I loathe cucumbers with a fiery passion. The only way I can eat them raw is if there is 1/4 cup of feta cheese covering the one sliver in my Greek salad. If all of the green but what is under the two fingers holding up the slice is doused in some kind of fattening cream-based dressing. If I’ve been swayed by the first week of summer and swimsuit sales into believing I can handle its disgusting texture and aroma as an alternative to the tortilla chip.
Even then, the hatred lingers, and the toleration is short-lived.
Because of said hatred, my love for pickles is a bit of a wonder. It’s amazing how a salty, vinegary brine with oodles of mustard seed, dill, and garlic can turn a despised veggie into a worthy – nay – tasty, treat. I remember when I was a kid, my dad’s more rural relatives would bring us goodies from their garden. Although we too lived down dirt roads on top of dozens of acres of pastureland, we didn’t garden. My parents had their busy and time-consuming jobs as educators, and we preferred the ease of the almighty grocery store to the feat of fending off wildlife from a small backyard garden (although now with a garden fenced in by suburbia, I only fend off the ferocious Golden Retriever).
But when those family members would bring us their harvests, it became abundantly clear in my young mind just what all the fuss was over homegrown and homemade… Tomatoes so ripe, red, and juicy that you could eat them like apples. Okra as bright and green as a crayon, with fleshy pods just begging to be deep-fried. And the pickles. Oh those pickles. One day I awoke to find a large Mason jar sitting on the kitchen counter, filled to the brim with thinly sliced cucumbers, lovingly aged in a savory, salty, tart brine. I recall standing over the counter, eating the pickles out of the jar by hand. They weren’t the awful mixture of murky and bright green like you find in the grocery store aisles. They had pale, tender centers with a small, shining rim of green skin around the edge. The brine was supplemented with bits of onion, garlic, mustard seeds, and dill. Each disk was firm and crisp, giving away a satisfying crunch with every bite. Each nibble was fully savory – no sugar was allowed into this party to ruin those satiating, salty flavors.
Those pickles were in.cred.ib.le. And I’ve never found their likeness in stores since. Sure, one of the big brands recently repackaged their pickles in Mason jars and added a few obvious cloves of garlic and pepper for good measure, but they weren’t up to par. Alas, it looks like the homemade route is the only way to grace your fridge with the pickles made of dreams.
I toyed with a few different recipes to find that sweet (I mean savory) spot, and the base comes from Deb Perelman’s Fridge Dill Pickles recipe from Smitten Kitchen (all hail!!!). Instead of heating a brine of vinegar, water, sugar, and pickling salt over the stove top, you forego the water and fill a portion of the jar with just vinegar, then your salt and seasonings. It seems counter intuitive to leave a good bit of the cucumber un-immersed in the vinegar, but the pure vinegar goes into overdrive and sucks out the cucumberiness from ALL of the pickles, immersed or no. She suggests giving it a good shake every couple of hours after assembling, for good measure.
To get the overwhelming savory flavors I remember so well from my out-of-body pickle experience as a youth, I added a few cloves of smashed garlic, a small bit of white onion, mustard seeds, and dried dill. The result was everything I had hoped and longed for in a homemade pickle… Savory, crisp, tart, and easily eaten independent of any sandwich. Every lunch since making these has been dripping with the lip-smacking brine that has my mouth saying, “What turkey? What provolone? What whole wheat bread? You’re all merely background players in this pickle extravaganza.”
These pickles are made for a short, albeit glorious, life in the refrigerator. So don’t throw this together and toss it in your pantry for safekeeping. But if you’re anything like us, these won’t make it past the week and a half mark.
Savory Refrigerator Pickles
- 7-8 Kirby cucumbers or 4-5 regular cucumbers
- 1 very small white onion sliced; or half of a medium white onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic smashed
- 3 1/2 teaspoons pickling salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill
- 1 1/4 cups white vinegar
- Using a mandolin set at 1/8" thickness (or larger, if you'd prefer thicker slices), slice all of the cucumbers.
- Use two large mason jars and fill as much as you can, using a third jar if need be. Evenly distribute the onion, garlic, salt, mustard seeds, dill, and vinegar between the jars.
- Close tightly and shake to distribute all ingredients. Let sit for 12 hours in the fridge, shaking every now and then to redistribute the ingredients.