Quick-Pickle Cucumbers and Onions

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Don't skip this summer staple.

Quick-Pickled Cucumbers and Onions
Photo: Sheri Castle
Active Time:
10 mins
Chill Time:
60 mins
Total Time:
70 mins
Yield:
1 quart

This classic refrigerated quick-pickle is more of a common concept than an exact recipe. It involves sliced fresh cucumbers and onions, vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and pepper. Plunk the vegetables into a clean jar, stir the rest together, and then pour it into the jar, cover, and refrigerate until chilled. It's so quick and easy that people who make no other homemade pickles can do it perfectly, all summer long.

People call this concoction Cucumber and Onion Salad, or perhaps Cucumber and Onion Refrigerator Pickles or Quick Pickles, or simply Cucumbers and Onions. It's so common in many Southern households that most people have never given any thought to what they call it, much less what it's called elsewhere.

The variety of names tells us how people like to eat it. Some use it as a salad or slaw. Others use it as pickle relish on or alongside sandwiches. A few forkfuls eaten in front of an open refrigerator make a fine snack. The combination of tastiness, ease, and utility keep us coming back for more, especially in the summer. For some reason, eating cold cucumbers seems to make us feel cooler on a hot day.

The proportions are a matter of taste and opportunity. We use what we have and tinker with the amounts until it tastes good to us. Many of us prefer small, seedless cucumbers, but any fresh, crisp cucumber is a contender. If the cucumber seeds are a gloppy mess, slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape out the offending seeds with the spoon. Peel the cucumbers only if the skins are bitter or tough. We can use spring onions, sweet onions, red onions, or good ole yellow onions, cut into strips or rounds depending on their size and shape. The vinegar should be simple, something we can buy by the gallon jug if we wish, and the water keeps the vinegar from taking over and making us cough. Some people use a little sugar, others a lot. It's the same with the salt and pepper. Some people add garlic, and others think that's frivolous. Even the jar can be the size the suits us.

A batch of cucumbers and onions keeps for several days. Many cooks reuse the brine a few times and simply add more cucumbers and onions to the same jar.

We Southerners make this because it's easy and delicious, and we can enjoy it multiple ways. We make it because we grew up eating it, so we have the taste memory. We tend to like pickled things seasoned with vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. We eat this because we sure do get a lot of cucumbers in our gardens and farmers markets each summer, and this is a smart way to use them up.

For anyone who doesn't make Cucumbers and Onions by rote out of generational habit, here's a basic recipe to get started. Please tweak as needed.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh cucumbers, thinly sliced (peeled if necessary)

  • ½ - 1 cup onions, thinly sliced

  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped (optional)

  • 1 cup white distilled or apple cider vinegar

  • 1 cup water

  • 2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste

Directions

  1. Place the cucumbers and onions in a clean 1-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the garlic, if using. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and pepper in a measuring cup and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour into the jar, making sure the vegetables are submerged. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. The vegetables keep for about a week.

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