I have a few favorite tips for using and getting the most from your pickling spices. At the end of my post I include a link to pickling spice recipes. Hopefully these tips will save you time, trouble and money.
Problem: You want to flavor your brine, but you don't want to have whole cloves, mustard seeds, bits of bay leaves, star anise, cardamom pods, peppercorns or other seasonings floating around in your jars of pickles.
Solution: Buy fillable "tea" bags to hold your pickling spices so you can easily remove them after they have infused flavor into your hot pickling brine. These are like an old-fashioned sandwich bag. You just put the spices into the pouch, fold it over and tuck the end under the flap.
Submerge your spice bag in the brine for as long as your recipe directions tell you to....
...keeping in mind when you remove the used bag of pickling spices from the brine, it will be dripping. I never want to waste a precious drop of anything, so I set it on a plate or in a bowl. I would hate for any of the flavorful liquid to go to waste...
...and after it drains for a couple minutes I pour the liquids that have collected back into the pan, and compost the spice bag. If you want to truly get the most mileage from your spices, toss them on your grill or into a wood-burning fire. Talk about a heady aroma!
If you want the prettiest finished products, use whole spices.
Ground spices, like the mustard powder and ground ginger pictured on this cutting board, can make your liquids cloudy. It won't affect the flavor much, but it will affect the way your finished product looks. Personally, I love clear brines & syrups. I like letting the fruits and veggies be the focus.
If you want some ideas for making your own pickling spice blends from scratch, please check out my SPICES page. Once there, you'll find 6 different printable Pickling Spice recipes.
Remember that buying spices in bulk is the most economical way to purchase them, whether you need to buy an ounce or a pound. Many grocery and health food stores have "bulk" sections where a large assortment of spices are sold in jars. It's worth the time it takes to scoop them into a bag. Once you get them home, transfer them to glass containers, like small jars.
Look for small decorative jars (with lids) at secondhand stores, thrift shops and garage sales. Your spices should be stored, labeled and dated, in a drawer, because heat and light will lessen their shelf life.
One last tip: Keep an eye on your spices. Even Pugs have a hard time resisting them!