Cool as a Cucumber (or Zucchini, Turnip or Cherry!)

What I learned at Slow Food Pittsburgh's Pickling Class.

Not sure if you realized, but it’s summer time, and here’s a shocker — it’s unbearably humid in Pittsburgh. Who in their right mind wants to stand over a cauldron of steaming hot water? Not me. Let’s make something cool and refreshing instead, yes?

Let’s get out of this pickle. With pickles!

I LOVE pickles and I love them in their "purest" form — that is, pickles that have not gone through high-heat pasteurization that kills the good bacteria that the natural fermentation process worked hard to produce. Most grocery store pickles are pasteurized, unless they are labeled "raw." Most home-made pickles and krauts are not.

Why is this important? Aside from elevating pickles from being simply a sublime side to any meal, naturally fermented products give us naturally occurring probiotics. Yes, you've heard about this. Yogurts have it. Miso has it (which is why it is better not to put miso in direct heat and instead add it to broth right before serving). Probiotics contribute to healthy intestinal flora, supporting digestion. I'm sure you've heard that 80 percent (or so) of our immune system is in our gut. It’s true.

It is no coincidence that pickles and krauts accompany meals in many cultures.

This point in the season, the harvest offers a bounty of vegetables and sometimes we’re fortunate to have access to more than we can consume. It’s the perfect time for preservation. My default method is to blanch and freeze, or cut and freeze, or just plain freeze. You get the idea. Lowest effort and no heat generation. Some of my friends are more industrious and artful — they actually CAN their leftovers. Jams, jellies, relishes, salsas. You name it.

I'm not quite as crafty. I've only gone as far as simple homemade sauerkraut with some cabbage chiffonade, water and salt (which produces one of the best krauts I've ever had). My CSA whetted my pickle appetite even more by including a teaser jar with my first share. But alas, the recipe is a family secret. So when Slow Food Pittsburgh offered a "Summer Pickles" class, I couldn’t miss it.

As with any Slow Food Pittsburgh class, it was as informative as it was delicious. Miriam Rubin taught us how to make Grandma Rubin's Dill Pickles — a classic! And we got to make our own! Betsy Holloweck showed us how to make Pickled Turnips with some turmeric — only one of my favorite spices ever! Alyce Spencer showed us Zucchini Pickles and served it on a divine radicchio salad with some Castelvetrano olives. And Nancy Hanst taught us how to make Pickled Cherries that tasted so wonderful I'm a little annoyed they take six weeks to cure.

All the pickle recipes were effortless. Note the magic word. After you mix, you just do what they say … leave 'em and love 'em, right?


I was never so inspired to buy a case of mason jars. So I offer you the recipes plus a bonus Japanese quick pickle (with cucumbers and wakame seaweed!) that is an instant go-to (no need to cure) whenever you're strapped for time.

Grandma Rubin's Kosher Dill Pickles

Presented by Miriam Rubin
Yield: Makes 4 or 5 pints.
Note: If there's no dill in your garden, substitute a tablespoon of dill seed. Do not use dill fronds.

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds small pickling cucumbers, well scrubbed
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar (lately, I've been adding a few tablespoons more)
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons pickling spice (Grandma always removed the excess allspice and cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled, brown ends trimmed
  • 2 small fresh or dried chiles, more for jars
  • 6 to 8 heads dill

1. Place cucumbers in large bowl. Cover with ice water and refrigerate 1 hour until icy-cold and crisp. Drain.

2. In a 2-quart measuring cup, measure water. Add vinegar, salt, pickling spice and peppercorns. Stir to dissolve salt.

3. Put cucumbers in pickling crock or deep glass or ceramic bowl. Add garlic and 2 chiles. Pour in brine and stir to mix. Place dill on top, pressing into brine.

4. Place a clean, unchipped small plate on top. Press down gently to submerge cucumbers. Cover with a clean towel. Let stand at cool room temperature 2 days for barely pickled cucumbers, 3 to 4 days for more
pickled ones.

5. Pack pickles into 4 or 5 clean pint jars. Add a garlic clove from brine and a chile to each. Ladle brine into jars, covering pickles. Discard dill and remaining brine. Cover jars and refrigerate. Pickles are ready now but will keep 2 to 3 months. Brine may become cloudy; that's OK .

Nancy Hanst's Sweet and Sour Cherries

  • 3/4 pound firm Bing or Lambert or...other sweet cherries
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Mace blades

1. Wash and prick each cherry once or twice with a sterilized needle.

2. Trim stems, leaving about one inch attached. Heat vinegar in enameled or stainless steel pan, add sugar and cook, stirring over low heat, until sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and boil for 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Pack cherries into sterilized jars. Place one large or two small mace blades in each jar and fill with slightly cooled vinegar. Clean jar rims and seal closely. Wait at least 6 weeks before serving.

Recipe from "Pleasure of Cooking," issue No. 12, a magazine no longer in existence.

Radicchio Salad with Zucchini Pickles

Recipe adapted from Jason Neroni, Osteria la Buca, Los Angeles
Yield: 8 servings
Cook Time: 20 minutes hands on time plus overnight and 1 hour soak

  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/16-inch slices
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • ¼ cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 cups red wine vinegar
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 1 medium red onion, quartered
  • 4 heads radicchio, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup mint leaves
  • ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 15 Castelvetrano olives, pitted

1. Place the zucchini in a heat-proof, lidded container. In a medium saucepan, combine the white wine vinegar, sugar, ¼ cup salt, turmeric and mustard seeds and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture over the zucchini slices. Cover the container and refrigerate the pickles overnight.

2. In a separate container, combine the red wine vinegar, garlic, rosemary and red onion; cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. To assemble the salad, soak the radicchio in a large bowl of ice water for 1 hour. Drain, pat dry and reserve. Strain the red wine vinegar marinade through a fine-mesh strainer and set aside.

4. Gently toss the radicchio with the mint, parsley, ¼ cup bread and butter pickles, ½ cup of the red wine vinegar marinade and the olive oil, Parmesan and olives. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Turnip Pickles

From the book A Platter of Figs by David Tanis
Yield: 1 qt

  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • ½ tsp. dried Greek oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp. salt
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. small turnips, scrubbed but not peeled, in small wedges

1. Combine the garlic, herbs and spices, salt, water, vinegar, and olive oil in a bowl. Stir to dissolve salt.

2. Pack the turnip wedges into a clean quart jar and pour in the brine mixture. Screw on the lid. Put the jar on a shelf in the kitchen and turn it over every day for a week.

3. After a week, refrigerate the pickles. Use within a month.

4. (In a hurry) Quick Pickled Turnips: For a faster pickle, simmer the turnips in the brine for about 8 minutes, or until cooked but still firm. Cool the pickles in the brine, then refrigerate overnight before serving.

Bonus: Quick Cucumber Pickles with Wakame Seaweed

From Everyday Harumi

Be adventurous! Add something you've never had before in a pickle....seaweed! Wakame gives it a different "salty" taste that is extremely refreshing. My kids love this pickle.

Click here to go to The Brazen Kitchen for the recipe, and for more tips on easy pickling!
 

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