Pickling cukes can be a pretty simple affair
It's the time of year for encountering bins of pickling cukes at the farmers market. They look so fresh and inviting. How lovely to make a batch of pickles, you say.
But I caution you. Before you commit to pickling, think about the long-term pressure.
My Damn Good Garlic Dills, for example, have become a precious commodity among family and friends. In summers when I opt to go pickleless, disappointment abounds.
And so every August, even when there's barely an ounce of oomph to spare, I have to make the pickles. Luckily, my style of pickling is relatively straightforward. If my leanings were toward fermented pickles, life would be a little more complicated because the tang you taste in this style of pickle is internally created, thanks to a carefully choreographed ballet that requires control over temperature, salt, water and sanitation. It's not horribly complicated — actually, a fascinating process to observe — but being persnickety is a virtue.
My way, however, is a genuinely straightforward form of pickling. That treasured "whang" is created by the vinegar you add. It's that simple. And even simpler!
You see, with fresh-pack pickles, if you don't feel like processing them in a boiling-water canner in order to store them at room temperature, you can simply store them in the refrigerator. In fact, your pickles will be crisper and zestier if you do. So that's the way I make my DGGDs.
Up until just a few years ago, I was still packing the cukes into little jars before refrigerating them; this step takes up room and time when you consider just how many people expect a jar (or two!) of homemade pickles. So I streamlined my method.
These days after scrubbing and trimming my pile of pickling cukes, I simply tumble them into large containers, throw in lots of sliced, fresh garlic, fresh dill heads and red-pepper flakes, then pour on my spicy, salty, boiling-hot brine.
Then it's into the refrigerator for several weeks of aging. It's akin to having an old-fashioned pickle barrel on hand because I dip into my refrigerator cache to fill little gift jars for visiting relatives or friends' birthdays throughout the year. The other streamlining step I've taken is to make a large batch of brine ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator. Then when I encounter some high-quality pickling cukes, I can jump right into action.
So that's it. I'm including my recipe for Jan's Damn Good Garlic Dills, as well as a sweet variation — more like a bread-and-butter pickle — that you can find online at www.mailtribune.com/freshapproach. In both recipes, I encourage you to spin off in your very own direction.
For my DGGDs, consider more garlic or a pinch more red-pepper flakes. You can back off on the salt; it's not a safety issue to do so, but keep in mind that it does provide an essential boost in flavor.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist.