Pickling and fermenting is a great way to preserve fruit and vegetables to eat at a later date. These foodie projects may seem intimidating, but our expert advice breaks it down for beginners.
To start your preserving journey, you’ll need supplies such as pickling spices, glass mason jars, fermenting buckets and more. See our top recommendations for the best buys.
What is pickling?
Many traditions from around the world have utilised different techniques to prolong nature’s bounty and ensure we had fruit and vegetables throughout the winter months. Many cuisines use pickling – suspending a fresh ingredient in an acid, usually vinegar. The acid creates a hostile environment, so no bad bacteria can grow and spoil the food. Think pickled onions, beetroot and cornichons.
What is preserving?
This is a more general term but usually denotes making things into jam or cooking things down and covering them with oil. In jam making you heat the sugar and fruit to a high temperature that completely sterilises the contents. Everything is then poured into a sterilised jar and sealed whilst hot, which prevents bacteria from growing.
What is fermenting?
Fermenting is when you harness good bacteria to preserve food. In lacto-fermentation for example, you suspend vegetables in a brine, which means that bad bacteria cannot get in from outside. The yeast and micro-organisms on the vegetable then go to work and start eating sugars present in the vegetable. This creates two by-products, carbon dioxide and lactic acid – the latter helps to preserve the food. Many, many things that we eat on a day-to-day basis are fermented, so it’s not something to be scared of. Wine, beer, chocolate are all fermented products!
How to sterilise jars
- Wash your jars and the lids in hot soapy water, but do not dry them. Instead, leave them to stand upside down on a roasting tray while they’re still wet.
- Pop the tray of clean, wet jars and lids into a preheated oven at 160-180C for about 15 mins.
- Ideally, you want to fill the jars not quite to the top – leave about a ½cm gap at the top between the preserve and the lid.
- While everything is still hot, seal the jars with their lids or top with wax paper and a piece of cellophane secured tightly with an elastic band.
Learn more about how to sterilise jars at home.
Best pickling and fermenting supplies
Kilner glass jars
Durable glass jars are essential for pickling, preserving and fermenting. Kilner is a great brand producing high-quality glassware with a reliable airtight seal. The stainless steel clip is rust resistant and long lasting. They’re easy to clean and can be used for storing a variety of other kitchen products. Kilner makes a wide variety of shapes and sizes but we think this two pack of one litre jars should work for most projects.
Pyrex measuring jug set
Measuring jugs are always important to have for foodie projects. Made of durable Borosilicate glass, this large Pyrex jug has clear notches for measuring in ml, fl oz and pint metrics. A sturdy handle makes its large capacity manageable, plus the jug’s broad neck is wide enough to pour into from pans. Dishwasher and microwave-safe, this is a great bit of kit to have in your kitchen.
Stoneware fermenting crock
This gorgeous ivory fermenting crock will look great on anyone’s kitchen counter. The handmade stoneware is 100% lead and toxin-free, waterproof and complete with a white glaze. This high-quality piece comes with two weight stones, to help press your ingredients into place. The two-litre crock also comes in a sage green colour or a larger, 4.5-litre size (£69.99).
Silicone spatula set
Small spatulas are immensely practical when it comes to working with jars. The smaller silicone head fits easily within small glass necks and is flexible enough to scoop all the last dregs from a pan. This set of four includes spatulas of different sizes and shapes to accommodate different jar sizes. They also make great baking gifts and kitchen tools for kids because of their smaller, manageable handles.
Posca white paint pen
In the interests of sustainability (and a more modern look) a white paint pen is a great alternative for labelling jars. Just write straight onto the cooled, dried glass or lid. Make sure to label your pickles and ferments to keep track of ingredients and expiration dates. This pen from uni-ball comes in a variety of colours including pink, green, blue and more.
Salter digital weighing scale
Avoid a disaster by measuring your ingredients exactly – sugar levels are particularly important when making jam. Ensure accuracy with every recipe by investing in a pair of electronic scales. This scale by Salter can weigh up to 5kg and has easy-to-use buttons.
Amisglass flip top glass bottles
Store your kombucha or kefir in these stylish glass bottles, perfect for gifting to friends and family. The sturdy clip ensures an airtight seal and the glass is thick and durable. They can be used to store oils, vinegar, vanilla extract and more.
Muslin cheesecloths are an important tool to have on hand when working with pickles or ferments. This Colperun cheesecloth is made with unbleached, food-grade cotton, with a dense thread count that will keep impurities out of your food. If you have extra muslin, it can also be used for other kitchen projects such as straining yogurt.
Stoneware kombucha jar
Go the extra mile with your fermenting set-up with this rustic kombucha jar. This handmade item is finished in a pale grey glaze with a stainless steel tap. It has a capacity of 2.5 litres so there’s plenty of room for a large amount of kombucha. It can also be used for making your own vinegar at home.
Schwartz pickling spice
Pickling spice is great for making sure your pickles are infused with loads of flavour. This mix is filled with coriander seed, black peppercorns and bay leaves, to add a delicate and well-balanced flavour profile. You can always make your own mix with spices such as mustard seeds, allspice berries, cloves and more.
A standard plastic bucket with an airtight lid is a staple product for fermenting food and drinks such as kimchi and kombucha. The sturdy handle allows you to move your batch around, risk-free. This no-frills bucket is a good investment as it can be used in a variety of other ways including storage.
Maldon sea salt flakes
Sea salt is an important ingredient when pickling vegetables. You can’t go wrong with Maldon organic sea salt, made without any additives. It’s handcrafted in small batches, with a clean and intense finish. Buy in bulk to save on costs and ensure you always have some on hand.
Beth’s Kitchen stainless steel funnel
A durable, stainless steel funnel is a useful tool for transferring ingredients and filling jars. This high-quality funnel from Beth’s Kitchen is made from food-grade steel, plus it’s dishwasher safe. It comes with a small filter insert as well to save you from having to strain your mixture separately. It’s another tool that’s useful for other cooking projects, so you’re sure to get a lot of use out of it.