From Kosher dills to bread and butter pickles and even Southern-style Koolaide sweet and sour pickles, if you want to know about pickled vegetables, then you're in the right place. Check out pickles 101, and get your pickled education.
When you think of a pickle, what comes to mind? For most people, the answer is probably going to be cucumber dill pickles. They are the most popular pickle, after all. Some people even love to drink the juice straight out of the jar.
But you can pickle just about anything. Have you ever had pickled eggs or pickled pigs feet? Don’t worry—we’re not getting that exotic today. Right now, we’re going to stick with different types of cucumber pickles and then check out some pickled peppers.
What is a Pickle?
Maybe the reason why everyone knows about cucumber dill pickles is that they’ve been around for thousands of years. As it turns out, pickling was the best way to preserve food before preservatives came along. Not only that, but pickling is easy to do with salt brine and vinegar.
In New York, there used to be pickle pushcarts and wooden barrels full of “Pickles for a Penny.” In fact, pickles are about as American as apple pie.
A Pickle for Everyone
Today you’ll find dozens of variations on the traditional cucumber dill pickle. One of my favorite store-bought whole dill pickles is Boar’s Head kosher dill. They’re made with lots of garlic and have incredibly flavorful.
Put It on a Burger
Thinly sliced bread and butter pickles have that sweet and tangy taste that compliments a burger. Cora Fanning trademarked the original recipe in 1924. Guess what? You can still buy them today.
Sweet and Spicy Pickle
Source: Wickles Pickles
Wickles Pickles blend cider vinegar, dill, garlic, and hot chile peppers for a sweet pickle with a kick. Even better? They have all the styles: whole, pickle spears, sliced, pickles chips. And they have pickled okra too. This old family recipe is worth a try if you want a little spice in your life.
A Southern Delight—Homemade
Since we’re talking about Southern-style, you can’t miss out on Kool-Aid pickles. You don’t even have to make the brine. For this recipe, you buy your favorite store-bought pickles. Then you whip up a batch of double-strength Kool-Aide, add a pound of sugar. Replace the liquid in the pickle jar, with your concoction, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a week.
You’ll end up with bright red sweet and sour pickles. The kids will love them!
Is it a Pickle, or Is It Candy?
It’s a Candied Pickle, of course! Sechler’s candied dill pickle strips are traditional candied dill pickles created with a syrupy brine of vinegar, sugar, and spices.
You’ve seen those cute little baby pickles in the market. Maybe you’re like me, and it’s dangerous to open the jar of Gherkins because you don’t know when to stop. They’re so tasty. Well, Gherkins look like cucumbers, but they’re not. However, both cucumbers and Gherkins are a strain of gourde—Gherkins are “Melothria Cucurbitaceae,” and cucumbers are a species called “Cucumis Sativus.”
What’s more, Gherkin Pickles are crispier than cucumber pickles, and they go great on salads, in Bloody Marys, and as an accompaniment to burgers and sandwiches.
The Crunchiest Cucumber Pickle
Half-sour pickles are those pickles that you typically get at a New York deli. Aside from being the crunchiest pickle around (besides my beloved Gherkin), they’re also lower in sodium than other pickles, and they don’t use vinegar.
They’re not store-bought and are easy to make at home if you want to give it a try. Basically, you’ll let them ferment for four days in salt brine in the dark. Check on them each day to make sure they remain submerged in the brine and top it off if needed.
Source: Pickle Licious
Another New York deli favorite, on the other end of the spectrum, is the sour pickle. All this means is that it’s been in the brine longer. If you want to try a jar of tangy sour pickles check out the sour pickles from Pickle Licious—they’re the real deal.
German-Style Dill Pickle
Our list wouldn’t be complete without the good old German-Style dill pickle. They do taste different because you don’t use brine to make them, which means they’re non-fermented. Instead, they pack these cucumbers in lemon juice and vinegar for a tangy taste you won’t forget.
The main difference with a polish dill is that there’s lots of garlic added. If you like garlic, these could very well end up being your favorite pickles.
What is the Best Cucumber to Use for Pickles?
By now, you may want to try making pickles at home. It’s not hard to do, so why not give it a try? Pick the best cucumbers for pickling. Experts say that small to medium Kirbys work the best. Kirby’s have a thicker skin than English cucumbers, which means they can hold up to the brine and still stay crispy.
You want to make sure the cucumbers are all approximately four to five inches for the perfect pickle. You need to pick them at the right age, as well, so the skin won’t be too thin because they’re young, or too tough because they’re older. Also, if you can grab your cucumbers at a farmer’s market, they’ll be fresher, and you’ll turn out a better pickle.
Pick a Peck of Pickled Peppers
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret. First, If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many peppers did Peter Piper pick? Answer. Zero. You have to pickle those peppers yourself or pick them up at the store.
But seriously, peppers are perfect when they’re pickled. You can use them in all kinds of dishes, too. They’re fantastic in salsa and dips, salads, pasta, and more. Or you can snack on them like you would any other pickle.
Hot, Hot, Hot
Not everyone wants to feel the fire when they bite into a pepper, though. And while pickling does ease the spice a little, pickled jalapenos are still as firey as they are when you eat them raw. You can get pickled jalapenos whole or cut into rings. I like to use them in bean dip, or the filling I make for burritos.
You may have tried pepperoncinis when you had dinner in an Italian or Greek restaurant. While they’re not as hot as jalapenos, they still have a kick. Also, in my experience, you need to eat these carefully, so the juice doesn’t shoot down your throat when you bite into one. That is not a pleasant feeling!
You can always cut them up and add them to salad or pasta for a tasty treat.
Mildly Hot and Sweet
Banana peppers are pretty, with shiny yellow skin. As their name suggests, they’re long and shaped like a banana. The nice thing about banana peppers is that you have a choice—you can get them hot or sweet. Not only that, but they also come whole or cut int rings.
Plus, pickled banana peppers are versatile. You can use them in salsa, as a topping on pizza, and best of all in deli sandwiches, or on a Philly Cheesecake. You’ll get a little punch, but it’s not the heat you endure with jalapenos.
What Looks Like a Cherry, but Isn’t?
Aw yes, another riddle. This one is even easier! The answer is cherry peppers.
These little jewels look like cherries, but they can be red or green. Plus, they can also be red hot or sweet. Either way, they are so good cooked in the main dish, such as lasagna. Or, serve them as an appetizer stuffed with cheese.
Pickle Relish and other Goodies
Here’s the thing, pickle relish doesn’t necessarily have pickles in it—a more accurate name would be pickled relish. Some of the best is a simple mixture of cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes, in brine with vinegar. We also used to call this summer salad
One of my favorite pickled relish’s was my mom’s homemade Chow Chow. It’s an old-fashioned Southern recipe that combines cabbage, green and red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and salt with celery seed, sugar, mustard, turmeric, whole spices, and vinegar. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also beautiful in the mason jar.
Tsukemono is a Japanese-style relish, served as a garnish for many dishes, to clean the palate. It contains a mixture of gari (young ginger) cabbage, cucumbers, Takuan to add some crunch, and pickled plums (Uemboshie). It also has Benishoga (julienned ginger) and a beautiful purple Kyoto, Shibazuke—Japanese cucumbers, and eggplant pickled in brine with red shiso.
FAQ: Your Pickled Questions, Answered
Now, you’ve probably started to realize that there’s a whole lot more to pickles than those good old Kosher dills we all know and love. Did it leave you wondering what all there is to know about pickles? Let’s answer a few of those questions.
How do you make brine? What is it, exactly?
Brine is a quick method to preserve fruits and vegetables without needing to learn how to can. In its purest form, the ingredients are water, Kosher salt, white vinegar, and sugar. The amounts of each can be adjusted depending on what you’re trying to create—Remember the candied pickles?
Also, depending on how you want to adjust your recipe, people add coriander, dill, cinnamon, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, and other pickling spices
What kind of things can be pickled?
Here’s the kicker: You can pretty much pickle all your fruits and vegetables at home, and it’s easy as long as you know what to do. If you noticed, there are a few recipes in the links I provided above.
What’s the pickling process?
The quickest way is a “fresh-pack” in which pickled vegetables cure for a few hours in a simple brine.
Now, if you want fermented vegetables, such as dill pickles or sauerkraut, let the vegetables soak in the brine between four and six weeks. You’ll notice that the vegetable’s colors change, and white becomes translucent—that’s supposed to happen.
You can use cucumbers to make “‘refrigerated dills” by letting them ferment for a week in the simple brine. If you want to try something different, use allspice added to your brine, and make pickled peaches, or apples.
Finally, for the relishes with a variety of vegetables, they get cooked first, then they sit in a spicy brine according to the recipe you choose. You can even make homemade horseradish radish.
Are there any precautions or challenges to consider?
Don’t get discouraged if you want to learn how to pickle, and you run into a few hurdles. It’s like anything—you need to get a little experience. The pickles might turn out soft, hollow, slippery, or have a bitter flavor.
What this means is that you need to think about the condition of the cucumbers (and other vegetables) you pick to pickle. In general, you want them at about mid-life. Too young, and the brine will break them down—that’s when they get soft.
On the other hand, if the vegetables are too old, the brine may not be able to penetrate the skin, and they’ll get slimy.
Think about how long the cucumbers were in the refrigerator before you started the brine. Also, the brine itself could be too strong or too weak. You’ll get to know where the sweet spot is after you’ve done it a few times. Oh, and hard water will also affect your brine.
So, while it’s easier than canning, pickling also takes some skill. But once you’ve got it down, you’ll have pickled vegetables any time you want them
How long do homemade pickles last?
They last a long time—three to eight months as long as you sanitize the jars and lids.
How do you sanitize the jars and lids?
Simply boil the jars and lids for 10 minutes and let them air dry. Also, don’t forget to wash the vegetables. The cleaner all the parts are, the longer your pickled goodies will last. If the conditions are ideal, that could even last for a year.
How long do you process the jar and lids?
You must process the jars to make sure that bacteria, mold, and yeast don’t grow. If they do start growing, then the color, flavor, and texture will change, and your pickles will spoil.
The way to avoid this is by 10 minutes (at the least) of processing the jars in boiling water. Make sure the water level is at least one inch above the rim.