Backyard gardeners, devotees of farmers markets, and lucky friends of those two groups are enjoying a bounty of fresh vegetables. One West End Galvestonian recently shared some tomatoes that were part of a single day’s nine-pound harvest, but noted sadly that there were only a few more weeks left in her tomato season.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to preserve summer’s goodness, at least for a little while. Pickling fresh vegetables doesn’t have to involve canning, steamy vats of boiling water, and a long day in a hot kitchen. Refrigerator pickles require only a clean jar, salt, vinegar and plenty of fresh vegetables from a nearby garden. Cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are all great candidates for refrigerator pickling.
Refrigerator pickles, also known as quick pickles, do have the drawback of storage. They’re not just made in the fridge; they have to stay there. Unlike preserved food processed in a water bath to develop an airtight seal and a sterile environment, the cool, quick process doesn’t provide the yearslong shelf life of traditionally-pickled food.
Still, for anyone with space to spare in the refrigerator, quick pickles can extend the season a little longer. Pulling out a jar of pickled cherry tomatoes to add to Bloody Marys can bring back all the best memories of summer, stored handily in the back of the fridge.
The anything-goes nature of quick pickles starts with whatever produce is plentiful and extends to the seasonings and the containers. Glass containers are preferable, since they are less likely to harbor any residue than plastic ones, but new plastic containers can be used as well, with either a snap-on or screw-on lid.
Some quick pickle recipes call for white vinegar, while others specify apple cider vinegar. They can be used interchangeably, and it’s a really just a matter of personal preference. Apple cider vinegar is made from pressed apples that have fermented and turned sour, and there’s still an underlying sweetness to it that makes it milder tasting than white vinegar. Distilled, or white, vinegar has a stronger taste, but may be more visually appealing because it is clear, producing a jar of pickles with brighter reds and greens.
For dill pickles, either dill seed or fresh dill weed can be used. Dill weed is usually available in the produce section with other fresh herbs, but it is, quite literally, a weed that often grows in empty lots, and sharp-eyed foragers recognize it by its lacy yellow flowers.
From the basic dill pickle recipe, variations such as adding several cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of crushed red pepper, or thinly sliced onion can customize each batch to personal preference. The amount of salt can also be tweaked, but it’s important not to under-salt, since the essence of pickling is to draw water out of the vegetables with salt and replace it with vinegar.
Quick pickles are ready to eat in just a few hours, and, when stored in the refrigerator, will keep past the end of summer. Now, if there was only a way to preserve those long, languid days of summer as easily.