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Wednesday, December 7

Gapers Block

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There's something incredibly satisfying about cold pickles — even more so when you've made them yourself. It's super easy to do -- so simple you almost can't believe it. But with just a couple ingredients and a sharp slicing instrument, all sorts of cold, refreshing refrigerator pickles are possible. And best of all, there's no cooking involved, so you'll keep your cool in the summer heat in more ways than one.

To make refrigerator pickles, you need some combination of fresh veggies, water, vinegar, salt and possibly some sugar. Depending on the flavor, you might also add some fresh or dried spices to the mix. And finally, you'll need some room in the fridge for a couple days.

Your neighborhood fruit and vegetable market likely has a bin of what look like puny cucumbers. Those are pickling cucumbers, specifically bred for this sort of work — get these instead of your standard salad cukes. Look for ones that are a nice bright green (not yellow), crisp (not limp or bendy) and around the same thickness.

Back in the kitchen, pull out your mandoline slicer or a good chef's knife. Wash the pickles well to remove any dirt and the little seed-like thorns, then slice to the thickness you prefer (I go for about an eighth of an inch, or whatever my mandoline slices to) and collect the slices in a bowl. Try to make your slices uniform so that they marinate consistently.

Next you'll want to mix your pickling liquid. In a measuring cup or pitcher, combine:
1 part white wine vinegar
4 parts ice cold water (filtered if possible)
2 teaspoons salt per pint of liquid (pickling salt if possible, but kosher salt will do)
small handful of whole peppercorns (I used green, but any type will do)

Now is the time to consider any additional spices or flavoring agents to add. I like to use sprigs of fresh dill for that deli-style flavor, but you might also consider mustard seeds, coriander, parsley, cilantro, jalapeno slices for a spicy pickle, minced garlic, chopped onions or even some sugar if you want a sweeter flavor.

Since these pickles aren't going to be canned and stored for months, it's not necessary to go through the full canning sterilization process, but you do need to be sure whatever your vessel is it's thoroughly cleaned and has a tight-fitting lid or cover. I've used everything from a washed pasta sauce jar to a covered Pyrex casserole dish.

Now that everything is prepared, take a handful of pickle slices and put them in the bottom of the pickling vessel, packing them down a little. Next add a layer of your flavoring agents, then another handful of pickles, then more spices, and so on until the vessel is full but not packed tight. Pour in the pickling liquid until all the pickles are submerged. If you're using a jar, put the lid on tight and give the jar a couple good shakes to distribute the liquid and get any trapped air up to the surface, then take the lid off and add a little more liquid if necessary. If you're using something without an air-tight lid, just swirl the pickles around a bit to get the bubbles out. Put the vessel in your refrigerator (preferably toward the back of the bottom shelf, where it's coldest) for at least 24 hours before serving. They should keep for one or two months — but hopefully they won't last that long.

While you're at the grocery store, look around for some fennel, too — its mild anise flavor and crispness lend it well to pickling. Select a firm, un-wrinkly and minimally blemished head of fennel (check the base for browning around where it was cut — if there's brown or squishy spots, skip it). Chop off the green stalks — they're too touch and fibrous to eat — but reserve some of the fronds for use as a flavoring agent. Slice the white part to your preferred thickness, cutting the wider ribs in half so they're easier to handle.

Follow the same proportions as for the pickles but add one or two teaspoons of sugar per pint of liquid to help bring out the sweetness of the fennel. For flavoring agents, I recommend a combination of fennel fronds, fennel seeds and peppercorns. Pack your vessels in the same method as for the pickles, alternating between fennel and flavoring agents then pouring the liquid over top. Seal and store in the back of the fridge for a day or two before serving; keep for up to two months.

Fresh refrigerator pickles make an excellent garnish for barbecue or fried chicken, a tasty ingredient in sandwiches, or a nice crisp snack in between meals. And this super-simple method can be applied to just about any crisp or crunchy vegetable. Try it with radishes, make your own spicy Mexican pickles with carrots, cauliflower and jalapenos, or even fresh asparagus. Play with the spices and flavoring agents to find the combo that fits your taste best.

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About the Author(s)

Andrew Huff is editor of Gapers Block. Cinnamon Cooper returns next week.

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