prevents bacteria from spoiling them when pickled. Low-acid foods (such as meat) are best preserved using a pressure-canning method, which uses pressurised heat to kill off bacteria.
For the hot-water canning method, submerge sealed jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove the jars (if you're planning on making pickles regularly, invest in a pair of preserving tongs to transfer jars safely), and set them aside lid-side up to cool completely (this can take up to 24 hours).
If at any stage the pickles appear bubbly or slimy, or you're unsure of their quality, throw them out.
If done correctly, you now have a pickle that will keep for months… if you can keep your hands off them that long.
For quick pickles - which will keep in the fridge for about a week - you can use a lower-acid salt or acid pickling liquid, diluted with water or another liquid to give you a less astringent pickle. To preserve the pickles long term, higher acid is essential for stunting the growth of harmful bacteria. A mix of salt, sugar and vinegar works really well, and you can adjust the quantities to suit your taste.
You can simply bring your pickling liquid to the boil, pack your choice of produce into sterilised jars and pour the liquid over, but we get better results adding the vegetables or fruit to the pickling liquid in the pan and briefly bring them to the boil. This helps the produce absorb the pickling liquid and prevents it from rising in the jar. Once returned to the boil, remove the pan from the heat and spoon the mixture into jars, leaving a 1cm gap for air to expand and escape, and stir with a sterilised metal skewer to expel air bubbles.