At some point in the summer — and it’s usually about now — the glut of summer vegetables becomes almost a hindrance. Friends and family have had enough zucchini, thank you. You’ve put cucumbers in everything, including that blueberry smoothie. (It was surprisingly tasty.) But it’s just to hot to want to think about canning, and if you have a small garden you may not have enough to fill up a canner anyway.
A Brief History of Pickling
Pickling is an ancient method of food preservation. Either preserved in brine as a fermentation or soaked in vinegar, the exceptionally low pH produced kills most bacteria. Traditional pickling spices, like dill and mustard, lend additional anti-microbial properties. Cultures all over the world have a tradition of using pickling to preserve and change food.
In the modern United States, we usually equate “pickles” with cucumbers in vinegar, although we also eat pickled olives in large quantities, pickled banana pepper rings are a common condiment, and commercially canned sauerkraut is popular, which is typically cabbage in vinegar. Commercial produced fermented sauerkraut is on the rise, and one of our largest pickle brand names, Claussen, is an uncooked pickle in the style of a fermented Lithuanian Half Sour. Growing up, pickled beets and eggs were a mainstay in our home, and small gas stations throughout the southeast often have a selection of pickled okra, eggs and other dainties.
The technique of pickling can be applied to virtually any fruit or vegetable. You can:
- Ferment in brine (See my early adventures in fermentation here and here.)
- Submerge in flavored vinegar, aka “refrigerator pickles”
- Can in a boiling water bath
I promised fast and easy, so let’s just talk about refrigerator pickles. The basic technique is:
- 50-75% vinegar (5%)
- 25-50% water*
- spices and flavoring
- vegetables and or fruits cleaned and sliced
- glass canning jars and lids
*Use less water and more vinegar for watery vegetables like cucumbers and onions. If in doubt, use more vinegar.
Fill clean jars with very hot water. On the stove, bring your water and vinegar mixture to a boil. When ready, dump hot water out of jars and pack with your vegetables, leaving about 3/4″ of headroom. Fill jars with brine leaving about 1/2″ of headroom. Seal jars and leave on counter to cool, then store in refrigerator. Pickles are ready to eat in as little as one week, and will safely store for about 3 months on the refrigerator. I like and use the ReCap lids, but regular metal canning lids or Tattler reusable canning lids work just as well.
Remember: when you preserve food, it does not elevate in quality, although it may elevate in taste. Use your freshest produce for preserving and carefully remove pest damage or soft spots. There are a plethora of recipes on the internet, or, unlike boiling water bath canning, you can make up your own. I recommend starting with a single jar of any recipe, then making notes of the ones you like best. One of the great things about refrigerator pickles is that you can make them in small batches all summer long with whatever is coming in in excess in the garden. And unlike pickles made in a boiling water bath canner, refrigerator pickles are truly crunchy.
Whether you save them for yourself or bring them to summer BBQ’s and gatherings, fast and easy refrigerator pickles bring a new flavor to the table for your garden goodies.