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July 12, 2023
Forget Jam—Pickle Your Fruit This Summer

Sweet and briny berries, cherries, and plums are the pickles you never knew you needed.

Summer is here and, with it, an abundance of fresh fruit. Grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and fruit stands are all brimming with the season’s finest offerings, from cherries and berries to plums and peaches. I’m always tempted into buying entire flats of fruit, only to get them home and wonder how I will consume several pounds of peaches that are all likely to ripen at the exact same moment. Turning these summer fruits into jams and jellies is the most common way to preserve them, but this summer, I’ve turned to pickling instead. 

Hear the word “pickle,” and you may think of cucumbers, asparagus, or onions, but fruit is just as delicious dunked in brine—and, dare I say, even more versatile. Think of the savory Japanese pickled plums known as umeboshi, sweet Russian pickled cherries, and pickled watermelon rinds from the American South.

Jams rely on sugar for preservation purposes, but I sometimes find their sweetness to be too dominant. It would be easy to imagine that vinegar’s strong flavor would overpower and even drown out the sweetness and delectability of perfectly ripe fruit, yet it somehow does the opposite. Pickling brings out fruit’s best qualities, deploying acid, salt, and a hint of sugar to make fruit sharper, brighter, and noticeably juicier. 

Pickled fruit adds a little zing to any dish. Serve pickled cherries alongside grilled pork chops, pickled nectarines atop a vibrant green salad, or pickled plums in a ham sandwich with all the fixings. But don’t just reserve these pickles for savory dishes. Try tangy pickled blueberries on top of your next stack of buttermilk pancakes, or serve them with a creamy yogurt panna cotta. It may sound a bit weird, but it totally works, and it even feels a bit fancy—like something you might find on the menu of a swanky New American brunch spot.

Once you’ve finished your pickles, don’t throw out the brine! Use it for salad dressings or even drinks. One of the coolest things you can do with pickled fruit is to use it in a sort of shrub—a beverage usually made with fruit, sugar, and vinegar. Because the acidic base of a shrub is usually a bit sweeter than my pickling brine, I like to add an extra spoonful of sugar or simple syrup to my glass before drinking. My riff on a shrub combines a few pickled cherries or plums with a splash of their brine and a generous pour of sparkling water for a refreshing nonalcoholic drink that’s much more interesting than your average soda or juice.

Because home canning makes me nervous, I prefer to use a quick-pickling method for my fruit. The brine ingredients are simply combined in a saucepan, brought to a boil, and poured over prepared fruit packed into jars. To prevent mushiness, make sure to use fruit that is ripe but still firm, as the fruit will soften as it sits in the brine. The pickles are ready within hours (and are, of course, better the longer they sit) and last up to a month in the refrigerator. However, mine never seem to last that long, always making their way into sandwiches and salads or garnishing a cocktail. Adding pickled cherries to my last BLT made it taste like a $20 sandwich—and that’s a pretty unbeatable value.

RECIPE: Quick-Pickled Plums

Zola Gregory

Zola Gregory is a writer and recipe developer based in Seattle. Having previously worked as a pastry chef and baker, she now enjoys helping others find success in their own kitchens through her stories, recipes, and baking classes.