Thursday, July 31, 2008

In a Pickle

My friend Ms. Zany tells me they pickle everything in her hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania – beans, beets, red peppers and even hard cooked eggs. Some people – who clearly see themselves as slick urbanites – raise an eyebrow when she mentions this, and I assure you, she mentions it fairly frequently. I like Zany. She knows what’s important in life.

Yet, for all my prowess in the kitchen, I’ve never pickled anything. Oh, there is the occasional Saturday night when I … okay…too much information.

Something about sweet, savory, tangy foods with bite resonates deep within. I was said to be such a fan of pickles as a child that I was once given a jar of pickles as a birthday present. Not too tough to shop for. Or maybe I should just pick up and move to western Pennsylvania where I’d clearly fit right in.

When Zany sparks an idea, it usually comes to fruition, and I’ve kind of been on the lookout for something to pickle – at least something that doesn’t have to get up for work the next morning.

So, I do a quick round of the Hallelujah Chorus when I see that the organic Sisters of Sophia Garden are offering pickling cucumbers in this week’s harvest. I gather up my five allotted virgin pickles and head for the kitchen to get started.

Before we get into the details of pickling, here’s a short history of an old and venerable kitchen technique from the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Did you know that pickles are thought to have first been eaten in ancient Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq? It was there that a number of foods were preserved in saltwater brine. The word “pickle” is derived from the Dutch word “pekel” and Dutch colonists brought the technique to North America in the 1600s. The practice was often necessary to preserve foods during long journeys and over lean winter months. Various ethic groups have developed different recipes for pickling, from kosher pickles that come from the Jewish community, to the sweet pickles loved by the English, or the tiny spiced cornichons craved by the French.

The August issue of Cooking Light is my guide, and its “Cooking Class” on Curing & Pickling introduces me to the stress-free method of “refrigerator pickling.” This approach requires no boiling or sterilization, so I forge ahead with a recipe for Bread-and-Butter Pickles. Pickles prepared in this manner must be refrigerated at all times, are perishable, and will usually last up to two-weeks. I discover that the bread-and-butter variety is known for its sweetness and the high sugar content in the pickling brine.

The cucumber slices are tossed with kosher salt and chilled for up to two hours. I then prepare a hot mixture of granulate sugar, brown sugar, white vinegar and cider vinegar, spiked with mustard seed and celery seed, which is poured over the cucumber and sliced onions.

The slices then sit for an hour at room temperature, and must then be covered in an airtight container and refrigerated for 24 hours to allow the flavors to meld and the cucumbers to "pickle."

The results are a crisp and bracing summer snack, the just-picked crunch of the organic garden buoyed by sweet and biting flavors that pop on the palate.

And all this time, I thought the stork delivered pickles straight to the kitchen!

©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Veron said...

Great pickling, T.W. I have a confession to make, I did not know that pickle came from cucumbers until a couple of years ago. I just assumed that pickles sprouted the way they were. ;)

~~louise~~ said...

Pickle confession; I too have never pickled anything except for the "occasional evening when I … okay…too much information..."

Now, I knew about refrigerator/freezer jams but I never realized how easy refrigerator pickling could be. I'm guessing the same could be done with other vegetables.

Central PA reminds me of how Long Island use to be many moons ago. Slowly, I find myself fitting right in. The weather is about the same too!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Another thing we have in common, this love for pickles! In fact, I just photographed my current crop for an upcoming post. The great disappointment of my herb gardening is that I've never been able to get a good crop of dill. This year, I got enough for one jar of pickles, which I make using a recipe loosely based on The Victory Garden Cookbook. They sit out on the countertop in brine for up to 48 hours; you can taste and stop them at any point, when they are as sour or crunchy as you like them. Hooray for your CSA, for coming through with the cukes -- may these be the first of many pickles this summer.

Kalyn Denny said...

I've never made pickles either except for one batch of Indian lime pickles last summer. I think the reason I don't get motivated to try it is because I have a couple of sisters who make fantastic homemade pickles and they give me some every summer!

Anonymous said...

Before you know it, you'll be pickling eggs! And don't let the light shade of pink turn you off...they are delicious.

By the way, in doing some research for our upcoming event [this is a foreshadowing for your other readers], I discovered pickled foods are a common dish for a Hawaiian luau. Who knew!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

My dad was quite the pickler when I was growing up--peppers, eggplants, beans. SO this post, brings back memories for me. Thanks, TW. And those pickles sound terrific. Ever since moving to CA, I really miss good New England pickles. Now that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

Thistlemoon said...

My family is from Western PA - so I have had all these pickled delicacies! Most of which are pretty tasty! Thanks for the memories! :)

Cakespy said...

My family always went to PA for family vacations when I was little, and as a result I have even tried pickled mushrooms. I have never made them myself but I'd sure make a dent if you placed a plate of these in front of me!

Kathy said...

Those pickles look good, T.W. I'm still thinking about your garlic. Did you know that garlic can be pickled too?

Anonymous said...

Did you use the turmeric too in your mix? I've always wanted to try pickling a cucumber - this seems like a good starting point for me, so thanks. :)

Stella said...

I love pickles! They're perfet at any time of the day!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Veron - it actually would have been easier to harvest a bread-and-butter pickle tree! :-)

Louise - I have done some refrigerator jams in the past - you're right, they work equally well.

Lydia - the dill from Sophia Garden was a bit skimpy, too. I used it in a cucumber dill salad, but I was surprised at how thin it was. We will have to visit one of the famous pickle spots in NY when you visit.

Kalyn - I love the names of different pickling cucumbers - that would make a story in itself.

Zany - I may surprise you with pickled eggs someday. We should hold a pickled buffet the next time Splint McCullough comes to visit.

Susan - I have never heard of pickled eggplant - I'd like to give that a try!

Jenn - Now, I think I need to spend a little more time in Western PA, and pick up some additional techniques.

Hi Cakespy - pickled mushrooms!! I guess you can pickle almost anything!

Kathy - pickled garlic is an intriguing idea. The garlic from the garden has been so fresh, I think it would work well.

Hi Giff, welcome! I'll bet you have great options for pickling in the Catskills. The recipe used a touch of turmeric, but others call for more.

Stella - when I was a kid, I wanted them for breakfast!

Anonymous said...

You did it. You pickled!
Congratulations, now where will it end? The sky is the limit my friend. hehe.

I enjoy very much reading your posts, your enthusiasm and passion for food comes through quite clearly and loud. Very nice!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Zen, many thanks for your kind words. I wonder if I am going to become like that guy in the lable maker commercial, and start to pickle everything? :-)