5 tips for fermenting and pickling vegetables

Preserving expert Ramael Scully gives his top tips on pickling and fermenting. Find the best methods, equipment and resources for preserving vegetables at home.

Preserving jars on a shelf

If you have a glut of fruit or vegetables and want to extend their shelf life, pickling and fermenting are the best processes to capture this produce at its best. We asked Ramael Scully, chef-owner at Scully St James’s, for some advice to get you started on these increasingly popular methods of preserving food.


Pickling or fermenting?

Pickled produce brings acidity to a dish and fermented brings salt, so it’s all about balance, what you serve them with and how you want the dish seasoned. Both methods are straightforward, but an easy pickle can be as simple as some sliced red onion steeped in vinegar and a touch of sugar for a few minutes to soften. Health-wise, pickled foods don’t hold the same benefits as fermented.


Safety first

 The most important thing, whichever recipe you go with, is that your jars need to be properly sterilised. You can run them through the hottest setting of your dishwasher, but some domestic washers don’t wash high enough, so if you want to be really sure your jars are sterilised, steam them or wash well and dry them in an oven at 150C.


Jarring

The only extra kit you really need, other than ingredients or what you already have in your kitchen, are glass or ceramic jars – never plastic or metal. You can reuse and sterilise old jars but if you are buying them new, the best jars are made by Le Parfait. I prefer the straight-sided screw-top style over the classic Kilner style, because when you are fermenting, you need to release the natural gases that build up and a Kilner jar traps it in too tightly.  


The best book

Pickling can be done by taste – you just need good vinegar, sugar, salt and vegetables. Fermenting requires a bit more intel. The bible that covers everything from science and safety to health benefits, as well as being a great recipe book, is The Art of Fermentation by the evangelical Sandor Ellix Katz. Seriously, for him it’s a way of life.  


How long do they keep for?

Kept at a consistent cool temperature away from daylight (basically in the fridge), pickled and fermented vegetables should keep for at least three months, if not longer. Fermenting vegetables will need the jar ‘burping’ occasionally. A bit of white bloom on your preserve is fine, but anything that looks like mould or anything green is an indicator that it’s not sterile and it’ll need throwing away.

Jar of kimchi

Find out more about preserving food...

Beginner's guide to fermented foods 
The health benefits of fermenting
Digestive health recipes and tips
How to sterilise jars


Formerly head chef at Ottolenghi’s Nopi restaurant, Ramael Scully is chef-owner of Scully St James’s in central London, where he focuses heavily on preserved produce.

Comments, questions and tips

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Brian Bartz's picture
Brian Bartz
30th Sep, 2018
If you don't have a hot enough dishwasher, and don't want to put your glassware in an oven, you might also consider buying some vodka to swish around in a (clean) jar. I'd imagine that this would also work as a sterilizer.
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