Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Refrigerator Pickles with Rebecca

The perfect no fuss snack for a hot summer day!

I’ve been sitting on this post for almost a whole year, which is both embarrassing and an indication of just how busy I’ve been. Which I know, I know, I’ve been complaining about a lot when I do have the time to post, so I’ll try to hush up about it as I keep trying to clear out my backlog of posts from last summer. 

July is apparently National Pickle Month, which made this one a priority to get out to you guys as soon as possible, or at least before the month was over. Although pickling has been around for thousands of years and the Chinese were the first to invent the modern pickling process, in the US, cucumber pickles have become pretty heavily associated with Jewish immigrants in urban centers like New York. Have you ever wondered why that is? 

Well, read on and wonder no more!

When Jewish immigrants arrived in America at the turn of the century, many of them had few skills to put to use in their new country to feed their families. Many enterprising new immigrants decided to use what they did know to help give other immigrants a taste of home, which helped popularize items like the bagel and pickle in America. Pickles are pretty inexpensive to make, inexpensive to buy, and helped Jewish immigrants feel like they had a taste of home when they bought them. When they were packed in lunches for kids like Rebecca and Ana, or adults bringing a lunch to work, their friends and coworkers were introduced to this specific style of pickling and became invested in purchasing some of their own. These customers helped establish pickling enterprises, some of which still exist in New York today. 

Pickles are the perfect pairing with deli favorites like pastrami and corned beef. Both are fatty meats, which means the fat will eventually coat the inside of your mouth and obscure the flavor of the sandwich. The brininess of the pickle helps cut through the fat and cleanses your palate. 

Some of the “kosher” dill pickles you’re buying also aren’t actually kosher: they’re just named that to signify that they’re made in the same way as the Jewish pickles are traditionally made with dill and garlic. The garlic is apparently a specifically Jewish addition to the pickling recipe, as it is a favorite ingredient and flavor for Jews. 

I just want to be clear up front: the pickles I made are not kosher dill pickles. They are made with dill, and they are pickles, but they are by no means the authentic New York kosher dill pickles Rebecca would be picking out at the market for a snack. There’s a specific reason for that, and it has to do with the actual method I used to make the pickles. 

Pickling is something that can be a little complicated, or actually pretty easy, if you do it the lazy way like I did. I was always a little intimidated by the idea of making my own pickles after watching an episode of Good Eats that discussed the subject. Although Alton Brown does a good job showing you how to make your own pickles at home, he also emphasizes how careful you need to be when pickling properly to make sure harmful bacteria doesn’t make a home with your pickles. If you’re not careful, you can end up cultivating very dangerous critters along with your pickles that can make people deathly ill. I think that’s enough to scare most people off the idea of trying it out themselves. 

However, my parent’s next door neighbors make pickles, and this got me wondering if there’s an easier way to do it. The answer is yes, and the trick lies in swapping the traditional salt water brine for the secret ingredient: vinegar. 

Authentic kosher dill pickles use a salt brine, but a lot of companies use vinegar because it speeds up the pickling process. Diehards say this throws off the flavor of the pickle, but since I didn’t want to nurture pickles for weeks or risk poisoning my friends and family, I decided to go the vinegar route. 

The recipe I used came from AllRecipes.com and is very simple. It’s also a pretty good jumping off point if you want to experiment with other seasonings and flavors with your pickles. 

To begin, you add 3 1/2 cups of water, 1 1/4 cups of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of salt to a pan and bring it to a boil. After it boils, remove it from the heat and let it cool completely.

Meanwhile, you can prep 4 cups of cucumber spears, 2 whole garlic cloves, and 2 heads of fresh dill to be added to a large glass, plastic container, mason jar, or whatever vessel you’re going to be making your pickles in. I also didn’t have dill that just had the head of the plant, so I just washed and added big dill fronds into my jars.

Once everything’s packed in the jars, pour your cooled vinegar liquid into the jars, seal them tightly, and leave them in the fridge for at least three days.

After three days you’ll notice they’ll have turned a more yellow-y green.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I tried one. I really love pickles, but I like it when they taste really briny and salty. I have definitely had some pickles that just tasted like soggy, lightly salted cucumbers, and I was a little worried that’s what these were going to taste like. 

The short version: my fears were completely unfounded. 

The slightly longer one: these were exactly the right amount salty and briny, with that nice bite from the vinegar that kind of makes your lips pucker a little bit. I was honestly really surprised they had so much flavor after only being in the fridge for a few days, and am happy to report that they can last for a pretty long time in the fridge while soaking up even more flavor… assuming your housemates don’t eat all of them as soon as the three days are up! These were extremely popular with my taste testers and went really quickly all three times I made them. The first time just so happened to be timed perfectly with a make your own deli meat sandwich family dinner. Talk about a match made in heaven!

I know it’s easy to just buy pickles from the grocery store instead of bothering to make your own, but if you’re looking for a cool DIY project and have some extra cucumbers lying around, I really can’t recommend this enough. Refrigerator pickles are extremely easy, very flavorful, and make a great accompaniment to sandwiches, or are just a fun snack to chow down on by themselves. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to surprise people with homemade pickles! They would make a great housewarming gift to give new neighbors or a fun contribution to a summer cookout. 

Whatever you decide to do with them, spare a thought to the people who helped make these tasty treats such a staple in American cuisine. The food world would definitely be a darker place without these sour little beauties spicing up our plates.

Souring up our plates? You know what I mean!


  1. I've had pickles done both ways and while they are different from each other, both are equally good! I loved your photos of the pickling process, they took me back to when my mom used to make tons of pickles. Once you smell that pickle brine boiling on the stove, you never forget it!

    1. It's a wonderful smell! Glad it brought back good memories. :)

  2. These were really tasty and I remember your brother really liking them. Nice to walk down memory lane even if we weren't there for production.

    1. If I recall, he was the one to finish them off!