Preserve the season: How to make pickled tomatoes, okra, more

Southern Kitchen

Whether it’s the briny snap of a dill spear at a summer cookout or a tangy dollop of chow chow atop a ballpark frank, few things add complexity, acidity and even a dash of nostalgia quite like pickles.

While pickled veggies abound in France, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, the tradition has a special place in Southern kitchens, where the art of “putting up” preserves the flavor and freshness of harvest crops long after the season ends. Here are some quick tips and easy recipes.

It starts with the right equipment

The proper tools are essential to pickling, but it doesn’t take much. In fact, you may already have what you need on hand. To start, just find any kind of pot large enough to hold your jars with one inch of boiling water over the top.

If you’re making a small batch, you don’t need a big canning pot; a saucepan will do. The only other must-haves are Mason jars with traditional two-piece lids. Boiling the jars not sterilizes them and creates a vacuum seal and a shelf-stable product.

Safety first: Find credible recipes, and don’t ad-lib

Internet pickling recipes are abundant, but be selective. The University of Georgia’s National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for well-vetted recipes and safety tips, plus information on shelf life, recommended acidity levels, minimum water temperatures and more. Getting the acidity correct is not just essential to flavor, it helps mitigate bacteria, mold and even botulism.

The recipes below have been tested and approved.

Pickled Tomatoes

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

This recipe can be refrigerated without water bath processing and will last up to several months. Makes: About 2 pints (recipe may be doubled)


3 cups small tomatoes such as sungold, black cherry or an assortment (ripe but firm)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (or 2 sprigs fresh tarragon)

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice

1 cup white or apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons organic raw cane sugar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional; increase to 1 teaspoon for more heat)


Wash two pint-sized canning jars and place them (without lids) in a water-bath canner. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer until ready to use.

Puncture the bottom of each tomato with a sharp instrument such as a skewer or fork tine. This helps the pickling liquid flavor the whole tomato more completely. Set aside.

In a non-reactive pot, bring vinegar, tarragon, mustard seeds, lime (or lemon) juice, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes (if desired) to a boil. Remove from heat.

Move jars to a clean cloth atop a countertop or table. Place one clove of garlic in each jar and divide dill into each jar equally. Pack tomatoes into each jar tightly while being careful not to crush them. Tuck a bay leaf into each jar. Carefully ladle hot pickling liquid into each jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace (the space between the liquid and the top of the jar). Using a bubbler or table knife, loosen air bubbles and refill to allowable headspace.

Wipe down the rim of each jar, fit each lid and band. Return to water bath for 10 minutes after water returns to a boil. Remove and let cool for 12 hours. Test lids after 1 hour and refrigerate any jars that have not fully sealed. Label and date. Store in a cool, dark place.

Spicy Dilly Beans

Virginia Willis's pickled dilly beans

The author of this recipe, Virginia Willis, likes using these spicy dilly beans in a Southern-style martini.

To pre-sterilize jars using a boiling water canner, place the cleaned jars right-side-up on a rack in a canner and fill the jars and canner with enough water to cover the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and then boil for 10 minutes (at altitudes less than 1,000 feet elevation). Do not boil the lids. When you are ready to fill the jars, remove the jars one at a time with the canning tongs, carefully emptying the water from the jars back into the canner. Let the jars air dry and sit undisturbed until you’re ready to fill them. Makes 5 pint jars


2 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar

2 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup pickling salt

3 pounds green beans, preferably a combination or green and yellow wax beans

5 sprigs fresh dill

5 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

5 teaspoons dill seed

1 1/4 teaspoons red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds

1 1/4 teaspoons whole black peppercorns


Prepare a boiling water canner and sterilize five pint-sized canning jars (see note). Place the lids in a small saucepan over very low heat to simmer while you prepare the pickles. Do not boil the lids.

In a medium saucepan, bring the vinegar, water and salt to a boil over medium heat. Place one dill sprig, 1 clove garlic, 1 teaspoon dill seed, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns in the bottom of each of the sterilized jars. Set aside.

Wash and trim the stem end of the beans so that they fit in the jar. (I like to leave the pretty curled end intact.) While the pickling liquid heats, pack the beans into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in the top of the jar. Carefully pour the boiling pickling liquid over the green beans in the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar. Seal with the warmed lids and rings.

Using tongs, place the jars on the rack in the boiling water canner. The water should cover the jars by at least 1 inch. Cover the canner. Return the water to a boil and boil gently for 10 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the jars to a towel to cool. If the seal works and fits properly, the metal lid will be slightly concave within 24 hours of processing.

Bread and butter pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

This is a quick pickle (no canning needed!) with a sweet flavor that works perfectly with spicy chicken sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs. It's also great for livening up pressed sandwiches for a quick and easy weeknight meal.

These pickles are best if they have the chance to soak in the liquid overnight, but you can serve them after three hours. They'll last for about a month or so in the fridge.

Serves: 4 cups


3 English cucumbers, sliced approximately 1/4 inch thick

4 cups water

2 cups apple cider vinegar

2 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

4 whole cloves


Place the sliced cucumbers in large sealable jars or an airtight container with a tight-fitting lid.

Combine all remaining ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and the sugar.

Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Let the pickles chill at least 3 hours, or preferably overnight, before serving.

More pickle recipes

Chow Chow

Chow chow is a Southern condiment made from pickled vegetables, predominantly cabbage. It's perfect for sandwiches, dogs or as a kicky relish on a cheese plate. This is not a canning recipe. Kept refrigerated, it will keep for one month in the refrigerator. Get the recipe.

This is a recipe for a Southern-style bloody mary with a pickled okra recipe included! Make them both. You won't be sorry you did. Get the recipe.

The pickled peach recipe at the bottom of this story comes from Sean Brock, who knows a thing or two about putting up Southern vegetables. Get the recipe.