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How to Pickle Garlic

Never pickled your own fresh garlic? You're in for a real treat. The cloves lose much of their bite, leaving a softer, sweeter garlicky flavor.

The thought of pickled garlic had never crossed my mind until about a year ago. A neighbor grew some heirloom garlic varieties with lilting names like Music, Chesnok Red, and Spanish Roja. Having been gifted with several heads of said garlic, I decided to pickle some of the bounty.

The result? Pickled garlic is mellowed. The cloves lose much of their bite, leaving a softer, sweeter garlicky flavor. They're not great to use like pure garlic, but are great when used more like pickles: to snack on, in sandwiches, in antipasto, on salads.

Anytime you pickle anything, you start with a choice. Are you going to do it the easy way or the hard way? I'm going to tell you a bit about how to pickle garlic both ways, but I recommend going easy, mainly because I don't want any food poisonings on my hands.

You see, the hard way is canning your pickled garlic. Boiling water bath, sealed lids, everything. It's really not that difficult, nor dangerous, but it's detailed, and I prefer something a little more informal.

Canned pickled garlic will last at least a year unrefrigerated, but pickled garlic the easy way will last a few months in the refrigerator.

Pickling involves bathing a food in brine and letting it cure before eating. Brine is just salt and vinegar. You can add a touch of sugar, herbs, or dried peppers, but basically you're just bathing those garlic cloves in sour salt water.

First, you need some jars. Use 4-ounce or 8-ounce jars at the largest—remember, garlic is small. Wash them in hot water. Even if you washed them before putting them away last time, wash them again – take my word for it.

Next, take the garlic and peel the cloves. Drop them into the jars. Fill to about 1/4-inch below the rim, but don't stuff them in.

Next, think about whether you want to flavor the garlic. Want a spicy edge to it? Add a small dried hot chili pepper to the jar or just some black peppercorns. You can use herbs like rosemary, dill, bay leaves, or whatever you like. They're best if you add one herb or spice rather than a bunch.

And finally, it's time for the brine. You can use straight vinegar, but it's common to add a little salt, sugar, or both to it. Red wine vinegar is excellent, but apple cider vinegar and even regular white vinegar work well, too. Experiment with the vinegar for different flavors. The easiest thing to do is put a bit of salt and/or sugar in each jar with the garlic and any extras you've added, and pour the vinegar over it all.

Add a lid and you're almost there. Just refrigerate your pickled garlic for two weeks to allow it to cure before eating it, and keep refrigerated up to a few months.