Fresh herbs from the garden shine in refrigerator pickles

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This summer feels like it's about a month behind — lots of rain, lots of cold and windy days — but this past weekend I finally got some time to clear out my herb and vegetable garden, a little sunshine lighting my way.

This is such a weird time; the North Adams Farmers Market isn't opening until this coming Saturday, and I'm still turning on the heat sometimes, but at least I have a ton of fresh herbs in a neat and tidy front garden now.

I love canning, and I've been yearning for early strawberries for jam, cucumbers for pickling and herbs to cram into my jars with those cucumbers. So, this weekend, I did some refrigerator pickling, just to get in the spirit of summer food preservation and lightly flex my canning muscles. Fresh, new tarragon and thyme go beautifully with red onion, cucumbers, garlic and peppercorns.

It's really easy to make a brine, get some mason jars, stack fruit and veggies in the jars with herbs and other aromatics, and pour brine over the whole thing. They require no water bath like traditional canning does, and they're ready in about a week.

The basic brine recipe in this column will work for anything — try carrots, cabbage, or green beans — and you can't go wrong with garlic and peppercorns for dill pickles. The red onions will be used as a cool topping option, on shrimp or pork tacos and enchiladas, scattered on a fresh homemade pizza, chopped into a relish, or atop a grilled sausage when it finally gets warm and dry.

Basic brine

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups water

2 1/2 cups vinegar

4 tablespoons salt (I used pickling salt, but you don't have to)

2 tablespoons sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Mix together water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a large saucepan and heat gently on medium until all salt and sugar are absorbed and everything is incorporated.

Dill-tarragon pickles

INGREDIENTS:

1 to 2 large cucumbers

Whole peppercorns

1 to 2 cloves garlic for each jar

3 to 4 sprigs dill for each jar

1 sprig tarragon for each jar.

DIRECTIONS:

Slice cucumbers into spears that are just shorter than each jar. Place 4 to 5 whole peppercorns (or more if you want), garlic, tarragon and dill into bottom of jars, then stand pickles up inside, packing tightly, with a little room to breathe (you want to be able to get the pickles out and if you pack them too tight it'll be harder). Ladle brine over pickles, filling to -inch jar headspace. Let cool for an hour or so, then screw on lids and put in the fridge. Pickles are ready after about a week and good for about three months.

Pickled red onions

INGREDIENTS:

Whole peppercorns

1 red onion for each jar, sliced thin

2 to 3 sprigs of thyme for each jar

DIRECTIONS:

Place 4 to 5 peppercorns and thyme sprigs into each jar. Add sliced onions, packing tightly, with about -inch headspace from top of jar. Ladle brine over onions, filling to -inch jar headspace. Let cool for an hour or so, then screw on lids and put in the fridge. Onions are ready after about a week and good for about three months.


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