Get in a pickle: Easy guide to preserving your leftovers

Posted by Ella Buchan on 26 May 2016


Pickling is easier than you think. As easy as throwing your unloved fruit and veg in a big pan or slow cooker, in fact.

From cucumbers and cabbage to watermelon and walnuts, almost anything can be preserved and enjoyed for up to a year.

Better than chucking it all in the bin, hey?

Tied up in a pretty jar with a bit of ribbon, they make lovely homemade gifts, too.

So rather than throwing those scrappy bits of carrots and apple halves in the bin, throw them in a pot with some spices, sugar and vinegar and you’ll produce something that can be enjoyed for months to come.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

How to prepare

You’ll need jars with screw-on lids or Kilner-style fastenings, and be sure to sterilise them before filling with your pickle or preserve mix.

To do this, first wash in hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly - or put through a hot dishwasher cycle. Stand upside down on a roasting tray while still wet, then put the tray (including lids) in an oven preheated to around 160°C.

For chutneys and hot pickle mixes, start preparing your jars when your preserve is around 20 minutes away from being ready so you can pour the piping hot liquid in while the jars are also still hot from the oven. This way the glass won’t shatter.

For cold pickling (such as gherkins and onions), you can cool the jars first.

If your jars have rubber seal rings, remove these before washing the jars and instead place in a small saucepan, cover with water and boil for a few minutes.

Need to sterilise jars in a hurry? Pop in the microwave (minus lids and metal fastenings, of course) on full power for 45 seconds.

Find a detailed guide for sterilising jars here.

Pickled peppers and cucumber
Shutterstock: monticello

Classic English pickle

Everyone loves a spoonful of tangy, chunky Branston pickle with a ploughman’s lunch or cheese sarnie.

Make your own version to use up cucumbers, carrots, apples, swede, onions, courgettes. All those things languishing in your fridge, basically.

Classic English pickle
Culinary Ginger


Chutney is made using the same method as English pickle, often focusing on one or two ingredients, such as classic mango or pear and roasted walnuts.

Rubies in the Rubble has a deliciously sticky recipe for spicy carrot ginger chutney.

Mango chutney
Shutterstock: MaraZe


Effectively a sauerkraut with added spice, Korea’s national dish can be made with cabbage, carrots and pretty much any crunchy veg you have leftover.

Garlic, dried red pepper and ginger bring the spice to the party.

Try with this sticky beef recipe.

She’s Cookin’


Like chicken tikka masala, this Indian-inspired tangy treat has become a very British classic.

Cauliflower, onions and gherkins (got some leftovers floating around in a jar?) are the main ingredients, though you can throw in some sliced carrots too.

Christina’s Cucina

Cold pickling

You can pickle whole shallots or sliced red onions for a delicious topping for tacos, burgers, sandwiches, salads - anything!

Fill your jar with sliced or baby onions, pour in sugar up to a third of the way, add a pinch of salt and top up with malt or red wine vinegar - the latter dyes the onions a vibrant pink colour.

You can follow the same method with cooked and cooled beetroot (sliced or whole), cauliflower florets, sliced cooked or raw carrots - almost anything.

Pickled red onion
Shutterstock: neil langan

I pickled a watermelon

Once you’ve dribbled that refreshing pink flesh down your T-shirt, pickle your watermelon rinds to add a twist to roast meats like lamb and pork.

Great with grilled meats and salads when the barbecue’s on, too.

Pickled watermelon
The Domestic Man


A favourite crunchy snack and (apparently) a hit with pregnant ladies, it’s super-easy to make your own gherkins.

Use dill cucumbers or slice up bigger fruits, place in a saucepan and cover with brine (around 100g salt to every litre of water). Simmer for 10 minutes, drain and cool.

Pack into sterilised jars, cover with vinegar laced with pickling spices - and store in the fridge for when cravings strike.

Shutterstock: Vankad

Main image via Shuttestock: monticello

Liked this? Then try these: 

Get yourself store cupboard savvy

An ode to the humble glass jar

What to do with leftover tinned foods