Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pickle This

Every summer about this time, I start getting the urge to "put food up." Maybe it's genetic? Maybe it's my fond memories of my grams, slaving over a hot stove, making pint after pint of preserves, while Pa and I whittled away on the front porch, drinking lemonade by the quart.

Or perhaps it was my nans, who after picking peck after peck of cucumbers from the backyard garden, turned them into fabulous dills or her unforgettable bread and butter pickles.

Fuggetaboutit. We both know it was neither. One of my grandmas lived in a 4th floor apartment in the Bronx, near Gun Hill Road and the Grand Concourse - which was fancy schmancy back in the day. That apartment had a dumbwaiter, so that gives you an idea of how old IT was...though I guess they're back in fashion now, since there are actually a few web sites devoted to them.

My other grandma lived in a semi-detached 2-storey house in Forest Hills, Queens...and we lived upstairs, at least until I was 9 and we made the upwardly mobile move "out" to Long Island. Her contribution to my life-long curiosity with food centered around breakfast. Hers consisted of nothing but percolated coffee (Maxwell House, I'm pretty sure), with sugar and condensed milk, and Marlboro reds. No light cigs in those days, you wusses. Actually, compared to my grandpa, who smoked about 7 or 8 cigars a day, I guess the Marlboros were light.

Well, that was a nice walk down memory lane, but back to the pickles. I like pickles - well, who doesn't, really? And I'm not only talking about the pickles you might get at a deli like Katz's, which are usually nice and sour - those are fermented pickles. I'm talking about all kinds of pickles - though there are basically two main types: those fermented with vinegar and those fermented with salt. Now, remember I said two main types; don't get all crazy with me here, just trust me on this. From these two types, all other pickles evolve.

If you really want to learn all about pickles, which I'm not about to teach here, pick up the books that I have - they're really great. One is called The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich (her name sounds like she should know about pickles, don't you think?). It's a classic, and will teach you everything you need to know to start making your own pickles. My other favorite pickle book is called Quick Pickles, by Chris Schlesinger, John Willoughby and Dan George. With these two books, you'll be a pickle maven before you know it.

Now, what to do when the farmer's market hands you a bounty like the one above? Mostly, I'm a "quick pickle" person. I can't be bothered with waiting around for the whole fermentation process to take place, nor can I deal with the whole canning process, so I make pickles and then they go in the fridge; the get eaten before anything really bad can happen to them. Here's a batch of veggies after their initial prep, which basically involves salting them...

Then, they go into nice clean jars. By the way, if you've never pickled corn, it's delicious, and one of my favorite pickley things. Here are some jars of pickles ready for the fridge - there are cukes and string beans; the reddish looking ones are middle eastern pickles, those pickles of affliction, I like to call 'em - turnips, radishes, onions, etc. in a salt and vinegar brine - no sugar for those middle easterners!

And finally, a little pickle plate - not quite Katz's, but just as delicious. And, thanks to all my grammies!


  1. Wow and yummy! I'll trade you a jar of pickles for a jar of apricot jam, interested?

  2. I have one word for you: okra
    Maybe two words: okra and chili peppers
    that's four words.
    shoot me.