Preserve the bounty

  • Apricots packed into mason jars await to be preserved at The Girl & The Fig catering kitchen in Sonoma.

The inconvenient reality about the home vegetable garden is that everything seems to ripen at once.

One day you're hankering for that first sweet homegrown tomato, and the next day your kitchen is overflowing with more tomatoes than you, your family and all your friends and neighbors know what to do with.

What to do? Put up the bounty the way your grandmother did, by canning, pickling, freezing and drying them so that they will last until you're ready to eat them.

People think of canning as a messy, all-day affair, the kitchen strewn with sticky pots and pans. It can take some time, but it doesn't have to be all-consuming.

Instead of going through the elaborate water-bath process, you can make simple "refrigerator" pickles that will keep for up to a month.

That's usually enough time for you to consume all those excess veggies, made crispy, sweet and sour by a high-acid bath of vinegar, sugar and salt.

"To make refrigerator pickles, all you need to do is slice them, salt them, pour the liquid over them and refrigerate," said John Toulze, chef/partner of the Girl and the Fig, Estate and Fig Cafe restaurants in the Sonoma Valley.

The sky's the limit when it comes to refrigerator pickling. Everything from carrots and cauliflower to onions and shallots can be pickled and preserved.

Knowing how to make refrigerator pickles really comes in handy when you're suddenly inundated with a bumper crop of produce in the late summer and early fall.

"What goes crazy in the peak of the season?" Toulze asked. "Cucumbers, beans and squash ... you don't get overwhelmed if you do refrigerator pickles."

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