The biggest perk to working for farms is undoubtedly the continual access to high-quality and fresh vegetables, sometimes in comical quantities that require big dinner parties to consume. When I began to work for farms is really when I began to learn how to cook in an intuitive way, letting the vegetable lead, and cooking with whatever I had in my pantry which may or may not has included every item listed in a recipe. But it took me a couple of years of swimming in vegetables before I really understood the power of the pickle.
Now I quick-pickled with ease, and without a recipe, but it’s a skill I had to learn and practice before confidently incorporating it into my culinary toolkit. For a long time, the idea of making pickles was akin to doing my taxes in my head and involved a mental build-up to a really complicated process. Will I get botulism and will the IRS raid my one folder of gas receipts? But really, my taxes are pretty simple, and quick pickling is categorically simpler.
If you find yourself sometimes struggling to finish a CSA share, or maybe stressing over the possibility of letting some of your Vrdnt produce go to waste, I encourage you to get to know the quick-pickle or refrigerator pickle as it’s often called. Knowing how to (quickly) pickle some of your Vrdnt produce will not only help you extend the crop availability week to week, but it will also give you a fun ingredient to use in your cooking.
Like a condiment, pickles can add acidity and salt to a dish. And like a garnish, they can add texture. A two-fer, if you will. If your dinner plate is just mehh-seeming, what would it feel like to put a tiny pile of pickled purple onions on there? Like good lighting, a pile of pickles can brighten up a plate, balance your otherwise meh components, and add crunch. Anyone else out there always asking for extra pickled ginger when eating sushi? Or carefully doling out the pre-portioned serving in HEB-to-go sushi? The pleasure of pickled ginger while eating sushi can be replicated in other meals, too. When I lived in Israel, I was delighted to learn that many restaurants serve small bowls of cucumber pickles with your food. If you watch a cooking show like Top Chef, the contestants always seem to be describing a dish garnished with a pickled something or other. But making your own pickles isn’t particularly cheffy; making quick pickles is level-1 easy.
I guess what I’m saying is your relationship with pickles can transcend just putting a sliced, pickled cucumber on your hamburger. There are no rules to when, where, and how you can eat pickles. Or what you can pickle. Set yourself free, eat, and make pickled things with your CSA shares.
This post is narrowly focused on quick-pickling. But in terms of long-term food preservation, there is a whole world (and thousands of years of history) out there. Waterbath canning or pressure canning, as well as fermentation, are other, more advanced ways to preserve seasonal produce for the long haul, and are processes that each deserve a post of their own.
How to Quick Pickle Anything:
Quick pickling is simply the act of storing fresh produce in a brine of vinegar, salt, water, and sometimes sugar, in the refrigerator. These pickles are not canned and are ready to eat mere hours after making, though I usually wait at least a day or two. Quick pickles will last in the fridge for a few months, and are technically edible beyond the 2-month mark, though the texture will start to degrade.
All you really need for quick-pickling is a clean mason jar and lid. Glass Tupperware also make great quick-pickling vessels.
Fresh is best when it comes to choosing which vegetables to pickle, which is good for you because locally grown veggies are generally fresher than those in the grocery store. Pickling vegetables soon after they’re harvested will give your pickle both better flavor and texture.
You can pickle any vegetable, and slice it anyway. For example, carrots can be pickled whole, sliced into matchsticks, or cut into rings. Peel, wash, and prep your vegetable thinking about how you might want to use the finished product. Want a more condiment-y pickle, like chow chow- a pickled relish of peppers, onions, and sometimes tomatoes)? Dice everything small. Want a snackable spear? Go for larger lengths.
Some of my favorite vegetables to pickle are squash, cucumber, green tomatoes, carrots, beets, cauliflower, green beans, jalapenos, radishes, and cabbage. Did I list them all? Last summer I pickled watermelon rind using this recipe, and I’m still dreaming about these juicy and sweet pickles; I brought some to a girls’ weekend in Llano, and after a day at the river, four women ate the entire jar in one sitting. You can even quick-pickle greens, like kale and mustard. If we grow it, you can pickle it.
A basic brine is equal parts water and equal parts vinegar, though this isn’t a hard and fast rule, though the vinegar should always be equal to or more than the water. I usually lean towards a bit more vinegar than water in my pickle. You can use any vinegar to make a quick pickle including white, white wine, apple cider, or rice wine. I’d avoid using an aged vinegar, like balsamic, for a quick-pickle. You can also use a combination of kinds of vinegar. For no other reason other than it’s what I have, I most often make a quick-pickle brine that is half white vinegar and half apple cider vinegar. Salt is the other requirement for making a quick pickle. I often add some sugar also, which isn’t necessary but is often delicious.
Here’s the fun part! You can add dried spices, dried herbs, fresh herbs, and alliums like green garlic, cloves of garlic, or green onions. This is where you can really have fun and customize your quick pickle, choosing your own experience whether it be a classic dill, mustard seed, and red pepper combo, or a sweet and floral melange of star anise, peppercorns, and ginger. Dried turmeric adds color and flavor to pickles. Don’t stress too much about what spices to add to your brine; once you realize how easy quick pickling is, you’ll find the freedom to play and experiment with each consecutive batch. The summer is long, and making quick pickles is an inside activity.
Here is a basic recipe to get you started.
For 1 Pint Jar
Enough veggies to pack 1 pint jar. About ½ lb. of cucumbers, for example.
1-2 springs of herbs like dill, thyme, or bay (optional)
1 teaspoon peppercorns, mustard seeds, or coriander seeds (optional)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1-2 cloves of garlic, whole (optional)
1 cup vinegar such as rice, white, or apple cider
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt or 2 teaspoons pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Wash and dry your jar and jar lids in hot, soapy water. Set aside to dry.
Prep your vegetables by washing, peeling (if necessary), and chopping, if desired.
Place your dried herbs, garlic, and spices at the bottom of your clean jar.
Tightly pack your chopped vegetables into your jar, Tetris-ing them into a dense pack without actually smashing. Make sure there is ½ inch of space left at the top.
In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, water, salt, and optional sugar. Bring to a low boil and stir until the salt is dissolved. Carefully pour the warm brine over the vegetables.
Remove the air bubbles in the jar by gently tapping the jar on a table, or by inserting a clean chopstick in the jar, and slowly making a revolution with the stick against the jar’s glass. Put the lid on the jar, and leave it on the counter to cool. Once the jar is room temp, move it to the fridge. Best within consumed within a month or two.