Earlier in July, I was preparing for a trip to the the east coast. I had a fridge full of lovely vegetables and even with taking some to my mother, I couldn’t face the possibility that some of the veggies would go to waste. Rather than let that happen, I set to an evening of mad pickle making. Quick pickles. The kind that don’t require any canning so you can get in, do your work, and then get out.
I make a lot of quick pickles each summer because they are fast to put together and they usually last much longer in the refrigerator than most recipes imply. In one of the food blogs I like they had a post recently about making quick pickles that just gave a basic recipe for the brine and then encouraged folks to take off from there in terms of flavors and spices.
I was intrigued since I knew I needed to make several recipes. I figured I could vary my results by changing vinegars: white, apple, and white wine. I knew I could vary my flavors with the spices I’d add. I also knew I could vary my results by the technique I used by either putting veggies into hot brine or letting boiled brine cool and then cover the vegetables.
I got in the kitchen with my basic formula:
- 1 cup vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
The best part of this “recipe” is that there’s nothing you don’t usually have in the kitchen unless you’re one of those people who don’t use vinegar. You put everything in a stainless steel pot, bring it to a boil, and once the sugar dissolves, you’re in business. Most of the time, you’ll cool it before pouring over soft vegetables like cucumbers. If you have firm vegetables like radishes, carrot, fennel, etc., you can use the technique I used.
I make a fennel pickle recipe I found years ago often. It is for fennel bulb and stem pickles flavored with lemon. One of the great things about it is that you put the cut up vegetables and lemon in the hot brine so they do “cook” or tenderize a bit as the mixture cools. Once cool, you then bottle the mixture and chill to let the flavors develop. I decided to use the same technique to make pickles with 2 small fennel bulbs, carrot, and red onion and my vinegar choice was apple cider vinegar. We’ve had fresh green coriander seeds from the farm that I’d been saving so I put some of that into the brine. I also added in black pepper corns and yellow mustard seeds. I put in the carrots first, then the fennel (including the stems), and finally the onion so that the carrots went in when the brine was the hottest and the onions, which don’t really need to tenderize, stayed more crisp.
I got two large jars from this mixture (doubling the brine mixture). I didn’t try any before I went on vacation. When I got back one week later, they were delicious. The carrot had taken on a bit of the fennel flavor and were a lovely crisp and tender texture. We’ve been happily eating them ever since and one jar is nearly gone.
While I was waiting for the first batch to cool to be jarred, I started a second batch of pickles. Since we had small pickling cucumbers, I decided to do a pint of pickle spears. For a more delicate vinegar flavor, I opted to use white wine vinegar in the brine. For flavoring, I used the red pepper flakes, black peppercorns, green coriander, and mustard seeds along with a little bit of onion (maybe one or two rings) and large cloves of garlic. My brine filled the jar to the top.
Again, it sat in the refrigerator while I was away on vacation. The flavor was similar, due to spices, but was a bit less pronounced both due to the vinegar choice and the water in cucumbers. The garlic was a great addition along with a bit of heat. Delicious!!
The next thing was a little more outside of the box: cabbage. My friend makes sauerkraut often and I was considering that, but you have to make sure the cabbage stays below the liquid level and I wasn’t going to be around to make sure that happened and to fend off scary, possibly deadly bacteria. Instead, I decided to make another batch of the brine (apple cider vinegar) and pour it mostly warm over chopped up green and red cabbage. To get a sauerkraut feel, I used caraway seeds in with my mustard seed.
It started out as a colorful mix of purple and green. When I got back from vacation, everything was a mellow pink. The flavor is still pickle-y but there is a bit of sauerkraut-ness there too.
I was feeling very good about what I had accomplished. I went to put everything in the refrigerator and noticed I had a sad bowl of green grapes sitting in the fridge. They weren’t especially sweet so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get them eaten before I left home.
Recently at a winery we had pickled grapes as part of a cheese and cured meat plate. I did a quick internet search and found a recipe that seemed quick and was intriguing to me due to the use of a cinnamon stick and black pepper. It was super fast to put together (white wine vinegar, sugar, brown mustard seeds which I happened to have, whole black peppercorns, salt and a cinnamon stick). Her recipe looked like it was made with red grapes. No worries. I was open to the experiment.
It was, however, getting late and I was eager to head to bed. I did not trim the grapes to remove what she called the “belly button” where the grape attaches to the stem. I assumed that in a week, the brine could work its way into the grapes. I also opted to pour the still warm brine over the grapes, put in the fridge, and move on. My result, however, was some of my grapes puckered and shriveled a bit. If I do it again, I’d wait for the brine to be mostly room temperature but I still don’t think I’d bother trimming each grape.
A week later they were pungent and sweet. Ok to eat on their own and delicious with cheese and crackers. Much better than they were as plain grapes. If you have a not-so-tasty batch of grapes, this would be a way to salvage them.
It was so nice to leave town knowing my veggies were safely processing in jars in the fridge rather than decaying in the vegetable bins. I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labor since returning home!