Even Kids Can Do It!
By Amie Petronis Plumley | Photography by Alison Bickel
At my house, we try pickling all kinds of vegetables that we get at the farmers market or from our garden. Even if my kids don’t think they like a vegetable, they might like it pickled! Many traditional recipes call for boiling water or waiting a few weeks until the pickled vegetables are ready to eat, but who can wait that long? Not us! This quick pickling recipe is great for making with kids because it does not require cooking or special canning supplies. Cooking with kids also offers many real-world learning opportunities. Besides learning to follow a recipe, kids develop kitchen skills, use math and reading concepts, discover science and work cooperatively. Who knew you could learn so much from a pickle?
In the Kitchen with Kids
Pickling is a fun and easy way to get kids excited about cooking. Picky eaters will often be more eager to try something new if they help to make it. Somehow, everything always tastes better when you make it yourself. Making pickles offers opportunities for kids to learn simple knife and measurement skills, but only you know what your child is capable of doing. In addition, safety is important and should be discussed with kids in the kitchen.
When cooking with kids, choose tools and recipes that are kid-friendly. Make sure measuring spoons and cups are clearly marked, and use a small knife or a vegetable crinkle cutter when cutting. For example, we discovered that cucumbers can be chopped up with a table knife. A large measuring cup or bowl with a spout makes it easier to pour the liquid into the jars. Before your child starts slicing a cucumber or onion, model exactly how it should be done and explain what you are doing. If your child is too young for the task, use this opportunity to talk about how you are being safe.
There are many teachable moments in the kitchen. Measuring ingredients is a great opportunity to talk about fractions and amounts. Older children can read the recipe and gather ingredients. If you are cooking with several children, let them share the work and find ways to work cooperatively. Friendly cooking will make the pickles taste that much better!
Kids love facts and thrive on random knowledge. Take a moment to explain how a simple cucumber turns into a delicious pickle. People have pickled fresh food for thousands of years, and the practice has changed very little. The white vinegar used in this recipe is a strong acid in which few bacteria can survive. In addition, the high sugar content helps keep bacteria at bay. Besides keeping the cucumbers fresh, the vinegar and sugar act together to change the taste and texture of the cucumbers. It’s cooking without actually cooking! In just a few minutes, you can begin to taste the difference in the cucumbers. By the end of the week, they have become full-on pickles.
Find out more about the science behind pickles at “The Accidental Scientist”: Exploratorium.edu/cooking/pickles/index.html.
Amie Petronis Plumley, a mom who teaches second grade in Memphis, Tennessee, is always looking for ways to engage children in making and trying new things. Pickles naturally came out of this. She is currently growing her own cucumbers with hopes of pickling them this summer.
In a Pickle Quick Pickles
Yield: About 2 pints of pickles
1 cucumber (or any vegetable you want to pickle)
1 small yellow onion
1½ cups white vinegar
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher or pickling salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon celery seeds*
½ teaspoon mustard seeds*
*If you don’t have these spices you can leave them out or use something different like dill weed, turmeric or coriander. If you want spicy pickles, add red pepper flakes, but beware: A little goes a long way! Experiment with spices that your family likes.
Clean jars with lids to hold about 2 pints of pickles
Knife (If you are nervous about having your child use a sharp knife, try slicing the cucumber with a regular table knife or use a vegetable crinkle cutter.)
Large measuring cup or bowl with a spout
Wash the cucumber well (you can peel it if you want) and peel the onion. To peel the onion, it sometimes helps to cut a small slit into the top before peeling off the skin.
Chop the cucumber and onion into medium-size chunks or rounds. Pack the vegetables into the jars. They should be snug and fill the jar all the way to the top.
Combine the other ingredients in the large mixing cup. Whisk until the salt and sugar dissolve. This part can take a while. Keep whisking! Sometimes, it’s fun to count while you stir to see how long it takes.
Carefully pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables. Leave a little space at the top of the jars. If you have a lot of spices left in the bottom of your mixing cup, use a spoon to scoop them up and add them to the jars. The spices add flavor!
Put the lids on the jars and close tightly. Shake the jars so that the pickles are all mixed up.
Put the filled jars in the refrigerator and wait as long as you possibly can (or at least an hour) to eat. They will stay tasty in the fridge for a few weeks. If you eat all your veggies in a hurry, just add more to the vinegar mixture and shake it up. If the vinegar gets sour or the cucumbers get mushy, then it’s time to make a new batch of pickles.
Don’t stop there! Other vegetables pickle well with the same vinegar mixture: okra, radishes, green beans, carrots and others. Let your kids guide you and see what new kind of pickles you can create together.
Not ready to try pickling on your own? Sign up for a Pickling and Preserving class presented by Provisions by the Grey Plume. Class will be held on Saturday, August 27, from 9:30am until 12:30pm and again from 2 until 5pm. You will learn to create your own pickles and marmalades to enjoy throughout the seasons or to give as gifts. To register, go to TheGreyPlume.com or call 402.934.7690. Cost is $80.