Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pickle Party!

I would like to introduce my first guest blogger: Adam - pickle aficionado, meat lover, and beer drinker.

Nothing screams summer like home-made pickles, even when eaten in the dark days of winter they bring the tongue right back to sunnier times, but the following pickles are so good that they never make it for more than a few weeks in the refrigerator.

“Pickle” is a broad term. Alton Brown defines pickles in Good Eats: The Early Years as:
1) a solution or bath for preserving or cleaning, a brine or vinegar solution in which foods are preserved 2) any food item preserved via above definition.
There are three types of pickles, all have the same goal of limiting the bacteria that can grow and thus preserving the food.

Fermented Pickles: Pickles that are preserved in a salt brine. Bacteria that occurs naturally creates lactic acid, which preserves the food. These pickles can take up to 6 weeks to cure, think sauerkraut or kimchi, or my favorite, half sour kosher dills from Fairway. If you are interested in this type of pickle, Wild Fermentation is an excellent reference.

Fresh-Pack/Quick-Process: This is the method that is used to create the type of pickles that you find on your supermarket shelves. Fruits or Vegetables are bottled with a flavorful liquid, then pasteurized to at least 160˚ F.

Refrigerator Pickles: The focus of today’s post. Here, the combination of refrigeration and acid (vinegar) is used to control bacteria growth. These are super easy to make, but don’t last very long. With pickles this good and easy, there is no reason for not doing it.

Here are a few recipes to share:
 Dill and Garlic Pickles from Mennonite Foods and Foodways of South Russia.
 These picks are really easy. I used lots of dill, almost an absurd amount, and layered the dill, cucumbers, and garlic in a spring top Le Parfait jar. Let me pause to extol the virtues of these jars - they are durable, the wide opening lets you easily fill the jars, and more importantly, get the pickles out. I used to employ mason jars with pickling lids, but was always so annoyed by the two part lid. With that said you can use any jar that is clean and non-reactive.

-3 to 4 Kirby cucumbers, I ended up slicing the cucumbers but the recipes calls for them whole
 -3 cups water, filtered is best
 -1 1/4 cups vinegar
 -2 tablespoons sugar
 -1 1/2 tablespoon pickling salt, I ended up using kosher
 -3 cloves garlic, sliced

1. Fill a two-quart sterilized jar with small to medium sized cucumbers and garlic
 2. Add several springs of dill, the more the merrier.
 3. Bring the water, salt, vinegar and sugar to a boil.
 4. Pour the hot syrup into the jar until it covers the cucumbers.
 5. Let cool then seal.
 6. Refrigerate, can be eaten after a few hours but get better with time.
 The next time that I make these picks I am going to punch up the vinegar, I will probably do equal parts vinegar and water. I also think a little spice would be nice, so I’m going to add some fresh hot peppers into the pickle juice or some crushed pepper flakes. I am always a little disappointed by the color of the cucumbers, pouring the hot liquid over the pickles makes their edges turn a little brown. Next time I am going to let the liquid cool before pouring over the cucumbers.
Alton Brown’s Bread and Butter from Good Eats: The Early Years:
These are classic Bread and Butter pickles, they are sweet and the turmeric gives them an atomic yellowish green color. To me, the onions are just as goods as the cucumbers, both are great on sandwiches.

 -1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
 -2 medium cucumbers, I used about 4 Kirby’s
 -1 cup water, filtered is prefered
 -1 cup cider vinegar
 -1 1/2 cups sugar
 -1 pinch kosher salt
 -1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
 -1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
 -1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
 -1/2 teaspoon pickling spice
 Pickling spice.

 1. Combine the onion and cucumber slices in a clean, 1-quart spring-top jar.
 2. Combine everything else in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Drop the heat and simmer for 4 full minutes
 3. Slowly pour the hot pickling liquid over the onion and cucumber slices, completely filling the jar.
 4. Cool to room temperature before topping off with any remaining liquid and seal the jar.
 5. Refrigerate for 1 week before serving and finish within 2 months. Pickles must be refrigerated since they are not processed.

I have left off the pickling spice to more closely reflect my mom’s recipe. The pickling spice added a lot of clove and cinnamon flavor.  Speaking frankly, I don’t like it clogging up the simplicity of these flavors.
Mary’s Pickled Beets
These beets are great on salads (think WheatFields). The hard boiled eggs are optional but make a really nice pickled egg that is beautiful once you slice into it.

 -About 2 pounds of beets
 -2 cups vinegar, I used Apple Cider Vinegar
 -2 tablespoons sugar
 -1 inch cinnamon stick
 -1 teaspoon whole cloves
 Hard-boiled eggs, optional

1. Cook the beets until they are easily pierced with a fork. Let beets cool and then peel. DO NOT discard the cooking liquid!
 2. Combine vinegar and the cooking liquid from the beets in equal parts. I used 2 cups of each.
 3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the liquid, heat until the sugar is melted.
 4. Peel and slice the beets. Arrange the beets and eggs in a heat proof glass container.
 5. Pour the liquid over the beets, let cool then seal and refrigerate for 2-3 days.

It seems counter-intuitive, but freshness really does matters even though you are dunking vegetables in a acid bath and letting them sit there for a while, so leave the supermarket produce be. Next time you have a ton of vegetables from your CSA or find a great deal at the farmers market, consider your pickling options. Refrigerator pickles are just the tip of the cucumber, fermentation and canning can open up other opportunities to store summer’s goodness, and will be the subject of later posts.

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