Pickled products have been a household resource for more than four thousand years and for good reason. With just a little bit of time and a few key ingredients, just about anything that can be grown can be preserved for up to a year. With pickling, as long as you don’t mind the sharp tang of vinegar (which can be curbed with sugar for sweeter pickling), you can enjoy summer ripe tomatoes in the depths of winter or perfectly seasoned potatoes when it’s too cold to dig them out of the garden.
For those looking to expand the use of their garden past the annual growing season, as well as find a way to keep all of those fruits and veggies from spoiling before you can eat them or give them away, creating a home pickling and canning station is essential. Don’t worry if you’re limited on space; creating a canning/pickling station can be as simple as putting together a box full of essential tools and taking them out only when needed. And in terms of storage, pickled produce doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s been opened so any cool, dark place in your home will work: from pantries to linen closets and even under the bed!
When putting together your canning/pickling station, be sure to include the following items:
- Jars with tight-sealing lids such as Mason jars
- Tight-sealing jars with clamp and rubber ring lids (for refrigerator pickling)
- Canning tongs
- Oven mitts
- A couple of towels
- A wide-mouth funnel
- A ladle
- A large pot (for sterilizing jars and lids)
- A water bath canner OR a pot large enough to hold your Mason jars and allow them to stay submerged under at least 2 inches of water
- A glass or ceramic bowl
- A knife
- A plate
The difference between canning and pickling
Canning and pickling can often get confused, especially when you’re looking for information on storing fruits and veggies for long periods of time. Many resources will tell you that you absolutely have to use a pressure canner to preserve veggies and you do; but only if you’re canning. If you’re pickling those veggies, you can simply use the water bath process because you’re adding enough acid to kill off any latent bacteria. For those first venturing into the canning process, pickling is a great place to start as there is a much higher success rate for first-time batches.
Ingredients for your pickling/canning station
Along with the tools needed for pickling and canning, you’ll also need to keep the following basic ingredients on hand. These are all easily stored and can keep for long periods of time:
- White vinegar (or your favorite type of vinegar)
- Pickling salt (no iodine added)
- Dried herbs and spices
The last ingredients are water, the product you’re pickling or canning and time. Be sure, when you’re purchasing your salt for pickling or canning that you use salt with nothing added to it, including iodine. The iodine can cloud the water and alter the final taste of your produce. Additionally, be sure to use soft or purified water. Hard water can also cloud your produce and leave it with a bitter taste. This is also why you should never use metal bowls or containers for extended periods of time when using vinegar or any other acid: the metal can degrade and taint your batch, ruining it altogether.
Creating a home pickling/canning area
As mentioned before, a canning/pickling station can consist of nothing more than a storage box with all of your tools and ingredients. Just keep it in a cool, dry place and check your dry goods occasionally for clotting or infestation. If you have a little more space to work with, however, an ideal canning/pickling station should consist of the following items:
- A stovetop or burner
- A work area wide enough for chopping, canning and cooling jars
- Storage space for cooling and finished jars
- A sink with running water
- A bin for compost
Older homes, especially those in Western Europe, tend to have a separate room about the size of a mudroom specifically for canning and canned goods storage. The stove was often a low brick oven and the compost bin was usually a slop bucket for the pigs. But even if the house consisted of nothing more than a living/dining room and bedroom, space was almost always set aside for this all-too important process.
Today, urban homesteaders are retrofitting their homes for canning by converting spare bathrooms, mudrooms and even outdoor utility sheds into canning facilities. Better yet, unused portions of a basement can be used for ideal canned goods storage as well as keeping some of the heartier and long-lasting winter produce.
Picking a recipe for your garden produce
Once you have your ingredients, jars and utensils lined up, as well as a couple practice batches under your belt, it’s time to start getting creative! From cherries to okra to green beans and even baby potatoes, pickling can bring out some incredible flavors and unique pairing options for everyday produce. Feel free to look up a recipe or come up with your own.
Pickling recipes come in two basic formats: sweet and sour. Sweet pickling recipes include anywhere from a couple tablespoons to ½ a cup or more of sugar. While the final product is still pickled and a little sour, the touch of sweet brings out some unique characteristics. Cherries, for example, do well with a slightly sweet brine and pair excellently with pate and ham once complete.
The ancient art of pickling is just as useful today as it was more than four thousand years ago. Once you’ve mastered the process, you can grow backyard crops to your heart’s content without worrying if the excess produce will go to waste. And if there’s a particular fruit or vegetable native to your area that only grows for a short time each year, you can save up an extra batch or two for those long winter nights.
What are some interesting fruits or vegetables that you’ve pickled? What advice do you have for a first-time canner?
Garret Stembridge is a member of the Internet marketing team at Extra Space Storage, a leading provider of self storage facilities. Garret often writes about sustainable practices for the home and for businesses. The Extra Space Storage in Lilburn, Georgia has been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption.