Monday, October 05, 2009

R.I.P. Gourmet

I really thought I would be spending my Monday morning recapping the wonderfully ridiculous International Pickle Day festivities. Instead, we were called into an emergency meeting to learn of Gourmet's demise.

It is with heavy heart that I share the news of Gourmet's folding--nearly 70 years after its inception. The mission of the magazine has always been to open readers' minds to culture through the lens of food.

Unfortunately, America prefers fast, cheap, and easy. Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Top Chef. The latest flashes in the pan are steering us towards instant this and 30-minute that. No style, no substance.

pickle girl is all vinegar on this sad day.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Chef Recipe: Andrea Reusing's Pickled Pumpkin

Happy October! This fall season brings a pickle worthy of its own theme song. When reported that One Ring Zero was composing a tune based on these pumpkin pickles by Andrea Reusing, I could barely dial farm-to-fork favorite, Lantern Restaurant, quickly enough.

Special thanks to Andrea Reusing of Lantern Restaurant, for sharing this pickled pumpkin recipe.

Pickled Pumpkin

Use small, organic pumpkins or squashes. Before peeling, taste their skins; if they are tender, they can be left on.

3 pounds pumpkin, cut into thin moons or chunks

5 fresh Thai chilies, split in half lengthwise
1 small piece of unpeeled ginger, thinly sliced
6 cloves peeled garlic
10 white peppercorns
2 quarts unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 ½ cups distilled white vinegar
1 ½ cups mirin
2 ½ cups white sugar
½ cup kosher salt

1. Combine the brine ingredients in a non-reactive pan and bring the
mixture to a simmer.
2. When the sugar is dissolved, add pumpkin and cook gently, checking frequently, until the pumpkin is just tender.
3. Cool in liquid and refrigerate.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

pickle girl to Join International Pickle Day 2009!

pickle girl, and my kindred pickle spirit, Pickle Freak, will be in the "Resources" tent at the Ninth Annual International Pickle Day on the LES this Sunday!

Wear a costume and strut your salty stuff with the "big pickle" on the green carpet, then upload your photos to our flickr page!

From Grub Street:
What: Ninth Annual NYC International Pickle Day
When: October 4

Where: Parking lot on Broome Street between Essex and Ludlow

What’s New: “More free pickle samples ranging from India to Haiti, Malaysia to Brooklyn, and kosher dills from our very own LES!” Most exciting: There will be canning demos, pickles from the New York Science Barge, music from accordion trio Main Squeeze, and a parade complete with costume contest, though take note — costumes have to be “family friendly.”

Price: Free. More information here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This just in, via today’s Tasting Table: Edible Manhattan will be celebrating its first year with a Fall Harvest Party this Saturday, complete with a dedicated Pickle Tasting Room! Pickle superstars Rick’s Picks, Horman's Pickles, and Brooklyn Brine Co. will be featured among the city’s other artisanal purveyors of the cheese, chocolate, and salumi varieties.

South Street Seaport (Fulton/South Sts.); buy tickets here ($40).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Pickles Next Door

A small dose of pop culture to get us through the week. To the serious foodies out there: I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.

Monday, September 21, 2009

End of Summer Garlic Conserve

An ode to fresh garlic on this last day of summer...

I’ll often pickle scapes, but this is the first time I have pickled bulbs (buying the soy-pickled variety from the Korean market doesn't count).

This adapted Paul Virant recipe for fresh garlic conserve (via StarChefs) is served with roasted marrow bones and wood-grilled bread. I may end up eating this with everything from bread alone to duck confit nachos.

Side note: Chef Virant is a pickle girl favorite.

1/3 cup olive oil or grape seed oil
4 1/3 cups peeled garlic cloves
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
2 heaping tsp. salt

Fresh Garlic Conserve:
1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until caramelized; add the sugar and continue to caramelize.

2. Deglaze with water and cook until the garlic is tender.

3. Deglaze the pan with the Champagne vinegar, add the salt, and remove from the heat.

4. Pack the garlic into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath.

Pickles in the News: It's a Happy Girl World

Congratulations to my friends at happy girl kitchen co.! The Guardian voted their spicy heirloom tomato juice one of the 50 Best Foods in the World. Pick yours up at the Ferry Building farmers market or order online.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pickle Passport: Sardella and Her Fella

We raced into Crotone with dreams of a three-hour seafood feast as reprieve from Calabria's oppressive heat. Sidelined by fishmongers slinging eel, sardines, and octopi, we talked into the siesta hours until every dining option was closed. Frankly, we could stand to miss a meal at that point.

This happy accident introduced us to sardella—Calabrian caviar—one of the most obscure flavors in Southern Italy. Keeping with the paradigm of simple Italian dishes, this paste is made of very few ingredients: salt, the region’s sun-baked pepperoncini piccante, and baby sardines, which are left to cure for six-seven months.

Actually, make that newly hatched sardines.

It’s a cruel world, but what can I tell you? It’s a delicious one too.

Sardella paste is sold from plastic buckets at weekly markets. My favorite pasta during this trip (this time I really mean it), was al dente spaghetti, finished in olive oil and sardella. It was at once sweet, salty, earthy. Six Euros of humble bliss.

We also ate simple crostini spread with sardella all over Calabria. Its boldness an arm wrestle with the toe's fierce Ciro wine. Sadly, this nuanced, umami flavor was not available in cans or jars for the trip home. What I would give for some right now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pickles in the News: Man Defiles Pickle Jar to Make Bomb

This just in from The Badger Herald: man attempts to create bomb from pickle jar. Police thwart his plans, but the neglected victims of this story are the pickles. A snippet:

The pickle jar was on a bench behind Olson, containing batteries and other unidentified objects. A pile of pickles was sitting on the bench in the park, along with a liquid that was presumably pickle juice, according to the police report.

I hope they give this guy 25 to Life.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pickle Passport: Alici in Wonderland

What was once the center of Magna Graecia is now a bankrupted city that’s been brought to its knees by rampant corruption. Like a scene out of Gomorrah, Taranto runs on fumes; in the darkness of a night without electricity, schemers and pickpockets lurk in the cobblestone alleys of the Old City.

It’s a good thing I’m not writing this for the Taranto Tourism Board…

We initially thought Taranto’s only redeeming quality was an outstanding archeological museum, but then we wandered into a fish market and discovered these home-cured alici, or salted anchovies.

The fishmonger eagerly demonstration how the fish are cleaned in one swift move that simultaneously removes the head and pulls out the innards. The anchovies are then rinsed and layered in crocks for one month, weighted down by plaster-filled water bottles.

This being Italy, nothing goes to waste: Colatura di alici is a fish sauce created from the juices in these crocks, and it's a kick-in-the-head addition to a rustic pasta dish with breadcrumbs, garlic, and alici.

It doesn’t get any simpler than this ancient preservation method, and it doesn't get any sketchier in Italy than Taranto.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pickle Passport: Lampascioni

(Pickled lampascioni, Il Frantoio masseria, Ostuni)

Another untamed staple of Puglia’s cucina povera: wild hyacinth bulbs, or lampascioni. These rosy rounds make a delectable pickle with a delicate onion flavor.

On one particularly bacchanalian evening, we enjoyed an antipasto of pickled lampascioni, fried, burst open by the heat, and then drizzled with orange blossom honey at Il Frantoio. Side note: this was our FAVORITE masseria on the entire trip. It is heaven, and I could dedicate this entire blog to my musings on the matter.

(Photo courtesy of Parla Food, since mine did not turn out!)

But, back to the pickles… I’m going to thinly slice my lampascioni into rings and cure fresh, Montauk anchovies in their white wine vinegar brine.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pickle Passport: Cardoncelli Magic Mushrooms

The wild cardoncello mushroom—so called because they grow under thistle, or cardo—is just the Smurfiest. Although they look like the Japanese mushroom cookies with chocolate tops, cardoncelli are typical of the terra alla tavola (earth to table) cooking found in the Murgia, a fertile strata in mid-Puglia.

Cardoncelli season is fleeting, so it’s no surprise they make for ubiquitous pickles in the region’s daily markets and antipasti offerings. Buy in bulk from plastic barrels or opt for the canned, easy-to-bring-home version (sort of easy--damn you, three-ounce rule).

These rascally cardoncelli are from a two-table market in the tiny town of Bitonto, just outside of Bari, where there is an impressive 11th-century Romanesque cathedral.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Pickle Passport: The Great Pickle Girl Caper

(Local capers, Locorotondo market, Puglia)

We are back! Albeit it 10 pounds heavier, 30 gallons of olive oil richer, and countless Euros poorer! But life is short, and the pickle adventures must go on.

I am beholding the spoils—jars of capers, anchovies, lampascioni—spread out on my kitchen counter as a kaleidoscopic still life in the trippy fog that is jet lag. (Not to be outdone by the piles of handmade orecchiette and strozzapreti, dried IGP Basilicatan chiles, and ceci nero, Italy's elusive black chick peas.)

pickle girl embarked on some serious recon of all things preserved and pickled in the 1500 miles we drove between Italy’s stiletto heel and the big toe that teases Sicily. I couldn’t wait to share this with you!

This first installment takes us to Puglia, the beginning of our journey. Consider this my homage to the humble caper. "Caper" is really the name for the Capparis spinosa bush that bears a white flower whose bud is harvested and pickled before it opens.

Puglia's capers are small, tight buds preserved in coarse salt or brine. The salt is local too--a specialty of Margherita di Savoia, Europe's largest salt beds at 75 square kilometers.

The behemoth capers with long stems often associated with southern Italy are technically caperberries, the fruit the flower bears if the bud is left on the bush. These can be found in Calabria, but, we'll get to that later, pickle friends.

My favorite use of these pickles was when they were fried in olive oil to garnish the coast's famous grilled fish. Frying capers forces open the bud to make a tiny, salty flower that is a beautiful, crunchy foil to the flaky fish.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pickle Adventure: Italy Road Trip

pickle girl readers:

I am setting out on a pickle adventure! Ned and I will be driving from Italy's heel to toe: Puglia>Basilicata>Calabria!

I'll be back on September 8th with loads of pickle recipes and stories from the bottom of the boot. Until then, enjoy the rest of summer.

(Photo courtesy of The Food Section.)


Pickled Peaches

This one goes out to Diana and Andrea. Enjoy peach season, ladies! Recipe courtesy of Gourmet, August 2005.

6 1/2 cups cold water
24 firm-ripe small peaches (6 to 7 lb)
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
4 tsp pickling spice
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Special equipment: 6 (1-pt) canning jars with lids and screw bands; a boiling-water canner, or a deep 10- to 12-qt pot plus a flat metal rack; an instant-read thermometer

Prepare peaches:
1. Dissolve vitamin C powder in 6 cups water in a large bowl (to acidulate water).

2. Cut a shallow X in bottom of each peach with a sharp paring knife and blanch in 4 batches in a 5- to 6-quart pot of boiling water 10 to 15 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water and let stand until cool enough to handle. Peel peaches, then halve lengthwise and pit. Add peaches to acidulated water and let stand 10 minutes, then drain well in a colander.

3. Toss peaches with sugar in a 6-quart wide heavy pot and chill, covered, at least 8 and up to 12 hours.

Sterilize jars and lids:
1. Wash jars, lids, and screw bands in hot soapy water, then rinse well. Dry screw bands. Put jars on rack in canner and add enough water to cover jars by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, covered, then boil 10 minutes. Cover lids with water in a small saucepan and heat until thermometer registers 180°F (do not let boil). Keep jars and lids submerged in hot water, covered, until ready to use.

Cook and can peaches:
1. Add vinegar, spice, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup water to peaches (sugar will have dissolved and will have drawn out peach juices) and bring to a boil over moderate heat, skimming off foam. Reduce heat and simmer until peaches are barely tender, about 3 minutes.

2. Remove jars and lids from water, reserving water in canner, and transfer to a clean kitchen towel, then divide peaches among jars using a slotted spoon. Return peach-cooking liquid to a boil, then pour into jars, leaving 1/4 inch of space at top. Run a thin knife between peaches and sides of jars to eliminate air bubbles.

Seal and process jars:
1. Wipe off rims of filled jars with a dampened kitchen towel, then firmly screw on lids with screw bands. Put sealed jars on rack in canner and, if necessary, add enough hot water to cover jars by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, covered. Boil jars 20 minutes, then transfer with tongs to a towel-lined surface to cool. Jars will seal as they cool (if you hear a ping, that signals that the vacuum formed at the top of the jar has made the lid concave).

2. After jars have cooled 12 to 24 hours, press center of each lid to check that it's concave, then remove screw band and try to lift off lid with your fingertips. If you can't, the lid has a good seal. Store in a cool dry place up to 6 months. Promptly put any jars that haven't sealed in the refrigerator and use them first.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Discerning Pickler: Cultivating the Handcrafted Aesthetic

My love of quality, handcrafted kitchen items is not limited to pickles (shocking, I know!). The lack of storage space in a NYC apartment requires every functional object to also be beautiful. Here's a round up of my favorites:

Iris Hantverk wood brushes, made by Sweden's National Society of the Blind
hemp twine, made in Hungary
Things for Bread cutting board
Weck canning jars, from Germany
Transylvanian Images linen napkins

Where to get the look:

Selvedge Drygoods
Rose and Radish, San Francisco, CA
Tortoise General Store, Venice, CA
Ancient Industries
DWR Tools for Living
Brook Farm General Store
Moon River Chattel, NYC
Green Depot

Monday, August 10, 2009

Chef Recipe: Cal Elliott's Pickled Watermelon Rind

As if the Prohibition-era cocktails weren't enough to lure pickle girl to Rye, Cal Elliott's grown-up menu offers an immensely satisfying slice of Americana in a moody, 19th-century setting.

This talented chef--of Dumont and Dressler fame--garnishes his succulent braised short rib sandwich (with onion jam and creamy, fresh horseradish) with watermelon rind pickles.

Chef Elliott's candy corn-shaped rinds retain just enough pink flesh to recall a half-licked Jolly Rancher. If only I could order these candied bits by the pound.

Special thanks to Cal Elliott for sharing his version of watermelon rind pickles with pickle girl.

Day One:
2 gallons rind cut into 1" cubes
1 cup salt
1 tsp. alum

1. Mix the salt and alum in 1 quart of cold water to dissolve the salt
2. Pour mixture over rinds, weigh the rinds down with a plate and cover with with cold water. Let stand for 8 hours
3. Drain and soak and rinse in cold water

Day Two:
6 c white distilled vinegar
4 cinnamon sticks
30 cloves
6 c sugar

1. Bring vinegar to a boil with the spices
2. Add rind and 2 cups of sugar
3. Bring back to a boil
4. Remove from heat to cool
5. When cooled, add 2 more cups of sugar and bring back to a boil
6. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining 2 cups of sugar

Process in sterilized jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, or refrigerate for up to one month.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The People's Pickle

Today's Tasting Table reports Rick Field, pickle superstar, has done it again. Add The People's Pickle to your small-batch artisanal foods shopping list. Now availble at Whole Foods stores nationwide.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Chef Recipe: Stephen Stryjewski's Pickled Watermelon Rind

Everything I adore about the pork-loving city of New Orleans can be summed up in Chef Donald Link and Chef Stephen Stryjewski's menu at Cochon.

The chefs host an in-house boucherie to create their own andouille, smoked bacon, and head cheese, but I am especially fond of their homemade pickle prowess.

The spicy, grilled pork ribs with diced watermelon pickle (pictured) are impetus enough to jump on and buy a ticket to Nola. Right. Now. While you're at it, don't miss Cochon Butcher too. This down-the-block spin-off is inspired by old world meat markets and features a wide range of house-made salumi and sausages. The Cochon muffaletta is always nestled in my purse for the plane ride home--that is, when I don't have time for a glass of wine and charcuterie at the "Swine Bar."

Special thanks to Chef Stryjewski, who graciously shared his pickled watermelon rind recipe with pickle girl:

4 qts prepared watermelon rind
3 T pickling lime
2 qts cold water
8 cups sugar
1 qt white vinegar
1 qt water
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Tie in a spice bag:
1 T whole cloves
1 T whole allspice
1 T whole coriander
¼ t mustard seed
1 large piece of ginger
3 sticks cinnamon

Day One:
1. Prepare the rind by removing the green outer skin and the pink interior and cut into 1” by 1” pieces.
2. Dissolve the lime in 2 gallons of water and add the rind allow to soak for 12 hours.

Day Two:
1. Drain and rinse the rind 3 times or until the water runs clear.
2. Add remaining ingredients to a non reactive pot and bring to a simmer
3. Add the rind and simmer over low to medium heat until the rind takes on a translucent appearance.
4. Can in water bath for 10 minutes.

pickle girl's two cents: the easiest way to prep the rind is to separate it from the flesh the way one would to segment a grapefruit. Using a sharp chef's knife, slice off just enough rind from the top and bottom of the melon to expose the flesh and allow the fruit to stand upright on the cutting board. Next, follow the contour of the fruit to slice away all rind in large pieces. Remove the green skin with a vegetable peeler, then slice into 1"-long batons.

You can use the watermelon flesh to make:
* watermelon gazpacho
* frozen watermelon-lime bars
* watermelon panzanella

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Lightly Pickled Red Currants

Inspired by Judy Rogers, pickle goddess of Zuni Cafe fame. Adapted by pickle girl over the years.

2 pints red currants
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups Champagne or white wine vinegar
1 1/3 cup Muscavado or brown sugar
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 Balinese long pepper, snapped in half (optional)
1 bay leaf

1. Wash currants, setting aside smashed berries to make jelly or juice.
2. Bring liquids and spices to a boil until sugar is dissolved.
3. Allow brine to cool. Meanwhile, fill two quart jars with currants, stems and all.
4. When brine has cooled, pour over currants, put lids on jars and refrigerate.

Pickles in the News: The Pickle: No Second Fiddle

In catching up on the past week's pickle news, I came across a post from Adamah, which points to this thoughtful article in The Jewish Daily Forward on the virtues of the humble pickle--and its cultural importance here in NYC.

Leah Koening writes:

...But New York’s pickles were direct descendants of those eaten in Eastern Europe, where pickling was a central part of the diet. (Imagine living through a bitter Lithuanian winter without access to fresh produce, and the pickle’s value skyrockets.) Steeped in saltwater loaded with garlic, dill and spices, these pickles served as a tart connecter between the immigrants’ new home and the land they left behind.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Chef Recipe: Casellula's Miso Pickles with Megan Johnson

If I could set up an electronic direct deposit to a house account at Casellula, I would. This charming bar on 52nd Street (@9th Ave.) is my newfound haven-one which breaks the perfunctory wine-cheese-bar mold with whimsical, handcrafted dishes.

A pedigreed staff (C.V. includes Blue Hill Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern, and The Modern) helms an equally pedigreed daily artisanal cheese menu that doesn't take itself too seriously. Irreverent flourishes a la "Pig's Ass Sandwich" and a cheese flight named "Me And Ewe And Everyone We Know" could endear even the most poker-faced foodie.

No detail is overlooked; take for example, the housemade miso pickled vegetables, Moon River Chattel lighting, and a playlist that includes the likes of Phoenix and Franz Ferdinand.

More importantly, they note:
...because not every cheese goes with quince paste we take pains to pair each cheese with it's perfect condiment. We work with over 100 different compliments, including a variety of honeys, nuts, compotes, jams, pickles, nuts, herbs, pastes, candies, cookies and cakes.

Um, you had me at "hello."

Special thanks to Chef Megan Johnson for sharing Casellula's prized miso pickles recipe with pickle girl.

Casellula Miso Pickles (Recipe yields approximately 6-8 quarts)
2 cups rice wine vinegar
4 cups red wine vinegar
6 cups water
4 cups distilled vinegar
2 heaping cups Dijon mustard
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup miso paste
2 cups fresh horseradish, grated
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
12 fresh bay leaves

1. Bring all ingredients to boil; allow to boil for at 10-15 minutes.
2. Pour brine over fresh, cleaned vegetables of your liking i.e. Asparagus, green beans, cucumbers, radishes, and baby zucchini. If you use carrots, be sure to blanch them before hand.
3. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for up to one week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pickles in the News: Guss' on the Move! Pickle Palace to Leave LES After 90 Years!

Yesterday, Eater reported that Guss'--the famed pickle palace on the LES--is moving its digs to Brooklyn. Another sign the handcrafted food revolution has found a home in our own version of the East Bay.

As with numerous independently owned businesses in NYC, Guss' has been priced out by insatiable landlords. The cost of doing business for mom-and-pop shops is higher than ever, while consumer spending in this Recession is at an all-time low. New York City's family-owned restaurants are closing at a record pace, changing the culinary landscape of this foodie town. Let's hope this historic storefront does not morph into a Bank of America or Duane Reade.

Pickles in the News: 12 Pickle Facts Everyone Should Immediately Commit to Memory

Thanks to Kim G. for alerting pickle girl to this mental floss piece of pickle trivia.

1. In the Pacific Islands, natives pickle their foods in holes in the ground lined with banana leaves, and use them as food reserves in case of storms. The pickles are so valuable that they’ve become part of the courting process, helping a man prove he’ll be able to provide for a woman. In Fiji, guys can’t get a girl without first showing her parents his pickle pits.

2. Cleopatra claimed pickles made her beautiful. (We guess it had more to do with her genes.)

3. The majority of pickle factories in America ferment their pickles in outdoor vats without lids (leaving them subject to insects and bird droppings)! But there’s a reason. According to food scientists, the sun’s direct rays prevent yeast and molds from growing in the brine.

4. In the Delta region of Mississippi, Kool-Aid pickles have become ridiculously popular with kids. The recipe’s simple: take some dill pickles, cut them in half, and then soak them in super strong Kool-Aid for more than a week. According to the New York Times, the sweet vinegar snacks are known to sell out at fairs and delicatessens, and generally go for $.50 to a $1.

5. Not everyone loves a sweet pickle. In America, dill pickles are twice as popular as the sweet variety.

6. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American eats 8.5 lbs of pickles a year. [Image courtesy of Dangerous Intersection.]

7. When the Philadelphia Eagles thrashed the Dallas Cowboys in sweltering heat in September 2000, many of the players attributed their win to one thing: guzzling down immense quantities of ice-cold pickle juice.

8. If it weren’t for pickles, Christopher Columbus might never have “discovered” America. In his famous 1492 voyage, Columbus rationed pickles to his sailors to keep them from getting scurvy. He even grew cucumbers during a pitstop in Haiti to restock for the rest of the voyage.

9. Speaking of people who get credit for discovering America, when he wasn’t drawing maps and trying to steal Columbus’ thunder, Amerigo Vespucci was a well-known pickle-merchant.

10. Napoleon was also a big fan of pickle power. In fact, he put up the equivalent of $250,000 as a prize to whoever could figure out the best way to pickle and preserve foods for his troops.

11. During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, H. J. Heinz used pick-shaped pins to lure customers to his out of the way booth. By the end of the fair, he’d given out lots of free food, and over 1,000,000 pickle pins.

12. Berrien Springs, Michigan, has dubbed itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. In early December, they host a parade, led by the Grand Dillmeister, who tosses out fresh pickles to parade watchers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pickle Passport: Japanese Tsukemono

Every Sunday night, when Ned and I keep Monday morning at bay with a True Blood drinking game (i.e., when Vampire Bill yells, "SOOKIE!" we sip Hendrick’s martinis), I have to stop myself from yelling: SOOKIEMONO!

What I mean to say is I have tsukemono on my mind, or literally, pickled things, in Japanese.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to tackle the behemoth subject of tsukemono in one blog entry, but I have to at least introduce you to this magical, technicolor world we experienced in Japan.

There are nearly 4,000 varieties of tsukemono and a reported 100 different techniques to make them. Their recorded history dates as far back as 1,500 years ago in the Japanese Alps; all this to say, we have a lot to cover today. Arigatou gozaimasu in advance for reading.

During our three weeks in Japan last summer, we ate tsukemono with every meal, including a traditional breakfast of broiled mackerel, rice with raw egg, and miso soup. In keeping with the other mind-blowing foods we ate (low to high, from street yakitori to ryokan kaiseki), tsukemono were a revelation as tantalizing on the plate as they were on the palate.

The New York Food Museum—host of the annual International Pickle Day and home to a dedicated “pickle wing—“ offers this expert synopsis of fascinating methods (including the use of rice mold and miso paste):

Shiozuke, or salt pickles, vegetables are salted in an earthenware jar and pressed with a heavy stone for several hours to several days. Today's modern Japanese kitchens use a tsukemonoki or "pickle press."

One-night salt pickles are called ichiyazuke. A long-term variety are umeboshi, tart, salty pickled plums or apricots. They were originally a disinfectant, then a medicine before becoming a favorite pickle.

Suzuke are pickles cured in vinegar, which has a low acidity; these pickles cannot be kept for long.

In nukazuke pickling, vegetables are covered with nuka, or rice bran, salt and dried chilies, for about three months. In many households, salt bran is kept in a cask or jar on hand. The most popular kind of nukazuke is takuan zuke, pickled daikon radish. Colored yellow with turmeric, the best season for natazuke is winter when the water freezes on the surface of the keg for keeping natazuke. Nukazuke have a pungent aroma, a tangy flavor, and gather vitamins and minerals from the rice bran.

Japanese radish preserved in rice bran (crisp, tart, deep yellow in color). The most popular way to prepare daikon radish, legend has it the pickle was named for the resemblance of the heavy stone used in pressing, to the gravestone of pickle inventor and vegetarian Zen Priest Takuan. But it is also said that the name came from "takuwae-zuke" = to preserve.

For kasuzoke, a white liquor called sakekasu (made from the rice left from making sake) is combined with sugar and salt to make a pickling medium.

The oldest known variety, misozuke, is made by embedding vegetables such as garlic, pumpkin, in miso paste. Miso pickles take a long time, sometimes years, to mature. To form the pickling base, miso is mixed with sake.

(From pickle girl: these are ubiquitous in the Kyoto markets, where barrels are filled to the brim with layers of eggplants and miso, squash and miso, and even meats in miso.)

Koji, rice mold, is used as the pickling base (koji is also used in the manufacture of sake, soy sauce, miso and mirin). Bettarazuke, one kind of kojizuke, is daikon pickled in koji. This winter pickle is known for its sweet flavor and alcoholic aroma.

Vegetables can be pickled in shoyu, soy sauce, and mirin, a sweet liquid flavoring. Fukujinzuke is one of the most popular kinds of soy sauce pickles, and is the standard accompaniment to curry and rice. To make fukujinzuke, a mixture of seven thinly sliced vegetables (which could include white radish, eggplant, lotus root, ginger, shiso buds, turnip, shiitake, udo, sword beans, shirouri) is salted and pickled in soy sauce and mirin.

The famous pickle of Kyoto is made from turnip, salt-pickled for up to a month with konbu (a seaweed), mirin or sugar, and chili peppers.

Iburi Gakko
Around October in Akita, people dry radishes over the daily cooking hearth. The dried and smoked radishes were then pickled with salt and rice bran for two to three months, making "iburi gakko," or "smoked pickles."

Further reading
Tsukemono: Pickled Japanese Vegetables

Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes

Stay tuned for Tsukemono Part II: the recipes!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Peter Hoffman's Pomegranate Molasses Sour Cherries

It's not summer without Peter Hoffman's preserved sour cherries. I've been making this recipe for years, slightly varying the ratio of sweet to sour each time. With my apologies to Chef Hoffman, this riff on the homemade maraschino cherries he makes at Savoy is my favorite yet.

3 1-quart canning jars with "shoulders"
2 quarts sour cherries with the stems
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 cup pomegranate molasses
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. whole allspice
zest of 1/2 lemon

1. Rinse cherries, reserving bruised or split cherries for another use. Leave stems intact.
2. Prepare jars by running through a hot cycle in the dishwasher.
3. Bring sugar, wine, water, molasses, and spices to a brief boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and molasses into a viscous syrup.
4. Allow jars to cool, then pack tightly with cherries, tapping down to fill jars with as many as possible.
5. When syrup is cooled, cover cherries by 1/2 inch and seal jars. Refrigerate for up to one year.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Discerning Pickler: Weck Canning Jars

pickle girl has been in hot pursuit of a design-savvy canning jar for nearly five years; shame on me for not knowing about these wonderfully simple Weck clamp jars from Germany. I picked up a case on a visit to the new Heath Ceramics store in L.A. You can order them through Heath's site. Thanks to Remodelista—my daily read—for the tip!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pickles in the News: Salon Jumps on the Trend!

Today's highlights the expense of artisanal ingredients embraced by the current pickling trend (if you can call a process that has been around for thousands of years a "trend").

Has pickling evolved from a necessity to an indulgence a la cucina povera? I'll ponder that over a martini with pickled sea beans ($14 for 1/4 pound, raw at Whole Foods). More to come tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Pickles in the News: Produce Preservation Is Hot

Trend Central, a self-described, "marketing Consultancy focused on Gen X, Gen Y and Tweens," has declared that canning is hot--not 212 degrees, boiling-water hot--cha-ching, marketable hot.

But you already knew that because you read pickle girl.

Still, it's exciting to see what started as an urban locavore movement gain recognition as a more mass-market trend.

Out of economic necessity, a commitment to a greener lifestyle, and a growing interest in the "throwback" comforts of yesteryear, chefs and home cooks are passionately delving into what is becoming a handcrafted food revolution. Their new approach to old-fashioned methods is yielding something altogether new.

As the current "stay-home economy" dovetails with a generation's growing commitment to sustainability and interest in handcrafted food, modern “foodies” are looking for fresh ways to sate their sophisticated palates.

After all, pickles are among the most democratic of edibles. Power to the pickle!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pickle Passport: Torshi in Tehrangeles

I don't think I realized exactly how blissful my Southern California childhood was until I embarked on a more chaotic, far less idyllic lifestyle in New York City. Aside from riding my bike to the beach and hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, the additional benefit to being raised in L.A. was growing up with kids who had emigrated from Iran.

Sleepover parties meant homemade Persian dinners of pomegranate chicken, tah dig, strained yogurt, and torshi--tangy, vinegar-cured pickles. My open-minded parents even let me play hooky to spend Persian New Year with my Iranian classmates. It never occurred to me that Iran was anything other than a place of rich history, spectacular beauty, and complex, regional cuisines. (At that age, I didn't fully understand why my friends were forced to flee from Iran, leaving behind everything they owned.)

I have been trying to get to this closed country for the past two years. This week, as Iran is especially top of mind, I am hopeful it will return to the peaceful country it once was for my friends' parents--and that my Iranian adventure will soon become a reality.

In the meantime, I have just returned home with a round-up of my favorite Persian markets in Tehrangeles. I encourage you to explore this side of L.A. and invest $10 in culinary souvenirs that may be new to you: Pickled sour grapes, chickpea cookies, and cardamom tea are all easy to slip into luggage.

Star Market (nan-e nokhodchi, cardamom chickpea cookies)
12146 Santa Monica Blvd
West L.A.

Mashti Malone's Ice Cream (rosewater saffron-pistachio sorbet)
1525 North La Brea Avenue
West Hollywood

Rose Market (wall of pickles)
1387 Westwood Boulevard (this stretch is the main artery for Persian culture in L.A.)
West L.A.

Q Market and Produce
17261 Vanowen Street
Van Nuys

Photo courtesy of flickr.

Pickles in the News: pickle girl in the News!

Thank you, Mother Earth News!

A huge, briney THANKS from pickle girl to "Mother Earth News" for publishing the pickled rhubarb recipe!

Chef Recipe: Johnny Iuzzini's Rhubarb Pickles

While I am on my pickled rhubarb high (thank you, Mother Earth News), I thought I would share another variation of this soon-to-be-classic condiment. New York magazine's seasonal recipes are always intriguing. I am not a competitive pickler; Testing as many recipes as I can only makes me a better pickle girl. Pickling takes practice, people--and apparently an abuse of alliteration.

1 lb. ripe rhubarb
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 cup plus 1 tbs. honey
3 tbs. grenadine
1 tbs. coarse salt
2 star anise

*Note: if you can find persimmon vinegar at a Korean market, use it: Add 1/2 cup to the recipe, and reduce the amount of the sherry and rice vinegars to 1/4 cup each.

Trim the rhubarb stalks, discarding the coarse inch or so at each end. Discard any leaves.

(1) Peel the rhubarb, and (2) cut the stalks into neat batons about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. Place in flat-bottomed casserole. Put the vinegars, honey, grenadine, salt, and star anise in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. (3) Pour over the rhubarb and cover with plastic wrap. Let cool to room temperature. Taste the pickles for texture. If they’re too crisp for your taste, drain the liquid into a clean saucepan, bring back to a simmer, let it cool for a few minutes, then pour it over the rhubarb again, with the star anise. Store in the refrigerator in the liquid. Serve cold. Note: Iuzzini serves with panna cotta, but the pickles are also a nice accompaniment to cheese. (Adapted from Dessert Fourplay: Sweet Quartets From a Four-Star Pastry Chef, by Johnny Iuzzini and Roy Finamore; Clarkson Potter, 2008.)

Recipe courtesy of New York magazine.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good for What Ales You

Probiotic products are outgrowing their shelves at places like Whole Foods and Wild Oats. But why pay upwards of $10 for kefir when there is free pickle juice in the fridge? For thousands of years, lacto-fermented foods have aided digestion, helping to break down carbohydrates and fat to create symbiotic bacteria in the digestive tract. Lacto-fermented pickle juice does just that.

Perhaps this explains why pickles are part of the daily regimen around the world: kimchi cuts the fat in Korean bulgogi; tsukemono are served in between the nearly 14 courses of a traditional Japanese kaiseki dinner; and sauerkraut helps us digest the endless platters of bratwurst and knockwurst at beer halls in Germany.

Stay tuned as I explore lacto-fermented foods and beverages in greater depth over the coming weeks! (For now, I will eat my pickles.)