Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Picklin' Time

I've been traveling a lot this summer. I've been to many corners of the country and have had lots of great eats. But now I am home, one child is away at sleepaway camp, and to keep away the blues, I've turned to making pickles. Pickling converts any fresh vegetable into something more shelf stable. In other words, it's a way to get a blast of summer flavor when it doesn't feel summery anymore. 

Pickles are a low-input, high-output kind of activity. They don't take many ingredients or time, and last for months and months (sometimes years). I personally go through the extra step of canning my big batches using the water bath method, but they will keep for months in the fridge without going through the extra step.

Sometimes the vegetable is cooked, sometimes not. Salt and vinegar are essential, sugar and spices are optional. The sky is the limit in terms of flavor, but I started this year with a classic bread and butter cucumber pickle. Here is my recipe, using a hot water bath to sterilize the jars and can the pickles (the Ball jar canning website has a helpful primer). This recipe can easily be doubled. 

Spicy Bread and Butter Pickles
Makes about 4 pints

2 pounds Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, washed
2 T. kosher salt
2 c. apple cider vinegar
1 c. distilled white vinegar
2 1/4 c. sugar
2 T. whole mustard seeds
2 t. celery seeds
1 t. black peppercorns
1/2 t. tumeric
1 bay leaf, crushed
4 whole cloves
1 t. red pepper flakes

Start a large pot of water on high heat. Place 4 glass 1-pint jars and their bands in the pot on a canning or pasta insert. Bring pot to a boil, then turn off and let the jars and rings sit. In a bowl of hot (not boiling) soapy water, wash new lids.

Slice cucumbers thin, about 1/8 to 1/16 inch thick (get out that mandolin gathering dust in your cabinet). Toss cucumbers with salt in a large colander and let drain in the sink, tossing occasionally. After 30 minutes, squeeze out as much water as you can. Do not rinse. 

Bring vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, peppercorns, tumeric, bay leaf and cloves to a boil. Turn off heat. 

Remove the glass jars and bands from the warm water and place on a clean towel nearby. Divide cucumbers evenly into jars, and add 1/4 t. of red pepper flakes to each jar. Rinse the soapy water off the lids and place them on the clean towel. Bring the large pot of water back to the boil.

Divide pickling liquid evenly between the four jars, leaving a 1/2 inch of space at the top. Wipe the rims and put lids and rings onto the jars. Tighten rings. Place capped jars back into the boiling water, making sure they are fully submerged in one inch of water. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and place on a clean towel. You will start to hear the lids form the vacuum seal. Allow jars to sit undisturbed several hours, until cool.

Pickles will keep in the pantry for one year.


I've done dill spears and sweet turnips as well, but my latest revelation is pickled fennel. I was inspired by a recipe in Bon Appetit, but I simplified it a great deal. The pickling process simultaneously tones down the anise flavor of the fennel and creates a whole new taste. I've been using them on salads and in sandwiches. This is such a small batch, I didn't bother canning it. I just keep them in the fridge.

Pickled Fennel
Makes about 2 cups

2 fennel bulbs, washed, cored, and sliced thin
zest of 1/2 lemon, peeled using a vegetable peeler
3/4 c. unsweetened rice vinegar
3/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. kosher salt
2 t. coriander seeds

Place fennel slices and lemon peel in a 1-quart jar.

Place vinegar, water, sugar, salt and coriander seeds in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir quickly to dissolve sugar, then pour over fennel in the jar. Close with a lid, and allow to cool. Refrigerate.

Will keep in the refrigerator 3 weeks.