For thousands of years, our ancestors have explored ways to pickle foods. According to Wikipedia, “pickling began 4000 years ago using cucumbers native to India.” Pickling was a way to preserve food "for out-of-season use and for long journeys, especially by sea… Although the process was invented to preserve foods, pickles are also made and eaten because people enjoy the resulting flavors.”
So, what is it that makes a pickle a pickle? Generally, pickles are foods preserved in brines, a salt and water or vinegar and water solution, with spices, created to prevent spoilage and impart particular flavors.
There are two kinds of pickling. The first includes pickles preserved in different types of vinegar, as vinegar is acidic and most bacteria cannot survive in this type of “brine”. Most supermarket pickles are preserved in vinegar.
The other category includes pickles soaked in a salt brine to encourages fermentation, the growth of "good" bacteria that make a food less vulnerable to "bad" bacteria. Kimchi and many dill or sour pickles are fermented.
In Iran, Israel, and Arab countries, pickles are the norm and are commonly made from turnips, peppers, carrots, green olives, cucumbers, beetroot, radish, cabbage, lemons, and cauliflower.
In Mexico, chili peppers, particularly of the Jalapeño and Serrano varieties, pickled with onions, carrots and herbs are common condiments.
In Britain, pickled onions and pickled eggs are sold in pubs and fish and chip shops. Pickled beetroot, walnuts, and gherkins, and condiments such as piccalilli, are typically eaten as an accompaniment to pork pies and cold meats, sandwiches or a ploughman's lunch; and the countries and lists of pickled products goes on and on and on.
Nowadays, canning and pickling your own food is enjoying a resurgence, as homemakers revolt against processed fruits and vegetables and other foods, canned with unpronounceable additives and preservatives. Modern moms and dads are realizing that mass processing may not be the safest, or tastiest, food option for their families.
TYPES OF PICKLING
Fresh-pack pickles are cured for several hours in a vinegar solution or are immediately combined with hot vinegar, spices, and seasonings. Examples include dill pickles, bread-and-butter pickles, pickled radish and pickled beets.
Fermented pickles are vegetables soaked in a brine solution for an extended period of time. While soaking, lactic acid bacteria, naturally present on vegetables, grows while other microbes are inhibited by salt in the brine. The color of the vegetables change, and their interiors becomes translucent. Examples include kimchi, dill pickles, and sauerkraut.
Refrigerator pickles are cucumbers marinated in brine and then stored in the refrigerator. Fresh and crisp, no canning is required!
Fruit pickles are whole or sliced fruit simmered in spicy syrup. Examples include spiced peaches, pears, plums or crabapples.
Some may consider relishes a type of pickling as they are made from chopped fruits or vegetables that are cooked in a spicy vinegar solution and kept for extended periods of time, though technically a relish is a "highly flavored condiment".
A condiment is usually used in lesser amounts, like spreading mustard on a hot dog, while a relish may be eaten by the mouthful with a main food, like a chutney with meat. Examples of relishes include cucumber relish or a sweet corn relish.
Well, there you have it, a brief dissertation on what a pickle is, and hopefully the inspiration to think about setting some time aside to do your own canning and pickling. As noted author Eugenia Bone says, “Preserving is an extension of the values that made you shop in the farmers’ market in the first place.”