It’s brine time; how to make your own flavorful pickles from local produce

Hickory Brussels Sprouts is the best-selling pickled condiment at Sacramento’s Preservation & Co.
Hickory Brussels Sprouts is the best-selling pickled condiment at Sacramento’s Preservation & Co. Preservation & Co.

With blazing hot weather and sizzling grills, it’s time to get into a pickle.

Summer demands condiments with tangy bite. A good pickle can cut through heat (both in temperature and on our taste buds) as well as offer the right combination of flavors to accompany fatty meats. There’s a reason why we relish pickles on hot dogs and burgers.

Pickles of all kinds – from familiar dills to gourmet combinations – are finding renewed popularity, thanks in large part to the craft food movement.

“People are interested in food,” said Jason Poole, owner and brine boss at Preservation & Co. in midtown Sacramento. “They care about their food and where it came from. We’re the Farm to Fork Capital, so this is a natural. We’re preserving local produce.”

Preservation & Co., known for its popular Bloody Mary mix, currently produces seven different kinds of pickles, ranging from dilly beans to balsamic beets. In addition to its own midtown outlet, the company’s products are available at several local markets including Taylor’s, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op, Safeway, Whole Foods and Nugget.

Its best-selling pickle is hickory Brussels sprouts, made with red and black peppercorns, garlic and apple cider vinegar. A little liquid smoke adds the hickory touch.

“You can use them to garnish a drink or throw them in a stir fry,” Poole said. “They still retain their crispness and don’t turn mushy.”

Dilly beans, Poole’s personal favorite, are a seasonal treat, he said. “They’re also the most labor intensive. Beans take the most time to prepare.”

This summer, Poole plans to produce a giardiniera – or garden mix – using peppers grown across the street from its 19th Street kitchen at the Brooks Truitt Community Garden.

“You can’t get more locally grown than that,” he said.

To food experts, the resurgence of pickling and other preservation techniques is not surprising. With the right perspective, everything old can seem new again.

“Cooks are rediscovering old ways (of making things) and forgotten ingredients,” said award-winning cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan.

Brennan, who lives and gardens in Winters, is the author of “La Vie Rustic: Cooking and Living in the French Style” (Weldon Owen, 292 pages, $35) and dozens of other cookbooks. Like generations of gardening cooks, she preserves some of her harvest.

Too many green beans? No problem. Dill some for later.

Brennan agrees that pickling and other preservation skills are making a comeback.

“If you live long enough, you see these things circle back,” she said. “Things tend to skip a generation; no one wants to do exactly what their mothers did. But grandmothers? Their stuff becomes fascinating.”

Brennan sees some of those “forgotten” ingredients already coming back on restaurant menus, both in France and California, where she splits her time.

“It’s interesting what’s coming back – parsnips, cardoon, Jerusalem artichokes,” she said. “Some of these vegetables have been around forever, then slowly disappeared. If you lived through World War II, you probably never wanted to see a Jerusalem artichoke again. But now, they’re appearing again on restaurant menus.”

Stazi Dulman, executive chef for Nugget Markets, has seen that change, too.

“Old is new again; that’s absolutely 100 percent true,” said Dulman, who demonstrated pickling at the recent Taste of Yolo. “More specifically, artisanal craft skills are coming back – pickling, canning, charcuterie, curing. It’s exciting.”

A native of the Ukraine, Dulman emigrated with his family to California when he was 4 years old. His mother made many kinds of preserves including watermelon pickles.

“I always thought those were so weird when I was a kid,” he recalled. “Now, those pickles remind me of my childhood. They’re one of my favorites.”

Pickles are important in many cultures, Dulman noted. “It’s an ancient way of food preservation, saving some of your harvest for when food is scarce. You can pickle just about anything including fruit and tomatoes.”

Dulman recently tried pickling green peaches, asparagus and fennel. “I love how fresh and crisp they tasted,” he said of his results.

“The biggest thing for me, it’s so easy,” he added. “There are just three components: brine, aromatics and food stuff. The brine is primarily vinegar and that’s important. It serves a safety function. Aromatics can be fresh dill, peppercorns, coriander, garlic, chiles. For sweet pickles, instead of garlic and dill, use cloves and allspice.”

Another fan of pickling and preservation is Ann Evans, former Davis mayor and author of the “Davis Farmers Market Cookbook” (Elderflower Press, 240 pages, $29). The new edition celebrates the 40th anniversary of the popular farmers market, which Evans co-founded.

In her cookbook, Evans included pickling and preservation recipes for every season. Each summer, she makes pickled red onions among other condiments.

“Think about making all your condiments for hamburgers and hotdogs in the summer – catsup, cucumber relish, pickled onions, dill pickles and mustard,” she suggested.

“Food in Jars” blogger Marisa McClellan, author of “Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces” (Running Press, 192 pages, $23) and “Naturally Sweet Food in Jars” (Running Press, 216 pages, $24), has adapted many old-time recipes for modern kitchens and taste buds.

The longtime food pro started pickling in an 80-square-foot kitchen in a Philadelphia high-rise. For today’s equally space-cramped cooks, she scaled down vintage farm-style recipes originally designed to preserve a bushel to more manageable proportions. McClellan also offers online classes on pickling and food preservation as well as fun challenges for other picklers and canners.

Pickling is a way to preserve some low-acid foods that otherwise would be problematic – or downright dangerous.

“One thing to note about string beans: They are perfectly safe to can in a boiling water bath when you’re making pickles out of them,” McClellan said. “They are not safe to can without the brine unless you’re using a pressure canner.”

She cited a case in which a family ate some poorly preserved green beans and came down with botulism.

“So if you want to preserve your beans but you don’t want to pickle them, either get yourself a pressure canner or blanch and freeze them,” she said.

Safety advice, recipes and tips are available from the UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preservers. The food preservers offer several downloadable recipe booklets on pickling and other preservation techniques.

The key to safe (and delicious) pickles: acidity. Too low and the food can spoil. White distilled or apple cider vinegar with 5 percent acidity is recommended for most pickling.

Poole noted safety is a big issue.

“When you get into pickling, follow the recipe,” he said. “Don’t get too creative. There’s a risk of illness and severe problems.”

For beginners, he recommends quick pickles, the simple kind stored in the refrigerator.

“Anyone interested in pickling should start with refrigerator or quick pickles,” Poole said. “The risk of illness is a lot less. You don’t need any special canning equipment.”

Quick pickles are cured, a process that can take as little as 24 hours. Regular dill pickles, kim chi and sauerkraut are fermented, which can take weeks. That’s the next step up in pickling, Poole said.

“Fermentation can be intimidating,” he added, “but making your own sauerkraut can be an absolutely incredible experience, especially with all the hot dogs ahead this summer.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Quick pickled Brussels sprouts

Cookbook author Virginia Willis came up with these super easy pickled Brussels sprouts, which are stored in the refrigerator and ready to love in four days. Try them as a garnish for a Bloody Mary or tossed into a stir fry.

Makes 1 pint

10 trimmed and halved Brussels sprouts

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

10 black peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1 sliced garlic clove

Pinch of crushed red pepper

1 fresh bay leaf

Cook 10 trimmed and halved Brussels sprouts in a large stockpot of boiling water until bright green, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Bring 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup white vinegar, and 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt to a simmer in stockpot over medium; simmer until salt dissolves. Combine 10 black peppercorns, 1/4 tsp. yellow mustard seeds, 1 sliced garlic clove, a pinch of crushed red pepper, and 1 fresh bay leaf in a sterilized pint jar. Place Brussels sprouts in jar; add hot vinegar mixture. (You may have some leftover liquid.) Cool to room temperature. Cover with lid, and chill 4 days or up to 2 weeks before serving. Store covered in refrigerator up to 1 month.

Adapted from

Pickled Rosemary Cherries

Food in Jars blogger and cookbook author Marisa McClellan was inspired by “Smoke & Pickles” author Edward Lee’s pairing of rosemary and pickles that she created her version for shelf-stable preservation. “The result is a pickled cherry that is herbaceous and tangy,” McClellan wrote. “It’s just the sort of thing that goes well with cheese and fatty cured meats.”

Makes 3 pints

2 pounds sweet cherries

2 cups rice vinegar

1 cup water

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons sea salt

3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and three pint jars. Place lids in a small saucepan and bring to a bare simmer.

Wash cherries and remove stems. I don't pit the cherries for this preserve, but if you prefer, you're welcome to do so (do know that your yield will be reduced).

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and black peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. When the brine is bubbling, add the cherries and keep on the heat just until the brine returns to a boil.

Remove cherries from heat. Pull the prepared jars from the canning pot and place a rosemary sprig into each jar.

Funnel cherries into jars and cover with brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Gently tap the jars on your counter to dislodge any trapped air bubbles, and add more brine, if necessary.

Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

When time is up, remove jars from canner and let cool on a folded kitchen towel.

When jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and test seals. If seals are good, jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly.

Adapted by Food in Jars blogger/author Marisa McClellan from Edward Lee’s “Smoke & Pickles.”

Pickled red onions

“This recipe will open a whole new world of onions for you,” said Davis author Ann Evans, co-founder of the Davis Farmers Market. “I make these in the summer, to have on hand for grilled and smoked meats, sandwiches, and salads. Bring it on a picnic or to a barbeque. They add crunch and spice, turns good into great, and adds a layer of flavor you can’t get any other way.”

Makes 3 pints

4 red onions, about 2 pounds, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cups white vinegar

½ cup sugar

¼ cup ginger syrup, or 4 slices fresh ginger

1 stick cinnamon, broken into a few pieces

8 cloves

3 bay leaves

3 star anise

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 bay leaves

3 slices of 1 beet, fresh and peeled

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add the sliced onions and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

In another medium saucepan, bring all the other ingredients to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the simmered onions to the liquid, cover, and simmer 1 minute.

Divide onions between 3 sterilized pint jars, ensuring that there is one beet, one bay leaf, one cinnamon stick piece and one star anise in each jar. Pour in liquid to cover. Cover with a lid. Let the onions cool. Label with product and date. Keep refrigerated. Onions will last up to two months.

Recipe courtesy Ann Evans

Dilly green beans

Food bloggers Marisa McClellan, a green bean lover, describes this pickled green bean as “a gentle, zippy little pickle that preserves my green beans for months to come.”

Makes 4 pints

2 pounds green beans, trimmed to fit your jars

2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (5 percent acidity)

2 1/2 cups water

2 tablespoons pickling or fine sea salt

4 teaspoons dill seed

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

1 teaspoon red chili flake

4 cloves garlic

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and 4 pint jars. Place 4 lids in a small pot of water and bring to a bare simmer.

Wash and trim your beans so that they fit in your jar and leave about an inch of headspace. If you have particularly long beans, your best bet is to cut them in half, although by doing so, you do lose the visual appeal of having all the beans standing at attending.

Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Divide the dill seed, peppercorns, red chili flake, and garlic cloves evenly between the four jars.

Pack the beans into the jars over the spices.

Pour the boiling brine over the beans, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Gently tap the jars on the counter to loosen any trapped air bubbles. For stubborn air pockets, use a chopstick to wiggle them free.

Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

When time is up, remove jars from canner and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool.

Once jars are cool enough to handle, remove rings and test seals.

Sealed jars can be stored on the pantry shelf for up to one year. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and eaten promptly.

These beans want to hang out for a least two weeks before eating, to thoroughly develop their flavor.

Adapted from Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars blog.

Anna’s pickled giardiniera mix

“These crisp, zesty pickled vegetables are sure to become a favorite condiment and are a healthy flavorful treat,” said Chef Stazi Dulman of Nugget Markets.

Makes 20 pints


2 quarts water

2 quarts distilled white vinegar

¼ cup salt

½ cup sugar


3 heads cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces

4 fresh jalapenos, sliced thin

4 carrots, cut into ½-inch rounds

4 garlic cloves, sliced

3 bunches cilantro, washed with stems

In a large pot, combine ingredients for brine and bring to simmer; stir until sugar and salt dissolve.

Pack vegetables in pint-sized mason jars and cover with hot brine. Put canning lids on jars. Let cool, then store in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days while vegetables cure.

Recipe adapted from Chef Stazi Dulman and Nugget Markets

Watermelon Rind Pickles

Makes about 4 or 5 pints.

3 quarts (about 6 pounds) watermelon rind, unpared

¾ cup salt

3 quarts water

2 quarts (2 trays) ice cubes

9 cups sugar

3 cups distilled white vinegar (5 percent acidity)

3 cups water

1 tablespoon (about 48) whole cloves

6 cinnamon sticks, 1 inch pieces

1 lemon, thinly sliced, with seeds removed

Trim the pink flesh and outer green skin from thick watermelon rind. Cut into 1 inch squares or fancy shapes as desired. Cover with brine made by mixing the salt with 3 quarts cold water. Add ice cubes. Let stand 3 to 4 hours.

Drain; rinse in cold water. Cover with cold water and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Drain.

Combine sugar, vinegar, water, and spices (tied in a clean, thin, white cloth). Boil 5 minutes and pour over the watermelon; add lemon slices. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator.

Heat watermelon in syrup to boiling and cook slowly 1 hour. Pack hot pickles loosely into clean, hot pint jars. To each jar add 1 piece of stick cinnamon from spice bag; cover with boiling syrup, leaving ½ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids.

Process 10 minutes. Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.

Recipe adapted from National Center for Home Preservation