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Jar yourself out of complacency by picking up the skill of pickling

  • TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
                                Pickling has been around for millennia, so long that a precise date can’t be pinpointed, but historians seem to agree on something like 4,000 years.

    TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Pickling has been around for millennia, so long that a precise date can’t be pinpointed, but historians seem to agree on something like 4,000 years.

Editor’s Note: Many adventurous cooks are taking advantage of their extra time at home to learn new techniques — witness the explosion of interest in baking bread. There are many other worlds to explore, though. This is one we at Crave sought to sample.

I love all kinds of pickled things: green beans, carrots, peppers, beets. I like spicy kim chee and funky sauerkraut and pickled herring and onions in wine sauce (Mixed with sour cream and piled onto a fresh bagel? Heaven!).

Pickling has been around for millennia, so long that a precise date can’t be pinpointed, but historians seem to agree on something like 4,000 years.

Cleopatra espoused the benefits of pickles as a beauty supplement. Generals fed them to soldiers for strength. Sailors carried them along on epic journeys. Pickles are exceedingly shelf-stable.

And while the Dutch began growing and pickling cukes in Manhattan in the 1600s, it was the wave of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century who brought to America the garlicky “kosher” dill pickle that’s among the best known and loved in the nation.

“Pickles are something of a catch-all,” says Eliot Hillis, chef/co-owner of Orlando Meats and founder of the Salt Forge, an Orlando, Fla., fermentation collective. “They can add acid, salt, tang, funk, sweet. They last forever and they, in turn, can preserve things. And I love them for their ability to throw a dish out of balance for just a second — a micro palate-cleanser in the middle of everything else on a plate.”

I don’t much care for the sweet ones, but they have legions of adoring fans just the same.

Hillis agrees, “Most bread-and-butter pickles are just so cloyingly sweet that it covers any other flavor,” but he makes an exception for the variant by Orlando Meats’ head chef Seth Parker, whose recipe follows. “They have a certain astringent quality that pushes the sweetness into the middle of your tongue. It’s a lot more balanced.”

You can also go sweet by pickling fruit instead of veggies.

If you’ve got time at home now, practicing pickling is a good way to master a new culinary skill while planning ahead. Fruits and vegetables pickled now will provide eating pleasure for months.

Kevin Fonzo, chef of La Tavola restaurant in Orlando, is taking full advantage of the peaches and blueberries coming into season. “Often, we make preserves and jellies and they are great, but what you can also do is pickle them.”

The basic recipe is easy to remember.

“It’s 3-2-1,” says Fonzo, “which means 3 cups vinegar, 2 cups water, 1 cup sugar. And then you can always expand upon that, adding jalapenos for spicy peaches or a cinnamon stick for something sweeter and more traditional.”

Fonzo has added all kinds of things to complement fruits in the pickling process, bay leaves, lemon thyme and cardamom among them.

“You can even add garlic and onions to peaches for something super savory,” he suggests.

Once pickled, these fruits are exceptional tossed in a salad, alongside other treats on a cheese board or atop toasty bruschetta, paired with creamy ricotta cheese.

What’s more, says Fonzo, you can’t mess it up.

“If it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, (pickles) can be pureed into a really good vinaigrette,” he says. “Does it need more sweetness? More vinegar? Figure that out, add the missing element, some herbs, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and toss it with greens.”

Just say no to flavorless iceberg, he advises. “For blueberries or peaches, you need a good lettuce. I like arugula because there’s a lovely peppery note that complements the sweetness and tartness of the fruits.”

Add fat to balance the acidity. “Ricotta salata (the dried, salted variety of ricotta cheese) or goat cheese are fantastic choices,” Fonzo says.

Sweet corn makes an ideal pickled side for barbecue.

“The kernels pop and provide beautiful snap and acidic contrast to the meat,” Fonzo says.

Above all, he says, do what you like. “You’re the chef in your own kitchen.”

BREAD & BUTTER PICKLES

Seth Parker, Orlando Meats

  • 1/2-gallon cucumbers, sliced
  • 1 pint ice
  • >> Brine:
  • 1-quart apple cider vinegar
  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • 1 pint sugar
  • 1/2-pint salt
  • 6 cloves garlic, shaved
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorn
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • Small bunch of thyme
  • 3 bay leaves

Combine brine ingredients in a pot and bring to boil. Turn off heat and add ice; let cool.

Strain and pour warm over cucumbers. Place in jars and refrigerate at least overnight.

PICKLED SWEET CORN

Kevin Fonzo, La Tavola restaurant, Orlando, Fla.

  • 1-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from cob and cleaned of silky bits
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced (optional)
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Place corn, jalapeno and bay leaf in large Mason jar or other heat-resistant container.

Combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a pot and bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Gently pour liquid over corn mix and let cool.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

>> For corn salsa: Combine pickled sweet corn with 1/2 cup diced tomatoes and 1 tablespoon olive oil. More add-ins options include diced peppers (hot or sweet), 1/2 cup shredded cabbage (for coleslaw style), 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Great served with pulled pork or brisket.

PICKLED PEACHES

By Kevin Fonzo

  • 1-1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
  • 4 large, slightly firm peaches, peeled

Combine first five ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Remove from heat, let stand 10 minutes.

Cut each peach into 12 wedges. Add to vinegar mixture, let stand 20 minutes.

Remove peaches with slotted spoon for a lightly pickled peach or keep in liquid, refrigerated, as long as you like. The pickled flavor will get stronger over time.

>> VARIATION: To make these savory, include black peppercorns, bay leaves, whole cloves or hot peppers.

PICKLED PEACH SALAD

By Kevin Fonzo

  • 4 cups arugula
  • 8 ounces burrata cheese or fresh mozzarella
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • Good-quality olive oil, to taste
  • 12 wedges pickled peach (from preceding recipe)
  • 8 basil leaves, torn
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste

On 4 separate dinner plates or 1 serving platter, lay arugula leaves. Top with cheese. Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil all over greens and cheese.

Gently place pickled peach wedges atop cheese, drizzling some pickling liquid over greens.

Toss basil leaves and pistachio atop peaches.

Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Serves 4.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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