When I see jars of pickles, my mind involuntarily wanders to the biology classroom of yore with its rows of creatures suspended in poisonous formaldehyde cocktail. Spearing a well preserved piece of cucumber pickle from its bath of seasoned vinegar, I feel a tinge of weirdness about its past life. I cannot help myself. Preserving the summer bounty is a regular part of my culinary life now but the mad scientist imagery never fades away.
Reading the National Center for Home Food Preservation guideline, the stern warnings for food safety intimidate effortlessly. I feel like one misstep and I’ll have an arsenal of bio-weapons in my kitchen pantry. Knowledge and advance in science are wonderful and they certainly contribute immensely to food safety. But at some point I wonder how we all managed to survive the dark ages without making ourselves sick after every meal.
In the interest of my own safety, I do follow the guideline and stick with lower risk projects such as jams and refrigerator pickles. I have an occasional cravings for pickled cucumbers especially when making egg or potato salads. Every time I walked by the knobbly kirby cucumbers at the market, I wanted to take them home. Last winter I received many jars of pickles from my CSA but the supply has finally dwindled. It was time to put on my mad scientist lab coat.
Since preserving is a delicate balance of acid and base, I stayed with reliable recipes from trustworthy sources. Making refrigerator pickle also lessen the complication of making the preserve shelf stable. There are only a few bare bone steps. Clean jar. Clean and cut vegetable. Make brine. Put everything into jar. Store in fridge. I like it.
I cut 2/3 of the cucumbers into spears and packed them into a 1L jar to make garlic dill pickles. I adapted the recipe from Food In Jars and only varied the seasoning. For my batch, I flavoured it with garlic, dill seeds, crushed red pepper, and black peppercorn. It ought to be a very savoury mixture. It was mesmerizing to watch the spears of cucumber turned from green to yellow.
Making bread & butter pickles was very similar except for the large amount of sugar in the recipe (via smitten kitchen). One key difference between the two recipes is drawing out excess moisture from the vegetable. I think its purpose is to make the pickles crunchy, a much sought after quality. Sweet vinegar is punctuated with mustard seeds, celery seeds, coriander seeds, and turmeric. I hate to sound like a sugar junkie but I do love the sweetness of bread & butter pickles much more than its savoury counterpart.
Two jars of pickles are not a lot but with limited real estate in the refrigerator, I think it’s just right. I will not be enjoying them in the dead of winter given their more immediate best before date. However, back to school calls for sandwiches and I cannot imagine a better companion than a duo of homemade cucumber pickles.