Pickling for the Pantry

“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”

Okay, I’ll ask. What’s a peck? And what’s a pickle?

A peck in the American measuring system: most of us understand to be ‘a bunch of” then we hold our hands apart about as wide as we think it might be.

Turns out, an American peck is 16 pints (dry), or 8 quarts, or two gallons, or 1/4 of a bushel. A peck in the English measuring system where Peter Piper comes from can be dry or liquid. It is also 16 pints, or 8 quarts, or two Imperial gallons, or 1/4  of a bushel, which sounds alike–except– Imperial gallons hold more than US gallons. That’s why a pint in an English pub is 20 ounces while a pint in a US bar is 16 ounces. So, when you order a pint in a US bar, and you want to get pickled, assert your rights, insist on getting that extra four ounces.

Pickled eggs and pickled garlic scapes. The eggs are hard boiled and peeled. They look like they’ve still got shells because they’re in malt vinegar, which is darker than white or apple vinegar.

Back to prepping a pantry: What’s a pickle? Pickling is “The skillful blending of spices, sugar and vinegar with fruits and vegetables [which] creates a crisp, firm texture and a pungent, sweet-sour flavor.” from ‘So Easy to Preserve” Cooperative Extension, University of Georgia.

Preserving food by pickling has been around for over 4,000 years. In stocking a pantry, pickling is a safe, straightforward confidence builder.

Both pickling and fermenting rely on acidic ingredients to preserve food. Fundamental differences between them are that with fermenting you mix ingredients in such a way the ingredients produce the acid [fermentation adds nutrients]. With pickling, you add the acid, generally vinegar, to the ingredients plus desired flavors, spices, sugars… Pickled ingredients will last weeks or months in the refrigerator, or you can process them in a water bath canner after which they’re shelf stable for years.

When it comes to pickles we tend to think of cucumbers but with pickling it’s a big world out there. Cauliflower, carrots, cheese, beans, beets, brussel sprouts, eggs, pig’s feet, herring, onions, apples, mango, salmon, venison…. Even without water bath canning, pickling can mean a few days of marinade or it may hold food for months in a cool, dark place.

Things to note:

*Follow directions using tested recipes from cooks you trust like the Cooperative Extension Service. There are hundreds of internet videos where people do wacky things that could make you sick. Don’t listen to those.

*Use commercial vinegars of 5% acidity. Don’t dilute them unless a proven recipe calls for that. White, cider, or malt vinegars all work but impart different flavors and dark vinegars will color light foods like apples or hard boiled eggs.

*Use good ingredients. You won’t rehabilitate spoiled produce by pickling or any other kind of preservation.

*Don’t dump the pickling juice. Adherents claim it has benefits for a wide range of what ails you. It may (may being the operative disclaimer) help with blood sugar, digestion, liver function, rashes and skin problems. I can say when we were kids our grandmother used pat vinegar on our sunburns. Use it in mixed drinks, on salads, in cooking. Typically pickling brine has salt so, moderation is the key.


For your holiday appetizer tray, here’s a nice recipe for traditional British pub pickled eggs. Make them up about ten days before serving and store in the fridge so they have time to develop flavor. They’re excellent.   https://www.food.com/recipe/british-pub-pickled-eggs-500111