In a pickle, happily
There's new zest for the updated art of pickle-making. And it doesn't have to take all day.
It may stem from a taste for vinegar and an overzealous zucchini plant in the yard.
Or the yearning may spring from a localvore (only local foods, please) looking to savor summer's current bounty year-round.
Or perhaps it's a need to be prepared for the holidays when, Martha Stewart-like, a homemade sweet and sour chutney turns into a gift with a simple twist of a ribbon.
Home pickling has seen a bit of a resurgence lately, drawing first-timers eager to resurrect the kitchen arts that time forgot, but this time, often with a little ethnic flair.
Recent titles such as The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving (Firefly Books, 2007) and Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes for Today (Robert Rose, 2006) have fueled the trend with how-to advice, and A Complete Guide to Home Canning: Selecting, Preparing, and Storing Fruits, Vegetables, and Meats (Skyhorse Publishing) is out next month.
And even the updated American classic, the Ball "bible," is in on the trend with recipes like spiced red cabbage and tomatillo salsa.
"People are becoming much more venturesome in seeking out interesting flavors," says Ellie Topp, coauthor with Margaret Howard of The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving, recently released in its second edition. "Ethnic restaurants have expanded their taste experience. And products such as mangos, kiwifruit, hot peppers, Japanese white radish and fresh ginger are readily available in most stores, no longer requiring a trip to ethnic markets," Topp says.
Over the last couple of years, Alice Harrison, buyer at Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop in the Italian Market, has seen an uptick in the sale of pickling and preserving utensils they sell there.
"I think it's because young professionals are shopping in farmers' markets, buying organic produce and eating healthier," she said. "They go to the trouble of buying this food and they want to do something nice with it."
Another reason for pickling's present popularity may be the appearance of gourmet and artisan pickle products on the market: Rick's Picks, Pickle Guys, Picklopolis, Wheelhouse Pickles and Philly's own S&C Pickles are just a few of the upscale jars now on food shelves around the region, offering crisp classics as well as creative spins, like okra with smoked paprika and turnips brined with gin.
Indeed, part of the fun of making pickles at home is experimenting with flavors and ingredients and drawing from the rich traditions of pickling around the globe. Mexican jalapeños, Indian eggplant and Lebanese turnips provide a welcome change from bread and butter slices and a colorful addition to pantry shelves.
Author Ellie Topp, a home economist by trade, learned her own love of home preserving during the early years of her marriage when she would haul bushels of peaches home and can them for the winter. A master's degree in microbiology and food science helped her perfect her technique. Topp estimates that she has several hundred quarts of preserved vegetables and fruits currently lining her basement shelves.
But in this day and age, pickling at home need not require sweaty, endless hours with the canner, packing dozens of quart jars with a few seasons' cornucopia of produce. With small-batch recipes, pickles can be whipped up in an hour.
"The main advantage of [it] is the ease of making pickles with a small quantity of vegetable or fruit," Topp says. "People are often limited in their storage space, so they are only interested in having a few jars of any one recipe."
Technically, a pickle is any food that has been preserved with acid and salt, a practice that can be traced back to India 4,000 years ago. Most pickles are not complicated to make, as recipes involve little to no cooking time. Topp's "Japanese Pickle Sticks," for instance, demand only a brief boiling of the rice-vinegar/mirin brine that is then poured over spears of cucumber, zucchini and crisp white daikon radish.
Even the simplest recipe, however, involves a multistep protocol for canning. The proper technique will protect against mold, which can raise health risks.
"If the pickle is not processed in a boiling water bath, it is susceptible to mold growing on the surface and also to microorganisms that can grow in high-acid foods, thus spoiling the product," she says.
For preserving pickles, the book recommends using a water bath canner with a rack, but a large pot with a snugly fitting round cake rack will suffice, so long as water can circulate beneath the jars. Pickling salt, found in many supermarkets next to the canning jars and pectin, is a must.
Unlike, say, cookie-baking, pickling is not a kitchen art that brings instant gratification. For best results, sealed jars of pickles should age at least two to three weeks before being opened.
There's hope for the impatient pickler, though. If the canning process proves too tortuous a wait, choose a refrigerator pickle recipe, which can be enjoyed within hours. Just keep in mind that unsealed pickles must be consumed within three weeks.
For optimal pickles, start with the freshest ingredients - if not from your own garden then from the nearest farmers' market. For her part, Topp has made some interesting vinegar-soaked discoveries over the years, such as a pumpkin pickle and pickled Australian orange slices.
"In theory, any fruit or vegetable can be preserved by pickling," Topp says. "But some make more palatable products than others!"
Mixed Japanese Pickle Sticks
Makes 4 pints, about 32 (1/4-cup) servings
4 small zucchini (about 1 pound total)
4 medium pickling cucumbers (about 1 pound total)
1 pound peeled Japanese radish (daikon or lobok)
2 cups rice vinegar
1 cup water
¼ cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
2 tablespoons pickling salt
16 black peppercorns
8 whole allspice
1. Prepare canning jars and lids as in basic canning instruction (see box). Cut zucchini, cucumbers and radish in lengthwise spears (1/2-inch-thick, even lengths); set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, mix the vinegar, water, mirin and salt and bring to a boil. Remove hot jars from canner.
3. Put 4 peppercorns and 2 allspice in each of four 1-pint jars. Pack the vegetables into jars. Add the hot vinegar brine to within ½-inch of the rim. Process for 10 minutes.
4. Store pickles two to three weeks before sampling. Then refrigerate after opening.
Per serving (based on 32): 8 calories, trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, trace grams fat, no cholesterol, 22 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Madras Pickled Eggplant
Makes 3 pints, about 24 (1/4-cup) servings
2 eggplants (2 pounds total)
3 tablespoons plus 11/4 cups white vinegar, divided use
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 cup granulated sugar
2 to 4 small hot red chile or jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
¼ cup minced gingerroot
2 tablespoons pickling salt
1. Cut unpeeled eggplant into bite-size (1-inch) cubes; reserve. In a small bowl, make a paste of the 3 tablespoons vinegar, garlic, chili powder, ginger and turmeric; reserve.
2. In a nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the cumin and fenugreek seeds for 1 minute. Add the eggplant and sauté until just tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Add the reserved garlic-chili paste, 11/4 cups vinegar, sugar, chile peppers, gingerroot and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium heat, about 5 minutes.
4. Remove hot jars from canner. Ladle pickles into jars to within ½ inch of rim. Process for 20 minutes.
5. Store pickles two to three weeks before sampling. Then refrigerate after opening.
Pickled Vegetables, Mexican-Style (Refrigerator Pickle Recipe)
Makes 3 quarts or 6 pints, about 48 (1/4-cup) servings
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into ¼-inch diagonal slices
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
1 pound pickling cucumbers, unpeeled, washed, cut into ¼-inch diagonal slices
¾ cup chopped oregano
1 quart white vinegar
½ cup sugar
¼ cup coarse salt
2 tablespoons cracked
6 red jalapeño chiles
6 green jalapeño chiles
2 bulbs garlic, the cloves separated, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1. In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil; blanch the carrots for 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove to a bowl of iced water to halt cooking and refresh. Drain and reserve.
2. Return water to a boil and blanch the cauliflower about 6 minutes. Drain, refresh and drain again. Place carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and oregano in a large non-reactive (non-metal) bowl; set aside.
3. In a saucepan, mix the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the jalapeño peppers, garlic and onion; return to a boil. Cook 1 minute more. Pour the brine over the vegetables. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer vegetables and brine to sterile jars and refrigerate. (No need to wait before eating. They are ready.)
Per serving (based on 48): 10 calories, trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, trace fat, no cholesterol, 56 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.