One of the greatest losses of my life was not learning to like pickles sooner. As a kid, I thought they were evil and insisted that they be removed from every McDonald’s cheeseburger as soon as they cleared the sack. After a few years, though, I learned to love their crisp, tart taste, and now a burger just isn’t the same without them.

Pickles can be classified into four main types, depending on the ingredients and the pickling method used. They are naturally fermented pickles (dill pickles, sauerkraut); fresh-pack pickles (quick-process bread and butter, beet pickles); fruit pickles (pickled peaches, pears); and relishes,  such as  chutney, and salsa.

Acid is the key ingredient to ensure pickles are safe to eat. It’s either added to the fruits and vegetables during the pickling process or the pickle ingredients are induced to create acid during fermentation. Thus, it’s important to double check pickle recipes — don’t try to add more food than called for and always use fresh, quality vinegar.

When selecting fruits or vegetables for pickling, you want to pick firm ones with no soft spots or signs of spoilage. Try to use them within 24 hours of picking for the best quality. If this isn’t possible, refrigerate them and use them as soon as possible. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly in several changes of water, but do not let them soak or they will lose flavor and nutrients. Discard any cucumbers that float. This means they are hollow.

Most pickle recipes call for salt, vinegar, water and sugar.  The ratios of these ingredients are designed to help along a naturally occurring chemical reaction called fermentation. As the fruit or vegetables sit in the pickling solution, bacteria that are naturally found on the fruits and vegetables are put in a perfect environment for growth. As they multiply, they produce lactic acid, which kills off any other harmful bacteria, which has already been hampered from growing by the salt you add to the vinegar. Sugar provides sweetness and draws juice from fruits and vegetables, which firms them up and helps preserve them.

To get started on your own homemade pickles, wash your canning  jars in soapy water and rinse. Sterilize the jars and lids by submerging in water and boil for 20 minutes. Leave them  in boiling water and remove one at a time for filling and sealing. Keep the pickling mixture hot as you place it in the jars. Fill the  jars to 1 inch  from the top, making sure the vegetables are completely covered with hot brine. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the  jar top before sealing it.

After the jars are filled, process them  in a canner for 15 minutes per quart, 10 minutes per pint. Start timing when the canner returns to a boil. Allow  the jars to cool for 12 to 24 hours. Wipe the jars,  then  date and label them. Store the jars in a dark, dry cool place.  For the best flavor allow cooked pickles to stand at least three weeks, uncooked pickles 4-6 weeks.

Recipes

Bread and Butter Pickles

Pickled Peaches

Recipes

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