Pickles and chutneys are often thought of as similar. However, while both are preserved with vinegar and spices, there the similarity ends. Pickles require a different processing method – they do not need to be cooked for such a length of time (with the exception of fruit pickles when the fruit is heated gently to allow the vinegar and spices to penetrate). Chutneys are generally made with a mixture of ingredients but most pickles are made from individual fruits or vegetables.
Vegetables used for pickling are first soaked in brine (salt and water solution) or dry salt for up to two days. This preliminary process removes excess moisture in the vegetables, helping them to remain crisp and preventing the development of bacteria. Brine is used for most vegetables but dry salt is better for those with a high water content such as courgettes, marrows and cucumbers.
After salting, the vegetables must be rinsed clean in cold water and well drained before being packed into jars and bottles and covered with vinegar.
You can find a range of equipment in the allotment shop Cookware - Preserving Equipmentsection.
Pickles can be made from a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. The produce must be of good quality, fresh, firm and clean. Large vegetables, such as cauliflowers, cucumbers, cabbage and marrows, are best if they are separated or cut into pieces. Small vegetables, such as onions (the small pickling variety) and mushrooms, can be left whole and only require peeling. Tomatoes can be peeled, halved or quartered and the pips removed. Fruits that are usually pickled whole, such as cherries, damsons, and plums, should be pricked before the preliminary cooking or they will shrivel and dry up. Generally fruits that are most suitable for pickling are the larger ones like apples, pears and peaches. Berry fruits tend to go mushy and are not pleasant to eat.
As well as fruit and vegetables, boiled eggs may be pickled and also some nuts, particularly walnuts.
Block, coarse, sea salt and cooking salt gives better results than refined table salt that has additives to prevent it going lumpy and tends to make the pickle cloudy. Iodised salt is not suitable as it has a pronounced flavour.
If brine is to be used to soak the vegetables an average solution is l lb (450 g) to 1 gallon (4.5 litres) of water. The vegetables must be completely covered with the brine and a large plate with a small weight placed on top of them will ensure that the vegetables do not rise and float above the liquid.
For the dry salt method, layer the vegetables with salt in a large bowl, finishing with a layer of salt. Use about a tablespoon (15 ml) of salt to each 1 lb (450 g) of vegetables.
Must be of good quality and have an acetic content of at least 5%. Malt vinegar can be bought in its natural brown colour and also as white distilled vinegar. Either can be used but white is normally used when a light-coloured pickle is required. White wine and cider vinegar are suitable for pickling but are more expensive and the more delicate flavour can be overwhelmed in a strong pickle.
Spices are added to vinegar to give it a good flavour and they also help as a preservative. Spiced vinegars can be bought but they are easily made. They are at there best if the spices are allowed to steep in the unheated vinegar for 6-8 weeks before the vinegar is used. Whole spices should be used as ground ones will make the vinegar cloudy. Don’t place the spices directly into the vinegar, they need to be tied up in a muslin bag/square and steeped in the vinegar. The spices used may be varied depending on the type of pickle and personal taste. Although mixed pickling spice can be bought ready prepared, preparing your own gives a wider variety of flavours for the many different types of pickle.
If spiced vinegar is required at short notice, the vinegar and spices (tied up in muslin) can be put in a heatproof basin and the basin stood over a saucepan of water. Cover the basin with a plate or the flavour will be lost. Bring the water in the pan to the boil and then remove it from the heat. Set aside for 2 – 3 hours to allow the spices to steep in the warm vinegar. Strain the vinegar and cool.
Spiced vinegar is used either hot or cold. Usually cold vinegar is best for the vegetables that should be kept crisp – onions, cauliflowers and cabbage – while hot vinegar gives a better result to the softer fruit pickles.