By JANET K. KEELER
Times Food and Travel Editor
While I like the idea of home canning, especially the thought of having a pantry full of pickled vegetables that started in my very own garden, it's not particularly practical. At least not for me.
The biggest obstacle is the vegetable garden. I don't have one. And the others are time and equipment. Scarce on those, too. I have, over the years, put up pumpkin butter, bread-and-butter pickles, watermelon pickles, salsas and even giardiniera, the Italian pickled vegetable melange. But I have found that unless I have access to a garden, farmer or u-pick fields during the height of the growing season, the canning process can be pricey. Four pounds of Kirby cucumbers at the grocery store (if they even stock them) and the ingredients to transform them into pickles costs much more than the equivalent jars of prepared dills.
Still, I get cravings for homemade tart-sweet-crisp veggies. That itch is easily scratched by making small batches of quick pickles that are ready to eat as soon as they are cold. Even before, if you don't mind a room-temperature pickled nosh. No need for water baths or temperature supervision, or those forcepslike clamps that assuredly hoist hot jars out of boiling water. A big pot, a few glass jars with lids (or clean and save your mayo containers) and the refrigerator are just about the only equipment you need. Oh, and maybe a ladle. The ingredients may already be in your pantry: vinegar, sugar and a few spices.
The joy of quick pickles is the heady lure of instant gratification. Compare that with the delayed gratification of traditional canning, which often requires curing the jars in a dark, cool location for a week or more. Quick pickling is the perfect kitchen project for a texting society, wouldn't you say? We want what we want now.
When I say pickles, I don't necessarily mean pickled cucumbers, so if dill spears aren't your thing, don't despair. To pickle means to brine or corn (like corned beef!) and is partly a preserving method besides being a flavoring vehicle. So essentially, just about any fruit or vegetable can be pickled.
The primary pickling agent is vinegar and, honestly, don't break the bank for something expensive. White wine or cider vinegar works well for almost everything and I like to use champagne vinegar sometimes, which adds a slightly different flavor. To quell the tart vinegar, use a little sugar and add more to make the brine syrupy, for a bread-and-butter effect.
The process is simple: Heat the brine and pour it over prepared vegetables or fruit. Or, depending on what you are pickling (beets, for instance), the prepared produce can be blanched in the brine first to soften it a bit.
That's it. Nice, eh?
Quick pickles are wonderful accompaniments to sandwiches and are great nibbles for after-school snacks or even with cocktails. That's how I imagine serving Quick Pickled Rainier Cherries. Rainier cherries are golden orbs blushed with pink or red and are sweeter and more delicate than the ruby Bing. Their season is brief, so get them while they're still available, which is now. When pickled, they're great substitutes for cornichons to serve with charcuterie and pate or on a cheese tray. Since you don't pit or stem them, they're easy pickups to pop in your mouth.
Firecracker Carrots, heated with red pepper flakes and mustard seeds, would be tasty served alongside a ham dinner. Use the peeled baby carrots from the bag or look for true baby carrots with their delicate green tops still attached for a pretty presentation.
Thinly sliced pickled red onions are the perfect foil atop a juicy grilled hamburger, and an earthy pile of pickled root vegetables — golden and red beets, daikon radishes and turnips — perks up long-cooked roasts. I imagine them on a salad of lightly dressed arugula with knobs of goat cheese. Both the onions and root vegetables can be made with Alice Waters' master pickling brine, the recipe for which is printed here.
Even though I keep hearing that home canning is coming back, I am happy to report that quick pickling is here to stay. And so much easier.
Times staff writers Lennie Bennett and Jim Webster contributed to this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.
Photos by PATTY YABLONSKI | Times
Pickled root vegetables — red beets, golden beets, daikon radishes and turnips — are stained red by the beets. They are a delicious accompaniment to roasted meats.
Just about any fruit or vegetable can be pickled. Try baby carrots in Firecracker Carrots, or baby cucumbers or red onions.
. MORE INFORMATION
Choose your packaging
Ball canning jars are suitable for quick pickles if you have them on hand. However, since you aren't sealing the jars for long-term preservation, you don't need the rubber seal gasket, so you may use any clean jar with a lid. Even a zip-top bag. Most quick pickles last about 1 week in the refrigerator.
An online source for interesting and chic canning jars is Weck (weckjars.com). The jars are for traditional canning — they come with rubber gasket and clamps — but are so sweet they would be lovely gifts. The pickled cherries in the photo on this page are stored in one of Weck's 1/5-liter jelly jars (No. 762), which cost $13.55, plus shipping and tax, for six jars.
Quick Pickled Rainier Cherries
1 pound Rainier cherries, washed and drained
1 cup champagne vinegar
½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
Pierce each cherry several times with a needle or pin and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and heat over high, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature, then chill in refrigerator. Pack cherries into jars, pour pickling liquid over them to cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Makes about 16 ounces.
Note: This brine could be used for other stone fruits such as halved and pitted apricots or peach and nectarine slices. No need to prick fruits that are being cut.
Source: Lennie Bennett, St. Petersburg Times
Quick-Pickled Red Onions
2 cups apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium red onions, about 1 ¼ pounds
Combine the first six ingredients in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, peel the onions, cut in half and slice as thinly as possible into half moons. When the brine comes to a boil, add the onion slices and stir. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let stand for about 25 minutes.
Transfer the onions and brine to a large bowl and set aside to cool at room temperature. When the onions are fully cooled, pour them and their brine into jars with tight-fitting lids and store in the refrigerator. These quick pickles are ready to be eaten as soon as they are fully cold. They will keep, chilled, for up to 2 weeks.
Makes about 1 quart.
Source: Adapted by the New York Times from Molly Wizenberg's orangette.blogspot.com
2 pounds baby carrots
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups cider vinegar
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili flakes
2 dried chilies
Place carrots in a large glass jar. Bring the water, sugar, cider vinegar, onion powder, mustard seeds, salt and chili flakes to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Boil for 4 minutes.
Slowly pour hot pickling liquid over carrots, filling jar to the top. Place chilies in the jar. Allow carrots to cool before sealing. Refrigerate for 2 days and up to 1 week.
Makes about 1 quart.
Source: Alton Brown, Food Network
Master Quick Pickle Brine
1 ½ cups white wine vinegar
1 ¾ cups water
¼ cup sugar
1 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
Half a dried cayenne pepper or a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 whole cloves
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Cook each type of vegetable separately in the boiling brine, scooping them out when they are cooked but still crisp. Set them aside to cool. Once all the vegetables have cooked and cooled and the brine has cooled to room temperature, combine the vegetables in a large jar, cover with the brine and refrigerate. They are ready to eat as soon as they are cold.
Makes 3 cups brine.
Suggested vegetables: peeled beets, turnips, parsnips, daikon radish, plus asparagus, cucumbers, green beans and cauliflower.
Source: Adapted from Art of Simple Cooking by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, 2007)