“It takes a sour woman to make a good pickle.” Michael Chabon, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”
It was a case of pantry envy. I was writing a story about low-tech ways of coping with the impending doom many people feared would accompany the year 2000 because of possible computer meltdowns.
We walked down to the basement of the women I was interviewing and there it was. A veritable feast was lined up on homemade shelves in a glory similar to stained-glass windows. Pickled beets, vegetable soup, jams, gooey peaches and on and on. “There’ll be plenty,” she said in a modest way.
I was entranced. But, not having any desire to tangle with potential botulism or exploding pressure canners, I kept my distance from the sport of home canning for a while longer. Then, I realized some products are practically idiot proof — jams, jellies and pickles to be specific. The high-acid environment means there is little danger of bacterial growth, especially if the food is going to be eaten quickly.
These days, I don’t even bother with hot-water baths (a less-industrial form of hot canning). I just make small batches of whatever it is that I’m making, put it in clean canning jars, screw on the lids and refrigerate. We eat it up so quickly, the natural high acid of lots of sugar or vinegar is enough to keep things safe.
Here is a recipe that makes a wonderful side/condiment for summer meals. (Just last night, I added some to a pot of baked beans.)
Refrigerator Pickled Peppers
This recipe makes a small batch that can be safely canned without hot-water or pressure-canner processing.
Wash and coarsely chop 1 jalapeno pepper, 1 hot banana pepper and a pound or so of colorful mild peppers. Evenly distribute the pepper pieces over four pint-size canning jars or well cleaned spaghetti jars. (To reduce the heat of the peppers, carefully remove seeds and membranes from the jalapeno and banana peppers if desired. Pepper chemicals will be on your skin. Make sure to wash your hands well before touching your eyes.)
Add 1-2 garlic cloves to each jar. If there is any extra space, fill the jars to about 1/2 inch from the rim with washed, peeled and chopped carrot pieces. (Tip: If you’re not into peppers, do all carrots. Or pickle small cucumbers, pieces of cauliflower etc.) Set jars aside.
In a medium sauce pan, bring four cups of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1 Tablespoon peppercorns (or 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper) and 1 Tablespoon salt to a boil. (This is a bare-bones spice recipe. Experiment with cloves, turmeric, dill etc. if you like.) Whisk until completely mixed and pour the hot liquid right into the jars. There should be enough to cover the vegetable pieces.
Top with lids, cool to room temperature on the counter and store in the refrigerator. Pickles will taste their best after 1-2 weeks of refrigeration.