Refrigerator Pickles

How to make pickles

Who doesn't love a good pickle? Crunchy, fresh and tangy, the bright acidity wakes up anything you serve it with. I haven't met a pickle I didn't enjoy, from little cornichons to sweet bread and butter, but my hands-down favorite is a crunchy, dilly, sour pickle.

I was originally feeding my obsession with store-bought pickles. I could eat a jar of McClure's garlic and dill in one sitting. But at $9 a jar, my habit was getting expensive.

Then, last summer, I was in Philadelphia trying to crack the cronut with my friend Steph and she pulled out a selection of pickles to serve with dinner that night (like me, she's a pickle fiend too.) Some were store-bought, but the ones that I kept going back to were the tiny white cucumbers she had pickled herself.

Home pickling was something I had put on the back burner for so long, it was a sign. It was time for me to start making pickles!

Now, I have not yet jumped into the deep waters of processed pickles. Big boiling pots, tongs and more I'm sure are somewhere in my future (canning and homemade preserves definitely hold some intrigue for me) but I wanted a quick, easy pickle recipe to feed my cravings now.

And it really couldn't be simpler. Like a lot of posts on this blog, this isn't an "official" recipe, just a set of guidelines and proportions to get you pickling in your own kitchen.

First, you need to decide on what vegetable/s you want to pickle. Cucumbers are great (my go-to for sure), but I've had success doing a bunch of different veggies. Cauliflower is a close second for me, but dilly beans and tangy beets are delicious too. And don't be afraid to mix veggies. Adding onions to the jar makes for great flavor and hey, pickled onions. Find what you like and experiment!

Second, you must consider your acid. I prefer white distilled vinegar or cider vinegar because they are standardized at 5% acidity. If you change up your vinegar just be mindful that you need high enough acidity to pickle your pickle and to keep any harmful bugs from making you sick. The scariest of these is botulism so don't changing ratios all willy-nilly.

Third, time to play with seasonings and aromatics. I like dill, fennel, mustard seed, peppercorns, garlic, caraway seed, fennel seed and more (just not all at once!) Be creative, play with herbs, other spices (cloves, cardamom, star anise, etc) as well as sugar. If you find my ratio too sour for you, add sugar to the brine (vs cutting back on vinegar) and don't be afraid of being bold.

Fourth, use canning/pickling salt. It's cheap, dissolves easily, and is the appropriate salt for the job. Now is not the time to pull out the maldon.

The ratio: 1 part water to 1 part vinegar (5% acidity). I find 1.5 cups water to 1.5 cups vinegar with 2 tblsps of pickling salt makes enough brine for me to do 2 quart-sized jars. I'm pretty messy and tend to spill my brine.

The process: 
1) Clean your jars and lids. I like to use the high heat dishwasher cycle for this. Remember, this isn't as squeaky clean as the sterilizing of jars you need to do for processed pickles.
2) Place your veggies (cut off stem ends, especially in cucumbers, the stem ends have an enzyme that will make your pickles get soft) in the jars with your aromatics/spices. You don't want to beat up your veggies, but you do want them packed tight.
3) Put your water, vinegar, salt and sugar (if using) in a pot and bring to a boil. You want all the sugar and salt to dissolve into your brine. If you are using aromatics like spices or seeds, you can add them to the brine to steep as well.
4) Pour the boiling brine directly over your veggies into the jars, covering them as best you can, but leaving a little headspace in the top of the jars (about 1/2 inch.) I like to place my jars in the sink since I will inevitably be spilling boiling brine.
5) Tap your jars gently to remove any air bubbles.
6) Apply lids to the jars and let them cool. Once they hit room temperature, pop them in the fridge.

They are ready in 48 hours, but I've been known to try them after just one day. They are better with more time, maybe a week, and they'll last a couple of months if you can hold off that long. I see no reason to.

What's your favorite pickle? Got a recipe or combination you love or would love to find? I'm always looking for pickle ideas.

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