Pickles are an ever-popular preserve — they have been around since ancient times — which are surprisingly easy to make and which, as long as necessary attention is given to hygiene, will store without refrigeration for many months and sometimes years.

They are a scrumptious way of preserving seasonal excess vegetables, plus some fruits and even eggs. And their quality, along with taste factor, all depends on the type of vinegar used to preserve them in. Don’t use just any old vinegar to pickle with. It is preferable to avoid the cheap brands of vinegar too; while these may very well do the job, the end result of your overall investment, in ingredients, time and labour will be inferior.

Vinegar for successful pickling must have an acetic acid content of at least five percent. Please check for this before making your purchase, it will be marked on the label.

Brown malt vinegar, which often has an acetic acid content of six to eight percent, is suitable for most pickles but, if pickling something light-coloured such as eggs, a pale or clear coloured vinegar is best. Pale or clear vinegars include apple cider vinegar and fruit or wine vinegars — although, in the writers’ personal experience, pickles made with fruit or wine vinegars do not have the same keeping capacity as those made with malt and apple cider vinegars.

Simple to make, easy to store and delicious to eat — pickles delight the palate and jazz up the plainest of meals

Spicing up vinegar

Spicing up vinegar for pickling is a matter of personal taste but, as basic pickling vinegar, the following mix works well.

Ingredients

1 litre vinegar
3 x 2-inch cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons either allspice or garam masala
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons crushed, dried, red chillies

Method

Put the vinegar and spices in a stainless steel or enameled pan — do not use an aluminum pan as the vinegar reacts with it, leaching potentially harmful substances out of the aluminum into the vinegar — slowly, on a low heat, bring to the boil, stirring occasionally, then immediately remove from heat. Leave the mixture to stand for at least two hours, preferably four to six hours if possible, to allow the spices to infuse. If perfectly clear pickling vinegar is desired, scald a piece of muslin cloth with boiling water to sterilise it, then strain the vinegar and spices through this, discarding the whole spices. The now spice flavoured vinegar is ready to use.

Alternatively, leave the spices in the vinegar, carefully sharing them out between the jars of whatever pickle you have made, and then top up the jars with the vinegar. This method enhances the flavour of both vinegar and pickles if the finished product is left in the storage cupboard for at least two weeks before being opened and served up.

Jars for pickles should be heavy duty, glass-lidded, preserving jars or glass jars with screw on, airtight, plastic lids. Do not use metal lids on vinegar-based preserves as vinegar reacts with metal and taints the produce.

Sterilise jars before use by washing in very hot water then standing in full sun for at least one hour or by putting them in the oven, on a very low heat, for approximately 20 – 30 minutes. Handle hot jars with care and allow them to cool down, covered with a sterilised cloth, before putting in cold, prepared pickling ingredients.

Garlic Peppers

Ingredients

1 green capsicum
1 red capsicum
1 medium onion
Garlic cloves — as many as desired
Half cup sugar
2 cups pickling vinegar
2 teaspoons salt

Method

Cut cleaned peppers, lengthwise, into strips, blanch in boiling water until slightly softened — this only takes a couple of minutes. Drain and dry. Clean and finely slice the onion. Peel the garlic. Pack the pepper strips, onion slices and garlic cloves into sterilised jars.

Heat the pickling vinegar, stirring in the sugar and salt until they dissolve. Allow to cool. Pour into the packed jars, filling them to the brim. Seal, label and store. It can be kept from six months to one year on average.

Pickled eggs

Ingredients

1-litre spiced apple cider vinegar
12 – 16 hard-boiled eggs with shells removed

Method

Carefully pack the peeled hard-boiled eggs into a large sterilised glass jar. Pour the spiced vinegar over them, ensuring that the eggs are fully covered and that there are no air bubbles trapped between them, right up to the brim. Seal the lid and stand for at least two weeks before using. Storage life is three to six months.

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 4th, 2020

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