My summers during college and dental school were spent farming with Julianne’s grandfather, Bob Stevens, on North Cotton Hill Road. We were what was known as a “truck farm,” a term that hearkens back to an earlier time when the produce in our markets came from local farmers rather than being shipped in from places afar. We grew a wide array of vegetables such as peas, cabbage, green beans, cucumbers, sweet corn and tomatoes. Humphrey’s Market on Springfield’s east side was a regular customer. We also had a farm stand at the family home which was open pretty much anytime from sunup till sundown, seven days a week. The farm stand was popular with home canners, and I have memories of people driving in during our dinnertime to buy bushels of green beans and cucumbers and canning tomatoes.
I’ve always had a fascination with canning and pickling, but I never find myself with vegetables by the bushel-load and an open day to deal with them. I envy my friends Margie and David Harris who have a plot in a community garden that provides them with an abundance of produce which they transform into jars of wonderful pickles and salsas. Lacking their resources, I work on a smaller scale and make small batches of “quick” pickles.
There are two basic types of pickles – fermented pickles and vinegar pickles. Fermented pickles are the result of a bacterial transformation which occurs in the presence of salt. Lactobacillus bacteria thrive in a salty environment and produce lactic acid which acts as a preservative. Vinegar pickles, also known as quick pickles or refrigerator pickles, are pickled in vinegar, water and salt (and sometimes sugar) and are stored in the refrigerator. Quick pickles don’t develop the deep flavor that fermented pickles do, but they only require a few or days before they can be enjoyed. Quick pickling doesn’t require canning or a bushel of vegetables.
I confess to being a compulsive shopper – not at clothing stores or department stores – but at farmers markets. That beautiful bunch of kohlrabi... it’s going home with me. Those baby white Japanese turnips, fennel bulbs, celeriac, chioggia beets – I can’t help myself. The problem is that I buy more than I can use during the week and my beautiful veggies too often grow old in the bottom of my refrigerator’s produce drawer before I figure out what to do with them. Moral issues aside, now that I am a chef instead of a dentist, I exist in a vastly different economic reality and I can’t afford to waste food. Quick pickles are my answer to responsibly utilizing all the produce in my refrigerator.
Quick pickled carrots take my crudite platter from boring to enticing. Quick pickled red onions give a sexy kick to my skirt steak tacos. And perhaps my favorite quick pickle, pickled fennel with orange zest, is just what I need to cut through the fattiness of my grilled country pork ribs.
Quick pickled carrots
3/4 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into bite-sized sticks
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
Blanch carrots two minutes and cool.
Place carrots in a quart canning jar.
Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorns, mustard seeds and 1/2 cup water in a small pot.
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.
Pour the hot liquid over the carrots.
Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to a month.
Pickled red onions
1 large red onion, peeled
1½ cups red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
Thinly slice the onions.
Toss the onions with the salt. Let them stand 1 hour.
Drain the onions and transfer to a jar.
Add the peppercorns, oregano, cumin and garlic and the red wine vinegar.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
The onions will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator.
Pickled fennel with orange zest
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Zest of ½ orange, cut into strips
2 small fennel fronds
6 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon sugar
4 black peppercorns, cracked
Toss the fennel slices with the salt. Let them stand 1 hour.
Drain the fennel slices, and add the orange zest.
Pack them into a canning jar, placing fennel fronds against the side of the jar.
In a saucepan, heat the vinegar, orange juice, sugar and peppercorns to a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot liquid over the fennel. Cover the jar, and let it cool to room temperature.
Store the pickles in the refrigerator. They will be ready to eat in a day or two, and will keep for at least several weeks.
Peter Glatz sends greetings from Oklahoma City where the closest thing he can find to a Springfield horseshoe are the Mule’s Bacon Cheese Fries: French fries covered in cheese sauce and sprinkled with bacon and green onions.