I’d like to say that my first attempt at pickling cucumbers was a disaster, that it ended in a trashed kitchen, a tearful cook, and frightened, vinegar-bedewed cats; that it took me months to perfect my method; that now, after dozens of recipes and heavy research, I’m finally ready to speak as an authority in the art of Pickling. Unfortunately the story isn’t that dramatic. My first attempt was, quite simply, a success.
Now, I’m talking about refrigerator pickles here. These aren’t processed, and you don’t need to lug out your canner in the depths of the summer heat, unless you really are drowning in an overabundance of vegetables (see: enthusiastic backyard gardeners and city-dwellers with repetitive CSA subscriptions). These aren’t the original fermented Kosher dills either, which quite frankly I’d be afraid to attempt in the 90+ degree heat wave that’s been blighting Brooklyn all month long.
Refrigerator pickles are pickles at their most basic, and will last just long enough for you to top your Labor Day burgers. You don’t need to be skilled in the kitchen to make them; you don’t even need to be out of grade school, although a knife-capable adult is a necessary ingredient. As I’ve discovered this summer, they’re also infinitely variable and extendable, and a catch-all for the vegetal remnants left over after weeknight meals (chard stems, stray carrots, fallen cauliflower florets, that quarter of an onion you didn’t use in the soup).
Last Friday’s pickling marathon yielded two jars of cukes with dill and garlic; two standard bread & butters with sliced onion; two jars of jalapeño, habañero, and Holland peppers (for topping summer tacos); and one jar of Asian-style pickled purple carrots with basil, grated ginger, and rice wine vinegar.
Check out that array of repurposed jars! We have apple sauce (although I can’t remember the last time I bought applesauce rather than making my own), salsa, and several peanut butter jars. Ahem, pickle jars.
For the peppers, I used this recipe from Cooks.com. The recipe below is for old school, sweet bread & butter pickles (even after all these years, by far my favorite). If you’re like me, once you have realized that the combination of ingredients doesn’t cause an explosion in your kitchen, you can get creative with the vegetables you include.
Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles
- 2 lbs Kirby cucumbers (approximately 4-5 medium sized cukes)
- 1 medium white or red onion
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 ½ cups white sugar
- 1 T mixed pickling spice (I’m a fan of La Flor) OR make your own*
- 2 T Kosher salt
- 2 to 3 small jars with lids (peanut butter jars work well)
Although you’re not processing these pickles to keep in the cupboard, it’s still best to start with sterilized jars. Boil the jars and lids, or wash them thoroughly in hot soapy water and let dry on a clean dish towel. Tip: if you’re having trouble removing the sticky residue left behind by the label, smear on some peanut butter and rub it in. The glue should rinse clean.
Slice the cucumbers and the onion into 1/8th to ¼ inch rounds (slice the cucumbers into spears if you prefer). Pack the sliced onion and cucumber in alternating layers in two of the jars, as tightly as possible. Depending on the size of your jars (and cukes), you may need to enlist a third jar.
Pour both vinegars into a heavy pan and add the sugar and pickling spices, stirring over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved (2-3 minutes). Turn off the heat, remove the pan and add salt. Carefully pour the hot liquid over the vegetables to cover. You will likely have liquid left over.
Top with the lids and let the jars cool on the counter. When reasonably cool, put them in the refrigerator. Now comes the hard part – don’t eat these for 48 hours! Pickles need time to do their thing. You’ll notice that the pickles will shrink; usually I end up repacking all into one jar at the end of the 48 hour period.
Now what else is left to pickle in your fridge?
Makes enough for the recipe above
- 1 ½ t mustard seeds
- 1 t celery seeds
- ¼ t peppercorns
- ¼ t fennel seed
- ¼ t red pepper flakes
Mix and store in an airtight container if not using immediately.