A Quick Pickle Trick

My recent foray into home canning has inspired yet another exercise in culinary preservation - pickling. If you're a newbie like me, here's the 411: To pickle means to preserve food by soaking and storing it in a brine (salt water) or vinegar. To be in a pickle, well, that's another story that may require the assistance of advice columnist Carolyn Hax.

Yes, Virginia, pickles come from cucumbers. (Kim O'Donnel)

I remember as a kid chomping on my dill pickle that came with my diner/deli favorites, such as grilled cheese and corned beef on rye, and asking my father where pickles come from. When he told me cucumbers, I didn't believe him. (Go figure; I believed in Santa until I was ten, but pickles from cucumbers - not a chance.)

More experienced picklers know that the cuke isn't the only pickled game in town; there's a wide world of brined goodies that include artichokes, peppers, okra, onions, green beans, carrots, green tomatoes, cauliflower and watermelon rind.

For this maiden voyage, however, I stick with the classic cuke, soon to be a distant memory with the imminent arrival of autumn.

I also choose a low-tech method over the elaborate Mason jar operation, which requires more time and equipment. Was it possible, I wondered, to make pickles overnight?

With the help of a recipe I found in a recent issue of New York magazine, the answer is a resounding yes. The process is easy, fun and a great lesson in food chemistry.

A few notes on the recipe and the method:

First, you want the short, stubby and sometimes warty cuke called Kirby. It's got fewer and smaller seeds, which means a lesser chance of soggy pickle. If the little guys are nowhere to be found, you can use a regular slicing cuke but you'll want to remove as many seeds as possible.

The process is two-fold: On the first day, you brine the cukes in salt, sugar and water, for 12 hours. This not only seasons the cukes but the long duration helps to keep them crisp. The recipe calls for the addition of four whole habanero peppers, but unfortunately does not specify if peppers should be sliced open, to release some of its heat. In hindsight, I'd say yes, slice them open.

After its 12-hour brine bath, the cukes get a good rinse under the faucet. I placed mine in a colander so that they could thoroughly drain. You may also want to consider patting them dry before the next step.

Now you're ready to do the pickle, Peter. I really like the suggested mix of spices and aromatics, which include garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, coriander (I might use seeds next time rather than ground). I'm less thrilled by the suggested 2 cups of red-wine vinegar, which yields a very intense vinegary result. I might go easy on the vin next time - perhaps 1 ½ cups or even less, making up the balance with plain water.

Five hours later, the pickles are considered a fait accompli and if you keep them stored in an airtight container in the fridge, you'll have them for about two months. I'm curious to see if they mellow at all over the next week and am looking forward to eating them with something other than this morning's coffee.

Cheese, perhaps? Crackers? A grilled sausage on a bun?

Bring on the pickle power in the comments area below. All tips and tricks welcome. And if you're hungry for more, join me today at noon for What's Cooking.

Recipe below the jump.

Ed McFarland's Pickles
Adapted from the Aug. 27, 2007 issue of New York magazine

6 small Kirby cucumbers
4 cups water
1 cup pickling or Kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 habanero peppers
2 cups red-wine vinegar (Use 1 ½ cups for a less intense vinegary result)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/8 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3/4 teaspoon coriander
1 allspice berry
3/4 teaspoon mustard seed

For the brine:
Using a knife, or, preferably a mandoline, slice cucumbers approximately 1/8 thick. In a large nonreactive bowl or plastic container, mix water, salt and ¼ cup of the sugar with a whisk. Add cucumber slices and whole peppers to the mixture, thoroughly covering them with the brine. Cover container and let stand for 12 hours.

Remove cucumber slices and peppers from brine, place in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Allow to stand in sink so that all of the water drains.

For pickling mix: combine remaining ½ cup sugar, vinegar, garlic and spices in another nonreactive bowl or plastic container. Add cucumber slices and peppers. Cover and refrigerate for 5 hours before serving. Pickles should last refrigerated for up to 60 days.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 11, 2007; 11:10 AM ET Discoveries , Summer
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I have a simpler recipe for similar pickled cukes - we called them refrigerator pickles growing up.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 sliced onion
cukes sliced thin - 5 or 6 cups of them
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 or 3 tblsp celery seed
you can add sliced green pepper or other pepper if you like - I don't.

let sit in frig for a few hours - will keep for a long time covered.

This recipe doesn't call for salt at all - you can work with the sugar and vinegar proportions depending on if you like it sweeter or more 'pickled.' Love these - it always reminds me of home.

Posted by: cuke pickles | September 11, 2007 12:29 PM

As much as I envy friends who put up all sorts of awesome fruits and vegetables, I have no burning passion to invest the time and expense in a true canning rig. On the other hand, refrigerator pickles (and similar easy yet tasty treats) are a summertime favorite. The recipe above is nearly identical to what we use and the results are fabulous. We drop the sugar a bit and increase the vinegar/water ratio, but these are simple and very good.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | September 11, 2007 12:39 PM

Is there any reason why these couldn't be made as spears rather than chips?

Posted by: Fran | September 11, 2007 1:21 PM

This reminds me of when my mom would can a bunch of stuff back in Moscow, Russia. She made sour cherries, tomatoes with carrots and garlic, pickles, peaches, variety of jams and even pickled watermelon!!! It was so much fun eating the fruits of her labor in the winter time.


Posted by: Olga | September 11, 2007 1:52 PM

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