No longer are pickles reserved for pregnant women’s cravings, nor are they the sad soggy looking entities thrown into school lunches of yesteryear. From cayenne-spiced pickled cauliflower to smoky okra pickles laced with curry powder to the no-frills classic dill, a newfound pickle craze has paved the way to a new generation of pickle consumer. Whatever the flavor or vegetable of choice, a good pickle is all about balance- a balance of brininess, crunchiness, and to usher in this new era of pickle-lovers, a bit of personal flair.
The brine. A pickle without its brine is just an old and sad cucumber. A good brine should have that acidic punch that comes from vinegar, with overtones of saltiness and sweetness. It is for this perfect balance that homemade pickles aficianados tinker and test at their recipes, and why homemade versions often prevail over over-salted, overly sweet, store-bought brands. Though some pickling proponents out there swear by the use of apple cider vinegar for a brine base, I find that it adds a sweetness that doesn’t suit my tastes, and much prefer the clean quality and subtle sweetness of a bit of sugar added to a white vinegar solution.
The crunch. To get the classic crunch that makes a good pickle stand apart from a bad pickle, choose the best, freshest vegetables to start. Many enthusiasts swear to fresh cucumbers straight off the vine, but as I’m not often privy to such bounty, I head to my farmers market or simply my local grocer. As a guide to selecting your vegetables, the firmer and the younger, the better the pickle will be. If it tastes good as a vegetable it will taste good as a pickle- as much a science as pickling is, it is rather foolhardy. For cucumbers, look for ones that are green and not yellow, with skin that is thin and bumpy. These smaller, wartier pickles tend have fewer seeds inside, a sign that they are younger and thus will end up crisper. Whatever you do, don’t use one of those big cumbersome waxy cucumbers!
The flair. The canning process can be a fun home experiment, great for holiday gift-giving or to savor your garden’s sudden explosion of fruit. But for the average pickle-lover who, like me, falls into the camp of I-like-pickles-but-I-am-too-lazy-to-can-things, there is the trusty refrigerator pickle. The quick refrigerator pickle is easy, foolproof, and yields quick results and small batches. Whether briny and spicy or crunchy and sweet, by adding in your favorite flavorings to a simple brine base you can keep a rotation of pickles in the fridge to fit your mood. Use whatever suits your liking- whether it be the garlic dill recipe provided below, or pumped up with cumin seeds and mustard seeds, more peppers or less peppers, or use beets, carrots, or cauliflower instead of cucumbers. Play around, to find your perfect pickle nirvana!
- 1.5 pounds pickling cucumbers (around 6-9 small cucumbers)
- 1 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut in half
- 6-10 fronds of dill
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorn
- 2 spring onions (whites only), thinly sliced
- 2 large mason jars
- Wash and dry cucumbers. Leaving the peel intact, cut off the ends of the pickles and slice them lengthwise (in halves or quarters, depending on your preference).
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a simmer.
- While you are waiting for the vinegar solution to heat, in each mason jar, place two garlic cloves, one jalapeno pepper, some dill, a teaspoon of peppercorns, and a sliced spring onion. When all the ingredients are in the jar, layer cucumbers on top, crowding them together so they fit tightly next to each other.
- When the vinegar solution is simmering and the salt and sugar completely dissolved, take off the stove. While hot, pour into each mason jar, dividing evenly between the two jars and enough to cover the tops of the cucumbers. Screw lid on tight, and leave on a countertop to cool completely before storing in the fridge.
- Let the pickles sit in the fridge for at least three days before eating. Pickles will keep in the fridge for a month.