Put me in a holiday pickle!
December 2, 2013 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to make a variety of customized, delicious pickles to give as gifts to family members this Xmas. Share your favourite recipes and best practices, please!

I'm a virgin pickler, but a long-time pickle-lover. I'm trying to keep the Xmas craziness (at least for the adults in my life) down to a minimum of expense and consumerism this year, but maintain the individualism and love in the gifts I give. I've decided to make custom pickles for my parents and adult siblings, because who doesn't love pickles?!?! There are some great recipes in this old askme, but I'd love to hear some suggestions of recipes tailored to my specific specs (preferably recipes you've tried and succeeded with), as well as pointers on easy, (relatively) quick, and non-food-poisoning pickling methods! Here are some general guidelines of what I'm looking to make (but suggestions outside these parameters also welcome if they are truly mid-blowing an must-make):
For the bro: spicy pickled green beans and asparagus (for use in Caesars and Bloody Marys)
For the mom: good ol'fashioned garlicky dills
For the pop: spicy, spicy, spicy pickled peppers (did I mention they should be SPICY?!)
For the sis: something sweet (maybe a fruit? Cherries?? I dunno....a little stumped on this one)
For the sis-in-law: kimchi?! Maybe?
For the bro-in-law: spicy pickled cukes
Any and all recipes, protips, warnings, etc greatly appreciated!
posted by Dorinda to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Picked EGGS! Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice and white vinegar. Some people put onions and a bit of sugar in theirs, but I like mine with just the beets and vinegar. It's totally a southwestern PA thing, but a) they're beautiful, b) they're delicious! My family prepares them every holiday!
posted by kbennett289 at 7:55 AM on December 2, 2013

Well honestly, a best practice would be to do this in the summer when the vegetables are fresh. Maybe try some nice chutneys.
posted by brookeb at 7:56 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Dilly Bean recipe from Food In Jars is terrific, nice and spicy and very good.

However, it does need to age, preferably for 2 months or more. Also, we're close enough to Christmas now that the beans may still be wrinkly-looking when you gift them. (The beans shrivel as the brine pulls the water out of the cells, and then re-plump with brine as the solution reaches an equilibrium -- but it takes some time to get there.)

I've been canning for years, including for gifts, and one consideration is that each recipe will take some investment of time. Doing a more general factory-style canning process where you make multiple jars of one item will really increase your efficiency as well.

If you're willing to go sweet/savory, it's a great time of year to get discount fresh cranberries, and cranberry sauce is easy and cans well. Also, you can put it through a food mill and call it cranberry jam. I like the Food In Jars recipe for cranberry sauce, and there are some jam recipes there as well.
posted by pie ninja at 8:08 AM on December 2, 2013

Get yourself a copy of Canning for a New Generation. She addresses the "food safety" stuff really well, but also has a ton of recipes that range from the classic standbys to really unusual stuff. Even better - the book is organized by season, so you can work with what's available to you in shops now.

As for specific recipes: the old-school, fermented-only-in-brine pickles may indeed be too late to start going now. But if you don't mind cheating and using vinegar as the brine, you may be okay. That book has a couple different dill pickle recipes, and also has dilly bean recipes that may work (as well as a pickled-green-bean recipe involving wasabi and soy). And there are indeed quite a few pickled pepper recipes, and a kimchi recipe for your sister-in-law; there's also a pickled collard greens recipe. As for the something sweet -- beets would work, and there are also few pickled fruit recipes.

However, if you want to expand beyond pickles and go for canning in general, that opens up more options - there are recipes for pie fillings, conserves, jams, and preserved fruits of all kinds in there. She even has some recipes tucked in for dishes that use all this canned stuff, which may be a nice touch (give someone the pickled collard greens, and then a copy of the recipe she has for "sweet potato and collard green tempura" which uses the pickled greens).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2013

Could you provide some more details - do you intend to ship the pickles or just hand them over so the pickles don't spend too much time between your refrigerator and the recipients'?

I ask because refrigerator pickles will be quicker and simpler for you to make, and you can make them in small batches. The downside is that you and your recipient will need refrigerator space (difference between refrigerator pickles and processed pickles).

Personally, our household has experienced no problems with eating refrigerator pickles I've made even with recipes along the lines of "mix equal ratio water and vinegar, then pour to cover," but over the years we have received homemade processed pickles that were quite questionable and were tossed without being eaten (for example, visible mold inside the unopened pickle jar). I would be cautious about giving (and receiving) as gifts one's "virgin pickler" attempts.

(And if you see vinegar as an ingredient in a kimchi recipe, move on. That is not a recipe worth your while.)
posted by needled at 8:23 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with brookeb. Pickling shipped-in vegetables from the grocery store is not going to yield you a product any better than what you can buy in a jar.

For next year—you're looking at both canned/brined items (asparagus, beans, etc.) and fermented ones (kimchi, garlic dills). For both methods, you'll want everything you use to be scrupulously clean; the sanitize cycle in your dishwasher will be useful. Try to use local produce in absolutely spanking-fresh, firm condition.

- For peppers, whole peppers are always fun; poke them with a toothpick in a couple of places and press down on ones in the jar to get them to siphon liquid inside. Use thick-skinned peppers like Hungarian Wax or Cherry Bombs; taste one raw to gauge heat—you want most of the heat in pickled peppers to come from the peppers themselves.

- Green beans/asparagus—you can pickle beans beautifully at home (don't be tempted by purple wax beans, which are beautiful raw but lose their color on cooking, but do try pickling some romano types) but honestly, asparagus goes so mushy even with a short processing time that I think it isn't worth it at home.

- There are approximately one million types of kimchi, from the classic spicy Napa cabbage to totally spiceless radishes floating in iced brine. This book is a pretty good introduction, with ingredients you can source in Asian markets without too much trouble.

- Sweet pickles: Watermelon rind is classic, but spiced pickled peaches are pretty amazing, too. Stuff like this is pretty specific and old-school, though; they're meant to be used as a relish on a root-vegetable and meat-laden table to make it more interesting in the depths of winter. We have access to fresh produce in the winter and don't really eat like that any more, though, so think about the usage beyond just the novelty factor. Consider putting up in small quantities so your sis doesn't have a giant jar of pickled fruit minus one piece lingering in her fridge for months.

- For packed/canned pickles, there are a couple of crisping agents you have available to you, pickling lime and calcium chloride, sold by Ball as Pickle Crisp. I would recommend using Pickle Crisp to a canning novice, as there are no potential pH issues as there are with lime (you have to soak and rinse limed pickles repeatedly to remove enough lime to make the pickles safe). Pickle Crisp seems to work okay, especially on sliced pickles, but in general, firm, unblemished produce is your first guard against mushiness.

- For gift-giving: Weck jars are super-pretty and suitable for gifting. They're in metric volumes, though, so be prepared to do some recipe conversions if using American or English volumes.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:24 AM on December 2, 2013

Response by poster: Okey-dokey. Looks like I've (as usual) left things too late for this year. Thanks for the advice and info!
Please feel free to keep posting suggestions/recipes/resources, as I'll bookmark this page and come back to it in the summer, when I've learned to stop procrastinating! ;)

Thanks for the help so far, keep it coming!
Project Christmas Pickles 2014, here I come!
posted by Dorinda at 8:30 AM on December 2, 2013

Persimmons are ripe right now. I have a recipe from a sunset magazine from the 1990s for persimmon chilie chutney that looks good. Im sure there are recipes online.

Candied citrus peel is good option right now. Its easy and different than the usual jam/jelly, cookies, "in a jar" gifts.

And maybe persimmon is candyable too?
posted by vespabelle at 8:50 AM on December 2, 2013

All I can say is add horseradish. Must. Do. This. Yummmm.
posted by hannahelastic at 8:57 AM on December 2, 2013

I'm not sure where you are but pumpkins are more or less in season in most of the U.S. right now. I've been wanting to try pickling that for a couple of years. There's a recipe here on Serious Eats. Also Small Batch Preserving has a good one.

But as needler mentioned, if you haven't pickled/canned before, it might be a lot of extra pressure to plan on this batch as gifts. Maybe have a Plan B in case they don't turn out right. Oh, and when I gift canned goods, I make sure and label with processing info for the recipient's peace of mind.
posted by Beti at 9:10 AM on December 2, 2013

It's not too late to make kimchi!

Maangchi's recipe is good!

Cabbage is still in season, at least where I live. You can also branch out and pickle other winter greens. Kimchi doesn't take very long to "ripen;" I like mine after just a couple of days (young and spicy).

For cukes, things like that, you missed the boat. But you can still make kickass kimchi, so long as you're in a place where cabbage is still in, and it stays pretty late.
posted by klangklangston at 10:55 AM on December 2, 2013

For the sister/sweet option, the pickled raisins accompanying this duck recipe are pretty great on just about anything else or even just snacking. Or this red onion and golden raisin jam.
posted by Su at 2:22 PM on December 2, 2013

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