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In a Pickle: Preserving Your CSA Bounty with a Basic Brine

Have too much produce on your hands? Whip up a pickle! You can quickly and easily pickle nearly any type of produce to extend it's shelf like, and we'll show you how.
February 21, 2024

Pickling is a great way to preserve all the fresh fruits and vegetables you get in your CSA box. It involves storing the produce in a brine, which is a solution of water, salt, vinegar, and sometimes sugar and spices. The brine creates an acidic and salty environment that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, and also adds tanginess and complexity to the food. We’ll show you how to make a basic brine for pickling, and how to customize it according to your preferences and ingredients.

How to Make a Basic Brine for Pickling

A basic brine for pickling consists of four main ingredients: water, salt, vinegar, and sugar. The ratio of these ingredients can vary depending on the type and texture of the food you are pickling, and how sour or sweet you want your pickles to be. However, a general rule of thumb is to use 4 cups of water, 2 cups of vinegar, 1/4 cup of salt, and 1/4 cup of sugar for every 2 pounds of food. You can adjust the amounts as needed, but make sure to keep the water and vinegar in a 2:1 ratio, and the salt and sugar in a 1:1 ratio, to maintain the proper acidity and salinity of the brine.

To make the basic brine, follow these steps:

  • In a large pot, bring the water, salt, vinegar, and sugar to a boil over high heat, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer the brine for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it cool slightly.
  • Transfer the brine to a large bowl, jar, or container, and let it cool before using it.

What’s the Difference Between a Traditional Pickle & a Quick Pickle?

The biggest difference between the two is how you process them and how long they’ll last. Traditional pickles are processed in a water bath and can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. On the other hand, quick pickles aren’t processed in a water bath, meaning they must be stored in the fridge and are only good for two weeks.

Another difference between a quick and traditional pickle is that traditional pickles go through a fermentation process, whereas quick pickles do not. Fermented foods are great for gut health, so even though they take a little more work, they also come with greater rewards.

But, the basic brine ratios listed above will work for both methods. With both types of pickling, you’ll want to sterilize your jars first, use new jar lids (you can reuse the rings though, those won’t affect the seal), and be sure to thoroughly clean your produce before placing it in the jar.

What Types of Vinegar to Use

Almost any kind of food-grade vinegar can be used for a brine, so long as it has at least 5% acidity. The acidity level is crucial to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. When in doubt, check the label on the vinegar to know for sure.

Most recipes call for white distilled or apple cider vinegar, but white wine and rice wine vinegars tend to be above 5% as well, so they’ll work for your brine. Aged or concentrated vinegars, like balsamic or malt, aren’t ideal for use in pickling, as they’re too strongly flavored and darkly colored.

What Kinds of Fruits & Vegetable Can Be Pickled?

The better question is what can’t you pickle; nothing! This may come as a surprise, but you can even pickle lettuce!

You will want to stick to produce at the peak of ripeness that’s free from any bruising and has a nice, firm texture. If you’re pickling firm green veggies, like asparagus or green beans, you’ll want to lightly blanch them first to preserve their lovely green color.

Here are some great candidates for pickling;

  • Cucumbers (obviously)
  • Green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Radishes
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Fennel
  • Peppers (both sweet and spicy)
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Pear
  • Blackberries
  • Peaches

How to Customize the Brine

One of the best things about pickling is that you can customize the brine to suit your taste and the food you are pickling. You can use different herbs (fresh or dried) and spices to achieve the flavors you want. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

Savory Seasonings

  • Dill: It’s a classic for a reason! Pairs well with cucumbers, green beans, carrots, and beets.
  • Black peppercorns: This is a must-add to any savory pickle.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary goes great with any kind of beans, bell peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. But, it can also create a delightful sweet and savory combo when paired with blackberries.
  • Mustard Seeds: These bring a combo of sweetness and heat to your pickle. Use them with cucumbers, beets, cauliflower, or zucchini.
  • Fennel fronds: Give a slight hint of licorice when pickling cucumbers, beets, garlic scapes, or even fruits.
  • Cumin seeds: This lends a nice smokiness to carrots, eggplant, cucumber, or cabbage.
  • Thyme: Fresh or dried, thyme is especially great at elevating the flavors of onions. But, it also goes well with carrots and tomatoes.
  • Hot peppers: If you like it spicy, some chilis can kick up any pickle! But, proceed with caution, as a little can go a long way.
  • Garlic: This is savory cooking 101; always add some garlic!

Sweet Seasonings

  • Vanilla beans: This is a great base to any sweet fruit pickle, and it pairs well with any other sweet spice.
  • Cardamom: When combined with vanilla beans and fresh ginger, this makes a great base for pickling apples & pears for a very Fall-like combo.
  • Lavender: Pairs well with berries and apples.
  • Mint: Mint is a perfect accompaniment to pretty much any fruit.
  • Ginger: Both sweet and spicy, ginger goes great with peaches, apples, but can also shine in savory brines for carrots or any Asian inspired pickles.
  • Cinnamon sticks: just like with baking, cinnamon goes great with nearly any pickled fruit.

Making your own brine for pickling is easy and fun, and you can customize it to your specific tastes. Pickling is a great way to preserve your summer CSA bounty to enjoy throughout the year.

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