Three Pickling Recipes from Around the World to Make with Your Kids

Making pickles is a fun way to explore cool science concepts and learn about how different cultures around the world preserve food.

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A refrigerator full of ripening vegetables can be a great start to a pickling project with your kids during school closures and into summer. Making pickles is a fun way to explore cool science concepts and learn about how different cultures around the world preserve food.

Today, we enjoy pickles in burgers and tuna salads, but did you know they’ve existed for thousands of years and they’re consumed all around the world? Also, what the heck turns a cucumber into a pickle? The actual word gives us a clue: pickle comes from the Dutch word pekel, which means salt or brine, both essential for pickle making.

Traditional pickles are made using a process called lacto-fermentation. It’s quite a mouthful, but it essentially means that microbial critters, called Lactobacillus bacteria, “eat” the sugar in fruits and veggies and convert it into lactic acid. That’s the stuff that gives fermented and pickled foods that distinct pickly taste. This process also helps make food last longer because bacteria that would spoil the food can’t live in such an acidic environment.

Want to learn more about the science of fermentation? Watch this video from the California Science Center’s Stuck at Home Science initiative.

Some tips before starting a picking project with your kids:

  • Iodized table salt isn’t recommended for pickling because the iodine in it tends to kill the good bacteria that creates fermentation and cause pickles to turn too dark. If the only ingredient in your salt is “salt,” use that!
  • Adding chilies to your pickles is optional and you can use whatever you have on hand, be it a jalapeño, serrano, Fresno, etc. You can eat them when the pickles are done as well!
  • Regarding spices, I’ve provided classic mixtures, but feel free to experiment — just don’t forget the salt! Want to make more pickles? Use this handy salt brine chart to calculate how much salt you’ll need and get your math muscles moving.

To expand learning:

  • Encourage your kids to help you prep and measure ingredients.
  • Keep a journal to observe the process.
  • Discuss what they expect to see (and taste) in the coming weeks.
  • Once the pickles are ready, ask kids to think about how each pickle is similar or different in color, smell, taste, etc.

Cucumbers are classic, but you can make loads of veggies into pickles, from pink pickled turnips in the Middle Eastern style, to an Italian giardiniera with cauliflower and carrot. Read on to learn how to make them! (All recipes make approximately two 26oz. jars. Keep one and leave another for a friend or neighbor!)

Simple Half Sour Dill Pickles

The cucumber pickles we know and love today come from the Jewish tradition. In the fall, families would fill giant barrels with cucumbers to ferment as a way to keep them from going bad so they would have veggies in the winter. They came to the U.S. in the early 20th century thanks to European Jews who started selling them in shops out of similar big pickle barrels.

These pickles are called half sour because of their short fermentation time. Almost any type of cucumber will work, except Armenian or English hothouse cukes — those will turn to mush. We tried adding coriander and turmeric to the spice mixture and they were delicious.

Jar of pickles. | Robert Judge / Flickr / Creative Commons License

Ingredients

Two 26-ounce jars — old peanut butter or jam jars work well!
2 cups of filtered water, plus more to cover, if needed
3 teaspoons of sea or kosher salt
2 garlic cloves
2 pinches of celery seed
2 pinches of dill seed
½ teaspoon of black peppercorns
½ teaspoon of mustard seed, optional
2 sprigs of fresh dill or cilantro
2 chilies, optional
8 small cucumbers or 4 larger ones

Procedure

Make the brine. Place one cup of water each in two 26-ounce jars. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt to each jar. Close the jars and shake like a snow globe to dissolve salt.

Crush the garlic cloves with the flat part of a knife and the heel of your hand. Peel them and add one to each jar. Divide the dill seed, black peppercorns, mustard seed (if using), and fresh dill and add evenly to each jar. For the chilies (if using) cut them in half and scrape out the seeds, then slice thinly and add one to each jar. Shake the jars like snow globes. If your pickles are small enough to fit in the jars, add four whole ones to each jar. If they don’t fit, slice them in half crosswise and then lengthwise to fit and divide them evenly between the jars.

Add enough water to cover if needed. Close the jar and give it another shake.

Leave to ferment in the fridge for seven to 10 days before eating, giving the jars a shake every day. Eat within a month.

Ask your child:

  • How would you describe the flavor of this pickle compared to when the cucumbers were raw? Can you taste the spices
  • How did the cucumbers change from when we put them in the jar? Are they larger, smaller, smellier, do they look different?
  • Different types of pickles use different salinity levels (proportions of salt in the brine). If each cup of water weighs around 236 grams, and each teaspoon of salt is 6 grams, what percentage of salinity is this recipe? (Learn more about calculating salinity conversions here.)

Recipe adapted from Brad Makes Crunchy, Half-Sour Pickles | It’s Alive | Bon Appétit

 

Pink Pickled Turnips or Kabis Left

Common in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and many other places in the Middle East, these pickled turnips, called kabis left (or lefet, depending on where you’re from), end up looking like stunning pink jewels because of the addition of beet, which saturates them with color as they pickle. Commercial pickles have a much more dramatic pink color than homemade versions, but that’s just because of added artificial colors.

These pickles’ sweet and slightly tart taste pairs perfectly with your usual meat and sandwiches, as well as with traditional accompaniments like shawarma, falafel and hearty lentil soup.

The pickling mixture can be used for a variety of veggies, like cucumber, carrots or cabbage. Also, if you’re lucky enough to have the greens from the turnips, don’t toss them! They’re delicious eaten raw in a salad or after a simple sauté with butter and garlic.

Pink pickled turnips | Victoria Gonzalez

Ingredients

Two 26-ounce jars — old peanut butter or jam jars work well!
1 cup of white or red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of sea salt
1 1/4 teaspoons of sugar
2 1/4 cups of water
2 pounds of turnips, scrubbed and unpeeled
2 small beets, scrubbed and unpeeled
2 chilies, optional
2 garlic cloves, optional
1 bay leaf, torn in half, optional
½ teaspoon of mustard seeds, optional

Procedure

Place the vinegar, sea salt, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar and salt dissolve. Set aside.

If using small turnips, cut them into quarters. If using large turnips, cut them into half-inch half moons. Quarter the beets. Divide the cut-up veggies between the two jars evenly. Add the chilies, garlic, bay leaf and mustard seeds evenly to each jar and top each jar with half the water and vinegar mixture.

Cover and leave to pickle in the fridge for 2 weeks or in a dark place to achieve a bright pink color. After two weeks, eat within a month.

Ask your child:

  • How would you describe a pickled turnip’s flavor compared to how it tasted raw?
  • How did the turnips change from when we put them in the jar? Are they larger, smaller, smellier, do they look different?
  • How much did their color change?
  • What other things could we add to change a pickle’s color?
  • Can we add beets to other recipes to change another food’s color?

Recipe based on Anissa Helou’s Pickled Turnips

Classic Giardiniera

What does one do when all that’s left of veggies is a bunch of sad odds and ends? Italians have a delicious answer: giardiniera! Traditionally made from un po ‘di questo, un po’ di quello (a little bit of this, a little bit of that) and meaning “garden,” it usually contains scraps from the last harvest in an effort to eliminate food waste. With a little brine and a little patience, you can keep those veggies from going bad in a tasty way and get some probiotics — thanks to lacto-fermentation — for a happy gut to boot! You’ll make all the Italian grannies out there proud if you remember the whole point of giardiniera: modify the veggies, spices and quantities to fit whatever you have on hand, so no food is wasted! It’s also amazing on sandwiches.

Note: Since this is a very active fermentation, meaning that the naturally occurring yeast in the vegetables produces a lot of gas, topping the jars with a fermentation airlock is a good idea. This keeps gasses from accumulating and causing the jar to explode — not joking. If you don’t have an airlock, be sure to close the jars loosely and “burp” (open and close the jars to release gas) them a couple of times per day for the length of the fermentation.

Two jars of giardiniera. | Tracy Benjamin / Flickr / Creative Commons License

Ingredients

2 cups of filtered water, plus more to cover if needed
3 teaspoons of sea or kosher salt, divided
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 bell pepper, any color will do, but red is best
½ head of cauliflower
½ onion
2 garlic cloves
1 jalapeño, Fresno, serrano or habanero pepper, optional
1/4 pound of green beans
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of coriander, seeds or ground
1 teaspoon of black pepper, seeds or ground
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, optional
2 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 pinches celery salt, optional
2 pinches cayenne pepper, optional

Procedure

Place one cup of water in each jar and divide the salt evenly between them. Shake like a snow globe.

Chop the carrots into coins and slice the celery into approximately ½ -inch pieces. Remove the top and seeds of the bell pepper and chop into chunks. Chop the cauliflower into florets and the onion into chunks. Crush the garlic with the back of a knife using the heel of your hand and peel. Carefully remove the seeds from the jalapeño and chop in half. Chop the green beans into bite-sized pieces.

Divide the vegetables between the two jars evenly. Divide the remaining ingredients evenly into each jar. Shake the jars like snow globes again. If the water doesn’t cover the veggies completely, top with a little more water, or place fermentation weights on top.

Close loosely and leave at room temperature to ferment for three to five days, burping a couple of times per day to avoid gas accumulation. If using an airlock, close the jars and leave at room temp for three to five days. Enjoy within three weeks.

Ask your child:

  • If you’re not using an airlock, pay special attention to the twice-daily burping breaks and ask, does the jar make a burping sound when we open it? What would happen if we didn’t burp it, and why?
  • How would you describe the flavor of the giardiniera compared to the flavor and consistency of each veggie when it was raw? Can you taste the spices?
  • How did the veggies change from when we put them in the jar? Are they larger, smaller, smellier, do they look different? How much did their color change?
  • What other vegetables could we make into giardiniera?

Recipe adapted from Recipe: Basic Fermented Giardiniera by Ernest Miller