Artisan Files

Pickles, olives, brine and magic

The art of produce preservation

Since the dawn of agriculture, people have been aware of the need to store up provisions against natural or man made disasters. Adding salt to foods was a method adopted for preserving produce for consumption at a later time.

Preserved Produce

Being able to preserve food in this way really allowed civilisation to expand beyond the boundaries of where food was readily available. The discovery and habitation of many parts of the modern world would not have been possible without such knowledge and practice of food preservation.


Salt’s role in fermentation to preserve foods

Salt plays an integral role in the fermentation of savoury foods, preserving them for longer periods than their fresh counterparts due to the actions of particular types of microbes (Potter and Hotchkiss, 1995). Products such as pickles, sauerkraut, cheeses, and fermented sausages owe many of their characteristics to the action of salt and lactic acid bacteria.

How does it work? Salt inhibits the growth of undesirable spoilage bacteria and fungi that is naturally present in these foods while favouring the growth of salt-tolerant, beneficial organisms (Doyle et al., 2001). Salt helps to draw water and sugars out of plant tissue during the fermentation of vegetables and this water aids the process by filling any air pockets present in fermentation vessels, resulting in reduced oxygen conditions that favor growth of lactic acid bacteria. The release of water and sugars also promotes fermentation reactions in the resulting brine, increasing the rate of the fermentation process (Doyle et al., 2001; Potter and Hotchkiss, 1995).

But please beware: not all salt is equal!

cucumber pickles

A focus on produce preservation

The principle of preserving vegetables with a salt brine or an acidic base such as vinegar is extremely simple: above a certain concentration of salt and low pH in food, microorganisms that ordinarily cause food spoilage cannot develop and thus the preservation of food is assured. Fermentation of vegetables is covered in more detail in another article, click here.

Whilst sounding simple enough, to a novice in produce preservation, this might sound a little too scientific. Fortunately there are specialists in Australia that are happy to be our guiding force. People like Kitsa Yanniotis of Emporio Organics, who’s an expert on fermentation, and Mandy Sinclair, the co-author of The Produce Companion, who we were lucky enough to get some handy preservation tips from.

The Produce Companion

Q: So what can go wrong?

A: The worst thing is spoilage, which is generally due to the presence of bacteria, mould, yeast or enzymes. If consumed, the result could be a nasty case of food poisoning, which is why The Produce Companion explains how to identify signs of spoilage in your preserves and of course how to prevent it when preparing.

Q: What are the staple utensils required for good preservation methods?


  • Jars, seals and lids in good condition that have been well sterilised
  • A large, deep pot for heat processing the jars
  • A trivet to stand the jars on, and particularly when making jam it’s useful to have a large funnel on hand to help fill the jars without the jam spilling over the edge (not essential but helpful all the same).


Q: What are your three favourite preserves and why?


1. garlic confit – because it’s so versatile, the garlic becomes soft and deliciously sweet. I use it in salad dressings, sauces, casseroles, and of course stirred through mayonnaise for a wonderful aioli.

2. tomato ketchup – having children I have often sighed at their abundant use of commercial tomato sauce, while with my homemade ketchup I know the sugar levels are lower and the taste fuller all due to our beautiful tomatoes from the garden.

3. indian tomato chutney – just because it is truly delicious on a sandwich or as a side to curries…you’ll be going back for more!

A few final pearls of wisdom …

Don’t expect the same result each time you preserve. Every batch of jam I make is different, no doubt due to the pectin levels of the fruit. Some batches reach the setting point faster and are sweeter, while some are runnier and not as sweet. That’s the beauty of using home grown produce, coupled with the overwhelming sense of joy every time I harvest the strawberries, tomatoes or zucchini and turn them into something that can be shared and enjoyed by all.


COMPETITION TIME! To celebrate the current Spring planting season and the upcoming release of The Produce Companion on Cooked, we’ve teamed up with some friends of Artisan House to give you the chance to win the ultimate gourmet pack valued at up to $240.

There are five packs to give away, filled with awesome things from Mount Zero pink lake salt & olive oil, Bambu Makers denim apron, Olsson’s Sea Salt, Cutting Edge Cultures and more. Plus, we’ll throw in a copy of The Produce Companion and The Diggers Club‘s The Australian Food & Vegetable Garden cookbooks, as well as a one-year membership to Cooked so you can start searching for delicious new things to cook with your goodie pack.



Interested in reading more about produce preservation? Here are some references we recommend:

Davidson PM. Chemical preservatives and natural antimicrobial compounds, Food microbiology: Fundamentals and frontiers. Doyle MP, Beauchat LR, Montville TJ, editors. Washington, DC: ASM Press; 2001.
Shelef LA, Seiter J. Indirect and miscellaneous antimicrobials, Antimocrobials in food. 3rd ed. Davidson PM, Sofos JN, Larry BA, editors. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor and Francis; 2005. pp. 573–598.
Leistner L. Basic aspects of food preservation by hurdle technology. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2000;55(1–3):181–186.
Potter NN, Hotchkiss JH. Food science. Food science texts series. 5th ed. New York: Chapman & Hall; 1995.
Doyle MP, Beuchat LR, Montville TJ, editors. Food microbiology: Fundamentals and frontiers. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: ASM Press; 2001.

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