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In A Pickle With Chef Kathy Gunst

Sep 10, 2013
Originally published on September 10, 2013 2:07 pm

Want to use up some leftover produce? Well, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst has been noticing that fermented is in!

Not only the common bread and butter pickle, but also pickled peppers, green beans and pickled fruits like cherries and peaches. She says that making a simple refrigerator pickle is a great way to use produce because it’s so easy.

“Pickling is to cooking what maybe like a really easy paint-by-number is to making art,” Gunst said.

That’s because in addition to what’s being pickled, all that’s required is three ingredients: good water, vinegar and salt. And you can be a creative with what you add to the solution in the way of spices.

The most important step in making the pickling solution is to sample it before use.

“It should taste good to you because that’s what the pickle’s going to taste like,” Gunst said.

She shares five recipes:

Bread And Butter Pickles

(printer-friendly PDF of all five recipes)

Kathy’s Note: You can make one small batch or a huge batch of these sweet and spiced pickles. Look for fresh crisp cucumbers.


1 pound cucumbers, washed and cut into just less than 1-inch thick slices

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cups apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup water

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 small dried red chile

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 sprigs fresh dill


Place cucumbers and onions in a large bowl. Cover with ice cold water, 2 cups ice, and 1/4 cup Kosher or canning salt. Stir well and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Drain the cucumbers and onions and rinse with cold water. Drain again.

Boil the vinegar, water, mustard and coriander seeds, chile, and sugar over high heat. Add the cucumber and onions and cook 2 minutes. Add the vegetables to a quart jar or 2 pint size jars and add the dill to glass jar. Let cool and seal. Refrigerate for up to several months. Makes one quart jar of pickles.

Chile Dilly Beans

Kathy’s Note: Dilly beans are pickled green beans with generous amounts of fresh dill and dill seed. You can also make Chilly Dilly Beans by adding small chile peppers. The beans will pickle in the refrigerator and keep for several months or can be processed in sterile Mason jars for around 15 minutes or until the lids are sealed. To learn more about safe canning practices go to Ball Jar Blue Book:


1 1/2 pounds crisp fresh green beans, washed, dried and trimmed to fit your jars*

About 1/4 cup fresh dill heads and dill fronds**

2 teaspoons dill seed

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 cloves garlic, cut in half, optional

4 small red chiles, left whole, optional

About 2 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)

2 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons pickling or canning sea salt or (not too expensive) sea salt

*Place one bean in your jar and trim it. Use that bean as an indicator for cutting the remaining beans.

**Dill heads are the tops of the dill plant. Ask at your farmer’s market or simply use fresh dill.


Place the beans into 2 sterilized quart jars or 4 pint-size jars. Divide the fresh dill, dill seed, peppercorns, garlic, and chile between the jars.

Meanwhile in a non-reactive medium size saucepan mix the vinegar, water, and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the boiling mixture on top of the beans, making sure not to fill the jars completely but leave about 1/2 inch headspace. Cover with lids and let cool.

Process for 15 minutes following instructions for safe canning or, when cool, place in the refrigerator. Let pickle for at least a week before eating.

Pickled Peppers

Kathy’s Note: You can use any combination of peppers you like, depending on how spicy you like your pickles – jalapenos and other chile peppers, or red, yellow or green sweet peppers.


2 cups cider vinegar

1 cup white wine

1 tablespoon peppercorns

1 tablespoon canning or pickling salt

2 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon mustard seeds — yellow or brown or a combination

14 small chile peppers, left whole, or 2-3 sweet peppers, cored and cut into slices or wedges, or a combination


In a non-reactive saucepan mix the vinegar, wine, peppercorns, salt, sugar, and mustard seeds and bring to a boil.

Place the peppers into one or two mason or glass jars, arranging them in an attractive pattern. Pour the hot brine on top, and let cool. Seal and keep in the refrigerator for several months.

Pickled Stone Fruits

Kathy’s Note: I used a combination of local, just-picked, almost fully ripe peaches and plums. These pickled fruit slices are delicious served with a cheese plate, on top of salads, or chopped and added to vinaigrette.


2 cups stone fruit, peeled or unpeeled, cut into thin slices or chunks, peaches, plums, nectarines, or a combination

½ cup white wine vinegar

½ cup white wine

1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon pickling spices*

1 tablespoon black peppercorns


In a medium non-reactive pot mix the vinegar, wine, water, pickling spices and peppercorns and bring to a boil over high heat.

Place the fruit in a bowl and pour the boiling liquid on top. Add to mason or glass jars, cool and seal. Keep in the refrigerator for several months.

* Penzey’s Pickling Spice Premium is very fresh and an excellent combination of yellow and brown mustard seeds, allspice, cracked cassia, bay leaves, dill seed, peppercorns, coriander, mace, juniper berries, cardamom and more. For more information contact:

Pickled Cherries

Kathy’s Note: We tend not to think about fruit and pickles in the same sentence, but we should. Pickled cherries are excellent, spiked with star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, a touch of salt and sugar. Serve with cheese platters, meat, or sprinkle onto salads.


1 ½ cups cherries, cut the cherry in half, and remove pits

1 ¼ cups white or red wine vinegar

½ cup white or red wine

1 tablespoons Kosher or pickling salt

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns or regular peppercorns

2 star anise

2 tablespoons sugar


Pit the cherries and place in a clean glass jar.

In a medium saucepan heat the vinegar with the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the hot mixture on top of the cherries, and let cool. Seal the jars tightly and refrigerate; use within a few months. Makes 1 ½ cups.


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And believe it or not, it is almost fall, a time when many people will want to start preserving all the stuff that's been growing in the garden. If you are one of them, you could take a suggestion from the couple in the show "Portlandia."


FRED ARMISEN: (as Bryce Shivers) Hi, I'm Bryce Shivers.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: (as Lisa Eversmith) And I'm Lisa Eversmith. And we can pickle that.

ARMISEN: (as Bryce Shivers) And we can pickle that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, my God. These chickens are laying so many eggs. I'm freaking out.

ARMISEN: (as Bryce Shivers) We can pickle that.

BROWNSTEIN: (as Lisa Eversmith) We can pickle that. We did it, pickle eggs.

ARMISEN: (as Bryce Shivers) Pickles always cost a nickel.

BROWNSTEIN: (as Lisa Eversmith) We can pickle that. We can pickle anything.

HOBSON: HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst is also excited about pickles, and she joins us here in the studio with a selection. Kathy, welcome.


HOBSON: So you're in a pickle mood today.

GUNST: Good. We could probably really run with that.


GUNST: You know, I grew up outside of New York City and spent a lot of time in Jewish delis, and my childhood memories are of the dusty floors and the huge barrels of pickles. And every day after school - this is going to make me sound like I'm 112, but for 15 cents, you could get a whole dill or a half sour pickle. Now, pickle is hipster food supreme.

I was on a subway recently in New York and met the quintessential Brooklyn dude, flannel shirt, and he's like, hey, what do you do? And I said, I'm a food writer. What do you do? He's like, cool. I make pickles.


GUNST: Like, I think these people think they've invented it.

HOBSON: Well, OK. So explain what happens when you pickle because when as we heard in "Portlandia," you can pickle almost anything.

GUNST: And it's true. Really, it's about the magic of something called lacto-fermentation, which is the transformative action of microorganisms. Think of sauerkraut. Think of kimchi, the Korean pickle. This is where you're taking cabbage, and you're either putting it in vinegar or salt and lots of seasonings and it begins to ferment. And what happens is something that is like called a, quote, "good bacteria forms," and it preserves the vegetables. So the basic process of making a pickle is pretty straightforward.

I think I'm not an artist, right? I can't just pick up paints and paint. But pickling is to cooking what may be like a really easy paint by number might be to making art. There are three basic ingredients. And you really can't go wrong. So what foods are good to pickle? You could use the obvious ones, cucumbers, which makes the green pickle, green beans, zucchini, jalapeno peppers, chilies, carrots, radishes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers and then fruit. That's something we don't normally think of. Cherries, peaches, nectarines, grapes: fantastic pickles.

HOBSON: Really, pickled grapes?

GUNST: Absolutely. There's all that moisture there. It becomes preserved. And these foods, they are so adaptable. So here's what we need to talk about. Ready?

HOBSON: I hope it's the food in front of me.

GUNST: We're getting to that. Patience.


GUNST: Pickling actually is not about patience, but you can be patient. First ingredient: water. Right?

HOBSON: Uh-huh.

GUNST: Ok? If you have highly chlorinated water, it's not great. You want to run your tap water for a while or use bottled water. The most important thing is next, vinegar. Pickles are generally one part of vinegar to one part water or wine. So what type of vinegar? The only thing that's important is that it has to be 5 percent acidity or higher. And on every label of every bottle of vinegar it will say 4.5 percent acidity, 6 percent acidity. So you want really good vinegars.

HOBSON: But it doesn't matter if you're using, say, balsamic versus red wine vinegar versus white wine vinegar?

GUNST: For the most part. The most popular types of vinegar for pickling are apple cider vinegar, and again, a really pure one. The kind you see at the health food store. The better the vinegar, the better the pickle. Rice wine vin, fabulous wine vinegars. Balsamic is so sweet and so strong...

HOBSON: Right.

GUNST: ...that I would want to balance it with something else, like a red wine vinegar. There's champagne vinegar. There's sherry vinegar. There's malt. The way you can do this is when you make your brine - and we're going to have all these recipes online - you want to taste it. It should taste good to you because that's what the pickles going to taste like. So vinegar, water, salt is the third ingredient. Kosher salt or pickling salt. You can find it really inexpensively in any grocery store.

HOBSON: And does it matter if it's the big crystals or the small little crystals?

GUNST: It doesn't matter because you're going to be heating your solution, and the salt will dissolve. This is not the time to use that super expensive, fabulous salt you paid $20 for. No.

HOBSON: And does it matter what kind of jars you have? I assume you need a jar then to put the pickles in.

GUNST: Jars are best because, A, they're so beautiful to look at, you know, a clear mason jar. But mostly what we're going to talk about and you're going to taste - and you know what, let's just dive right in our refrigerator pickles. These are quick pickles. You heat up your vinegar. You heat up your wine. You add spices. That's the other ingredient we didn't talk about. There is something called pickling spices, but you can get really creative here. Star anise, peppercorns, mustard seed, juniper berries, cloves, fresh dill, garlic, fresh ginger, you can't mess it up. If it sounds like it's going to taste good and the brine tastes good, you're there. So why don't you start with number one. That's my bread and butter pickle.

HOBSON: All right, bread and butter.

GUNST: I took cucumbers.

HOBSON: This looks like the kind of pickle that you would see on a hamburger.

GUNST: Exactly. This is a traditional pickle. Good crunch?

HOBSON: Good crunch.

GUNST: What do you taste in there?

HOBSON: A little on the sweeter side.

GUNST: It is sweet. There's a little brown sugar in there. There are some fresh dill from the garden. That's cider vinegar, mustard seeds and a little bit of chili but probably not spicy enough for you.

HOBSON: I do like spicy things. That's nice. It's got a little spice, but I could even go even spicier.

GUNST: All right. Let's move to the next. Dilly beans, which are just pickled green beans, these are from my garden also. This has dill and it has some - lot of garlic in it and it's got some crunch.

HOBSON: These are great.

GUNST: Excellent.

HOBSON: I feel like I'm in the fields of southern France or something like that.

GUNST: Ah, oui.


GUNST: All right. Let me also tell you in terms of refrigerator pickles, for all those people that will say, I think I'm going to go to store and buy some. You take vinegar. You add some water. You add some salt, sugar and spices. You boil it. You throw in any ingredient you want. That's it, bingo. Put it in the jar, put it in the fridge, it will last for a year. OK. Now, we get really interesting. Pickled cherry is in front of you.

HOBSON: Yeah. I was going to say these are cherries.

GUNST: They are cherries. They've been in red wine vinegar, red wine, star anise and Sichuan peppercorns.

HOBSON: Oh, that's a very interesting taste.

GUNST: That would be, I think, really delicious with a very rich French cheese, speaking of southern France.

HOBSON: Yes, that's exactly right. It would work perfectly with a French cheese. Yeah.

GUNST: I'm so glad we agree on this. OK. Next with our peaches and plums from a New Hampshire farm that I picked. Nobody thinks about pickling stone fruits. This was in white wine vinegar, white wine and again a whole bunch of spices. Again, really...

HOBSON: You know what? That one, I feel like should be had in a - like at Christmastime or something.

GUNST: Oh, that's interesting. Like...


GUNST: know, you can eat these pickles with rich holiday meats, like roast beef and duckling. That's another thing we can talk about other than just eating pickles raw or serving them with a cheese plate. You can chop them up and put them into a mayonnaise, like a tartar sauce. You can add the pickle juice to a martini.

HOBSON: I have to caution that there are probably some people listening to this who hate pickles so much that this whole conversation is grossing them out.

GUNST: Well, you know what? They can take a break.


HOBSON: No, they don't have to take a break.

GUNST: This is our focus here. All right. Last one, pickled peppers. I've got yellow peppers, red peppers, green peppers. Those are very mild. Sorry, I forgot about your penchant for spice. But it just shows you another really - that on a grilled cheese sandwich.

HOBSON: Yeah, or, you know, it tastes like something you would have in a spaghetti sauce.

GUNST: Oh, interesting. What happens when you add vinegar to savory food is that it perks thing up. The Chinese serve vinegar and ginger with really rich pork dishes. Same idea here. Any of these pickles would be great with virtually any type of savory food.

HOBSON: Well, Kathy, I had no idea that there were so many things that you could do with pickles. But I will say that I still love a good, old-fashioned - taking you right back to the streets of New York, Katz's or one of these famous delis...

GUNST: Oh, the best. Yeah.

HOBSON: ...and their great dill pickles.

GUNST: And the guys in Brooklyn are making them, and the guys in the Lower East Side are still making them in barrels and tradition goes on and on. But you can also get new and funky with it.

HOBSON: HERE AND NOW resident chef, Kathy Gunst. Her latest book is "Notes from a Maine Kitchen: Seasonally Inspired Recipes." Kathy, thanks as always, and we've got all of these recipes up at

GUNST: Good to see you, Jeremy.



Jeremy, I have to say that seeing all these pickles here reminds me of my favorite, which is made by my mom, spicy lime and mango pickle.

HOBSON: Mmm, that sounds good. Well, if you've got a suggestion of something to pickle as Tara Lynn Wall does - pickling okra, she writes - you can go to You can also go to and let us know. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

CHAKRABARTI: I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, in for Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.