I made my first batch of pickles as a science experiment with my kids. But as with our homemade yogurt, this recipe was so simple and so yummy that I've been making it ever since. Adding vinegar (acetic acid) to your vegetables kills off bacteria that would cause them to decompose and breaks down their texture just enough to make them extra tasty. And unlike some other pickling techniques, these refrigerator pickles don't need to sit and ferment -- they're ready to eat the next day!
Every year I plant some hills of small pickling cucumbers in our Three Sisters Garden -- corn, climbing beans, and low-lying squash and other vine plants. Most years I harvest enough to fill a few jars for us plus extra for friends and family. If you eat the pickles as a condiment and not as an entree (tempting as it is), you may be able to make your pickle supply last all year. Here's how to make them. (This recipe also appears in my book Edible Inventions from Maker Media, Fall 2016.)
Step 1: Ingredients
To make two quarts of refrigerator pickles, you will need:
- 6-10 pickling cucumbers
- 1 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt (kosher or pickling)
- 2 tablespoons mustard seed
- 2 tablespoons dill (dried or chopped fresh)
- 2-3 cups white vinegar
- 2-quart-sized canning jar with plastic screw-on lid (or appropriate number of smaller jars or containers)
Most years, I just buy generic pickling cucumber seeds and start my hills from scratch. In years when I get a late start, I take whatever seedlings the farmers' market has available. One year I grabbed some flats of Japanese cucumbers by mistake. These turned out to be quite long and thin, and very delicious -- with the added advantage of not blimping up if I didn't pick them in time. There was less risk of them developing tough seeds as well.
Step 2: Prepare Your Cucumbers
Wash your cucumbers. You do not need to peel them. Standard pickling cucumbers often have tiny black "seeds" on the skin when you pick them. Just rub them off when you wash them. Cut off and discard the ends. Slice the cucumbers thickly.
Step 3: Combine Ingredients
Place the sliced cucumbers in a large bowl. Add chopped onions, sugar, salt, mustard seed, and dill. Pour in enough vinegar to cover the ingredients. (It's fun to watch the sugar dissolve and seem to disappear when you add the vinegar. But don't worry it's still there -- what you see is a physical and not a chemical reaction!)
Step 4: Transfer Pickles to a Jar
Once everything's mixed together, transfer the ingredients to your storage jar. I use a canning funnel to make it easier. Add more vinegar to the jar if needed to be sure all the pickles and onions are covered. Because they float, you will probably need to fill the jar to the top with vinegar.
Step 5: Refrigerate and Enjoy
Close the top of your pickle jar (or other container) tightly and leave it overnight in the refrigerator. By the next day, your pickles should be darker, a tad softer, and extremely delicious. Serve them with hot dogs and hamburgers, or chop them into relish and add to sandwiches and salads. Your pickles should keep in the refrigerator for several months. Enjoy!