"Guess what my first act as a retired person was?" said beloved former Corvallis City Manager Jon Nelson as we chatted over glasses of wine at an event last summer.
I couldn't. But I was pretty sure it was something quirky and food-related, or he wouldn't have brought it up.
"I made my yearly batch of Jan's Bread-and-Butter Refrigerator Pickles."
"Why Jon, I didn't even know you pickled!"
He nodded, a big ol' Cheshire cat grin spreading across his face.
"I made them on Aug. 5, which was literally 24 hours after walking out of City Hall. First, I bought 10 pounds of pickling cukes from Davis F. Farms, brought them home and got to work. Two and a half hours and a couple of gallons of cukes later, my fridge was loaded with pickling cukes, and I was good to go."
Then he rattled off the list of lucky recipients slated to receive a portion of his treasured cache. It was quite impressive.
Obviously, I agree with Jon wholeheartedly. Making refrigerator pickles is an amazing and simple thing. I don't know if it's the fact that you go from neutral veggie to potent condiment without breaking a sweat. Or the fact that homemade pickles, when appreciated by the right people, become the culinary equivalent of REI gift certificates. But the fact is, that for very little effort on your part — in the context of kitchen messes and psyche stresses that can occur with other forms of preserving — you can create a bona fide culinary treasure.
Indeed, it's a great way to pickle. After scrubbing and trimming huge quantities of pickling cukes (working in 10-pound increments like Jon is not unheard of) I simply tumble them into large containers, throw in handfuls of sliced fresh garlic, fresh dill heads and red-pepper flakes, then pour on my spicy, salty, boiling-hot vinegar-and-water brine.
The final stop? The refrigerator. No fussing with little canning jars and lids or boiling-water canners.
The activity is so stress- and mess-free and produces such a marvelously flavored and textured pickle, I will never go back to processing — unless all refrigerator rights in my folks' garage refrigerator suddenly are revoked, which is unlikely because they, too, have become refrigerator-pickle fans. For every party, picnic and football tailgater throughout the year, Mom really loves dipping into "our" garage-pickle supply.
Good thing I always figure on about 15 gallons.
In case you haven't gone this route yet, here's my helpful-hints list, subtitled: "Variables to consider for dynamic refrigerator pickling."
Containers — This is where refrigerator pickling shines. You don't have to worry about canning jars and two-piece lids. Plastic works just fine, as long as it's food-grade. Select whatever size and shape suits your refrigerator; the bigger, the better. I use Rubbermaid's 1.3 gallon-capacity "Servin' Saver" canisters because they're deep, so the cukes stay nicely submerged in the brine.
If you do go with jars (they don't have to be "canning"), just make sure the lids seal well and that the undersides aren't reacting with the vinegar over time (if they are, just replace the lids with fresh ones). When it comes around to the gift-giving phase, you can always transfer portions from the big tubs or jars into pretty, little jars.
In 1997, Ball and Kerr stopped making 2-quart canning jars, mainly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not provide guidelines for canning with this size jar. But a single, 2-quart jar is a convenient size for refrigerator storage. So if you encounter 2-quart canning jars at garage sales, or inherit them from a relative or friend, don't overlook their potential in this area.
So that's just about it. Have I inspired you? Pickling season in the Northwest is underway and hopefully will continue through mid- to late September.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.