Mrs Beeton advised that although pickles may be purchased ‘at as low a rate as they can usually be made at home… we would advise all housewives who have sufficient time and convenience, to prepare their own’. This advice still stands, housewife or not – supermarkets are full of mass-produced, sterile jars of pickled veg that are, in the most part, made with cheap or synthetic vinegar bumped up with preservatives. Making your own is much better.
Excellent pickles rely on high-quality, fresh ingredients. Producing your own means you can choose the very best produce and opens the door to exploring many different flavours and effects that can be achieved through spicing and fermentation.
You can pickle almost any veg providing it is fresh and unblemished – you may be surprised to learn of a recent craze for fermented watermelon rinds. Good pickling is about suspending veg at its peak in clear animation: to preserve and even boost its nutritional content. This can be done through simple chutney making, water pickling (an example of lactic acid fermentation), oil pickling and vinegar pickling. Each method has its own special qualities and techniques but the broad advice for all is to use good stuff in the correct quantities and to not be afraid.
The biggest error novice picklers make is by using veg that is under-ripe or on the turn – that bargain crate of cherries at the boot fair may be good for a pie, but not the jar. Pickling works best with vegetables that are low in starch, as you can imagine if you’ve ever overcooked spuds that have made their water gelatinous.