Zucchini was ruined for me when I was 10. My family, with five children, was just getting by in the wilds of Western New York. We knew a farm family that kindly gave us vegetables they couldn’t sell. Misshapen but sound tomatoes, cantaloupes with a little soft spot, and zucchini the size of traffic cones.
My mother tried, pureeing it into zucchini bread. But her children turned up their noses at zucchini slabs boiled soft in tomato sauce and clamored against zucchini soup. We spent hours that summer combing the black raspberry brambles in the backyard, so there was always dessert.
Now I know how to deal with those scaly green monsters: Cut out their hearts. Dunk chunked squash into a garlicky brine, spiced as you desire. Wait three days.
Pickles. Crunchy, sweet-but-not-too-sweet refrigerator pickles. Not just zucchini, either – cucumbers, radishes, green and yellow stringbeans, cauliflower, carrots, onions, sweet and spicy peppers can all do with a proper pickling.
Pickles preserve vegetables, and canning pickles, boiling the jars, can preserve them for years. Refrigerator pickles let you skip the boiling, but they’re not going to last much more than a month. Of course, if you have pickle eaters in your house, they’ll never live that long.
Gather up your vegetables, herbs like thyme and dill, and your pickling spices. Make your brine and wait. The crunchy, tangy results ought to satisfy any sourpuss.
Recipe: Refrigerator Pickles
(Inspired by “Dinosaur Barbecue”)
Pickle brine recipe:
4 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
6 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup or more pickling spice (or mix your own from mustard seeds, bay leaves, allspice, black pepper, dill seed, cloves, coriander and cinnamon)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh herbs like dill and thyme, chopped or sprigs (optional)
Add the salt and sugar to the vinegar and water in a non-aluminum bowl, and mix to dissolve. Add spices, garlic and herbs, if using. Pour over chopped vegetables in a big jar or bowl that will fit, covered, in your refrigerator. After three days start serving the pickles, and adding new vegetables to the pickle vat.