LONDON, Ont. -- Once again the aroma of hot vinegar and pickling spices is wafting through Canadian kitchens, and colourful jars of pickled vegetables are lining countertops. It seems the "lost art" of pickling is not lost at all.
Janet Nezon realized it last year when her Introduction to Home Canning seminars in Toronto attracted 570 registrants.
Tradition is likely one factor in the rejuvenation, says Nezon, a daughter and granddaughter of picklers and owner of Rainbow Plate, a company she started to educate children and adults about healthy eating.
Others could include cost -- it's much cheaper to make pickles than to buy them -- and the "eat local and seasonal" movements, Nezon suggests. Health-wise, there is huge interest in the probiotic benefits of fermented foods, including pickles. Homemade products also give the cook some control over sugar and salt content.
There are two main types of pickles -- those fermented in salt brine and those in which the vegetables are preserved in a hot vinegar solution.
Fermenting, done at room temperature over several days, encourages the growth of "good" bacteria that make food less vulnerable to spoilage. Classic examples are German sauerkraut and Korean kimchi.
Vinegar-based pickling can take just a few minutes if the pickles aren't intended for long-term storage. Once the food is combined with the brine, it can simply be refrigerated for short-term enjoyment.
Paramount to both is food safety, Nezon says. The most important thing is to follow exactly a detailed, reliable recipe -- no "tweaking" or short-cuts.
"You start with everything clean, clean jars and properly prepared food," she says. "You prepare your food, fill the jar, make sure there's no trapped air in the jar and there's always a prescribed headspace (between the top of the food and the jar rim). For pickling we always like to have the food covered by liquid."
The sealed jars then go in a water bath -- a large pot (with a rack in the bottom to keep jars off direct heat) filled with water to 2.5 to 5 centimetres (one to two inches) above the level of the lids. Bring the water to a boil, cover and boil for the prescribed time.
"The process of water bath canning is about two things," Nezon says. "One is ensuring that the food is safe, to kill the dangerous bacteria, to inactivate enzymes that might cause the food to break down and deteriorate in quality, and the second is to create a vacuum seal on the jar so nothing new can get in to cause it to go bad.
"In its essence, the process really hasn't changed that much" from grandma's day. But some things have.
Grandma didn't have gizmos to aid with all the slicing and dicing. Technology has introduced pressure canners and even air-lock fermenting crocks that allow gases to escape but prevent air from entering.
She also didn't have access to many of the exotic spices and vegetables popular with today's picklers. And she probably didn't have exposure to the ethnic influences that have made kimchi, Mexican salsa and Indian chutney standards with North American picklers.
Another significant change is the move to "small-batch" preserving. Grandma used to have to make enough to last an entire year, but making just a few jars at a time is a far less intimidating process and one free of the worry of long-term storage.
Kimchi or old-fashioned bread-and-butter pickles, grandma would be proud.
For those who fancy trying their hand at pickling, here are some recipes to get you started.
-- The Canadian Press
Janet's Fermented Kosher Dill Pickles
4 l (16 cups) water (unchlorinated if possible)
90 ml (6 tbsp) pickling salt
2 kg (4 lb) Kirby pickling cucumbers (about 20, depending on size)
4 to 6 sprigs dillweed, preferably seeded, washed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
30 ml (2 tbsp) pickling spice
Pinch hot chili flakes or a few pieces of hot pepper (optional)
Wash two 1.5-litre (6-cup) mason jars in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher.
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil and stir in pickling salt until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Scrub cucumbers and slice a very thin piece off the blossom end of each one. (If you aren't sure which end is which, slice a small bit off both ends.) This helps to keep the pickles crunchy.
Put 1 or 2 sprigs of dill, a few pieces of garlic and 15 ml (1 tbsp) pickling spice in the bottom of each jar.
Pack cucumbers vertically into jars, filling halfway. Add another dill sprig and more garlic. Pack remaining cucumbers to fill jars tightly, ensuring all cucumbers are below the "neck" of the jar. (You can put one small cucumber sideways at the top to hold the others in place.) Tuck in the last bit of dill and garlic between cucumbers.
If you like your pickles spicy, add a pinch of hot chili flakes or a few pieces of hot pepper.
Fill jars with brine, ensuring cucumbers are completely covered.
Cover jars loosely with cheesecloth and secure with an elastic band if necessary. Store jars in a cool dark place for about 1 week. Check jars every day to ensure cucumbers remain submerged and top with additional brine as necessary. If scum or foam develops on surface, simply skim it off and discard. That's a normal part of the process.
After 3 or 4 days, taste a pickle and decide if they're ready or if you want them fermented longer. "Half sours" usually take 3 to 4 days, while "full sours" take 5 to 7 days.
To stop pickling process, cover jars with a lid and place in the refrigerator.
Makes 2 large jars.
Source: Janet Nezon, owner of Rainbow Plate (rainbowplate.com)
Pickled Carrots With Oregano and Peppers
Because the carrots are raw, Nezon advises letting the pickles sit for a week or so before trying them to let them absorb the flavour.
45 ml (3 tbsp) finely chopped fresh oregano or 15 ml (1 tbsp) dried
30 ml (2 tbsp) each chopped sweet red and green pepper
1 ml (1/4 tsp) hot pepper flakes (or more if you like things with a kick)
2 small cloves garlic
500 g (1 lb) carrots, washed and peeled if necessary and cut into quarters or whatever shape you prefer (or use baby peeled carrots)
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) white vinegar
75 ml (1/3 cup) water
125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) pickling salt
Place two 500-ml (2-cup) jars (minus lids) in hot water in canner and place lids in simmering water on the stove. (It's not necessary to sterilize the jars.)
In a bowl, combine oregano, sweet peppers and hot pepper flakes.
Remove hot jars from canner and divide pepper mixture between them.
Add 1 clove garlic to each jar and fill each with half the carrots, leaving a little more than 1 cm (1/2 inch) headspace. Be sure to pack carrots tightly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil.
Pour hot liquid over carrots, making sure to cover them but leaving 1 cm (1/2 inch) of headspace between liquid and rim.
Process jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes for 500-ml (2-cup) jars.
Makes 2 jars, each 500 ml (2 cups).
Source: The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (Firefly Books, 2007)
Gingery Pickled Beets
1 kg (2 lb) red beets
500 ml (2 cups) apple cider vinegar
500 ml (2 cups) water, plus water to boil beets
30 ml (2 tbsp) pickling salt
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 piece (5 cm/2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Scrub beets, removing greens and long roots; place beets in a pot and cover with water. Simmer over medium heat until beets are just tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.
When beets are cool enough to handle, rub skins off with your fingers. (Wear plastic gloves or resealable plastic bags on your hands if you are averse to pink-stained skin.) Trim unwieldy ends, cut beets into wedges and set aside.
Prepare a boiling water bath and sterilize 3 regular-mouth 500-ml (2-cup) jars. Place lids in a small saucepan, cover with water and simmer over very low heat.
In a pot, combine vinegar, 500 ml (2 cups) water, salt, sugar, cinnamon and ginger and bring brine to a boil. Meanwhile, pack beet wedges into sterilized jars.
Slowly pour hot brine over beets in each jar (making sure to include 2 to 3 ginger slices in each jar), leaving 1 cm (1/2 inch) headspace.
Gently tap jars on a towel-lined countertop to help loosen any bubbles before using a wooden chopstick to dislodge any remaining bubbles. Check headspace again and add more brine if necessary. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Let pickles cure for at least 1 week before eating.
Makes 3 jars, each 500 ml (2 cups).
Source: Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan (Running Press, 2012).