Summertime is the season of bountiful fruit produce. Sure, you can eat it fresh, but after you’ve wolfed down several pints of berries or packed away a hefty watermelon or two, what else can you do with it?
Tarts, pies, salads, fresh salsas, and sauces are all delicious ways to prepare summer’s riches. And if you’ve got a serious sweet tooth, plus a high tolerance for standing over a hot stove stirring a steaming vat of strawberry jam or straining grape jelly, you can put up jars and jars of sugared fruit to enjoy come winter.
But there’s also a tart and tangy way to enjoy summer’s fruitfulness: the refrigerator pickle. These quick pickles require hardly any work at all, and they store well in the refrigerator (although not as long, alas, as a jar of jam in your basement canning cupboard). Best of all, they deliver the true taste of summer — with an extra punch.
Here are three of my favorites: pickled strawberries, cherries, and watermelon rind. Yes you read that right — watermelon rind pickles beautifully.
Take a ripe strawberry and mix it with a few whole peppercorns, torn fresh leaves of mint, apple-cider vinegar, and sugar, and the end result opens up a whole new strawberry world.
Lightly macerated with a peppery sweetness, pickled strawberries lend a welcome complexity to arugula salads with candied pecans. They can also serve as the perfect topper to a fresh goat cheese-smeared cracker or a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The best part? You don’t have to turn on the stove, and they’re ready in just a few hours.
1 pint ripe strawberries
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup apple-cider vinegar
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 to 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
⅓ cup torn fresh mint, or more if you’d like
Wash and hull the strawberries, slicing them in half and quartering any huge ones. Place them in a glass jar or a non-reactive container that has a lid. Add the mint leaves and peppercorns.
In a glass bowl, combine the salt, vinegar, sugar, and mirin. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar granules. Pour this liquid over the strawberries. Shake the container a few times to mix it all up. Set aside for a few hours to let flavors develop.
Pickled cherries, another good option, require more work than pickled strawberries, but only a little — and it’s all due to the need for a cherry pitter. Although your kitchen sink may look like a crime scene afterwards, the effort to pit a pound of cherries is worth it in the end.
Sweet and juicy, cherries have a natural affinity for red-wine vinegar and sugar. Add a handful of black peppercorns and a little water to pitted cherries, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then set aside for 15 minutes before straining and devouring.
Pickled cherries are a wonderful complement to grilled pork or roast duck. They’re also great served atop a hefty dollop of mascarpone cheese with a sprinkling of almonds.
2 pounds sweet cherries
1 cup red-wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 to 2 cups water
10 to 15 whole black peppercorns
Pit the cherries and place them in a non-aluminum pot. Mix together the vinegar and sugar, then pour over the cherries. Add enough water to barely cover. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. After it boils, remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Discard excess pickling liquid, and store in a glass jar.
When it comes to watermelon, you’ll want to eat the flesh fresh and pickle the inner rind. It takes a little finesse to fillet the rind away from both the soft pink interior and the hard green exterior, making this pickle the most time-consuming when it comes to quick pickles.
But once separated, blanched, and pickled, the rind is a soft, tart accompaniment begging to be mixed with fresh watermelon, feta, and tomatoes for a summer salad. You can also mix the rind with a little red onion and cabbage for a summer slaw to accompany fried chicken or grilled quail.
3 to 4 cups cubed watermelon rind
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons salt
Remove as much of the pink flesh and green outer rind from the watermelon. Cube the rind and place in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Rinse and set aside.
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pickling liquid from the heat and pour over the blanched rind.
Put into fridge and let sit for 12 to 24 hours. The rind can be left in the liquid for longer and should hold for a week or two.
Based in Eugene, Oregon, Jackie Varriano is a writer who loves tackling kitchen projects big and small. Keep up with her at SeeJackWrite.
Culinate’s features address the practical challenges and joys of food.
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