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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Preserving Cucumbers - Making Refrigerator Pickles

Two cucumber plants in my garden is enough to get my family through a whole year of pickles, and sometimes the next-door neighbors as well.  I like to do refrigerator pickles because they are easy, quick, and if your cucumbers come in over a week or two, you can add them to the already made brine without much trouble.  I also prefer refrigerator pickles to canned pickles or crocked pickles because they do not need to be cooked or heated and they stay crisp.

The best part to these pickles, is that you can flavor them how you like.  If you like dill, you can add your flavors to the vinegar, if you like garlic, just add a few cloves.  However you spice your brine, these pickles will only take a week or two before you can try them out and decide if you need to add more of something.  Unlike canned pickles, you can change the flavor in the first few weeks of making these.  My favorite flavor is garlic-dill.

The first thing you need is cucumbers.  I do grow my own, but most Farmer's Markets will be overloaded with the pickling cucumbers starting in July, and continue carrying them into September.  When doing refrigerator pickles, you want to make sure that the cucumbers are well-formed, with no blemishes or mushy spots - if you are going to pack them whole.  If the pickles will be cut into long-quarters or slices, you can be a little more forgiving.

Once you decide how you want to pack them, prepare your cucumbers.  I like to cut them into quarters for my two 1/2 gallon jars, and long slices for my quart jars.  I am showing quarters here, but you can do whole, quartered, long slices, or round slices, the same way.  The only difference with the process is how long you set the pickles before you eat them.  The whole pickles are going to take longer in the vinegar than the slices before they are ready to eat.

Quartered Cucumbers in Salt

Once you have washed and cut your cucumbers, removing any bad spots, mix them in a bowl with Kosher Salt  Make sure there is enough salt to get every cucumber.  You want the salt to pull out some of the moisture, but you do not need to completely cover or coat them.  You also want to use Kosher Salt because it draws out moisture better and does not contain additives like table salt.  Once you have the cucumbers in salt, stir them occasionally for the next 30 minutes.  After about thirty minutes, you will want to rinse off the cucumbers quickly and place them on a paper towel to drain.

Rinsed Cucumbers and Pickling Jars

While the cucumbers are salting and them drying, I get the vinegar brine ready.  I have two 1/2  gallon glass jars with rubber rimmed tops that I use for my pickles.  They fit nicely on the bottom shelf of my fridge, and I do not need to worry about them being in the way.  You can use any glass jar you wish, such as a quart mason jar, as long as it has a tight lid.

I first pour about a cup of cold vinegar in the jar, and then add about a 1/2 cup of distilled water.  In each jar I add 1 tablespoon whole mustard seeds, 1 tablespoon dried dill weed, 1 pretty sprig of dill, with the "weed" part and the little flowery top (this is more to make the jar look pretty when I pull it out for parties), 1tablespoon sugar, 6 - 8 garlic cloves, sliced thin or diced, 4 whole cloves, and 1/2 tablespoon peppercorns. 

Cucumbers becoming Pickles

Once all the spices are in, add your prepared cucumbers to the jar.  Once that is done, fill up the rest of the jar with vinegar so that the brine covers all the cucumbers.  After closing the lids, pop the jars in the fridge for a week or two.  In the picture you can see that I still have a bit of room in the jar.  This is fine, as long as the brine covers everything.  I started to pickle these cucumbers because I did not want them to go bad, but I know that there are still a few on the vine that will be ready in a few days.  When they are ready, I will cut them in quarters, salt treat them, and add them to these two jars.  You can add new cucumbers for about a week or two, but after that, you will want to start a new jar.  Most pickles will be ready about 7 days after the last cucumber was added, though I usually wait a few weeks to make sure they are really full of garlic goodness.

What is great about these pickles, is you can spice them any way that you want.  You may already have Grandma's recipe, but don't want to go through all the trouble of canning. Just use her spices in comparison to the size you are pickling, and you can just refrigerate them instead.  If you are unsure of the garlic or other spices in this recipe, or another recipe, you can always start off with smaller amounts of spice, and after a week, taste your brine or one of the pickles.  You can add more spices if needed, but do remember that the pickles will continue to slowly bring in more taste the longer they sit.  My Father-in-Law once added a habanero pepper to his pickles about 6 months after being in the fridge, and within 2 weeks those pickles went from mild to HOT!

Now if the brine has too much spice, you can always remove some of the spices. This will require removing all the pickles first, and placing them in a bowl, then remove some of the offending spices and  a cup or two of the brine.  Put the pickles back in the brine and add fresh cold vinegar and 1/4 -1/2 cups distilled water to the jar until it covers the pickles.  You only want to do this the first week or two after starting the pickling process.  If you decide 6 months later that you have too much pepper or garlic or mustard, no amount of fresh vinegar will get the taste out of the pickle.

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