Jar yourself out of culinary complacency with a fun, new skill: pickling

  • 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. (Dreamstime/TNS)

The last time I hit up my beloved Second Ave. Deli back home, a corned beef on a club roll cost something like $20. Twenty bucks! Granted, it’s bigger than my head and I’d be walking out with leftovers, but even so. Jeez.

Every year I feel more like my mother, who loves to tell me how when she was a kid, she could buy two candy bars and see a movie for a quarter.

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“At least the pickles are free,” my daughter said, snatching a half-sour from the bowl on the table.

“Truth,” I said, joining her, and together we snapped into a taste of my childhood.

There are a zillion things that make the traditional Jewish-deli experience amazing, of course, but every single one of them comes after you’ve already eaten a mound of slaw and at least one entire half-sour pickle. My favorite pickle of all.

Trapped mid-transformation, the half-sour pickle is enjoyably imbued with all the delicious, invigorating herbaceousness of its deeper, funkier cousin while retaining its youthful emerald-green color and — most importantly, snap.

It’s a cucumber. It’s a pickle. It’s both. I love them.

But then, I love all kinds of pickled things: green beans, carrots, peppers, beets. I like spicy kimchi 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, a local 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.”

Pickled roasted beets

Courtesy Eliot Hillis

Medium-sized raw beets

Champagne vinegar

Herbs (fresh bay leaf, thyme)

Spices (coriander, peppercorn, clove, allspice, caraway and fennel seeds)

Garlic

Salt and pepper

Olive oil (grapeseed oil is fine, too)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, toss whole, raw beets in oil, salt and pepper to coat. No need to peel or cut.

Place the beets in a baking dish with herbs, garlic and enough vinegar to cover beets by about 1/3. Cover with foil and roast 45-60 minutes, checking for tenderness. Beets are done when fork-tender to center.

Cool completely. Peel and discard skin. Slice (optional) and place beets in jar(s) along with the liquid and spices, top off with water if necessary.

Leave in jar(s) for a minimum of two days. These will last in the fridge for pretty close to forever.

Bread and butter pickles

Courtesy Seth Parker

Ingredients

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

1/2-gallon cucumbers, sliced

Instructions

Bring all ingredients to boil. Add 1 pint of ice to cool.

Strain and pour warm over cucumbers. Place in jars and store.

Pickled Peaches

Courtesy Kevin Fonzo

Ingredients

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

Instructions

Combine first five ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook two minutes, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, let stand 10 minutes.

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

Remove peaches with slotted spoon for a lightly pickled peach or keep in liquid, refrigerated, for as long as you like. The longer you leave in the stronger the pickled flavor.

To make these savory, Fonzo suggests including black pepper, bay leaves, clove or hot peppers.

Pickled peach salad, burrata cheese, arugula, and pistachio

Courtesy Kevin Fonzo

Ingredients

1 pickled peach

4 cups arugula

8 ounces burrata cheese (can substitute fresh mozzarella)

1 cup pistachios

8 basil leaves, torn

2 lemons, juiced

Good olive oil to taste

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper

Instructions

On four separate dinner plates or one big serving platter, gently lay down the arugula leaves.

Lay cheese atop arugula (divide equally if plating separately).

Drizzle lemon juice all over greens and cheese then do the same for olive oil.

Gently place pickled peaches (divide equally if plating separately) atop cheese while drizzling some pickling liquid over greens.

Toss torn basil leaves (divide equally if plating separately) and pistachio atop peaches.

Season with sea salt and cracked black pepper to your liking.

Pickled sweet corn

Courtesy Kevin Fonzo

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups fresh corn, cut from the 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

Instructions

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

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In a medium saucepot, bring first six ingredients to a boil. Allow liquid to boil until sugar is dissolved. Gently pour over corn mix and allow to cool. Once cool, wrap and refrigerate overnight.

For corn salsa: Add to 1/2 cup small-diced tomatoes, tablespoon olive oil. Other suggested adds: diced peppers (hot or sweet), 1/2-cup shredded cabbage (for cole slaw style), tablespoon chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. It’s great on pulled pork or brisket.

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