Refrigerator Pickles 101

By refrigerator pickles we are talking about any of a variety of vegetables that can be quickly processed in a vinegar based brine to be stored in the ice box. And, it's not called an ice box because it makes ice for you. Why, son, when I was a mere kitten, the ice was brought "to" the ice box. Literally. Put down your smart[ass]phone and look it up. Or, look it up on it, you smart-ass.

I kid. Moving on ...

You can make refrigerator pickles using cucumbers whole or sliced, cauliflower florets, beets, zucchini, turnip bits, peppers, watermelon rind, even tomatoes and okra. These things can also be put up for long term shelf storage, but that's another topic; there you have the considerations that need to be taken into account owing to the extra heating/cooking step in the canning process.

Hey! This is really importando!:

If you search around you will no doubt see that there are several different treatments on the amount of vinegar. Without further (or any) ado, here is Cooky Cat's unfailingly excellent and superior vinegar brine formula:

Vinegar Brine Preparation

2 parts water
1 part vinegar
1 tsp. salt per quart

That ratio gives enough vinegar to do the pickling and enough spark on the palate. Of course, tastes vary, so adjust to your liking.

Type of Vinegar

There's white wine vinegar which will do the trick almost always. Then, apple cider vinegar. It brings an extra flavor dimension, and you just have to decide when it fits. Pickled beets and pickled watermelon rinds take cider vinegar well.

Then there's the quality of the vinegar itself. That's up to you. If you get into this thing big time you can experiment with different sources and types. Bragg makes an excellent organic raw apple cider vinegar, but it might be too expensive for large and frequent batches. Let's not become vinegar snobs. (As we have with olive oils, coffees, chocolates, and salts. How many types of tamari do you have on hand? Miso?) Keep your eye on the pickle is Cooky Cat's advice.

Let's Get To It

Brine Cooking #1 . . .

The thing about refrigerator pickles is that you bring the brine solution to a boil combined with whatever spicings and flavorings you will incorporate. Then you add the vegetable(s) of your choosing to that boiling liquid and bring it back to a boil, simmer to done tender/crisp. How long you leave it to cook in the brine depends on the vegetable itself. Cauliflower, carrots, beets, turnips and watermelon rind need more time than such like cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, okra, or tomatoes.

Brine Cooking #2 . . .

Alternatively, you could par-boil the vegetables in salted water to get them to the level of doneness. Then, add the boiled brine to the vegetables. On reflection this seems to be the more foolproof way to do it. But, Cooky Cat cooks to please himself. So should you. (On the theory that what pleases the cook will please the others.)

How Much Brine? . . .

The Cooky Cat method is to prepack the vegetables into the selected container(s), fill with water, then measure the volume of liquid. There you have the amount of brine you should prepare. And, a little extra more since the veggies will shrink a bit when heated/cooked.

Preparing the Vegetables . . .

The general rule: cut into bite sized pieces. With zucchini we like a thinnish slice. Cucumbers, the world is your oyster on those: whole; halved; spears; plain slices; crinkle cut slices; dices large, medium, small; and a fine dice for a relish. Beets: sliced, halved, quartered, diced, julienne. Peppers: whole, halved, slivered, sliced.

Spicing/Flavoring . . .

Rule #1: Taste the brine and adjust as you want. Let your own taste preferences guide you.

Here are some of the basics:

In general it seems to up the flavor if you add a teaspoon or so of salt per quart of water.

If you want it sweet, sugar, at least 2 tablespoons per quart of brine; or more to taste, or for something that you want to be "sweet", like watermelon rinds or some recipes for cucumbers (e.g., "Bread and Butter Pickles" and sweet Asian recipes).

Alternates to plain sugar (we only use cane sugar, beet sugar has an off taste to us) give them a try. Maybe it's from driving past a sugar beet processing plant in Nebraska once upon a time. Pheww! But branch out if you are going to be putting yourself in a pickle frequently. Just don't experiment in the beginning. K-I-S-S: Keep-It-Simple-Stupid*. Get some facility with the process, then consider options. *(Not that you're stupid; it's an expression.)

With Cauliflower you can make it plain with vinegar or sweet with some sugar. You can add turmeric for a nice yellow color. Also, yellow mustard seeds and/or mustard powder. On all those extras, though, easy does it. The cauliflower is a great pickle all by itself. Turmeric goes a long way. You don't want folks to take a bite and say "Turmeric!" Or, "Mustard!"

Beets: Cider vinegar seems to be called for here. Spice with whole cloves and cinnamon. Some Star anise might be nice to try. Black peppercorns and allspice berries. Sliced onions too.

Pickled Turnips (the tender white kind) are great. In the Mid-East the name is Lift; we say "lif-it". Add a few slices of raw red beet root to give your turnip pickle for a vibrant pink color. De rigueur.

Cucumber Pickles: Not recommended, but if you are going to use the usual supermarket variety be sure to peel the skin. That type has appeal, but not the peel; please. Be sure to get as small and firm as you can find. Also, best to cut them up into smaller pieces. Spice as you would for brine cured pickles: yellow mustard seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, whole allspice berries. A little whole clove, fresh garlic, or hot pepper seeds if you want.

"Bread and Butter" them up, sweetened with sugar, adding turmeric for a nice yellow color.

If you get small Gherkins, Kirby's, or Cornichons you can also go really sweet with a whole bunch of sugar. Again, the level is to your taste.

Zucchini: Thin slice zucchini along with a small portion of sweet onion. Pickle sour style or sweeten as for bread and butter pickles. Optionals: yellow mustard seeds and/or mustard, turmeric. If you have a garden you probably know the thing about how if you grow zucchini "You know who your friends are" . . . Zucchini has a tendency to be rather abundant. Surpluses going to friends and neighbors, again and again. If you want to make friends, give the zucchini pickles.

Watermelon Rinds: Leave a very little pink showing and, of course, trim the skin and down a bit to get past that tough outer rind. Make a very sweet brine flavored with cloves and cinnamon and cook the rinds until done. There are recipes online that make this into a 3-step multiple day thing. Just simmer them in the sweet brine until crisp/tender and put in a jar. Let cool and store in the refrigerator. In two days, enjoy. K-I-S-S.

Peppers: If there's a place here for the green bell pepper, it's probably in some kind of relish. Otherwise, were talking about every other pepper other than those belly bomb green bells.

Small peppers can be pickled whole. Larger, cut them up. If you are preparing large thick fleshed colored peppers, best to deseed and cut in half at least, or quartered, slivered, cross-sliced thin.

Thin flesh peppers tend to be tough skinned, so cut them in thin slices crosswise. Maybe try simmering in brine longer for a more tender whole thin flesh pepper.

As for whether to leave the seeds or not. You choose. Only, as we said, with the large thick fleshed kinds the seeds and the pulp take away aesthetically. Remove.

Last Words . . .

We know this is not anywhere near the total picture. You either have the experience to fill in, or the Internet is at your finger tips. Just we offer the priceless Cooky Cat hard earned by experience knowledge to light your path. So you shouldn't get into a real pickle. OK?

Inspired by our Dear Friend David D. Wronski ...