Pickle vegetables for winter inexpensively with dry salt

Dry salting is a practical and inexpensive way to preserve vegetables. It is essentially a method of pickling that was popular in the early twentieth century. At that time, it was promoted as an alternative to canning, in order to conserve glass, tin, and fuel in time of war.

If you are already familiar with making sauerkraut or kimchi, dry salting is a nearly identical process, except for the amount of salt used. When making sauerkraut or kimchi, vegetables are layered with a low concentration of salt (2 1⁄2 to 5 percent by weight). This low level of salt promotes lactic fermentation, which gives these products their characteristic tangy flavors. Dry salting uses a much higher concentration to prevent fermentation, 20 to 25 percent by weight.

In contrast to sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, dry salted vegetables are preserved in a fresh-like state. However, the heavy salt used in this method is out of step with today’s tastes. Yet, many people familiar with salted vegetables consider them to be superior to either canned or frozen ones. You might want to try preserving a small amount of salted vegetables before preserving an entire crop. You may find that learning to use salted products requires some experimentation.

As with sauerkraut or kimchi, dry salting makes brine, which forms when the added salt helps to leach water from the vegetables. In order to prevent the top layer of vegetables from spoiling and ruining the entire batch, you must make sure that the solids remain completely submerged in brine at all times. Also, you must immediately remove any bloom (also called “scum”) whenever it appears floating on the surface of the brine.

During storage, you must store salted vegetables at cool temperatures, preferably 34°F to 40°F (1°C to 4°C), or no higher than 50°F (10°C). If salted vegetables develop a bad odor or color, green or black mold, or soft or slimy texture, the product has spoiled and you must discard it (without tasting).

Vegetables to preserve by dry salting

Many cruciferous vegetables are easy to preserve by dry salting. These include cabbages, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabies. You slice or shred these vegetables and layer raw with salt, just as you would for sauerkraut or kimchi. In addition, sliced okra and green (unripe) tomatoes can be prepared in the same way.

Other vegetable must be blanched before dry salting. These include fresh green beans, cauliflower florets, celery slices, leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, chard, and bok choy), and shelled peas. For best results, blanch these vegetables before layering with dry salt. Corn is another good vegetable for dry salting. Boil ears of corn for 10 minutes, and then cut only the top 3/4 of the kernel from the cob.

General method for dry salting vegetables

This is the general method that you can use to dry salt almost any type of cut vegetable. Note that other vegetables and larger pieces, such as small whole tomatoes, beets, carrots, or onions are not preserved with dry salt, rather using brine and a slightly different process than the one detailed here.

1. Wash, sterilize, and air-dry a salting container. The traditional container is a glazed pottery crock. However, you may use any non-metallic, non-reactive vessel, such as glass, food-grade plastic (no garbage or storage bins), or wood. Glass jars work well, from 1 quart to 1⁄2 gallon or larger. As a rough guide, a 1 quart (or 1 liter) container holds about 2 pounds (or 1 kilo) shredded vegetables, and a 5 gallon (or 5 liter) container holds 25 pounds (or 5 kilos). For larger pieces (such as celery or okra slices), the yields are about half this amount.

2. Select mature (slightly under-ripe) produce that is in perfect condition. Reserve “seconds” for another preservation method, such as making pickles or relish using vinegar. Wash, trim, and slice or shred vegetables. After preparing, weigh to the nearest tenth of a pound or one gram.

3. Calculate the amount of pickling salt needed, from 20 to 25 percent of the weight of the vegetables. Here are the calculations to use:

  • Pounds vegetables × 0.20 (or 0.25) × 16 = ounces salt for 20 (or  25)    percentby weight
  • Pounds vegetables × 0.20 (or 0.25) × 16 = ounces salt for 20 (or 25) percent by weight
  • Grams vegetables × 0.20 (or 0.25) = grams salt for 20 (or 25) percent by weight
  • For example: 7 pounds X 0.20 X 16 = 22.4 ounces salt for 20% salt concentration
  • For example: 3 kilos X 0.25 = 750 grams for 25% salt concentration
  • Use canning, pickling, or kosher salt (either fine- or coarse-grained). Do not use table salt or sea salt, which contain additives and minerals that may interfere with a successful salting process.

4. Steam-blanch prepared vegetables. It is permissible, but not necessary to blanch cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabies, as well as okra or green tomatoes. To blanch other vegetables, place cut vegetables in a basket or rack over boiling water, cover tightly, and steam for 5 minutes. After blanching, cool vegetables completely on shallow trays in the refrigerator, or a cool location. Pat dry before packing with salt.

5. Work in batches no larger than 5 pounds. Toss food and salt together in a large bowl until evenly mixed. Pack the salted vegetables into the sterilized container, gently pressing or tamping each layer to draw water from the food. Press using your fist, or some tool such as a meat pounder, potato masher, or the bottom of a bottle. Be sure to scrape all salt from the mixing bowl into the salting container.

6. Cover and weight the vegetables to help brine formation and to keep the vegetables from floating. To cover the vegetables, use a layer of plastic wrap, cheesecloth, Swiss chard leaf, grape leaves, or a cabbage-stem end (a thick slice cut from the base of a cabbage). Be sure to press the cover onto the surface of the food without trapping air underneath. To weight the vegetables, use a brine-filled plastic bag, a water-filled jar, or a can of food.

7. After 24 hours, check for adequate brine formation. If the liquid does not cover the food by 1 to 2 inches, prepare brine of the same strength (20 percent or 25 percent). Use 8 1/2 to 12 ounces (or 200 to 250 grams) salt per quart (or liter) of distilled or boiled water.

8. Store vegetables completely covered in brine at all times, in the refrigerator below 40°F (4°C), or in a cool cellar no higher than 50°F (10°C). Protect the surface of the brine from insects with a plate or paper cover.

9. Check the container one or two times a week for a white bloom (“scum”) and remove it immediately if it appears. It is not harmful, but it can create off flavors and shorten the storage life of the salted vegetables if not removed. Use a clean cover and weight after checking for bloom. If the vegetables develop green or black mold, soft texture, or rotten odors, they have spoiled. Discard spoiled vegetables without tasting. Under ideal conditions, dry salted vegetables may be stored up to 6 months.

How to use salted vegetables

When removed from the brine, salted vegetables will be firm and slightly darkened in color. You can prepare and serve them in the same ways you would if they were fresh, including eating raw in salads. You may want to remove some of the salt, which can be done in one of the following ways:

  • Drain salted vegetables and add to soups or stews. Use 1/4 pound vegetables for every 2 quarts of soup or stew containing meat, potatoes or rice, root vegetables, and unsalted canned tomatoes. Smmer for 1 to 2 hours or more to redistribute the salt evenly throughout the dish.

  • Rinse salted vegetables under running water. Use in salads, or cook in any recipe that calls for fresh vegetables, including side dishes, soups, and stews.

  • Soak salted vegetables for 2 to 12 hours in several changes of water, until saltiness is reduced to a desirable level. Use 1 gallon of water for each pound of vegetables.

  • Boiling salted vegetables for 10 minutes before using is recommended by some sources. This is especially important if exact procedures are not followed, especially by using damaged vegetables, carelessly washing produce, not using a clean and sanitized container, storing the vegetables above 50°F (10°C) for any length of time, allowing vegetables to float above the surface of the brine, and not removing bloom or scum when it appears.

Salted green tomatoes

Unlike their juicy, red ripe counterparts, unripe green tomatoes are dry and sour. Salting is a wonderful way to preserve them, making them ready for everything from salad to pasta.

Makes about 1 quart

2 pounds or about 1 kilo (about 10 small) hard, green unripe tomatoes

2/3 cup (6.4 ounces or 200 grams) pickling salt (do not use table, sea, or iodized salt)

1. Wash, core, and halve or slice the tomatoes thickly (3/8 inch or 1 cm).

2. Layer the tomatoes and salt evenly into a sterilized 1-quart canning jar, pressing lightly to extract liquid from the tomatoes. Cover and weight the tomatoes. Set aside in a cool, dark place.

3. In 24 hours, if the juices do not cover the tomatoes completely, prepare very strong brine by dissolving 1/4 cup (60 grams) pickling salt in one cup (250 ml) distilled or boiled water. Cool before pouring over tomatoes to cover completely by at least 1 inch.

4. Store tomatoes in the refrigerator (below 40°F (4°C ), or in a cool cellar no higher than 50°F (10°C). Protect the surface of the brine from insects with a plate or paper cover.

5. Check the container once a week for a white scum floating on the surface of the brine. Remove it immediately, if it appears. Use a clean cover and weight. Keep the vegetables completely submerged in brine at all times during storage. Under ideal conditions, salted vegetables may be stored in the refrigerator up to 6 months.

Rinse salted green tomatoes for use as a winter salad, dressed with honey-mustard vinaigrette and garnished with roasted nuts. Prepare fried green tomatoes as you would fresh ones for a delicious supper or side dish. Rinse or soak salted tomatoes to remove salt, and dry them on paper towels. Coat slices with flour, egg, and cornmeal, and then fry in oil or fat until crispy and nicely browned. I like to serve these with a chunky tomato sauce. Finally, salted green tomatoes are delicious when tossed with hot pasta, along with fresh parsley, lemon zest, and mild cheese such as ricotta or mozzarella. Add chicken or salmon if you want a little protein, but keep the flavors simple and fresh-the preserved tomatoes already provide a strong, salty accent.


For more articles like this, please check out Carol Cancler’s blog here.


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