Pickles. I loooooooooooooooooove pickles! As a small child, I would eat pickle sandwiches. My mom made these fabulous dill pickles and I would eat them on bread with French’s yellow mustard. Pickle sandwiches. No cheese. Just pickles, bread, mustard. Or I would eat bread & butter sandwiches with her homemade bread’n’butter pickles (did I mention that the bread was usually homemade too?). Even just imagining these sandwiches now, my mouth waters. As a teenager, I would take the bus home from school and I would get off a few stops early so I could go to the store and buy a jar of dill pickles which I would devour on the walk home. Yes, the whole jar. I also loved banana peppers. Bick’s used to make these Sweet Banana Peppers, which weren’t actually sweet. They were tangy and had a slight bite, they just weren’t hot like the hot banana peppers that are everywhere now. And they weren’t all sliced up – they were whole peppers and I used to eat those by the jarful as a snack. Or I’d sit down with a big bowl of sauerkraut. Pickled fermented cabbage. Brilliant. I even drank pickle juice.
It’s kind of a family joke. “If it’s pickled, B will eat it.” Only it’s not a joke – except for the possible exception of pickled herring, I will eat pretty much anything if it is pickled.
I love Korean food. Why? Because of the kimchi – pickled cabbage with chili. Yum! I love futomaki. That’s a sushi roll full of japanese pickles. I love martinis for the olives and pickled onions, Caesars for the pickled beans, nachos for the pickled jalapenos. When I go to a pay-by-the-weight salad bar, the pickles always make my meal twice as expensive as anyone else’s and when I order a sandwich at Subway, there are more pickles and pickled peppers on my sandwich than any other topping.
A few years ago, I decided to learn to make pickles because I decided I was spending way too much money at the grocery store and I was pretty certain I could outdo Bick’s. The search began for the perfect pickle recipe and I harassed my poor parents until my father finally unearthed the old hot water canner, complete with rack and tongs. I bought a bunch of canning jars and toured the local farm markets to collect green beans, pickling cucumbers, fresh dill, hot peppers, and garlic. Our local grocery stores do a fine job of stocking canning supplies, including pickling spices, pickling vinegar (7% acetic acid, as opposed to regular vinegar which is only 5%), kosher salt and the like so I went there next. When I had everything ready to go, I took my first crack at the bat.
My first batches of pickles were, if I dare say so myself, utterly spectacular. And I costed them out – wayyyyyy cheaper than store bought. I have never been able to match them since. I don’t know why. I keep using the same recipes, but they turn out a little different every time. Still good, but not like that first amazing batch. I haven’t pickled in a couple of years on account of el nino (the kid, not the weather system though you’d be forgiven for confusing them), so I am hoping to get to it again next summer. It’s a wonderful process and it is utterly evocative of late summer and early fall – when all the good pickling ingredients are ready.
Pickling is just one way of preserving all the wealth of the summer and fall harvest for the bleak winter months. In fact, it’s one of the oldest methods of preserving food known to humankind. They are celebrated the world over with Pickle Fests and other such events. In antiquity, pickled olives were a staple of the diet and remain so in many parts of the world. You just can’t go wrong with pickles.
Pickling. I don’t have my recipe book. It’s actually at work because I lent it to a co-worker and haven’t remembered to bring it home since she returned it to me (despite having reminded myself at least half a dozen times today). But I can tell you about how you do it:
First you sterilize all your equipment and prep your veggies, your brine and your other ingredients. Sterilization is very important – to prevent microbial organisms from taking up residence in your jars (and eventually leading to horrible things like food poisoning and botulism). Then you carefully and quickly pack the jars using very clean hands, before lightly screwing on the tops and submerging each jar into the boiling water for the allotted amount of time. When the timer goes off, you pull them out of their boiling bath and set them in a draft free location to cool. While you wait for them to cool, it’s a good time to sit quietly with a good book and a cup of tea. This way you can hear when they start to seal and make this really satisfying “shushPOP” sound.
Of course, you can always make pickles without canning them. A pickled cucumber salad, made with paper thin slices of cucumber and sweet onion, rice vinegar, soy sauce (tiny bit) and sugar (tiny bit) = deliciousness! You can do the same thing with beets. Apple cider vinegar adds nice flavour to carrots. It’s endless really.
I’ll just move on to guacamole because I could write about pickles forever. Guacamole is a Mexican dish – a dip made from avocados. It’s good on just about anything, from tortillas, burritos, salads, rice cakes …
I like to use a little bit of finely minced onion, toasted ground cumin, cayenne, chili powder, salt, pepper, fresh cilantro and lime juice. Some people like garlic in it but I find that’s a bit strong and overwhelms the avocado. Tomatoes can be good in guac, as can tomatillos. If you use tomatillos, don’t use lime – tomatillos are very tangy.
Guacamole is best consumed on football Sunday paired with my famous nachos and some good beer. Yep. I think that’s what we’re gonna do this Sunday. And the nachos will definitely have pickled jalapeno slices on them.