I love a good meal, a new restaurant, and an overly dramatic cooking competition show as much as the next person (maybe more), but I’m also not the person who looks forward to throwing elaborate, five-course dinner parties for their friends — and I’m OK with that.
But I still enjoy the process of making things. I like baking bread, experimenting with new recipes, and finding creative ways to rework leftovers into new meals. So when my fiancé and I found ourselves dealing with the prospect of months of staying at home, I found myself staring at the stack of mason jars in my kitchen. And I realized I had never, ever tried to make one of my favorite foods.
As a rule, I love most things involving vinegar: salt and vinegar chips, dumplings in black vinegar, and yes, pickled anything. Since staying at home though, I found myself missing the pickled cauliflower, carrots, and onions that our favorite go-to bar would often put on their charcuterie plates.
“How hard could it really be to do that myself?” I thought. So I Googled an easy pickling recipe, and I went to town. I started with what I had in my fridge, which happened to be a couple red onions and followed a shockingly basic brine recipe.
If you’re new to pickling, then you should know that pickling is mainly just about the brine. And all a brine is made of things most of us have in our pantry. It’s usually equal parts vinegar and water, and some sugar, and salt dissolved together.
For my first attempt, I put minced garlic at the bottom of my mason jars, layered thinly sliced onions on top until the jar was about 75 perfect full, and then topped it off with brine. Part of me wondered how good they’d even turn out. Well, they were perfect.
Usually my fiancé and I each have a salad with a soft-boiled egg, whatever fresh veggies we have, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil drizzled on top for lunch. The day after The Pickling, I used the tangy red onions on top of our salads, along with a little drizzle of the brine as “dressing.” With my first bite of salad, it was clear I’d been doing salads wrong this whole time. And I knew I needed to pickle as much as possible, immediately.
The next weekend I pickled fresh beets, radishes, sweet onions, and okra. I put different combinations of my creations on avocado toast, tacos, burrito bowls, frittatas, and, of course, salads. Not only did they give each meal a new tangy crunch, but each old and familiar recipe felt a little more special.
Sure, pickling sounds very low effort, but I made those pickled beets and onions and radishes. I was proud of them.
Whenever I look at my mason jars in the fridge, full of delicious, vibrant vegetables, I feel an odd sense of pride — like I invested in my future meals. I talk about it like a newfound hobby. I proudly show off my various pickling jars on Zoom calls with my parents. I love Googling new things I could pickle (eggs are next on my list) in the future.
I’m still not a master chef (I regularly overcook chicken breasts), but pickling brings me joy. It’s a bright spot in my week that I get to enjoy the fruits (vegetables?) of my labor. And though part of me wishes I started pickling vegetables sooner, another part of me is happy I discovered it now, during this time when we’re all searching for a new experience. It may be simple, but it’s still a gift — and it’s one I enjoy again and again and again.
Olivia Muenter is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and digital content creator. Follow her on Instagram or through her website.