Pickling without all the fuss
New cookbook updates age-old process with quick and easy recipes for today.
Pickling. For most of us, the word conjures up images of Mason jars, tin lids, and those pesky rubber sealers. Like canning, the pickling process originated in the days before refrigeration, as a form of preservation for the late-summer harvest. But in today's world, it's more often considered an exercise in futility. Most cooks haven't the time or inclination to spend their last days of summer sanitizing glass jars in baths of boiling water.Skip to next paragraph
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But some people aren't so quick to throw out the pickles with the bath water. In their inviting new cookbook, "Quick Pickles: Easy Recipes With Big Flavor" (Chronicle Books, $18.95), Chris Schlesinger, John Willoughby, and Dan George update pickling with 50 recipes that can be made in a lot less time than it took Grandma.
Their grandmothers certainly didn't whip up batches of bread-and-butter pickles in two hours, as they do, but the magic those women performed with a basketful of garden-fresh vegetables left the authors with vivid memories they felt compelled to bring back.
Food writer John Willoughby's grandmother, who lived all her life on a farm in Iowa, was what he calls "a fiend for pickling." Chris Schlesinger, chef and owner of the East Coast Grill and Raw Bar in Cambridge, Mass., and The Back Eddy in Westport, Mass., recalls frequent arguments with his older sister over the last sweet pickle in their Grandmother Wetzler's canning jar. And Dan George, a lawyer in Westport, Mass., who also wears the hat of "pickle chef" at Schlesinger's waterfront restaurant here, had a Lebanese grandmother who would serve the neighbors Day-Glo-fuchsia pickled turnips on her "mezze," or appetizer, tray.
"Everyone has a pickle recipe from their grandmother," says Mr. George, nibbling on a plate of (what else?) pickled dishes at a gathering to celebrate publication of the cookbook. "There's a generation gap."
His grandmother's recipe for Pickled Grape Leaves appears in "Quick Pickles," and those flamboyant fuchsia turnips grace the front cover. But plenty of recipes were invented for the book by this wildly creative threesome.
"We free-associated for hours to come up with new ideas," says George. Out of that session were born such boldly flavored innovations as Oil-Pickled Mangoes With Horseradish and Chile Peppers Three Ways, Pickled Pineapple and Cranberries in Apple Juice, and Smoky Pickled Corn Circles With Coriander Seeds.
There's nothing subdued about the recipes in "Quick Pickles." The authors insist that the flavor of a pickle should be "tangy, bright, and forceful."
They include recipes made each of three ways: fresh, fermented, and oil-preserved. But most of them are fresh and simply pickled with salt and vinegar. These recipes, because they are quick and easy, are most likely to take cooks beyond the image of pickling as a complicated, risky process.
And this is just what the authors are after. As they put it: "It is our hope that this book will bring you back to the idea of home pickling, but without the work and fear of failure.
"In fact, after making just one recipe, we think you'll understand Dan's personal pickle motto: 'No heavy lifting, just bliss.' "
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3 pounds pickling cucumbers (less than 5 inches long)
1 large or 2 medium onions (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice (optional)
3 cups cider vinegar
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
Trim and discard the blossom ends of the cucumbers, then peel the onions and cut both into rounds about 1/4-inch thick. In a nonreactive bowl, toss them with the salt, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Drain well, rinse, drain again, and then set the cucumbers and onions aside.
In a nonreactive pot, combine all the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring once or twice to dissolve the brown sugar. Reduce the heat to low, simmer for 3 minutes, and then pour the liquid over the cucumbers and onions. The cucumbers should be amply covered or slightly afloat.