Pickling Spice–How and Why to Make Your Own

Homemade Pickling Spice--In a Jar

If you’re reading this, I assume that you pickle.  And if you are already committed to that old-timey homesteading endeavor, you might as well take the next step, and make your own pickling spice too.   Yes, it is worth it:  making your own takes very little time;  ensures a fresher product than the ready-made pickling spice you find at the supermarket; allows for combinations of spices that you choose; and costs much less.

For the freshest product sold at the best price, go where you’ll find a high volume of sales.  First stop—the Indian grocery store.  India is home to the Spice Coast.  You‘ll find nearly every spice that you need here sold for a song.  Allspice, the rare New World spice, can be purchased at local Middle Eastern or Caribbean Mom & Pop shops. Lastly, dill seed is reasonably priced at the supermarket or try a Jewish or Polish grocery store.

To really get in touch with your pioneer roots, try growing some of the spices. I plant dill every year and it just goes to seed eventually.  I collect some seeds to use in pickling spice and the rest just replant themselves—the perfect lazy gardener specimen. Like dill, cilantro also goes to seed quickly.  I collect all I can though I usually have to buy some too.  I guess we eat our cilantro too fast to make enough seeds. Lastly, I  buy the chilies from the farmers market and dry them on newspapers or in paper bags.

Once you have purchased or dried all of your spices, transfer them from bags to jars or containers with tight fitting lids.  I recycle peanut butter jars and the like for this purpose.  Storing spices in a jar keeps them fresher and makes them easier to handle. Just be sure to label them with the spice and the date.Storing spices in recycled containers

The recipe below is what I use during the fermenting process for cucumber but it may be used in fresh pack pickles too.  I usually triple the recipe and that lasts 1 season of pickling.

Pickling Spice
Recipe type: Herbs & Seasonings
  • 3 T mustard seeds
  • 6 Mediterranean bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 - 6 dried red chilies, crumbled
  • 1 T whole allspice berries
  • 1 T dill seed
  • 1 T coriander seed
  • 1 T whole black peppercorns
  1. Mix and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

This is a flexible recipe so I let the girls do the measuring and mixing completely.  No knives, no fire, what could go wrong?

Homemade Pickling Spice--girls measure and mix

Working as a team without my instructions. Just reading the recipe!

Homemade Pickling Spice--girl crushes bay leaves

Crumbling bay leaves–perfect activity for little hands.

Homemade Pickling Spice--cutting the dried chilies

Using scissors to crumble the chilies–probably should have had her use gloves as we had an itching eye incident. Oops.  Good thing it happened to the tough kid.

Girl Holds Homemade Pickling Spice

Ready for pickling.

For more information and recipes on pickling and fermentation see the following links:

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Because exploring ethnic grocery stores remains one of my favorite past-times, I feel fortunate to live in a city as ethnically diverse as Milwaukee.   I love ethnic food adventures so much, that 2 years ago for Mother’s Day, my husband drove me all over Milwaukee’s South side so that we could investigate all of the Greek and Turkish grocers.  We took turns going in the stores while our girls slept in the back seat.  It was nap time.

Milwaukee’s South side is rife with immigrant-owned mom and pop establishments.  Although we have fewer on the North side, a few gems exist.  El Pueblo, a Puerto Rican/Caribbean specialty store just down the street from my house, is one such gem. It was here that I discovered sofrito in the freezer section.  After asking, the owner explained that sofrito is a seasoning made with tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs.  Sofrito is a constant of Puerto Rican cuisine added to various dishes like beans, eggs, rice, and meats.  I took it home; I tried it out; I loved it, and thought, “I can make that.”  And so I did with all locally-grown ingredients of course.  After researching and testing many recipes I came up with my own.

Recipe type: Condiment & Seasoning
Cuisine: Latin American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: about 8 cups
Sofrito can be made with green or red peppers. I prefer the red for sweetness and color. When red peppers come into season, make a large batch of sofrito--enough to last the entire year--then freeze it. I add it to beans for a quick delicious side dish. I also like to add it to Latin inspired soups and sauces.
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 cups onions, minced
  • 3 cups red and green bell peppers, minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato, cored, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 lime, juice
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 t black pepper
  1. Chop or process ingredients in a food processor and combine.
  2. Place sofrito in freezer safe bags, removing all air.
  3. Date and label.
  4. Freeze sofrito flat in the bags so that it is easy to break off frozen chunks as needed.
  5. Fresh sofrito will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Cooking with Kids:  I make sofrito with a food processor. The kids are in charge of pushing the button. They love this task. The processor is a noisy, electric machine with a button and a sharp blade. Nothing could be more irresistible to a little kid

Garlic Scapes

They look like art—a sculpture of inviting green.  Available only in farmers markets and gardens for a few weeks in June, their ephemeral nature and rarity only adds to their allure. If you are like me, you will spy them in the market and feel compelled to buy them even if you have no clue as to what to do with them.

More than vegetative art, the scape is the flowering stalk of hard neck garlic.  Young tender stalks grow in beautiful curlicues, but as they mature, the stalks straighten and dry and the flowering bulb turns to seed.  To direct the plant’s energy away from making seeds and towards producing a large, flavorful garlic bulb, the farmer removes the tender edible scape.  Viola! My most coveted springtime treat with a taste nearly  identical to garlic with a fresher, milder, more herbal quality.

What to do with it once you’ve brought it home? Well you could chop it up and add it to stir fry or perhaps pickle it, but I suggest  that you make Garlic Scape Paste and add it to everything you would have added garlic…and then some.

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Garlic Scapes
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 cups
  • 1 bunch, about 14 scapes, flowers removed and stalks coarsely chopped
  • ⅔ cup oil (olive, canola, grape or safflower are good choices)
  1. Remove the flower portion of each scape as it can be bitter. I like to save them and use as a garnish.
  2. In a food processor, add scapes and pulse until finely minced.
  3. Next, slowly pour in the oil while processing.
  4. Transfer paste to a glass or plastic jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  5. Paste will keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks. Add to recipes as needed. You can also freeze it.

Preserve It: 
Buy a few bunches at the market, make it en masse, and freeze. Place paste in a freezer bag, press flat removing as much air as possible, label and seal.  If you freeze it flat on the shelf, you can break off bits of garlic scape paste as you need it as long as it lasts.  Even if freezer real estate is an issue for you, put this on the A-list.  It is a tasty time saver-—better-than-minced-garlic-flavor-at-the-ready.

Cooking with Kids:

Have your kids help with the prep by using scissors to remove the flowers, and cut the scapes into chunks for easy processing.  They are also very good at pushing buttons…I mean for the food processor.