Pickling developed as a way to safely store excess food. To pickle eggs, first hard cook them; then submerge them in a hot solution of vinegar, seasonings and salt until the flavorings penetrate each egg. You can vary the basic recipe by experimenting with different spices, herbs and vinegars. Always store pickled eggs in the refrigerator, cautions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Room-temperature pickled eggs are more likely to become infected with botulinum bacteria.
Prepare the Eggs
Choose small- or medium-sized eggs with unblemished shells. To hard-cook them in a way that makes the eggs easier to peel, use a needle to poke a hole through the egg's larger end. Put the eggs in one layer in a large saucepan; add cold water to cover the eggs by 1 inch; and bring the water to a boil with the pan's lid in place. Take the pan off the heat, and let the eggs sit for at least 15 minutes; then put them in ice water for 1 minute. Reboil the water in the pan; return the eggs for 10 seconds; then remove them and peel each. If you're short on time, you can skip the ice-water bath and re-immersion in boiling water.
Choose Your Pickling Liquid
A typical pickled egg recipe calls for a pickling solution of white vinegar, water, sugar, pickling spice and salt. For every 12 eggs you plan to pickle, use about a cup of vinegar and a cup of water, a tablespoon of sugar, approximately 2 teaspoons of pickling spice and a teaspoon of salt. Bring the mixture to a boil; then simmer it for approximately 10 minutes to dissolve the salt and sugar. To create your own variations, substitute cider vinegar or pickled beet juice for the white vinegar; use brown instead of white sugar or your choice of additional seasonings, such as dill or mustard seed, liquid smoke or minced onions, garlic or peppers.
Start the Pickling Process
Put the hard-cooked, peeled eggs into a warm, sterilized sturdy container that has a tightly fitting lid, such as a glass canning jar. Plan to put no more than 12 small- or medium-sized eggs into a quart-sized container. Once the pickling solution is done simmering, pour the hot liquid over the top of the eggs. Make sure that all the eggs are completely submerged -- you'll need to make more pickling solution if they aren't. Put the container's lid securely in place and place the eggs in the refrigerator immediately. Don't allow them to cool down to room temperature before refrigerating.
You should keep your pickled eggs in the refrigerator for at least two days before eating them, although the National Center for Home Food Preservation says it may take longer -- up to 4 weeks for medium or large eggs -- for the eggs to fully absorb the flavor from the pickling solution. Use the eggs within a month and never leave the container out of the refrigerator. Discard the eggs if the pickling solution appears cloudy, if you see mold growing within the container, or the eggs have an unpleasant odor.