Come summer’s end, you steel yourself for certain rituals when you have friends who garden. The knock at the door and the thigh-sized zucchini. The picked-a-peck of cucumbers looking like so many green witch’s fingers.
Truth be told, little woe comes in the eating. The rub is what to do with all these, um, gifts.
But last summer I also discovered, due mostly to a logjam of cucumbers, how great a treat for the tongue is “quick pickling” (sometimes nicknamed “quickling” of “quickles”), a task that the cook can do year-round with all manner of produce.
“Quick homemade pickling” says it all: vegetables are preserved in a simple mix of water, vinegar and salt (and, often, some form of sugar) and conserved in the refrigerator. You might add basic flavorings such as raw garlic cloves or dill fronds.
The flavors in quick homemade pickling aren’t developed or complex because you neither put up the pickles nor ferment them, as is the course for longer-pickled pickles. But quickles are pure and fresh. (They’re also fleeting; they last a short while only.)
It’s easy to decide what to quick pickle. If you like eating it fresh or raw—cucumber or carrot, for instance, slices of cabbage or thin-skinned squash—it’s quicklable.
Some vegetables take to slicing into “coins,” such as cucumbers, carrots and squashes, although any of these are also fine as spears. You may partially or completely peel either carrots or cucumbers, but your decision rests mainly with an assessment of how thick or gnarly the skin is to begin with. If you’d eat it, keep it on.
Tip: If you’re quick pickling vegetables such as long beans or thin asparagus, it helps to preserve their vibrant green if you blanch them before pickling.
I prefer using rice vinegar as my choice for the sour end, although cider or red or white wine vinegar also works (or a mix of any of these). Don’t use powerful vinegars such as either balsamic or sherry vinegars. Their concentrated flavors (and often intensely dark hue) overtake the native gentleness and brightness of quick pickling.
Beyond the basic trio of water, vinegar and salt, quick pickling flavor add-ins include both fresh and dried herbs (especially dill and thyme) and garlic. Smashed small cloves of garlic actually release less and more subtle flavor than super-thin slices of the same, so keep that in mind.
I’d shy away from a wholesale dump of so-called “pickling spices” (they are better for “put up” or fermented pickles) in favor of a judicious use of only one or two of the following: black or yellow mustard seeds; green or black cardamom pods; coriander seeds; and black or white peppercorns. The “ding” of one or two flavor notes is prettier on the palate than the cacophony of too many goings-on at once.
You may use today’s recipe with your own choice of vegetables, in an equal measure as the cucumbers listed.
Quick homemade pickles
Makes shy of 1 quart
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
4-5 cups thinly sliced Persian or English cucumbers, peeled or partially peeled if desired
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Any other dry or fresh herbal flavorings (for example, 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds, along with a dozen coriander seeds and 10 black peppercorns; or some fronds of dill or fennel; or thin slices of 2 medium jalapeño peppers, etc.)
Prepare the cucumbers and set aside in a large non-reactive (glass or stainless steel) bowl, along with the smashed garlic. Combine the vinegars, water, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally so that the sugar and salt dissolve completely. Add any other flavorings.
Pour the hot liquid over the prepared cucumbers, pressing down with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula so that the liquid comes up over the top of the cucumbers. Place the saucepan’s lid or other object (small heavy plate, for example) over the cucumbers to keep them submerged.
After 10 minutes, transfer the pickles to a sealable glass or other non-reactive container, topping up with the liquid. Refrigerate immediately; keeps for up to 1 month.
You may reach Bill St.John at email@example.com