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Making pickles can be a time consuming, hot task for the summer. It requires a good deal of special equipment like a water bath canner and jar rack, tongs for lifting hot jars and much more. Sterilizing jars and standing over a steamy water bath for hours is not the most pleasurable way to spend a summer day!
You can skip that whole process and make the next best thing – refrigerator pickles. They will not have the long shelf life of a standard pickle but it is quick and easy to make them any time you have a surplus of cucumbers from the garden or farmer’s market.
The ingredients can vary according to your taste. Use any type of firm, fresh, unwaxed cucumber. Armenian, slicing, pickling types or even white cucumbers will make great icebox pickles. The cucumbers may be sliced thin or thick or may be cut into long spears. There is no need to peel them. Use a mandolin or a food processor to make the slices more quickly and more uniform.
Use canning jars or any type of jar that has a lid that will give a tight seal. Some people prefer to use plastic bowls with lids. Use pint, quart or even gallon jars. Whatever you have room for in your refrigerator will work. The jars will not have a vacuum seal so you may reuse the lids from canning jars.
Wash the jars well and add seasonings to your liking in the jars. I add several cloves of peeled garlic, a tablespoon or two of dill seed, thinly sliced onion, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a few black peppercorns. Some people place a couple of grape leaves in each jar. That is supposed to keep the pickles crisp but I have not seen much difference with them.
Other things you may want to add: mustard seeds, celery seed, allspice berries, fresh dill weed, sliced jalapeños or Serrano peppers, sliced bell peppers or carrots, or turmeric. Each jar can have a different flavor depending on the ingredients added. Mix it up and put a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary or even basil in the pickles instead of dill.
The vinegar can be varied for flavor also. I prefer to use natural apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar because they have a milder flavor profile. You may use white vinegar or even white wine vinegar also.
Some recipes add quite a bit of sugar but I keep it to just a tablespoon or two per jar. Adjust to your taste. If you find the pickles are still too sour, just add more sugar to the jar and shake to distribute. It will dissolve in the brine.
Use a non-reactive pan such as stainless steel to prepare the brine mixture. Vinegar, salt and water and your seasonings of choice will be brought to a boil and cooled a bit, then poured over the cucumbers. Wipe the rims and add the lids.
Add enough brine to each jar to cover the cucumbers completely and let the jars cool for a while. Then put them in the refrigerator. The pickles may be eaten (and likely will be!) the next day but the flavor gets even better after a few days. The vinegar will preserve the cucumbers for several months.
Okra, green beans, carrots and cauliflower may be pickled in the same manner.
When the jar is empty, I strain the brine, add more vinegar and spices and reuse it to make another batch of pickles. I warn you, these are pretty addictive! They really hit the spot on a hot day after a stint in the garden; salty, crunchy and oh so good!