Working for a weekly magazine, my Friday nights at the office are very late. We don’t put the issue to bed until 9:30, so I often don’t get to leave before 10. I’m usually too tired at this point to do anything but sprawl on the couch—forget about mustering the energy to eat.
This past Friday was no different, and while the couch beckoned my empty stomach more loudly insisted that I fill it with food before I lounge. As I stood staring into my fridge, I was dismayed that I had no leftovers, which left me with only a few easy choices: scrambled eggs, peanut butter on a spoon, or salad. None of these options called out to me, but ordering take-out didn’t appeal either. I recently read Anthony Bourdain’s thoughts about bad food, and to paraphrase—bad food is anything made without love. Perhaps it’s the influence of these words, but it’s true, you can really taste that lack in so many restaurant’s offerings. Not all restaurants, of course, but many of my late-night delivery options are not, shall we say, the pinnacle of carefully prepared, creative cuisine. I just couldn’t bear to suffer through an over-priced, mediocre meal.
As I was nibbling on a curly red lettuce leaf, a Mason jar on the lower shelf in the fridge caught my eye. How could I forget? There sat my first attempt at making refrigerator dill pickles and after six days of shaking the jar and keeping them cool, they were finally ready.
Everyone in my family pickles and cans like they’re stocking a storm shelter. Pantry shelves are lined with colorful, comforting Mason jars stuffed with pickled vegetables and fruit preserves—an arresting array of homespun edible art. For some reason, however, I’ve never participated in the family’s canning activities, and so the process struck me as both inaccessible and mysterious. Plus, I always reckoned you needed a host of specialized equipment to do the act, so I just never bothered.
Canning jam, perhaps, does take a more technical approach, but I recently discovered that making pickles could be as simple as just brining your vegetables in the fridge for a week. And after picking up a few gorgeous Kirby cucumbers at the farmer’s market, I decided that it was high time I try to make my own dill pickles.
I’ve been attempting to grow an indoor herb garden, and several of my plants have responded heroically to the not-so-ideal horticultural conditions of my apartment: the French tarragon is lacing its way across the window sill; the chocolate mint has exploded with long, leafy stems; the purple sage surprises me daily with new, velvety growth; and the Greek basil has puffed into several large globes of fragrant, delicate leaves. But my dill plant languished and I realized it was time to say good-bye. Fortunately, with herbs you can eat your failures, so it wasn’t a total loss.
I packed what was left of my dill plant into a jar, threw in some garlic, coriander seeds and peppercorns, added the sliced cucumbers and poured in my brine. Then I placed the jar in the refrigerator and waited.
I’m usually not a patient person, but after a week of resisting the urge to open the jar and see how the pickles were faring, it was very rewarding to finally be able to taste the labor of my efforts. But first, I took a sip of the pickle juice. Every since my Aunts Jill and Julie (who are just a few years older than I, and growing up were more like big sisters than dear old aunties) dared me to drink pickle juice when I was five, I’ve been hooked; the salty, vinegary tang of pickle juice is one of my favorite potables. Plus it’s always a strong indicator if the pickles themselves will have a good flavor. The juice from my homemade pickle jar did not disappoint. I then took out a cucumber slice and slowly took a bite. It was crisp, tart and juicy, evenly flavored with garlic, pepper and dill. These were as good if not better than any of the excellent pickles you can find here in New York City, but what made me relish them even more was that I had made them myself!
So on that warm Friday evening, when my energy was low and my tummy was rumbling, I was thrilled to eat straight from the jar my own cool and spicy homemade dill pickles, which were all the more delicious because they had been prepared with love. So now that I’ve cracked the pickle code, it’s time to figure out how to make jam. I do believe that homemade preserves would make my peanut butter very, very happy!
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh dill
6 Kirby cucumbers, cleaned, stemmed and halved, lengthwise
1/2 cup white vinegar
Place salt, peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic, and dill in a sterilized 1-quart Mason jar. Layer sliced cucumbers in jar, leaving 1/2 inch at the top.
Pour in vinegar, then fill the rest of the jar with water, 1/4 inch from the top. Cover with the lid and ring, then shake for about a minute. Refrigerate for 6 days, shaking daily. Will keep in the refrigerator for 1 month.