I have a weakness for pickles. It doesn’t matter what kind: sweet, sour, dill, garlic, spicy, it doesn’t matter to me. Nor am I picky about what vegetables to pickle though I am most partial to cucumbers, the “traditional” pickle, green beans and mushrooms. The only think I demand from a good pickle, especially a cucumber pickle is that it be crispy.
A few weekends ago we headed down to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, one of my favorite summer time activities. We have a great time each time we go and spend a lot of time eating and drinking our way through the festival. Dotted throughout the faire are pickle sellers selling giant pickles. You can’t go wrong for $1.50 and I usually really like them, but this year the pickle I bought was soft and mushy on the inside, and although the flavor was really good, I couldn’t get past that softness. Pickles should be crisp and there is just something wrong with a soft pickle in my opinion.
Of course, I’ve had more than my fair share of pickles that have failed on this point. Hopefully this year’s batch of fermented pickles won’t suffer from this common malady. Luckily, I have one full proof recipe that makes crisp pickles every time. It’s a recipe for refrigerator pickles that my parents have used since I can remember. I’m not sure where it came from originally.
While the upside to this recipe is that it always produces nice, thin, crisp pickles, the downside is that because the jars are not processed and sealed they must be refrigerated at all times and should be eaten within a few months (most extension offices will tell you that refrigerator pickles should be consumed within 2 months, but I have often eaten them at 4-6 months old – they never last longer than that no matter how big a batch I’ve made).
When making pickles it is important to use the proper type of cucumber. Those large, waxy skinned that are sold at most supermarkets are not good for pickle making. No matter what you do, they will always end up soft and mushy. Look for the smaller, bumpy skinned variety. They often go under the name Kirby cucumbers. Pickles will be at their best if the cucumbers have been freshly picked or are no more than a few days old. Make sure to use only unblemished cucumbers in pickle making. Save any bruised ones or ones with small amounts of mold for slicing and using on salads.
While I really like my family’s recipe, this time I decided to change it up just a bit. I left out the turmeric that is in the original and added some fresh jalapenos. I wanted a spicy pickle this time around, and to be honest I left the turmeric out because I was out and was too lazy to go to the store to pick some up. While I like the subtle flavor the turmeric lends to these pickles, they also tasted fine without it.
Since no cooking is involved this is a great, hot August day pickling activity. No stoves or pots of boiling water to heat up the kitchen and house!
Spicy Refrigerator Pickles
2 quarts pickling cucumbers, thinly sliced
1-2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2-4 jalapenos, thinly sliced (depending on the heat level you want)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. pickling salt
1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. mustard seed
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Pack cucumbers, jalapenos and onions into a nonreactive jar (glass, stainless or a crock). Mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over cukes making sure all the vegetables are submerged. Place in refrigerator and allow to mature for at least 1 week. During the first 3 days, occasionally invert the jar to make sure that all the vegetables are getting covered with the pickling solution. After 1 week start to taste the pickles. While they are ready in 1 week, I usually allow 2 full weeks before I break into them. Keep refrigerated.