Let’s Get Pickled
with Samuel Garrett
Okay, not literally. I don’t think we want to be preserved in a brine or vinegar solution. But when it comes to preserving food, I’m all in! Pickling is the process of preserving food through anaerobic fermentation in either a salty or sour liquid solution. In this state, food can be kept safely for months and up to years at a time.
The art of pickling dates as far back as 4,000 years to India, where homemade sausages were pickled to be stored for the winter months. Pickling was important in ancient times, as preserving food would secure surplus food for long winters, famine, and other times of need. Pickling was believed to do more than just preserve food. In the time of Ancient Rome, Julius Caesar would feed pickles to his troops, believing it would give them physical and spiritual strength. Even Cleopatra attributed her good looks to a hearty diet of pickles. (Excuse me while I go eat a whole jar of pickles right now!)
The word “pikel” first appeared in the English language around 1400. It originally referred to a spiced sauce served with meat. The Dutch word “pekel” referred to a brine used to preserve food. Over time, the English word “pickle” came to mean both a brine (what you pickle something in) and the spiced condiment (the pickled item) that comes out of the brine.
Pickling is a great food preparation method this time of year, as the last of summer’s abundant produce is harvested. The art of pickling not only preserves food but also helps flavor it. To flavor a pickling solution, spices such as mustard seed, cinnamon, cloves, chile peppers, and many others can be used. The balance of ingredients just depends on how you want your finished product to turn out.
When someone refers to “pickles” in the U.S., they are almost always referring to pickled cucumbers. In the grocery store, you will most often find two types of pickles: dill and sweet.
- Dill pickles are flavored with dill weed (and sometimes dill oil) to give the pickle a distinctive and refreshing flavor. Dill originated in the Mediterranean, which is likely where it became a popular flavoring agent for pickling. The dill plant also happens to explode around the time cucumbers are ready to harvest, so seasonally it makes sense to flavor pickles with dill.
- Sweet pickles are processed using a mixture of vinegar, sugar, and “sweet” spices like cinnamon, allspice, and coriander. Bread & butter pickles are one of the most recognizable types of sweet pickle and typically have the addition of turmeric for color. The origin of bread & butter pickles is attributed to the lean times of the Depression era, where they provided sustenance and flavor sandwiched between two buttered slices of bread.
Most of us are familiar with the most popular uses for pickles in sandwiches, burgers, cheese plates, and as a key ingredient in relish. Once those pickles are gone, however, save that pickle brine! You can use pickle brine in stock to give your soup a well-balanced, tangy flavor. Pickle brines go great with marinades, as the vinegar in the brine help to tenderize the protein. Leftover pickle juice can be added to bread dough to make “pickle bread.” For those adults out there who like to enjoy a libation or two, you can use pickling juice in your next Bloody Mary for some extra zing flavor. The possibilities are endless!
If you want to try your hand at pickling and preserving, Savory Spice Shop has the seasonings plus a few easy recipes to start with.
- Dill Weed & Dill Seeds: If you missed out on the fresh dill at the farmers market this season, dried dill weed and dill seeds will still pack a potent flavor punch for homemade dill pickles.
- Pickling Spice: While you can create your own seasoning concoction for pickling by using any combination of our spices, we have a pickling spice blend that is ready to throw in your pickling mixture. With cinnamon, black pepper, mustard seeds, ginger, coriander, dill, mace, juniper berries, cloves, chiles, and bay leaves, this blend gives sweet and savory flavors to whatever you are pickling or preserving. Try steeping it in homemade stock, broth, or soups for additional layers of flavor.
- Bread & Butter Pickles: This is a quick and easy introduction to canning with a recipe submitted by one of Savory’s customers. These can be made with either our Pickling Spice blend or a combination of celery seeds, mustard seeds, and turmeric. Either option yields a classic sweet-flavored pickle.
- Panhandle Fried Pickles: So you made a bunch of pickles, now what? This is a great recipe to use up either your dill or bread & butter pickles. Use any one of our fried chicken blends (Panhandle, Nashville, Lake Barkley) to season the cornmeal and flour based breading on these fried pickle bites.
- Giardiniera: We recently posted a fantastic recipe for this Italian-American pickled relish. Also known as “sottaceti” (meaning “under vinegar”), it is commonly eaten with salads or as an antipasto. Containing various vegetables, including cauliflower, carrots, celery, bell peppers, chiles, and onions, this relish is a great accompaniment to many dishes. It’s perfect on Italian beef, sausage sandwiches, or the traditional Chicago dog. You’ll often find a hot or mild giardiniera, depending on the level of hot chiles in the mixture.
- Corned Beef: Often associated with Irish-American cuisine, corned beef is consumed largely around St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. The term “corned” comes from the “corns” of salt used in the curing process. Brining and boiling a tougher, less desirable cut of meat is a resourceful way to make beef go further and last longer. Using a blend of brown sugar, coriander seeds, and our Pickling Spice blend, this recipe yields a corned beef with great flavor and fork-tender texture.
- Jalapeño Jelly 3 Ways: If you like sweet and heat, this is dish for you. While not a true pickling recipe, this easy recipe features the ingredients key to preserving: vegetables (in this case jalapeño chiles), vinegar, and sugar. One of the seasoning options is our Mulling Spice, which contains some of the same spices as a pickling spice blend: mace, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves. The base recipe makes several jars, perfect for a homemade holiday gift idea!