At this point in your summer, you likely have cucumber, zucchini, and summer squash coming out your ears. If you're sick of zucchini bread and cucumber salads, grab some vinegar and start pickling! (Refrigerator pickles are always a hit!)
Just about any vegetable can be pickled, and so can fruit (pickled watermelon rind is awesome), hardboiled eggs (pickled red beet eggs are a Pennsylvania Dutch classic), fish (pickled herring, with or without cream), and meat (pickled pig's feet—seriously, what else would you do with 'em?). The pickling process itself is super easy; you're basically just adding vegetables—or fruit rinds or porcine hooves—to a mixture of vinegar and salt.
But most pickling cucumber recipes complicate things by tacking on canning instructions. Canning, with its sterilized jars and hot-water baths, does render the resulting pickles shelf-stable. But not everyone wants to put in the time and effort. If you're not ready to step up to full-blown canning, there's an easier option: refrigerator pickles!
If you have space for a few quart jars in the back of your refrigerator, you can make delicious icebox or refrigerator pickles of all sorts in manageable quantities (just one jar at a time if you like) in mere minutes. No special jars, lids, or any other specialized equipment is required, just a handful of common ingredients and basic kitchen tools. Refrigerator pickles keep for months in the fridge, though veggies may start to loose their firmness as time goes on. Start a batch of refrigerator pickles today, and you can be eating them by the weekend (you can eat them immediately, too, but they will just be raw veggies with seasoned vinegar).
The following two basic recipes are delicious in their own right, but they are also a starting place for limitless variations using different veggies and seasonings. Add more garlic, add spicy red pepper for hot pickles, substitute other herbs for the dill, and take advantage of whatever veggies you have in your garden or find at your local farmer's market.
Classic Chilly Dillies (1 quart)
5 medium cucumbers
1 Tablespoon pickling salt, sea salt, or kosher salt (but not iodized table salt)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 head dill or small bunch dill leaves
1 clove garlic (optional)
3 black peppercorns (optional)
Prepare a quart jar with a lid by running it through the dishwasher or washing it in very hot soapy water and letting it air-dry. Any jar with a lid will do; the wider the opening, the easier.
For the crunchiest pickles, select firm, dark-green pickling cucumbers that have not started to ripen to white or yellow. Cut them into spears or slices, as desired (left whole, they will take a long time to pickle in the fridge). To increase the crunchiness, you can sprinkle the cut cucumbers with a couple of tablespoons of salt, let them sit for 2 hours, and then rinse and drain before proceeding, but this step isn't absolutely necessary. I rarely bother with it.
Place the dill in the bottom of your jar, peel and crush the garlic clove (if using), and drop that in along with the peppercorns (if using), then put in the cut cucumber. Mix the salt, vinegar, and water in a separate container, stirring until the salt is dissolved, then pour it over the cucumbers, filling the jar right to the top. If you're in a hurry to enjoy your dillies, heat the vinegar, water, and salt to a boil before pouring it over the cucumbers. Pop on the lid and put the jar in the fridge. Easy, eh?
Variations: Try Dilly Snap Beans, Dilly Zucchini Strips, or a medley of whatever veggies you have on hand.