Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quick pickles

When my husband and I planted our little raised bed garden this spring, we included several pickling cucumber plants. We are both pickle-lovers, especially Reggie, and liked the idea of making our own.

When I think of pickle-making, several things come to mind. I remember big white buckets brimming with cucumbers on the floor in Mama's kitchen, large canning jars sterilized and ready for packing, and the unforgettable smell of pickling spice simmering in a pot of vinegar and sugar. I also remember a piece of notebook paper with detailed instructions about soaking cucumbers in a lime bath and on how to care for the pickles on Day 2 and Day 9 and Day 14.

That's not the image I'll remember from our pickle-making experience this year. We went the easy route, making microwave pickles in less than 15 minutes. I kid you not.

Granted, we didn't make enough pickles to last the year, but that's OK. We can make more.

We've made the bread and butter pickles several times now. The first time, we followed the advice of someone who left a review on the recipe, suggesting the cucumbers be added to the spicy vinegar and sugar solution after it had cooked. The reviewer said the sliced pickles would be firmer or crisper if they weren't microwaved. So we tried it. I didn't like the way they looked, and the first time I tried them, I thought they tasted like cucumbers soaked in pickle juice, which is exactly what they were.

Reggie liked them, though, and ate them. He said they got better each day as the cucumbers, stored in the refrigerator, soaked up the syrup.

A few weeks later, co-worker Carol Smithwick offered me one of her microwave pickles. It was delicious. She later gave me the recipe, and I discovered it was the very same recipe Reggie and I had used. The difference? She cooked her cucumbers in the microwave.

So later that week, Reggie and I gathered a few cucumbers left from our garden and added some I had purchased at the farmer's market, and we made two more batches. This time, we followed the recipe and cooked the cucumbers along with the vinegar/ sugar solution.

Within a few minutes, the house started smelling just like Mama and Daddy's kitchen at pickle-making time. The aroma of pickling spice and vinegar made my taste buds scream for pickles!

I let the cucumbers cool a little before pouring them into the 16 oz. plastic freezer jars we had purchased. One recipe fits perfectly in the containers, but you can certainly use something else. After the pickles cooled a little more, we put them in the refrigerator. We waited 24 hours to try them, allowing the flavors to soak in. We were very happy with the results. We finished the first jar in less than a week!

I didn't want to waste the leftover pickle juice and onions that hadn't been eaten, so I cut up another 2 cups of cucumbers from our garden and made another batch, once again cooking the cucumbers, this time in the juice and spices left from the first batch. The pickles were delicious and only get better each day.

I hope the cucumber vines keep producing a few more weeks so we can make some more pickles!

The recipe here reflects the way Carol and I made our pickles. I think it's interesting that we made the same changes to the original recipe. We both used apple cider vinegar instead of white (just like our mamas used when making pickles) and instead of using mustard seed, tumeric and celery seed to spice up the pickles, we used pickling spice.

I know there are many of you out there who still make pickles the old-fashioned way, and I salute you. I always get homemade pickles when I'm in a covered dish meal line because I know they will be delicious. But for those of us who are afraid of canning or just don't have the patience to can large quantities, this really is a good alternative.

Microwave Bread and Butter Pickles
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 1 cup sliced Vidalia onions
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice*
Mix all ingredients in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap. I used a batter bowl.

Microwave on high for 7-8 minutes.

Let cool slightly before pouring into container for storage. Store in refrigerator after cooling.

*Instead of pickling spice, you can use 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed, 1/4 teaspoon celery seed and 1/4 teaspoon tumeric.

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