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Canning it: Getting into a pickle

April 20, 2011 | 12:58 pm

Image of Pickled Cucumber LAT
There's more to pickles than just garlicky brined cucumbers. A pickle is actually any food that is preserved using salt and acid. That includes everything from kimchi to blueberries agri-doux.

There are two very basic ways to introduce salt and acid to create pickled foods. Quick -- also known as refrigerator or fresh-pack -- pickles rely on vinegar. Fermented pickles are made with a controlled process that allows lactic acid to break down the food and change the taste and texture. Fermented pickles take longer -- in some instances, up to a year -- and require a bit more attention to detail. A quick pickle can be ready to eat immediately.

Pickling is one of the oldest food preservation methods and is simple enough to do. The primary concerns are making something delicious and making it safely. The goal is to keep the food from spoiling and the acid at a high enough level so as not to introduce Clostridium botulinum toxins. Botulism, as it is also known, can be lethal when consumed.  Home-canned foods that are contaminated with botulism do not show any visual signs and have no smell, so you really want to use an approved recipe for peace of mind. Do that and you can enjoy making and eating pickles year-round.

This week, try your hand at making green almonds, asparagus, artichoke hearts or green beans. They are all in season and perfect for pickling!

If you decide to try your hand at pickling, the Master Food Preservers have a few tips:

  • Choose sea salt, canning salt or pickling salt. Table salt will make your brine cloudy due to anti-caking additives.
  • Use fresh, whole spices for seasoning. Ground spices will make your brine cloudy, and spices that are more than a year old don’t have much flavor.
  • Vinegar used for pickles should be 5% acid. The acid level is usually printed on the front of the bottle. White and cider vinegar are ideal.
  • It isn’t advisable to make pickles from homemade vinegar since the pH can’t be easily tested.
  • Do not pickle waxed produce. The wax inhibits the pickling solution.
  • For firmer fermented cucumber pickles, try adding a few clean grape leaves to your brine.
  • If you use garlic and it turns blue, just discard it. The pickle is fine. It’s just a chemical reaction.
  • Do not make pickles in copper, brass or iron pans. The metal can leach into your food and will cause chemical reactions and off-tasting results.
  • And lastly, use quality produce, an approved recipe and don’t change the ratios of vinegar to water.

Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County.The Master Food Preservers can be found on Facebook.

--Rachel Narins

Photo credit: Rachel Narins