WHAT IN THE HECK IS PICKLING SPICE? I get asked this question a lot, because of my popular refrigerator pickle recipe that calls for the ingredient.
Like bouquet garni or Old Bay seasoning or even “curry powder,” pickling spice is actually a mix of herbs and spices, not a single ingredient. As such, its precise combination depends on the brand you purchase or the flavors you favor–hotter? sweeter? spicier?–if you blend your own.
Generally speaking, most recipes include some proportion of the following ingredients: bay leaves, chilies, cloves, cinnamon stick, ginger, allspice, mustard seed, coriander, black pepper, mace, and cardamom. Some canners say you can get by with the prefab types, if you pick out the cinnamon stick, for instance, or heavy up on the red pepper flakes to make it your own.
You can purchase such a mix at most supermarkets (or online) from a common brand like McCormick or Ball, though you may do better with one-pound packages from Frontier (organic version available, too) if you’re making a big batch of pickles for use all year long. Or go the homemade route, using a recipe like one of the following:
pickling spice recipes
- Marisa McLellan of the popular site Food in Jars [dot] com shared her recipe (free of cinnamon sticks, by the way) on NPR.
- From Epicurious, the recipe includes dill seed and nutmeg, in addition to the basics above.
- A New York Times recipe includes a piece of dried ginger root, and there is pounding of the ingredients involved.
- Leite’s Culinaria calls for lightly toasting the ingredients in a small, dry skillet (admittedly as part of a corned beef recipe, but it’s pickling spice nonetheless).
- At Taste of Home, they do without the mace.