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As harvest peaks, refrigerator pickles allow you to skip the canning

As the verdant backyard gardens, farmers markets and roadside stands of Western New York bulge with all the season has to offer, freshness fatigue sets in.

Local vegetables are the greatest – but why do they have to all come at once?

As John McClane might have said: Welcome to the season, pal.

The time-honored tactics for dealing with cornucopia crush are preservation moves: drying, freezing, canning.

That’s all well and good for motivated people – the sort of home economics whizzes that own a canning pot and blanch excess farm share greens for the freezer. Those approaches require a certain level of planning, patience, and equipment, the sort of commitment so many shrug at. If those are within your scope of activities, bless you.

Here’s a suggestion for the rest of us: refrigerator pickles.

(Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Boil up a batch of brine, pour it into a jar, and toss in spare vegetables. A few days later, they’re pickles. No canning necessary, no fussing with seals and worrying about bacteriological invasion, since the combination of vinegar and refrigeration will retard spoilage.

Also not necessary: shopping for anything special. You can make them with four ingredients you probably already have in your house: water, salt, sugar, vinegar.

You can certainly make them better with a few more touches. Fresh garlic, herbs like dill, anise or fennel, and pickling spices. Bay leaf, mustard seed, black peppercorns, cloves, coriander and dill seed are often sold as a blend under that name.

Or get creative, if you have other spices you like: sliced ginger root, star anise, jalapenos or other spicy chiles.

When you make a plate of food, or a sandwich, or even break out some cheese and bread, fork out a handful of pickles.

Then push even more fresh vegetables down into the brine. In a few days, you will hardly be able to tell the difference between seniors and recent arrivals.

(Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

If the tang diminishes noticeably, consider refreshing the brine. When the season is over, bung it down the drain and get on with your life.

Here are some suggestions for vegetables that make pleasant pickles:

  • Cucumbers: Small and large specimens both work well. Overgrown cukes can be peeled, seeded and sliced into rings. Smaller ones can go in whole, which can take a week or more to pickle. Otherwise slice into spears or slice.
  • Chiles: Remove seeds of spicier ones if you want to cut down on the heat. Remember that pickled jalapenos are less assaultive than fresh.
  • Green or yellow string beans: Drop them in whole. Elderly specimens that have passed their tenderness date can find redemption in the depths of the pickle jar.
  • Zucchini and summer squash: Instead of abandoning them on neighbors’ doorsteps, consider the pickle approach. Seed them if they’re fatter than a silver dollar, and chop them into chunks. They’ll actually retain a distinct crunch in the brine.
  • Radishes: Halved, whole or slices.
  • Carrots: Small ones cut lengthwise do well, or larger ones sliced into coins.
  • Turnips: Quarter small ones, or cut into batons.
  • Onions, pearl and wedged large: Leave the stem on if you don’t want the onion leaves to blow all over the jar.
  • Cauliflower and broccoli: Take a while longer to soften and get briny, but can be worthwhile.

(Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Recipe

Refrigerator pickles

Brine recipe:

  • 4 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/8 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 to 1/3 cup pickling spice (usually a blend of mustard seed, bay leaf, clove, black pepper, coriander and dill seed)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Dissolve sugar and salt in water and vinegar. Pour over vegetable medley scattered with garlic and spices, and stir to distribute.

After three days or so, they're pickles. Add more vegetables as room allows over a month or two, replenishing vinegar, salt and sugar, and spices occasionally.

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