While I'm on vacation I asked my lovely cousin Emily of Thyme and Reason to step in for me. Emily is a semi-recent but incredibly productive backyard gardener living in the Bay Area, I'm always jealous of the things she can grow in her backyard!
I was born without a sweet tooth. Since I was a kid, I have always preferred salty to sweet. And as my romance with beer continues, so does my need for salty snacks: for roasted peanuts, hunks of parmesan, jars of fancy olives, and, of course, you already know my obsession with popcorn. But summer brings barbecue season and mountains of farmer's market cucumbers, which means it's time to make pickles.
Pickles bring out the old country in me. The shtetl in me. The hot summers by the Danube in me. Mind you, I am several generations removed from that life, and any pickles I ate were dished out in the suburbs. I don't know if I am channeling the pre-Ellis Island kitchens of my past, but I do know this: when there are pickles on the table, I cannot stop eating them. And nothing, I tell you, nothing makes a burger taste so right as housemade pickles. Maybe it's that the spicy vinegar cuts the grease? Or maybe it's because we always like what mom served, and when dad would barbecue, mom always served pickles.
Pickles are easier to make than you think. Fill a clean jar or container about 3/4 of the way full of veggies. Cucumbers can be sliced and go right in the jar. Onions too. If you are pickling other vegetables (my other jar is filled with radishes, carrots, and padron peppers), they should be blanched in boiling water for a minute, then plunged into ice water before you put them up for pickling.
Next, for one jar of pickles, combine 1 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp kosher salt, 1 tsp dill seed, 2 bay leaves, 5 cloves, 1 clove of garlic, slices of onion, crushed black pepper, and crushed pepper flakes if you like things spicy (which I do). Liquid should cover your solids--if not, top off with more white vinegar.
Close the lid tight and shake it up so the sugar will dissolve a little and hard spices will distribute throughout. This beautiful jar in the front is cucumber done with fresh jalapeno slices--yum! You could easily play around with the flavors, substituting star anise for the dill. Go wild.
As the name implies, put your fridge pickles in the refrigerator, not on a pantry shelf. Cucumber pickles will be ready to eat in a day and keep in the fridge up to a month. Other veggies may take up to a week to pickle--just an excuse for you to open the jar and sample to see if they're done. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it.