The pleasure of late summer is the burgeoning abundance of available fresh herbs—whether plucked from your own garden or obtained from your local farmers’ market. A good way to savor these herbal treasures is by using them to make quick pickled vegetables, which can be ready in about an hour or so.
Unlike traditional canning methods, these easy-to-prepare recipes take just 10 to 20 minutes to assemble. Then all you need to do is chill the jar in the refrigerator for about an hour, until cold. The pickles do need to be refrigerated, however, so if you want basement shelves full of pickles, you’ll need to take the longer, more involved canning route.
Beyond Garlic and Dill
Most supermarket pickles are predictably seasoned with garlic, dill and standard pickling spices. By making your own quick pickles, you can use many different fragrant herbs.
Basil, oregano, thyme, mint, sage, dill, rosemary, chives, garlic, tarragon and nasturtiums all lend themselves beautifully to pickle recipes. Seeds to experiment with include mustard, coriander and fennel. Even if you’ve used the leaves in other recipes, leftover herb twigs and stems can add herb-infused flavor in your quick pickle jar.
What I love about quick herbal pickling is that I never make the same recipe twice. There’s always a new, intriguing herb or herb combination I want to marry with fresh organic vegetables. When I go to my familiar herb source, Teresa Santiago’s booth at a local farmers’ market, I find herbs that inspire quick pickling creativity.
Unlike many supermarket pickles, these recipes don’t contain artificial food colorings and preservatives, or refined sugar. The recipes also are much easier than canning, which can require hours of intense labor to properly seal pickled produce in hot, sterile canning jars.
Quick herbal pickling is a great way to reuse old glass pickle, olive and salsa jars. They don’t need to be sterilized, just clean.
The only possible downside is that quick pickled vegetables should be consumed within a week or so. However, if you are pleased with the results, that won’t be a challenge.
Preserving Our Plant Diversity
You can help preserve America’s horticultural history by buying or growing heirloom herbs and vegetables for these recipes. Heirloom plants often have a more interesting flavor, texture and color than their mass-marketed counterparts.
Heirloom Seeds in southwestern Pennsylvania offers many varieties of heirloom herbs that lend themselves to quick pickling recipes. These include many basils, chives, Greek oregano, dill, rosemary, sage, spearmint, peppermint, Russian tarragon and English thyme.
I was delighted to discover an organic heirloom cucumber from India called Poona Kheera at the farmers’ market. Its delicate taste and texture proved to be a perfect choice for unique herb pickles with rosemary and sage.
You can buy seeds for Poona Kheera from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You’ll also find seeds for 62 herbs and many wonderful cucumbers, such as lemon cucumbers, those yellow globe treasures. Another source of unique herb and vegetable seeds is Native Seeds/SEARCH, which preserves seeds of the American Southwest and northwestern Mexico, including those from many Native American tribes.
Salts of the Earth
With these quick pickling recipes, you can use kosher or pickling salt. Also experiment with beautiful and different hand-harvested artisan gourmet salts, including mineral-rich sea salts. Although table salt has anti-caking additives and iodine, I find that it works fine with quick pickling.
Salt is the only rock we eat and is essential for human survival. But too much sodium through a high-salt diet has been linked to serious health conditions. If you wish to restrict your sodium intake, use low-sodium salt, which is available at many supermarkets. Or simply omit salt. You may not get the same pickling effect, but you’ll have flavorful results nonetheless.
I use apple cider vinegar with 5 percent acidity, found in most grocery stores. You also can try other types of vinegar or fresh lemon, lime or key lime juice.
Endless Herbal Summer
These quick-pickled vegetables are great summer treats on leafy salads or sandwiches—or simply savored by themselves. Pickled pearl onions, Japanese eggplant or gourmet mushrooms can make enticing additions to any holiday relish tray, from Independence Day picnics to Thanksgiving feasts or Yuletide tables.
In the spring, delicate green onions, baby carrots, spinach, radishes and new herbs can be charmingly pickled. Remember that at any time of year, quick pickling can be another enticing, creative way to enjoy herbs.
Visit www.motherearthliving.com/store to purchase these books:
• The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest (Storey Publishing, 2002)
• The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving Foods (Storey Publishing, 2009)
• Heirloom Vegetable Gardening CD-ROM (Ogden Publications, 2008)
Freelance journalist and photographer Letitia L. Star has written more than 1,000 published articles, including many reflecting her enthusiasm for herbs and gardening.