A Pretty Pickle

A Pretty Pickle

I absolutely love vinegar, I'm addicted to the stuff. My hand actually starts shaking in anticipation as reach into the cupboard for one of the many jars of pickled produce that line the shelves. I even have this balsamic vinegar 'atomizer' bottle and sometimes give the taste buds a quick spray as I'm passing for an instant vinegar hit.

England, like any country, has its pro's and con's but I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I discovered many pubs here are furnished with an enormous glass jar of pickled eggs at the end of the bar. The procedure is an odd one as follows: Buy a nice crunchy bag of salt and vinegar crisps and then plonk a wet pickled egg into the middle. Proceed to munch happily through the egg with the pickled albumen squeaking on your teeth, follow with a handful of soggy crisps and a slug of beer and wonder why you're not having much luck with the ladies (By the way, the Guinness world record for eating 3 pickled eggs is 36.10 seconds).

I haven't done much pickling I'll confess, this year being my first foray into homemade vinegar heaven but what I have done I found pretty easy. My expert guide book is Alys Fowler's brilliant 'Abundance' (you're not going to believe this but we sell it:  Alys Fowler - Abundance) which is a beautifully put together and easy to understand book. The photographs are great and not only tell the story but will properly inspire you to actually make the stuff.

'Abundance' also covers drying, fermenting, jam making, bottling and freezing in great detail so a brilliant reference book for the home growers library. I have actually been to Alys's house in Birmingham and unless she nipped out and spent a small fortune on homemade pickles, chutneys and preserves to scatter about the place I can confirm she's definitely the real deal.

Green cherry tomatoes

Anyway, time for a quick pickle? One of the great things about making pickles is it's a speedy process so a great place to start on your preserving career. I pickled some slightly unripe cherry tomatoes as I was clearing out the tunnel and ended up quite a few. Green tomatoes are fine to use, it's the over ripe ones you need to avoid as they will turn into a mush and ruin your lovely pickles.

To get started of you will need at least one sterilised sealable preserving jar. As luck would have it we stock a broad range of quality 'Tala' preserving jars in a range of sizes from 700ml to 2100ml. These are clip top rubber sealed jars with lids which can be used for pickles and preserves but also for airtight storage of dried foods like dried beans or cereals. We stock the following round 'Tala' sealable preserving jar sizes: 700ml, 950ml, 1500ml, 2100ml. You can see all four  food preserving jars here.

clip topped preserving jars

Sterilising your jars (rubber sealed clip top type) Jars need to be sterilised to kill off any bacteria which will multiply and spoil your stored produce. Start by washing your jars in warm soapy water and rinse with boiled water, you can then use one of the following recommended methods for rubber sealed jars:

  • Remove the rubber seals beforehand and sterilise separately by simmering in a small pan of water for 10 mins. Boil the jars and lids in a large pan of water at 160˚C for 10 mins.
  • Remove the rubber seals and sterilise separately as above. Place the jars on a baking tray in a cold oven and set to 140˚C. Once the oven has reached temperature leave for 15 mins.
  • Wash your jars in warm soapy water and rinse with boiled water. Remove lids and rubber seals from your jars and place everything on the top rack of the dishwasher. Set the dishwasher to a hot wash without using any detergent tablets or cleaning solution.

A quick note of caution here, NEVER put hot food in cold jars or vise versa as the glass can shatter explosively from the sudden change in temperature.

bottles of vinegar

Vinegar Yum!, Even writing the word makes my mouth water. You can use loads of different types of vinegar like traditional malt vinegar, cider and wine vinegars, balsamic and Asian rice vinegar to make your pickles but you need to make sure it has sufficient acidity to preserve your pickle. It's the acidity that keeps the food from spoiling and Alys says you need at least 5 or 6% for the process to work.

Let's make some pickles! I'm not using one of Alys recipes here as I had some of this at a friends house and decided to give it a go. It uses a bit of curry powder which gives it a nice little kick. This one uses a solution of vinegar and water, make sure you don't skimp on the vinegar or it won't work. This one makes will fill a 1 litre preserving jar.

The Pickling Solution: 250ml of distilled white vinegar 250ml of water 1 tablespoon of sea salt

The Pickling Spice Mix 1 teaspoon of curry powder 100 grams of packed brown sugar 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice 3/4 inch of fresh root ginger sliced into this slivers.

Wash and dry the cherry tomatoes and cut them in half.

Bring all the vinegar, water and salt to a gentle boil in a stainless steel saucepan.

Fill a sterilised 1 litre preserving jar with the spice mix and add the tomato halves packing them in tightly. Next pour the hot brine solution over the tomatoes leaving about 1/2 an inch of space at the top of the jar. Using a chopstick or similar poke around a bit to remove any trapped air bubbles.

Pickled green cherry tomatoes

Wipe the rim of the jar clean and seal with the flip top lid.

Some books recommend immersing the whole jar in boiling water at this stage to pasteurise the contents but I didn't as I intend using them quickly. The method of boiling the jars requires that you place them on a rack immersed in the water because if the jar sits on the bottom and direct heat is applied it will explode (You have been warned). If the pickling solution is strong enough this shouldn't be necessary especially if, like me, you'll eat them pretty quickly.