Call me a weirdo, but unlike most people, I’ve never had a sweet tooth. I remember when I was a kid, my father would let me have three, count ‘em, THREE chocolate chips for a desert. And that worked for me. But I had a sour tooth! The only way to get me to eat raw vegetables? Stick them in vinegar. This was particularly true of carrots. I HATED raw carrots. (Cooked, on the other hand, were great.) But if they were sliced into thin little sticks and put in a Tupperware with cider vinegar, I would eat them. I still didn’t LOVE them, but it made them ok. So is it any surprise that as an adult I’ve become rather evangelical about pickles of all sorts?
One day during the summer after college when I was working on a farm and living with my father, I started bringing carrot sticks in vinegar to work, because I knew I needed an easy vegetable for my lunches (not much had changed, I still didn’t really like raw carrots, I just knew I needed a vegetable, and there were always fresh carrots on hand). After the that first day, it occurred to me that the carrot sticks were always better when they’d sat longer, so I sliced up a couple carrots and threw them in a jar with some cider vinegar and some water and a little touch of salt until the brine tasted right. I would keep the jar in the back of the walk-in cooler at the farm until I ran out of carrots, and then take it home and add more, all the while replenishing the brine as needed. By the end of the summer, sometimes I was throwing in cukes, garlic and other vegetables. It occurs to me now, that this, unwittingly, was my maiden voyage into pickling. Because it is all done in the refrigerator, you can do this easily, and without worry, too. When vegetable start coming out of your garden, or from the market, you can just add some vinegar and some water and a little bit of salt to a jar until it tastes right, and then add whatever vegetable you want. Carrots, beans, cukes, celery, cauliflower (!), zucchini, onions, garlic, you name it. It’s that simple. The longer things sit in the brine, the tastier I think they become, but if you like your fresh veggies more “lightly dressed,” try leaving them in only over night. You can add any herbs you think you might like. Experiment. It’s just one jar, so if you end up not liking it, you don’t have to feel bad sending it to the compost pile. Despite the abundance of canned pickled produce around me these days, I find I still do a jar of refrigerator pickles every summer. It’s the best way to get a nice, crispy, garlicky cucumber dill slice for sandwiches and hamburgers. Nothing I could possibly do in the kitchen can compare to that perfectly crunchy slice of fresh, tangy cucumber.
Wow. Since its mid-February, I guess I need to go open a jar of dilly beans!