Thursday, August 16, 2012

Quick Pickles

You know one thing I love/hate about the garden. Most of the food comes on in kind of a rush. You get hordes of something for a week or two and then it's gone. You can call me crazy (it's happened before), but there's something about this garden rush that I kind of appreciate. It demands your attention. It demands that--if you want to have a bit of bounty later--you take a little notice of it now. In that way, it sort of mirrors life. Especially family life. You can ignore your kids if you want, but they might end up rotting and then reproducing with something from the compost pile. And we all know what that means: a whole lot of unruly squash plants sprouting up everywhere. To avoid this, you have to take a little bit of notice of your, um, vegetables when they're ripe for noticing. And sometimes this can lead to a blessed winter bounty. Although sometimes things still reproduce in the compost, but at least you know you've done all for the vegetables that you can...(Have I digressed yet?)

Anyway, my point is that you often end up with more than you can eat and if you don't want it to go to waste, you have to find a way of preserving it.

This is all well and good if you have just oodles of produce. Then you can pickle or can or ferment. The problem that I, as am imperfect gardener, run into is that I have a little too much of something. Let's take cucumbers, for example. Let's say that, theoretically, you have 7 too many. Seven is not enough to whip up a full-on brine, sterilize everything, and bust out the canning pot. But it sure is sad to watch them go all wrinkly and rubbery in the refrigerator. And so, today, I offer you a lazy woman's solution because if there's something you've come to expect from me, it is this.

My mother used to make quick pickles when I was little. She'd slice the cucumbers into rounds and put them in vinegar and water with salt, pepper, and a little sugar. She'd store it all in an old Cool Whip container, of which we owned approximately 70,000 (Mom, you know it's true--and also, exactly how much Cool Whip did you let us eat?) You can do that too. But the recipe I give you today is just a wee (wee) bit more difficult for which you get a slightly more complexly-flavored pickle (P.S. Has anyone tried the word 'complexly-flavored' on Words with Friends lately? Just asking.)

It is not--I repeat--not exactly the same as a dill pickle you get from the store. I personally like it much better, but my kids were like "These aren't pickles." So, there you go. However, my kids' opinions aside, these taste great alone and make butt-kicking additions to tuna sandwiches or salads or chicken salad or whatever. I also really like to eat a couple at the end of a meal. The punchy acid seems to signal to the taste buds and the stomach that the meal is over and it (supposedly) helps with digestion. 

As a note, you might want to tinker with the amount of vinegar and water. We like ours with some serious vinegary kick. You can also tinker with the flavors you add. You can add hot peppers or regular peppers if you're one of those types. You can add a bunch of garlic. This recipe keeps it pretty classic, but there's plenty of room for experimentation.

And as one final thing: One of the advantages of quick pickles is that you're still eating a raw cucumber with all it's veggie might. However there is a trade-off because, unlike their canned brothers, these things won't last forever. Yes, you are extending their refrigerator life. They totally perked my wrinkling, yellowing cucumbers up and gave them another 2 weeks of life. But they are still far from immortal. You can store these in the fridge for at least 2 weeks and I'm betting 3 or even a little longer. However, don't come back to them in January (or even October) and expect them to be alright. They won't be.

A Tip for the Intensely Lazy Home Gardener/Preserver:
-If you really just don't want to pickle at all or don't have the time, you can get a decent quick pickle by cutting the pickle into rounds and throwing the rounds into your old pickle juice, then letting it sit for several days. That's right. Eat the store-bought pickles and then use their juice for your over-abundance of cucumbers. After several days, they won't taste exactly the same as your store-bought pickles did, but you'll be surprised how pickle-y they've become. And you'll extend the life of your cucumbers by a couple weeks.

Quick Pickles
adapted from The Chicago Tribune
makes approximate 3 pints
Prep and cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: oh, maybe $.25 if you're using garden cucumbers and Sam's Club vinegar

Note: You don't have to use the freshest cucumbers. Mine were yellow and wrinkling. However, you cannot use rotten cucumbers, so have a taste first if yours are getting a little sketchy. I'm not sure if it can transform a bitter cucumber as none of mine were bitter, but I'm guessing that the acid could save even a bitter cucumber from its composted fate.

Note: Feel free to add hot peppers or any other seasoning that sounds groovy to you.

Note: If you have a "pickling spice" you can use that in place of the dill and peppercorns.

3-4 short, fat cucumbers, cut into rounds with any big old icky seeds removed (small seeds are welcome)--these can be peeled or not
2 C vinegar (any kind except balsamic)
1 C water
4 tsp salt
2 tsp dill seeds
2 tsp peppercorns
3 clove garlic per jar, crushed (optional)
2-4 tsp sugar, optional (I didn't use, but ours had serious punch)

Peel, slice, or seed your cukes as necessary. Put the cucumbers in clean mason jars (I used pint sized ones and got three). Add one crushed garlic clove per jar.

Combine vinegar, water, salt, dill seeds, and peppercorns in a pot. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and pour this hot, nose-stinging mixture onto your cucumbers until jars are full. Let them cool a few minutes, then add lids and refrigerate.

This will keep for 2-3 weeks. Probably. We eat ours before then.


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