The Milkweed Diaries

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More on brine pickling

Jars of recently brined pickles: mixed vegetables on the left and summer squash on the right.

Earlier this summer, I blogged about one of my favorite old-fashioned, probiotic ways to preserve vegetables -- pickling them in salt water. (See the original post, Coming Home to Abundance for brine-pickling instructions, references, and background).

Brine pickling has been such an ongoing, everyday part of life at our house over the past few months of heavy harvest that I wanted to write a little bit more about it, with specific comments on various vegetables for brining.

This summer, I've brine-pickled cucumbers, squash, okra, onions, garlic, radishes, beets, carrots, and cauliflower, all with good results. Fresh dill, basil, and parsley all pickle well, too, and add great flavor to brine pickles. I have a crock going now of baby squash, the last of the summer carrots, and okra with dill flowers. I'm sure I've brined other things in summers past, but I don't remember them all!

I do remember that I tried fingerling eggplants once with disastrous results (mushy and moldy), so I don't recommend brining eggplant. Other things I DON'T recommend brining include: ripe tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and lettuce. I've known friends to brine watermelon rinds (very delicious) and green tomatoes successfully, too.

I've found that squash and cucumbers do great pickled whole and then de-brined (soaked in cold water), sliced, and stored in a 4-to-1 water/vinegar solution. They'll last almost indefinitely in the fridge that way.

You can store the pickles in the original brining liquid, which is cloudy and full of beneficial bacteria, but it's generally a bit salty for my taste. I like to pour it off and save it to use for other things, including just pouring a shot of it into sauerkraut or pickles when packing into jars for storage.

Okra is really tasty brined whole and either sliced and packed or just packed as whole pods (they look cool that way). This is an outstanding way to keep up with the okra overload when your okra plants are producing faster than you can possibly come up with clever ways to disguise okra for fresh consumption.

Small carrots are great brined whole, and are a surprisingly yummy snack - salty, crunchy, and crisp.

Onions do better quartered than whole, unless they're pretty small. Pearl-sized pickled onions are GREAT.

An easy way to get started with brine pickling is to fill a crock or big jar with all the brine-able veggies that you have lying around needing to be used. Make sure they're washed and prepped as described in my earlier post and then pour a strong brine solution over them (1/2 cup salt to 1 quart water). Press down (I use a plate weighted with a full jar on top), make sure they're submerged, cover, and wait. In warm weather, the pickles will be salty, sour, and pickled in as little as 10 days. It really is like magic!


MeadowLark said...

I'm really struggling with this. I brined pickles for the first time this year and they never really were "bubbly". Now, we are a very arid climate and I wondered if that was part of it? The pickles did turn into pickles like they were supposed to, but they were very, very salty. I repacked them in a half-strength brine, but then was told I couldn't can in a lower-strength brine. I moved the jars to the fridge and am trying that for now. Any thoughts or advice?

Milkweed said...

Hi Meadowlark,
It's ok if they don't get bubbly.

You can "debrine" them if they are too salty.

Here's how: After the pickles are done pickling, pour off the brine, pour the pickled veggies into a big bowl, and cover them with cold water and soak for a while (I do this in the morning and let them soak all day. Pour off the water and pack not in brine but in a solution of 4-to-1 water to apple cider vinegar. These will keep in the fridge for months without sealing them with heat. I suppose you could also heat process them at this point, but it kills the beneficial bacteria and we always eat them long before they go bad!

Good luck!

bebe said...

milkweed, you say that brining peppers is a don't. what about adding hot peppers to my cucumbers in brine?(just a few).should I blanche them first. or just not at all?

Milkweed said...

Hi bebe. . .
Well I have added chili peppers to various pickling things before with good success....and with no blanching.

I just throw them in whole, and they do add some spice.

I did have a friend accidentally pop a pickled jalepeno in her mouth once, though, while chowing down on some pepper-flavored squash pickles, and it was quite traumatic for her.

I haven't tried brining sweet peppers, but I've heard that it doesn't work because they're too soft and just get mushy...if you try it, let me know how it goes!