The abundance of the summer season can be quite exciting, but also daunting. I try my best to make a plan each week after my trip to the farmers’ market about what I am going to do with all my produce, but given the quantities sold at the farmers’ market and life rearing its ugly head, a few vegetables slip through the cracks: a half pound of green beans here, some cucumbers there, you know what I mean. Maybe you’ve even had to face the shame of discovering rotting vegetables at the bottom of your crisper drawer. Those vegetables gave up their lives for you and you’re just going to throw them out?!
One solution is to cook all this stuff before it gets old but—and I’m sure I’ll be disavowing these words come February—a person can only eat so many steamed fresh green beans. For me, when nature’s bounty becomes a little too much to handle, I turn to pickling.
Maybe you’re thinking, “whoa, pickling is too much to handle!” I’m not talking about your grandma hauling out the canning jars and putting up the whole winter larder (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Given the limitations of my stove and storage space there’s no way I could sterilize or properly seal a bunch of jars. But with refrigerator pickles, quick pickles that need to be stored cold, there’s no need to sterilize the containers or vacuum seal them: it’s just produce, spices, vinegar and you’re all set.
I had three particular overabundances to address: a bag of green and yellow beans that was two weeks old, a large bag of cucumbers that I had no chance of finishing, and the rest of the summer slaw from earlier in the week (which, obviously, was not dressed).
With all those vegetables stuffed into clean jars it was time to add spices. I don’t believe in using a recipe when making pickles; instead, I just put together a collection of what I vaguely consider pickling spices. With the beans I put in a few sprigs of fresh dill, a split jalapeño, a few crushed garlic cloves, coriander seeds, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Same drill with the cucumbers, except instead of mustard seeds I used caraway. For the cabbage I put in chinese five spice along with garlic and peppercorns. I usually prefer to use whole spices for pickling but my five-spice was ground; I don’t think it will be a problem, though those seeds floating around the jar are pretty.
At this point the pickles are ready to be, well, pickled. For this, pickling solution is required. I usually do a combination of two parts vinegar to one part water, with about two tablespoons of salt and ¼ cup of brown sugar if I’m looking for sweet pickles, as was the case with the cabbage. Vinegar choice definitely makes a difference here: I have had some excellent pickles made with champagne vinegar and I bet balsamic would give interesting results. Being economically minded above all, I usually just use pure white vinegar, a gallon of which can be obtained for less than a dollar. It tastes fine.
After a quick boil to dissolve the salt and sugar, the solution can be poured in the jars to cover the produce. With a short cooling they are ready to be lidded and put in the refrigerator. 24 hours later and the pickles are ready to eat. I think food safety experts might say pickles last refrigerated up to a month, but I have eaten pickled rutabaga that was over 3 months old and did not die, so proceed at your own risk. It probably won’t be an issue anyway, because after you try the first of your homemade pickles (trying my pickled cucumbers on a burger, for example, sent me into a fit of joyous expletives) they won’t last much longer at all.