Quick & Easy Pickled Vegetables

Pickled edible pea pods are delicious!
Refrigerator pickles are basically just vegetables marinated in vinegar with herbs and spices. They are quick and easy to make. Since there is no cooking involved, the vegetables are crunchy and yummy. You don't need to do any canning or seal the lids; you just mix the ingredients, fill and cap the jar, and start eating a few days later. Unlike store-bought pickles, these have no food coloring, no preservatives, and no refined sugar.

Here is a very simple recipe for making one jar at a time, which I like to with my freshly picked garden harvest:
  • 1 clean pint jar with a lid (a recycled peanut butter jar works fine)
  • Approximately 2c fresh raw vegetables, such as small or sliced cucumbers, snap beans, pea pods, pearl onions, baby or cut carrots, small or sliced zucchini or yellow squash, radishes
  • 1-1/2 t salt
  • 1-1/2 t pickling spices*
  • 1/2 c white vinegar
  • water
Measure salt and spices into the jar. Fill the jar with your prepared vegetables, tightly packed, to 1/2" from the top. Pour vinegar into the jar. Fill the rest of the jar to 1/4 inch from the top with water. Cover tightly, shake to distribute the spices, and refrigerate. After 24 hours the vegetables will begin to season; bright green veggies will begin to turn more olive colored. It takes about 2 days to fully develop the flavor. Since these are not preserved, they should be eaten within 2 weeks.

* Pickling spices can be purchased premixed. One I've used includes mustard seed, peppercorns, dill seed, cardamon, cassia, ginger, coriander, allspice, chili pepper seeds, cloves, and bay leaf. If you make your own it's cheaper, and you can customize the ingredients. Here's a simple mixture I have used:

Pickling Spice Mix
  • 1/2 t celery seed
  • 1 T dill seed (easy to grow and harvest from your own herb garden!)
  • 1 T mustard seed
  • 1 t hot pepper flakes (I save my home-grown jalapeno seeds when I dehydrate them)
VARIATIONS: Experiment! Use all one vegetable or a mixture of several. Add sliced or whole cloves of fresh garlic or a whole jalapeno to each jar. Substitute apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice for all or some of the white vinegar. Add honey or a cinnamon stick for sweetness. Use fresh dill in place of dill seed. If you follow a low-sodium diet, use low-sodium salt or eliminate the salt all together. You can even pickle hard-boiled eggs instead of veggies. Customize to your own likes and these pickles will surely disappear before two weeks pass.


Strawberry Time

'Haven't posted since before the tornado hit our place two weeks ago today… much of my normally busy discretionary time has been reassigned to clean-up after about 200 old hardwoods and pines were twisted, broken, uprooted, bent and downed by the winds.

In more pleasant news, my gardens miraculously escaped harm, and continue to flourish - despite my lack of attention. I've been picking my own delicious big sweet strawberries steadily for the past 3 weeks, a "June-bearing" variety called Tennessee Beauty. The bed I had started two years ago got wiped out by a fungus which I think formed because I had attempted to cut down on weeding by mulching the bed with black landscape fabric, covered with straw. At one end of the black mulch, lots of strawberry baby plants escaped the bed and planted themselves in my bare garden soil, and these survived. I let them grow and prosper, and then harvested lots of rooted babies in the fall. These allowed me to replant the original beds, adding compost to the soil, spacing plants about 12" apart in staggered rows, and not using any mulch. When the flowers began to turn into berries earlier this spring, I put a thin layer of straw around each plant, to keep the ripening berries from sitting in the dirt… makes them nice and clean when picked. I plan to remove the straw after the harvest. Incidentally, note that I said straw, not hay - straw is supposed to be without seeds, while hay will fill your soil with weeds from its seeds. I'll be doing more weeding this year, but hopefully will avoid the fungus problem.

The 4' x 4' bed of "baby" strawberry plants was a thick mass of plants, but I decided to leave it until it finishes bearing fruit this spring. From my side-by-side comparison, I am now convinced that strawberries should be kept in manicured beds, removing the babies, and keeping them spaced out. I've observed the following:
  • the neat bed ripens earlier (more sunshine?)
  • the neat bed is easier to harvest - vs. hunting among tangled leaves and stems to uncover ripe berries
  • the neat bed honestly produces sweeter tasting berries 
  • the neat bed produces much fewer berries which show critter damage
  • we've had relatively dry weather during this harvest time, but I think the mass bed would have had more berries rot from moisture than the neat bed if it had been damp
I've also learned how wonderful it is to pick strawberries from my own gardens rather than go to a u-pick strawberry farm. I know mine are organic, I can pick at my convenience, and my harvest is stretched out over many weeks rather than dealing with 3 gallons all at once. On four separate days I have filled the gallon bucket, with lots of smaller harvests in between. We've been eating loads of fresh strawberries: in a salad with my homemade raspberry vinaigrette and feta cheese, chopped and mixed into yogurt or a smoothie, sitting on our breakfast granola, or just "naked," still warm from the sun. I also substituted strawberries for the cranberries in my pumpkin bread recipe, and it now ranks as one of my favorite breakfast breads ever. I have frozen 12 bags of chopped strawberries, and just finished making 8 half-pints of strawberry jam. The strawberry season is winding down, but we'll be enjoying the harvest for months.


May in the Vegetable Garden

My May vegetable garden attests to the long growing season here and to the favorable conditions this spring has presented… although 45 degrees felt very chilly this morning, just a week after we sweated at 90 degrees. I've never had such a variety of crops at one time, and I've already harvested a great deal. Since my garden only feeds two, I can get by with just a few plants of many vegetables, unless I plan to preserve excess harvests.

Miraculously, the garden was spared damage from the tornado which hit us 3 weeks ago. The garden photo reveals some of the tornado damage beyond the garden - a huge uprooted shagbark hickory on the left and a dogwood which was partially uprooted so we trimmed, uprighted, and staked it to see if it will survive.

WEEDS - Visitors ask why there are no weeds in my vegetable garden and I say "I don't plant any." I'm not trying to be a wise guy, it's true. If you continually keep weeds from the garden, they don't have the chance to grow tall, flower, and drop seeds for new plants. This is especially true in the springtime. If you keep up with the weeding early in the season, you'll have fewer and fewer weeds growing as the garden matures through the summer. My largest source of weeds is from the composted cow manure I use which came from free-ranging cows - evidently the cow digestive system does not destroy seeds in their pasture. My own compost also sprouts lots of tomato seeds, which appear to be strong enough to remain viable through the heat process of breaking the plant material into compost.

  1. PEA PODS are now being harvested by the bucketful! In late February I planted seven 15 foot rows, with two "bush" varieties: heirloom Oregon Sugar Snap II and hybrid Burpee Sugar Sprint. I didn't mail order these seeds because planting pea pods was an afterthought, so I bought these locally. Both types are sweet, stringless and delicious raw or lightly cooked. I've frozen 12 bags and I might try using some of the fatter latter variety as refrigerator pickles soon.
  2. EGGPLANT - As in past years, I am fighting a pest which is eating holes in the leaves on the two seedlings I've planted. Next step will be to cover them with netting which I can remove when they flower, which won't be for quite a while.
  3. STRAWBERRIES - My previous post extols the fabulous strawberries I've harvested for the last 4 weeks.
  4. GARLIC - If you've planted garlic and it sends up a thick center stem with a small bulb shape at the top, then it is attempting to flower. Cut the stalk off as low as possible. I then take this piece and cut it into 1/2" pieces and scatter it as a repellent around plants which are most susceptible to bug attacks. These "scapes" also look exotic in a flower arrangement. Onions send up a similar flower stalk, so cut it also, to avoid a thick tough center to your harvested onions.
  5. PEPPERS - One jalapeno has been in a red "Kozy Koat" for many weeks, staying warm and healthy, and I'll transplant one more jalapeno seedling from the cold frame in early June. I've also planted heirloom seedlings of one sweet California Giant and one Pimento sweet pepper into short tomato cages.
  6. TOMATOES - All six plants are doing well, with very different growth characteristics for each of the 4 heirloom varieties. All the plants are flowering and there are green tomatoes on 4 plants. I've been at war with white flies on one plant, but I'm winning so far.
  7. BRUSSELS SPROUTS - I think I see the little "sprouts" beginning to form at each leaf branch, and the pest that was eating holes in the leaves initially is no longer around…. yeah!
  8. BEETS - I am thinning my beet plantings as I pick greens for salads and sauteing, and I'll allow some to remain in the growth to harvest later for the beet roots.
  9. PARSLEY - I'm harvesting both flat Italian parsley and curly parsley now, from seedlings I set in the garden in early March.
Also in the garden:
  • MELON - One "casaba" melon seedling has been planted and is thriving. I also planted seeds of Hale's Best cantaloupe in one hill, which have not germinated yet (planted a backup in a pot and three little sprouts have emerged from the potting soil).
  • ZUCCHINI - When I planted my one strongest seedling it already had tiny flowers starting, and is looking healthy now. I'll be on the watch for the squash vine borer.
  • LEEKS - When my seedlings got to 9" tall, I planted them in the garden, 8" deep. Most seem to be growing.
  • AMARANTH - You might know this as a grain, which I would get as seeds if the plants reach 9 feet and grew a showy flowering plume, but I've direct seeded a 2' x 3' area thickly as a salad green… or I should say a salad "red", since that's the leaf color.
  • CUCUMBERS - One seedling each of two heirloom pickling varieties is now planted and I am experimenting with growing vertically, training the vines up a twisted pole set inside a tall tomato cage.
  • LETTUCE - We've been eating and sharing a great harvest of Black Seeded Simpson and mixed Romaine. I direct sowed seeds of the heirloom "Little Gem" which is supposed to tolerate heat better than other lettuces. I pulled out all the Amish Deer Tongue and donated it to my compost bin, since I didn't like the flavor or texture as well as the others I had available to eat.
  • CARROTS - I've thinned the carrot bed so none are closer than 1", replanting those I pulled. Growing carrots is slow, but hopefully my patience will be rewarded at harvest time. I just planted a few rows of the Scarlet Nantes variety, next to the Red Chanterey and Danvers already growing.
  • SPINACH - I harvested the fall planting of spinach and chopped and froze many bags. I am now harvesting leaves from seeds I direct sowed in March. If your spinach sends up a center stem with a triangle growth on top, it is beginning to "bolt" and go to seed. Three factors make this happen: length of day, heat, and crowding. You can't control the first two, but avoid the overcrowding by harvesting every other plant.
  • GREEN BEANS - I've direct sowed three areas with rows of my favorite Blue Lake bush bean, which grows about 2' tall and doesn't need trellising. Hopefully I can avoid the pest which ate holes in the leaves and beans last year and have a bountiful harvest for fresh eating and freezing.
  • KALE - as with the spinach, I harvested and froze the fall planting of kale and now I am ready to start harvesting a small square of kale I direct seeded in March. Like spinach and many lettuces, kale will "bolt" in hot weather.
  • BOK CHOY - I'm throwing in the towel on chinese vegetables until next winter's plantings, since I can't ward off the bugs that are eating the leaves.
  • CHRYSANTHEMUMS - These lovely garden flowers are edible, so they are justified to be mentioned in this blog. In oriental countries they also eat the leaves of some varieties as salad greens. If you've planted the potted flowering chrysanthemums from last fall, you'll discover they are quite winter-hardy and have sent up new growth. To keep your plants from flowering in August versus October, and to create beautiful nursery-type fullness, you need to keep pinching off the top growth now. I once read to cut the tops back "3 times before the fourth of July" for my area (zone 7), so you can adjust for your location. Basically, I keep pinching off the branches to about 3" tall, then let them grow untouched after early July. My fall flowering is fabulous, with flowers so thick in October and November that you can't see the green leaves below. Also, if those green tops you snip off are a few inches long, you can strip the bottom leaves, dip in rooting hormone, and plant your cuttings. They re-root very easily. I only have one white mum, lots of purples, so the first time I pinched back the white one I re-planted 30 little cuttings - and they are all growing! I could easily start a mum farm at this rate. I always plant cuttings in my vegetable garden, knowing they won't get ignored there. Once the cutting show new growth, pinch them as necessary too. Replant in permanent locations in late summer - or pot to give as gifts!
  • ONIONS - Still growing strong. A friend told me last year that onions like being continually fertilized up until one month before harvest. This year I am fertilizing the entire garden with organic fertilizers every 2 weeks. Each green "scallion" from the onion indicates a layer of growth on the onion root. I harvest the greens for salads and recipes, one from this onion, one from another, and it doesn't disturb the onion growth.
Happy gardening!