Basic Pickling Liquid Recipe

It was pouring rain on Wednesday but I braved the local farmer’s market anyway. I wanted to find some nice herbs, which the market was a little light on, but I brought home some incredibly beautiful red and yellow bulb onions, beets, and carrots. Even though I didn’t need them, I threw in some red potatoes, black currants, and some peas. I realized right away I had impulse-purchased too much produce for the week and I would have to preserve some of it.

This time of year, there are always big displays of canning jars on grocery shelves and I wonder where all those hundreds of glass jars end up. I suppose a heavy dose of canning goes towards fish preservation, but in all of our garden enthusiasm, I’m sure I’m not the only one who plants way too much zucchini and cabbage.

I’ve had a fascination with preserving ever since I moved to rural Alaska. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve realized what is realistic for my family. Big jumbo jars of pickled carrots stall and linger on the pantry shelf while jams and jellies disappear before the winter is over. I’ve decided to keep pickled things to small, four-ounce canning jars and use them as dollops of intense flavor on appetizers and more like condiments instead of main-course additions.

So, for my farmer’s market indulgence, I decided to make a couple of different condiments. The first was a little carrot and ginger pickle with coriander seeds and rice wine vinegar — which gave the mixture a bit of an Asian vibe. I am going to serve this on top of a salmon dish. Next, I prepared black currant and beet pickles using deep red and yellow beets as well as Chioggia beets (those pretty pink-and-white striped). This will go onto a toast point spread with goat cheese.

At its core, pickling vegetables is a simple process. Decide if you want the pickle to be firm and crunchy, or to have a softer texture. For my carrots, for example, I put the carrots and spices into a small clean glass jar and poured the hot pickling liquid over the vegetables. For the beets, I actually blanched them in the hot liquid for about five minutes before adding them to the jars.

The pickling liquid I usually concoct is a mixture of apple cider vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, black peppercorns, cloves, fennel seeds, and bay leaves. But this is completely negotiable. You could add in cardamom, coriander, or other aromatics as you like. Sometimes I throw in a small cinnamon stick into my pickling liquid.

While I was at it, I decided to try my hand at pickling bull kelp (also called bull whip kelp). My entire cove was loaded with freshly-washed-ashore kelp from some big storm out in the ocean. I selected a young stalk (the advice is if the bull kelp snaps when bent, it is still young enough to make a pickle). I washed the kelp in cold water, sliced it into thin rings, and dropped it into the pickling mixture. Kelp pickles are interesting atop any kind of seafood dish but I am going to mince the kelp pickle fine and add it onto a barbecued shrimp cake.

Here’s my recipe for pickling liquid. Add vegetables, fruits, and spices as desired. There is good canning and preserving information online for sealing jars properly in a hot water bath for long-term storage.  Pickled vegetables will keep about one week, covered and refrigerated, without sealing the jars.

Basic Pickling Liquid
Makes about 6 cups of pickling liquid.
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 inch stick cinnamon (optional)
  • Coarse sea salt as desired
  1. Combine all the ingredients into a 3-quart non-reactive saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for about five minutes. You can strain the liquid or use unstrained as I did. You can blanche vegetables in the liquid before jarring or add the liquid directly to jars of raw or blanched vegetables.