Here’s an oldie but goodie: refrigerator pickles.
I remember making a version of these with my mother when I was in grade school. We’d pickle cucumbers whole in a simple brine, with plenty of garlic and dill. Then into the fridge they would go, for a couple of days and sometimes longer, before we could get at them. At the time, it seemed like an eternity to wait, especially for little pickle-addicted me. After a while, I made up my mind that I didn’t really like refrigerator pickles, partly because they didn’t taste much like the supermarket pickles I was used to, and partly because they took so gorram long to be ready.
I know better now, of course. In fact, I think I even prefer refrigerator pickles to their pressure-processed counterparts. Without a sustained dose of heat to make them shelf-stable, the pickles retain some of their original snap, and the flavors in the brine stay sharp and unmuffled. On top of that, refrigerator pickles are a great way to play with flavoring agents, finding the combinations that hit the spot on a particular day, in a particular mood. The last time I made a batch, I threw in some allspice on a whim, and ended up loving it within the classic mix of garlic and dill; next time I’m thinking I might go full-on spicy, with some chili peppers and maybe even hot sauce in the mix.
Even the best refrigerator pickle recipes are templates, not rulebooks. As long as the proportions of vinegar and salt in the brine, and the ratio of brine to vegetable matter, stay about the same, the sky’s the limit. And not just with cucumbers, either; I’ve got my eye on pickled radishes next, and after that it’s on to pearl onions, baby carrots, and maybe even green tomatoes.
Classic Refrigerator Pickles (makes 4 pints)
Adapted from The Kitchn
2 lb Kirby (pickling) cucumbers or other small cucumbers
8 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with a knife
1 tsp crushed red chili flake, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, chopped OR 2 tbsp dried dill
2 tsp black peppercorns
16 whole allspice berries (optional)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tbsp + 2 tsp pickling salt OR 3 tbsp Morton kosher salt*
Special equipment: 4 pint canning jars
*Different brands of kosher salt yield different volumes, so make sure to double-check which brand you’re using. Click here for a handy guide to measuring kosher salt. And please don’t use table salt–the iodine will turn the pickles icky colors.
Wash and trim the ends off the cucumbers. Cut each cucumber into wedges or slices, as you prefer. Distribute the aromatics and spices evenly among the jars–each jar gets 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 tsp crushed red chili flake, 1 tbsp fresh dill OR 1/2 tbsp dried dill, 1/2 tsp peppercorns, and 4 whole allspice berries (if using). Pack the cucumber wedges into the jars on top of the spices–you want them fairly tightly packed, but not so tightly that they get crushed.
In a small saucepan, bring vinegar, water and salt to a simmer, stirring until the salt dissolves. Turn off the heat and pour the hot liquid into the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of each jar. Discard any excess brine. Tap the jars gently on the countertop to dislodge any air bubbles, then cover them tightly and let them cool to room temperature. Once cooled, transfer the jars to the refrigerator.
The pickles will be ready to eat after 48 hours in the fridge. They’ll be fully pickled after about 1 week, and will last in the fridge for about 2 months.