Traditionally made pickles are among the world’s healthiest foods. By following the time honoured process of using salt instead of vinegar, not only are many fresh foods preserved but their nutritional qualities and flavours are massively enhanced. These recipes introduce the basic principles of pickling vegetables and you can build on the ideas presented here to preserve many types of food.
Enjoy your new hobby!
Here is a selection of recipes Mrs Everybody has made with local autumn produce: Pickled Gherkins, Pickled Onions, Picked Cabbage and Horseradish Sauce.
Nothing enlivens sandwiches, potato salads, quite so much as gherkins and nothing is quite so easy to make.
Gherkins are pickled in brine (salt dissolved in water), whole spices and whenever possible, fresh dill.
Buy as many gherkins as will fit in your oak fermenting barrel!
Make the brine for the gherkins to this salinity – that is 15-20g (a tablespoon) of sea salt to 1L of water. Heat the water to dissolve the salt and allow the brine to cool before adding it to your vegetables. (See note below for the a fast way to make and cool brine). I made up 2L for the 3L barrel.
Lightly wash the gherkins. Mine were quite clean but I soaked them in cold water for two hours, to freshen them up.
Cut off the flower end, reducing the tip of the fruit by about ½ cm. Trim the stalk end too. If you leave the flower end on, enzymes which are concentrated in this part will make the pickles soften. You would have to be seriously hungry to eat them like this and I don’t think they would do you any good at all!
If using fresh dill, place large sprigs leaf down in the barrel. Or sprinkle with whole spices.
Place the gherkins in the oak fermenting vessel. Packing them so that the brine will be able to circulate around them.
Add the brine and the rest of the spices or dill herb. Pack the dill this time with the stalk down and the leaf up. Fold the dill leaf over to help to hold the gherkins under the surface of the brine.
Make sure that the gherkins are well submersed under the brine. Use the wooden press loaded with a stone or a glass jar filled with brine to keep the gherkins well submerged.
The pickles can be eaten after a few days. Once they taste just how you like them, move them to the cooler storage location. Traditionally pickled gherkins are eaten within a few weeks of pickling.
The dill pickles which I made some four months ago still have a great texture and I think that it is due to removing the last 1/2cm from the flower end, keeping them well submerged and from pickling them in oak. The soaking might have help too. I’ll check next time I make some.
Brine pickled onions are mild, healthy and very more-ish. I can never eat just one of them!
Enough pickling onions, which when prepared will fill the barrel 4/5 to the top. As a rough guide, use 1kg of prepared onions for each litre of capacity of the barrel.
Prepare sufficient brine. I made up 2 litres, just to be sure I had enough.
Prepare the onions, cutting off the roots, the tops and the skin. Discard onions which show signs of rotting. Be totally pedantic and ruthless. You know what they say about apples: ‘One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.’ Well, it is the same with pickled onions!
Put the selected onions in the jar, with spices if desired. My own recipe uses 1 star anise per litre, some fennel bulb and stalk and whole peppercorn. I might have included a chilly or two as well. The star anise really adds something special to the taste.
Top up with brine.
Weigh down the onions as they will use all their guile to float. Use the wooden press to weigh them down adding stones or a glass bowl of brine water if needed.
I have began, tasting (eating) my pickled onions after 5 days. Delicious. I have reserved a fermenting barrel just for pickled onions.
Pickled Cabbage (Sauerkraut)
Pickled cabbage is one of the best researched fermented foods and it is brimming with goodness. It used to be among our dietary staples and it is time to bring this wonderful food back out of obscurity.
2 -3 heavy and fresh white cabbages (for the 3L barrel)
1 tablespoon of 10-20g unrefined sea salt per 1kg prepared cabbage depending on taste.
Optional – whole spices such as bay, caraway seed, black pepper, juniper, chilli, sliced apples, lemon or orange zest or even some citrus juice.
Remove and discard the two outermost leaves from both cabbages.
Peal or cut off several more outer leaves and reserve these with the stalk for later use.
Finely chop the cabbage, check its weight and place it in a large bowl.
Preparing the cabbage for the Small Barrel or Jars
For making pickled cabbage in the 3 L barrel or smaller quantities you could use a manual mixing method:
Add the salt to the cabbage in the right proportion.
Mix and massage the salt and cabbage mixture until plenty of juice runs out and the shredded cabbage has softened. It takes between a few minutes and ten minutes depending on the quantity you are preparing. Add the optional spices or fruit at the end and mix through.
Line the wooden fermenting barrel with the whole cabbage leaves, (saving one large and flat leaf) and place the chopped cabbage mixture into the vessel inside the leaves.
When using the larger fermenting vessels to make pickled cabbage, such as the 5 or 10 litre vessels, it can be easier to use the layering method and you will need to increase the recipe accordingly
Line the wooden fermenting barrel with the whole cabbage leaves, (saving one large and flat leaf).
Place a layer of shredded cabbage in the barrel.
Add a portion of the sea salt and any optional ingredients.
Add more cabbage and carry on building between 4 and 7 layers until the barrel is 4/5 full.
This layering method is far less labour intensive but you will need really fresh and juicy cabbages!
Packing the Barrel with Cabbage
For all barrel sizes
Press the cabbage well down with the wooden spoon.
Fill the vessel to 4/5 capacity, making sure that the cabbage is compressed by hand or with a wooden mixing spoon.
This is to remove any oxygen. Make sure that the brine covers the cabbage by several centimeters. Add brine if needed (see below on how to prepare brine quickly).
Place a large flat leaf, or a circle of linen or cotton washed previously in soapnuts and well rinsed, on top of the chopped cabbage. Place the wooden press over this and weight down with a stone or stones if needed.
Put the lid on the pot and stand the barrel at room temperature, at about 20 degrees Celsius for 1 week.
Inspect inside the barrel daily every few days to begin with to make sure the cabbage is still well submerged because the gasses produced by the bacteria can cause the chopped cabbage rise above the brine level. If this happens push the cabbage down with a wooden spoon, or the wooden press.
Once the first stage fermentation is complete, after 5-10 days, move the barrel to a cooler location. The temperature should be between 15 and 16 degrees Celsius and as long as the food remains submerged, it should keep and improve over the next month. Finally move the pickled cabbage to a cool location such as a cellar, a cool porch, a cool shed or garage. Don’t worry too much about the temperatures. It needs to be nice and warm for the first week or so, or until the bubbling stops, then moderate for a month or so and then cool.
If you are new to fermentation, then inspect the inside of the barrel every few days to start with to make sure that the cabbage is well submerged beneath the brine and then take a quick peek every few weeks. If the surface of the brine is covered in kham (a thin layer of white ‘scum’ on the surface), or the covering cabbage leaves look suspect, simply remove the kham with the leaves, the cloth or a wooden spoon. Replace the cabbages leaves with fresh leaves or replace the cloth with a clean one.
How to use Pickled Cabbage and Sauerkraut
Pickled cabbage can be eaten cooked or ‘raw’. It can be rinsed or soaked in plain water to reduce saltiness before cooking or served raw and probiotics rich in salads however it does remove some of the goodness. The juice is considered to have therapeutic virtues and in Germany, drinking sauerkraut juice is considered a sovereign way of treating a cold.
The white cabbage can be used as a cooking ingredient in plain water, with stock, apple slices or white wine.
Another Pickled Cabbage Recipe – Great for Salads or for Cooking
Red cabbage, chopped finely or grated
1 red onion for each head of cabbage
1 lemon juice and zest for each head
1 tablespoon (15ml) of sea salt
Optional, 1 clove of garlic for each head, a handful of sultanas, a few cloves, whole black pepper, juniper.
Multiple the recipe for the barrels as above. Mix well and massage. Or layer in the barrel.
This is one of my favourite fermented foods to serve to dinner guests. Everyone who has tried it so far has asked for the recipe. It goes well with potato salad and green salad leaves.
Now I have made this, I definitely won’t be buying anymore horseradish sauce from shops. It is superb and I wanted to eat it as soon as it was prepared. To get the health benefits, I patiently waited for the fermentation to take place over 5 days.
You will need your largest handkerchiefs handy because horseradish vapours are very strong and you will cry. I am sure that making horseradish must be the ultimate British cold remedy! It is helpful to have an electrical mini chopper or a food processor which can chop the root into small pieces to cut down on exposure to these tear-inducing vapours.
Remember not to touch your eyes while you are preparing your sauce and wash your hands carefully afterwards.
A horseradish root
Juice of a lemon
3 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
Sufficient water to bring the chopped root to the right consistency and to help the chopper do its work.
A little brine to top up the jar.
Roughly scrub the horseradish root and peel it.
Cut it into discs and then carry on with a food processor. Before food processors were invented, the fine mincing of food was done with a pestle and mortar!
Add the lemon juice, salt and sugar to taste.
Add sufficient water to bring the mixture to the right consistency.
Place in the chopped horseradish mixture into a jar or fermenting vessel and pack down with a wooden spoon. As I had chopped the horseradish quite finely, it didn’t try to float, so I didn’t need to place anything in the jar to keep it submerged.
Top up with brine (see below). The brine will form a protective layer on top.
This recipe gave me 2-3 normal horseradish sized jars … which won’t last me long at all. I am going to try to obtain 7-8 fresh roots which should all fit nicely in the 3 litre fermenting jar. Even if I don’t eat this all myself, I know that my friends will help me out.
Using the horseradish
Remove the chopped horseradish mixture from the jar leaving the layer of brine behind and use it as it is, or mix with cream before serving. Pack the remaining mixture down again with a wooden spoon and make sure it is covered by sufficient brine.
A Fast Way to Prepare Pickling Brine
To make 1 litre of standard 2% brine.
Make up their brine in advance by dissolving salt in boiling water. It is cooled before use and never poured on hot like with normal vinegar pickling recipes.
Before you start peeling and chopping vegetables: In a glass heat resistant measuring jug:
Add 200ml of water which has just come off the boil and 20ml of sea salt. Stir until it has dissolved.
Top up to 1 litre with fresh mineral water, or even add ice cubes to reach a tepid or cold temperature. Do use unchlorinated water. We stand our tap water in our clay amphora overnight to massively reduce the chlorine level and use this water.
Once the brine has cooled, it is ready to use.
The following vegetables use a 2% brine: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrot sticks – shreds and slices; cabbage, cauliflower, green beans, gherkins, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, peppers – without the seeds; parsnip, pickling onions, radish – sliced or whole; red radish, tomato – sliced; small courgettes – whole.
Once you have mastered the principles of pickling, you may be able to pickle with a brine at 0.8-1.5% salinity and lower values still if you include fresh whey in the brine. Whey is the by-product of cheese making (see blog on cheese making)
Pickling Vegetables FAQ’s
Do you need to look after the pickles while they are fermenting?
You pickles will need a little bit of attention. The golden rule is to keep the food well submerged under brine. Some foods expand as they ferment and others float, rising above the brine. So it is best to inspect your pickles regularly through the first two weeks of fermentation. Pack them down again with a wooden spoon. Hold them under the brine with the wooden press, weighted if necessary, cleaned stones, or a glass or jar without the lid filled with brine.
After that once you have moved the pickles into a cooler location it is worth inspecting them every three weeks. It is a good time to wash the wooden press before replacing it. Checking again to make sure that everything is submerged and that there is nothing untoward growing on the surface of the brine.
What is the white film on the surface of the brine?
Sometimes a white film begins to form on the surface of the brine. If is called kham yeast and it is usually considered harmless. However I skim it off because if allowed to proliferate, it will product off-flavours in the food. This is one reason why tradition picklers use a linen or cotton cloth to cover the vegetables. It can be lifted off removing any kham. Replace with a clean cloth. If it keeps happening, replace the top layer of brine with a 3% solution.
Is it safe to taste the vegetable pickles before the fermentation is complete?
Yes, but use a wooden spoon to extract your samples and don’t eat them all!
Can I use my normal vinegar recipes in these barrels?
Yes, the barrels are 100% suitable. But we hope you will try out some of our lacto-fermentation recipes too.
Can I use these barrels to make wine and beer?
What this space! As soon as my dandelion patch is flowering again, I will try the primary fermentation in one of the barrels. What I can say straight away is that each different type of fermentation will need a separate barrel, so I will need one for wine, one for beer, another for vegetables and a special one for pickled onions.
See our related products online:
Oak Fermentation Barrels, The traditional fermentation vessel, developed by the Celts and adopted by the Romans. Popular ever since!
British Hemp Oil Naturally Antibacterial Soap, The original British soap from the 12th Century which does almost everything – serious cleaning, washing the face and body and shaving.
Soapnuts Natural Tree Grown Detergent, A water based plant soap for everything else especially laundry and washing up without rubber gloves.
Wooden Spoons. I mostly use the ‘mixing spoon’ in for my fermentation work as it is the strongest and gives me most generous sized samples when I am using it for sampling.
Amphora We condition our tap water in our clay amphora to massively reduce the chloride levels, to reduce other toxins such as nitrates, and to improve the water for tea making. we now have the lighter 4.5-5 litre amphora in stock as well mas the larger 7 L amphora.
Happy Pickling / Fermenting
and Healthy Eating!