Refrigerator Pickles

I don’t advocate small-batch canning, but I am a fan of quick and easy pickling that fills your refrigerator one jar at a time. If your only experience with pickling is opening a store-bought jar, then refrigerator vinegar pickles will convert you to homemade. Even if you grew up in a household that put up shelves of pickled vegetables every summer, like I did, refrigerator pickles have surprising benefits.

The disadvantage of refrigerator pickles—that they aren’t sealed in heated jars and thus shelf stable—can be an advantage in freshness and crispness. Small-space gardeners or CSA members can put up a jar at a time as produce ripens. Even expansive gardeners can use fridge pickles to test new flavor combinations. Cucumbers are ideal refrigerator pickles, because they soften so quickly when heated. You should still only use pickling cucumbers; the thick-skinned slicing cucumbers you find in grocery stores and even lemon cucumbers are really only useful as fresh pickles. After years of pasteurizing summer squash, I’ve switched from the canner to the fridge to keep the pickles’ crunch.

Whether you’re a small-space gardener, CSA member, or full-time farmer, fridge pickles have surprising advantages. Learn to make Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles and Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles.

Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles

  • Servings: 1 pint jar
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
This basic recipe gives the ratios that I’ve found to work best for tasty refrigerator pickles. For other ingredient ideas, check out the Tips & Tricks or the second recipe farther down the page.

3/4 pound medium pickling cucumbers
2 ounces onion (about 1/4 cup when thinly sliced)
2-1/4 teaspoons canning salt, divided
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1–3 teaspoons sugar
seasonings to taste (see Tips & Tricks)

Remove any dirt from the cucumbers and onion by gently brushing or washing it from the skin. Cut a thin slice off the blossom end of each cucumber; peel the onion. Use a mandoline or very sharp knife to slice the cuke rounds 1/4 inch thick and the onions paper thin, cutting small cucumbers at a slight angle.

Place the cucumber and onion slices in a small bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover with ice cubes and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours or in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the brine by combining the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt with the water, vinegar, and sugar in a small saucepan, heating just until the salt and sugar dissolve. Let cool to room temperature. Shift the salted cucumbers and onions to a colander to drain; rinse them in cold water and let them drain again.

Add the cucumbers to a pint jar, layering them with onions and chosen seasonings. Pour the brine into the jar so that it covers the cucumbers by about 1/4 inch but is still about 1/2 inch from the jar’s rim. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before eating. Makes 1 pint jar.

Tips & Tricks
  • The ratios for this recipe let you safely preserve your cucumbers while adding flavorings to taste. For a classic jar, I add a slew of spices and aromatics as I fill the jar with the cucumber and onion: 1/2 small fresh chili, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 sprig of dill or 1/2 teaspoon of dill seed, 6 whole black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds. An Asian-flavored jar simply needs the chili, garlic, and peppercorns (black or Szechwan) plus 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds. Or scale down the spice blend for your favorite large processed batch, such as Better Bread-and-Butter Pickles.
  • These ratios are adaptable to more than just flavors: Many other vegetables can be preserved safely in equal parts water and vinegar. Summer squash (see below) is an obvious substitute for cucumber, but asparagus, onions, and snap beans are other popular options.
  • Although fridge pickles are never heated to canning temperatures, tricks used to keep processed pickles crisp are helpful here, including removing the blossom ends, salting, and chilling. For better flavor, let the pickles sit for a week in the fridge before opening the jar.

Twice as Tasty

My mom would occasionally pickle zucchini cubes when I was a kid, but it was often a trick to disguise a prolific vegetable—and we weren’t fooled into eating them. As an adult, I’ve grown to love zucchini but still struggle to keep up with the harvest. At my house, overlooked baseball bat–sized zukes get grated for Zucchini Pancakes and Zucchini Sesame Bread. But it seems a shame to grate up small, perfectly sized zukes picked at their peak.

Then I discovered Liana Krissoff’s fabulous recipe for Hot Cumin-Pickled Summer Squash in Canning for a New Generation. The flavors had us hooked. But after a few years of perfecting our pickling techniques, we realized that heat processing softened the produce so that we didn’t want to keep a jar more than a few months. So I adapted the recipe for the fridge, with the best results yet.

Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles

  • Servings: 1 pint jar
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
3/4 pound small zucchini
2 ounces onion (about 1/4 cup when thinly sliced)
2-1/4 teaspoons canning salt, divided
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1/2–1 teaspoon honey
pinch of ground cumin
2/3 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/3 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 dried red chili, crumbled
1 clove garlic
1 small fresh chili

Clean and slice the zucchini and onion as you would for Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles. In a small bowl, toss the produce with 2 teaspoons of salt and cover with ice cubes. Leave at room temperature for 2 hours or in the fridge overnight.

Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, water, vinegar, honey, and ground cumin to a small saucepan, heating just until the salt dissolves. Set aside to cool. In a colander, rinse the salted cucumbers and onions under cold water once or twice, letting them drain completely. Return the produce to the bowl and toss with the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and crushed chili.

Layer the spiced zucchini and onion into a pint jar, tucking the garlic and chili along the side of the jar. Pour the room-temperature brine over the produce, covering the vegetables completely but leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before eating. Makes 1 pint jar.

Tips & Tricks
  • Yellow summer squash can be substituted for zucchini, but I’ve found it tends to soften more quickly no matter how you handle it. Choose small, young yellow summer squash, and eat those pickles within a couple of months for the best texture.
  • The thickness of your slices may depend on how you plan to eat the pickles. I prefer thicker slices for eating out of hand and thinner slices for layering into sandwiches or sourdough pita. But don’t go too thin; thicker slices keep their crispness longer.
  • Honey mellows the vinegar flavor slightly, so use extra sweetener next time if the vinegar in the first batch seems too harsh. If the spices seem unbalanced, briefly toast them in a dry skillet and then let them cool before you add them to the jar.
  • As with Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles, flavor variations are endless. Or you can use the flavors here with cucumbers or other produce, such as carrots or snap peas.

Want to play with more variations? Twice as Tasty is teaching these techniques in a workshop held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.


4 thoughts on “Refrigerator Pickles

    1. Other salts can definitely be substituted. Canning or pickling salt is the easy go-to: it’s a pure, finely granulated salt that dissolves quickly in brine. But you can easily substitute any other pure salt, like sea salt or kosher salt; it may just take a bit longer to dissolve. I’d avoid table salt and any other salt with anticaking additives, which can turn the brine cloudy, and iodized salt, which can darken the produce.


  1. Alanna

    Under tips and tricks you say to add aromatics and spices. Do you add as a last step when you are putting everything the jar? Or some other time? Thanks!


    1. Thanks for pointing that out–I’ve tweaked that tip to clarify. I do add those to the jar with everything else. I tend to put anything small, like seeds and minced aromatics, at the bottom of the jar or to toss them with the vegetables, as in the zuke pickle directions, so that they don’t just hang out on the surface. You can drop larger aromatics like chilies and bay leaves into the jar’s bottom too, but they look pretty if you can tuck them in alongside the vegetables as you fill the jar.


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