What to do with the last of my winter garden? Pickle it.

I´ve cleaned out my winter garden. Now what?

As we get our gardens ready for spring we are left with the last winter produce: beets, peas, turnips, carrots, collards, kale and everything else we grew are now out of the garden and on the kitchen counter. So, what to do? One of our favorite things to do is also one of the simplest: pickle them!

Here we are going to give you a simple brine recipe that you can alter a thousand different ways. We will also discuss how and why pickling works.

Why pickle your winter veggies?

Often by the time we get to the end of any growing season, we may be a little tired of eating the same vegetables over and over again. It’s not that we don’t like them but one can only take so much kale. And it’s not that we don’t want to ever eat it again, but maybe we could use a little break and would like to eat it in a month or two. Pickling is the best way to achieve this delay and it’s one of the best ways to use everything that comes out of your garden. Nobody wants to work hard on a garden just to end up throwing away the fruits of our harvest.

Pickling is an ancient form of food preservation. Before refrigeration, humans had to figure out a way to store food for the long term to supply an ever-growing population. The use of salt quickly became one of the simplest and least expensive ways to preserve nearly any food. In his book, Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky describes how salt has shaped our world economy for millennia.  He describes salt as ¨the largest single driver of the human economy that has ever existed.¨  Today we have refrigerators and freezers to help preserve our food, but pickling has remained one of the most delicious ways to preserve our garden harvest.

Basic pickling brine recipe

Pickling is the quickest and easiest way to prevent food from rotting. By using salt, or sometimes sugar, dissolved in the solution we can create an environment that does not allow for bacteria to grow, thereby preserving our food. Getting the ratios correct is extremely important to make sure that our brine solution is salty enough to prevent bacteria but not too salty. After all, this is supposed to be delicious. Here is a simple brine recipe that anyone can make in 10 minutes or less. Aside from the salt and water, all of the other flavoring ingredients can be substituted with whatever you desire.

6 8-oz Mason jars w/ lids, sanitized

1qt water

1qt white wine vinegar

2/3C salt

1/4C sugar (optional for a sweeter pickle)

5 garlic cloves

2T mustard seed

2T dill seed

Sanitize the Mason jars and lids in boiling water for 5 minutes and cool on a clean towel placed on a sheet pan. Combine water, vinegar, salt, and sugar (if used) in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil until the salt/sugar has dissolved. While the brine is warming, place the veggies, cut to the desired size, into jars until full. Do not pack too tight. Pour hot brine over the veggies until the jar is full to the brim. Remember to keep the jars on a towel in a sheet pan to catch any overflow. When the jars are full, put lids and rings on them and hand tighten as tight as you can. Let sit at room temperature for 5 days. Refrigerate for up to 6 months, or store at room temperature for up to 30 days. Enjoy!!

Great substitutions for my pickle brine

The above recipe is your basic dill pickle. The only necessary ingredients in this recipe are the water, vinegar, and salt. Anything else in the recipe can be substituted. Here is a list of ingredients that can be substituted in any variety of combinations, depending on your taste.

  • Dried chili peppers/chili flake
  • Coriander seed
  • Cumin seed
  • Clove
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Any fresh herb
  • Peppercorn
  • Horseradish
  • Caraway
  • Allspice
  • Star anise
  • Citrus Zest

You can also switch up the vinegar. Try the following.

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Malt vinegar
  • Champagne vinegar

Winter garden pickles equal fun spring gifts!

Maybe the best part of pickling the last of your winter veggies is turning them into gifts for friends and family. Consumable gifts are always a favorite. A jar of homemade pickles combined with a nice bottle of wine will put a smile on the face of anyone you know. Remember, experiment with flavor combinations and discover a unique pickle recipe that showcases your garden.

Happy gardening!