July is National Pickle Month and I almost missed it! How is that possible? Well, I didn’t plant any cucumbers this year, but that’s not really an excuse. It’s high cucumber season in the valley. There are plenty available at every farm stand.
As with so many of the skills I’ve picked up along the way, pickling started as child labor. Every summer, we’d drive out to Rhode Island (“home”, although unlike the rest of my family, I never actually lived there) and we’d buy bushels of peppers – sweet and hot – then descend on my Auntie Rosie’s kitchen, with other assorted aunts and cousins, to make enough pickled peppers to last through the winter – of the next 10 years. My job was along the lines of stuffing jars or something equally demanding.
Maybe this is where I learned to love the spectacle of vegetables piled high. I certainly learned to love pickled peppers.
It wasn’t until years later, during a particularly abundant cucumber harvest, that I learned to make simple dill pickles. And bread and butter pickles. And refrigerator pickles….
My father built special shelves for the cellar pantry that were perfectly sized for ball canning jars. When I moved into my current house, the shelves came with me. More than one service person has commented on my bounty, when they went downstairs to work. One actually asked me if they were just for show or if we ate them. Why would someone stack shelves full of pickles and sauces – in the basement?
It’s a little warm to breakout the canning pot, but I can easily get behind the idea of making some refrigerator pickles. It is a national holiday after all. Not doing so would be positively unpatriotic.
Oh, and somehow I’ve lost the knack of pickling hot peppers without them becoming soft. Please, please, please, if you have the secret, let me know.
My Quick and Easy Refrigerator Pickles
Refrigerator pickles don’t last as long as processed pickles, but when you’ve got fresh, crunchy cucumbers available, it’s nice to dress them up with a little vinegar and dill and enjoy them immediately. The fact that they take so little effort is just a bonus. You can even start to eat them within a few hours of mixing them up – although they’re better when they’ve been allowed to sit for a day or two.
This is a very basic recipe. If you like your pickles more or less salty, it’s easy enough to adjust. I like the zip of adding peppercorns, but I don’t usually include the garlic. They seem fresher without it. And some folks add a small sliced onion to the mix. Heck, some use zucchini instead of cucumbers. Suit yourself.
What You’ll Need:
3 -4 pickling cucumbers like Kirby (about 5 in. long)
1 Tbsp. Salt – kosher, coarse, sea, or pickling (You just don’t want iodized table salt)
½ tsp. dill seed (or 1 – 2 T. Fresh dill leaves)
1 C. cider vinegar
5 -10 black peppercorns, slightly crushed (optional)
1 garlic clove (optional)
2. Use a squeaky clean jar with a lid. You don’t need as tight a seal as you would with processed pickles, but I would advise a wide mouth jar. It’s easier getting the cuke slices in and, more importantly, getting the pickles out.
3. Add the salt and dill seed to the jar, as well as the peppercorns and garlic, if you’re using them.
4. Next, tightly pack in the cucumber slices to within about ½ inch of the top of the jar. Try not to put them in stuck to each other in a pile. The more surface area exposed, the more evenly they will soak up the spices.
5. Then pour the vinegar over everything, screw the cover on tightly and give it a good shake. The vinegar won’t cover the cucumbers, but as the salt draws the water out of them, the liquid will double and the cukes will then be submerged.
6. Put the jar(s) in the fridge and give it another shake whenever you’re nearby.
Go ahead and give them a try in a few hours. You have to taste test, right? The thinner the slices, the faster they pickle.
As long as the pickles are covered in brine, they should last about 3 weeks in your fridge – unless you eat them all before then.