When I was in Israel, fresh vegetables were abundant. The kibbutz had an enormous kitchen, with a huge walk in refrigerator and freezer. And when I say walk-in, I mean that my studio apartment in DC was smaller than this fridge. If you had the right clothing, you could comfortably live in it for days on end (y’know, assuming you left to use the bathroom in the dining hall). In this fridge was a vast assortment of vegetables- tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados (the kibbutz had an avocado…grove? farm? field? Not sure what the correct term is, but they had a large number of avocado trees), onions, potatoes you get the idea.
They were for the use of the kitchen to prepare the meals for the kibbutz. What never ceased to amaze us non-kibbutniks was how the kibbutz members would come in, plastic bags in hand, and just take whatever they needed for their own kitchens. They’d just breeze in, any time of day, and fill their bags. To be fair, when I was there, the kibbutz began an internal audit which lasted quite some time and resulted in a number of changes- among them the cease and desist order for this practice. Naturally, as volunteers, we didn’t get paid much and so we followed suit. What resulted were a number of breakfasts of tomato, onion and garlic sautéed down to an almost spread-like consistency, served on toast (the bread was also for the taking). Sometimes we’d add eggs (which, like everything else, were kept in the walk-in), if we were feeling extravagant.
Anyway, my cousin, Kohevet (of the cake fame) would make use of the kibbutz walk-in to supplement her family meals at home. Her meals were legendary- she taught me how to make the most delicious vegetable stew ever and her rice was always perfect- I have tried, tried and tried to make my rice like hers and just can’t. I say it’s the difference between U.S. and Israeli tap water but inside I know it’s because she’s just a better cook! Her tuna salad- such a simple dish- is yet another I’ve tried to emulate and have been unsuccessful in my efforts. One of the things she puts in her tuna is pickles. But not just any pickles, as I found out one afternoon while hanging out in her kitchen.
She made the pickles. Made them. From cucumbers. Now, for some of you, this is not a revelation. For me, who grew up with a grandmother who cooked but didn’t can or preserve, this was a new frontier. You could create pickles? In a jar on your counter? With just some salt, spices and water? Eureka! I watched carefully and when I came home to the states tried it myself.
I failed. Kohevet’s pickles were crunchy, salty and just the right mix of salty and sour. Mine were limp, bland and plain old gross. I gave up on the idea of making my own pickles- who wants to get involved in all that jar lid sanitizing and water boiling anyway.
Until my friend K. gave me a bunch of pickling cucumbers from her garden. Then it just seemed wrong to let them remain unpickled. I mean, this was their sole purpose in life- to become pickles. How could I deny them this dream? I had heard rumors of something called refrigerator pickles, which did not involve jar sanitizing and which sounded like they might be similar to Kohevet’s pickles. Off to the internet I went to find a recipe.
And, oh let me tell you just how easy these were to make. Collect some jars, slice some cucumbers and boil some syrup. Add it all together, refrigerate overnight and there you have it- crunchy, salty-sweet-sour pickles. So good. Alas, nothing like Kohevet’s but my friend K. recently sent me a dill pickle recipe that sounds like it could be the one. I’ll try it next summer and report back. Meanwhile, make these. They’re really good.
Sweet Refrigerator Pickles
7 cups unpeeled cucumbers or young zucchini, sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
A green or red bell pepper, sliced thin (optional- I didn’t use it)
1/8 cup of salt
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon celery seed
Wash your cucumbers.
Then slice them thinly. I used my cuisnart with this attachment:
Peel and slice your onion (again, cuisnart) and your pepper, if using. All should be sliced pretty thinly.
Place the sliced cucumber and onion in a large bowl or pan. Sprinkle the salt over and then cover with ice water.
Let this sit for 2 hours and then drain.
Put the pickles into jars. I used old sauce jars- I didn’t want to buy jars just for this.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar and celery seed. Don’t stand too close, as the vinegar is extremely pungent right now and will totally clear our your sinuses. Bring this to a boil.
Pour over the pickles in the jars and then put on the lids. Place in the fridge and let them cool. I let mine sit overnight before I tried them. My husband ate one and happily exclaimed, “These are just like my dad used to make!” as he served himself more.