Refrigerator or fresh pickles are one of the easiest food preservation methods that anyone can do. You can make these pickles simply by washing, trimming, and soaking fresh vegetables in acid. The most common acids used to pickle foods are acetic (vinegar), citric (lemon juice), and lactic (whey). Because these pickles have unknown acidity and are not heat processed (such as in a canner), they must be stored in the refrigerator.
Advantages of Refrigerator Pickles
When you make pickles by canning or fermenting, you must always use canning or pickling salt. But when you are making fresh refrigerator pickles, you can use any salt, including table salt, sea salt, kosher salt, iodized salt, or reduced-sodium or “lite” salts (such as potassium chloride). You can also experiment with different grinds, such as coarse or fine salt. However, be aware that specialty and coarse-grained salts can affect the flavor. Reduced-sodium salts result in flavor changes that many people find unacceptable. Coarse or flake salts have larger crystals, usually requiring that you increase the amount of measured salt listed in the recipe.
You can also make refrigerator pickles without salt or with salt substitutes. When fermenting pickles you must use pickling salt in the required salt concentration (2½ to 5 percent); the process simply doesn’t happen without it. However, when you make refrigerator pickles using an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, you may reduce or eliminate the salt. It’s a much more forgiving process.
Cautions about Refrigerator Pickles
For many years, refrigerator pickles have been regarded as very safe. However, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recent studies have concluded that Listeria monocytogenes survive and multiply in low-acid, refrigerator pickles for several months. If you are in a high-risk group for food-borne illness, treat refrigerator pickles as fresh food and consume them within 3 days. Otherwise, you should consume only fermented or canned pickles.
High-Risk People for Food-Borne Illness
When healthy adults and children ingest food-poisoning bacteria, they usually do not become seriously ill. However, the following groups are at increased risk for serious side effects and even death from low levels of bacteria:
- Newborn babies
- Persons with weakened immune systems, such as people who have HIV/AIDS, have organ transplants, or take certain medications
- Persons with certain diseases including cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, and liver or kidney disease
- Pregnant women and their unborn children
- Older adults
If you or members of your family are at risk for food-borne illness, you should carefully consider your consumption of refrigerator pickles.
How to Make Refrigerator Pickles
Here is a summary of the steps you can take to make refrigerator pickles:
- Clean and sanitize the work area.
- Sterilize the pickling container.
- Wash produce adequately.
- Add salt and acid.
- Refrigerate fresh pickles.
Understand your risk level for food-borne illness and consume refrigerator pickles within 3 days.
Methods to Improve the Storage Life of Refrigerator Pickles
Pickling demands the best quality food. You must select young, firm, preferably organic produce, free from any signs of spoilage. Never use overripe, bruised, spoiled, or fallen foods. Vegetables and fruits used for pickles should be tender, at the peak of freshness, and mature (neither underripe or ripe). Keep them refrigerated until ready to pickle, and prepare within 24 hours. Handle carefully during preparation to avoid bruising.
Most refrigerator pickles have a relatively short storage life of just a few days. Unless you are in a risk group for food-borne illness, the following heat treatments can increase the shelf life of refrigerator pickles up to 1 month.
- Boil the pickling solution before you pour it over washed and prepared vegetables. This method does not improve the safety of raw pickled vegetables that you want to refrigerate for more than a few days.
- Blanch vegetables before pickling to decrease, but not eliminate, possible foodborne pathogens. Blanching vegetables also destroys enzymes that hasten spoilage, which can extend the refrigerator storage life of your pickles by a few days. Cover blanched vegetables with cold pickling solution, or use boiling solution for compound effect.
- Cook vegetables to kill bacteria. Instead of blanching, you can simply cook the vegetables until tender, followed by rapid cooling. When cold, immerse the vegetables in a cold or hot pickling solution. This method can extend the refrigerator storage life of your pickles by a few weeks.
- Heat any refrigerator pickle just before consuming. Place vegetables in a covered saucepan, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. You should consume these pickles within 2 hours and discard any leftovers. Do not re-refrigerate or reheat pickles a second time.
Cultures around the world pickle foods as a way to add interest to meals, as well as to preserve foods. Refrigerator pickles are a quick and easy preservation method that adds a refreshing accompaniment to almost any meal.
For more information about pickling and many other food preservation methods and recipes, see The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler.
I have been looking for a recipe for Refrigerator Pickled Baby Carrots, I know the recipe I used before did not have sugar in it.
I am just trying to find one without sugar. The recipe I had before you have to wait 6 weeks before opening. I know the brine was boiled.
Hi Marie, Thanks for your question. Here’s a basic recipe for pickled carrots without sugar. You should usually use refrigerator pickles within 1 month. Naturally fermented pickles (made with just salt and water, then fermented at room temperature for 2-6 weeks) can be stored longer.
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
1 cup water
1 cup vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse Kosher or sea salt
1-2 garlic cloves, cut in quarters (optional)
1-2 bay leaves, crumbled (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel, dill, or mustard seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns (optional)
In a large pot (6-8 quarts), blanch carrots in boiling salted water (4 quarts water, 2 tablespoons salt) for one minute. Drain carrots and rinse under cold running water. Drain thoroughly. Place carrots in a sterilized glass canning jar.
In a small saucepan, combine water, vinegar, salt and any optional ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for two minutes.
Pour hot liquid (and any optional ingredients) over carrots. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate.
Best after 24 hours. Use within 1 month.