Garlic and Nasturtiums

When it comes to making pickles, I often think big: pounds of produce, half-gallon jars for fermenting, multiple batches of quart and pint jars for canning, and hours spent cleaning, preparing, and processing. But when it comes to eating pickles, a few often go a long way: a couple of Definitely Dilly Beans in a Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary, a few slices of Better Bread-and-Butter Pickles to serve with or stuff in Gorgeous Grilled Cheese, a handful of Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles to accompany Indian dishes.

As I’ve already shared this month, some pickles are best in both small batches and small doses. This makes them ideal condiments to pack quickly and easily into small jars, store in your fridge, and dip into as needed. Two I always try to have on hand are pickled garlic and nasturtium “capers.”
Learn to make Pickled Garlic and Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

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.
Learn to make Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles and Cumin-Spiced Zucchini Refrigerator Pickles

Fresh Pickles

When I think of fresh pickles, I immediately envision a platter of sushi, accompanied by pickled ginger (gari) and preceded by a quickly pickled cucumber salad (kyuri asazuke). The Japanese know a thing or two about pickling. They find a range of uses for pickled foods, including condiment, relish, garnish, palate cleanser, and digestive aid. Small portions of these foods can appear at any meal, even breakfast. Traditional Japanese pickles feature ingredients ranging from vegetables to eggs to fish to even cherry blossoms.

In America, the primary exposure to Japanese pickles comes as an appetizer before a meal and as a palate cleanser during it. A favorite local sushi restaurant serves sunomono, small portions of freshly pickled cucumber salad, before every meal—so of course I needed to come up with a version for our home-rolled, and more importantly boat-rolled, sushi nights. This salad is best made fresh when cucumbers are in season. Learn to make Quick Pickled Cucumber Salad and Pickled Ginger

Pick a Pickle

Almost every vegetable garden explodes in July. My first July harvest included the last of the spring greens and asparagus, midcycle broccoli and garlic scapes, and the first snap peas, carrots, beets, and bulb onions. The harvest will go straight into our mouths, but as the yields grow jugs of vinegar and a box of salt will be front and center, ready for pickling.

All of my recently harvested vegetables can be pickled, along with snap beans, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, garlic, cabbage, and even fruit. That’s the beauty of pickling: it lets you preserve any low-acid vegetable safely. And like many of my favorite processing techniques, it’s endlessly variable. Various pickling techniques let you preserve everything from a single cucumber to a box of cukes. You can flavor them to fit any meal: American dills or bread-and-butters with burgers, Japanese kyuri asazuke with sushi, Indian kheer uragai with curry—and that’s just a few variations on cucumber pickles.
Read more about quick and easy pickling