Ode to the Quick Pickle

I love a good pickle. Sweet, spicy, garlicky, tart, live fermented…I haven’t met a pickle I don’t like, regardless of my pregnancy status.

Making your own pickles at home is wonderful–not only will you get that smug Super Domestic Goddess feeling as you don your cute little apron to toss together some incredible snacks, but you will have ultimate control over the flavor.

Quick pickles are especially nice when you don’t have a bushel of produce, or don’t feel like hauling out the water bath canner. You can have the cucumbers washed, trimmed, and the brine prepared in a matter of minutes (although you do have to wait a day or two for the pickles to, well, pickle.)

A few tips:

1. Use fresh cucumbers. The faster they can go from vine to jar, the better.

2. Wash your jars well, but no need to sterilize.

3. Taste your brine to get your optimum sweet, salty, tart balance.

Other than that, there are no rules in quick pickling. You don’t even have to limit yourself to cucumbers, although that’s where my affinity lies. And recipes? You don’t need a recipe – just follow your preferences, and you’ll be fine.

You can try different vinegars: white, cider, white wine, rice, champagne, tarragon

Different spices: dill seed, mustard seed, peppercorns, cloves, fennel seeds, coriander

Different fresh herbs and flavorings: tarragon, dill, garlic, chile peppers, mint, lime juice, lemon juice, onions, lemongrass, bay leaves, cilantro

Here are my basic proportions, but adjust to your taste: 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water yields a pleasantly tart pickle, but not overpowering. For a pint jar, I typically use 1-2 tablespoons sugar (depending upon if I’m making a sweet or sour pickle), and a scant tablespoon of sea or pickling salt. (You need a salt that is free of additives and anti-caking agents to keep your brine from getting cloudy.)

Warm the water in a small saucepan, stir in the sugar and salt to dissolve. Remove from heat, and add the vinegar. Taste a bit, or dip in a cucumber slice to get an idea of the balance. As far as saltiness goes, I like mine to have approximately the salinity of sea water (pretty salty).

You want fresh cucumbers, ideally the short, stocky pickling type. If you can find them, the tiny ‘gherkins’ are delightful, or you can trim a 6″ or so cucumber into wedges or slices. Make sure you trim both ends no matter what size you are using-the stem end is unpleasant to eat, and the blossom end contains an enzyme that can make your pickles less crisp. If I have time, I’ll salt the cucumbers and let them sit for 60 minutes to overnight in a bowl to get them to release their water (and yield a crisper pickle), but this is not a requirement.

Add your spices, herbs, etc. to your clean jar. Pack in your cucumbers, and pour in enough brine to cover the cukes. Let them sit in the fridge for a few days if you can wait.

If I like a brine, I just keep adding fresh cucumbers to it as I eat them. A brine can keep for a few months in the fridge. If it gets cloudy or too low, you can start over.

My most recent pickles included a pint of sweet and tart cornichons: white wine vinegar, water, 1 scant T sea salt, 2 T evaporated cane juice, mustardseed, cloves, a chili pepper, and fresh tarragon over tiny gherkins.

Also a quart of spicy garlic dills: white vinegar, water, 2 T sea salt, 1 scant T evaporated cane juice, black peppercorns, dill seed, fresh dill, a sliced up jalepeno, and LOTS of crushed garlic over some larger pickle spears.

Here are some additional links you might enjoy:

Asian-Inspired Refrigerator Pickles

Misc. Quick Pickled Veggies

Honey Sweetened Refrigerator Pickles

Let me know if you come up with a killer spice/herb combination: I’d like to try a Thai pickle next, with lime juice, rice vinegar, lemongrass, garlic, and chili–doesn’t that sound fab?


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