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DIY Pickles

September 29, 2015 - Radio Kitchen - DIY Pickles

Summer officially ended last week, and although our local farms are going to be in production for quite some time, it's not too soon to start thinking about what to do with all of that produce.  And Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School, as I was strolling around the market last weekend, I noticed a guy who was selling pickles.  It got me thinking.

This looks like something I could do myself if I knew a few tricks.  Of course Jerry is a Past Master at pickling.   Here are some of the varieties that were for sale:

Fire Garlic, Cracked Black Pepper with Old Bay, Horseradish, Sweet and Spicy Bread and Butter, Kosher Dill, Half Sour and Full Sour.

First, some cucumbers are better for pickling.  You want one with a thin, mild tasting skin, with small and fewer seeds.  Classic whole cucumber "picklers" are left whole or cut into long spears. They are smallish, maybe 4-5 inches. 

"Kirby" and "Liberty" are two popular varieties for "picklers."   Full- sized cucumbers are almost always sliced into "coins."  

"National Pickling" and "Diva" are great for slicing.  You want a freshly mature, not overly mature cuke to work with.  Crispness is the sine qua non or a good cucumber and everything you do.  So firm is good, soft and soggy is not.  When in doubt, ask your farmer.

Since water is the enemy of firmness, you will want to salt your cut up spears or coins for 30 minutes, placing them in a colander to drain.  Rinse thoroughly and you are ready to begin.

Brining liquid recipes are either pure vinegar or a blend of vinegars plus salt, or a blend of water and vinegar plus salt.  You can vary your vinegar:  apple cider, rice wine, red wine or white wine vinegars are all equally valid.

A basic recipe would be 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt.  Keep these proportions for all your batches, big or small.  All recipes call for the pickling liquid to be heated to a boil and then poured over the cucumbers in their jar.  An hour is usually sufficient to do the trick.  After that, it's a matter of refrigerating and letting the pickles stew happily in their own juices.

From here on out, its a matter of seasonings.  Here are a few classics: 

Dill:  use spears or whole "pickler" cucumbers; full vinegar brine; 2 teaspoons dill seed, 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, 4 garlic cloves peeled and smashed.

Bread and Butter:  use "coins" (slices);  a sweeter vinegar brine (like apple cider vinegar); seasonings like white sugar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric.  Many recipes call for finely sliced onion as well.

Half-Sour:  uses a all water brine, no vinegar; the brining period is short, and the pickle retains a bright green color; astringent grape leaves retain crispness; dill and garlic often are used.

Kosher Dill:  same as regular dill, but with a much bigger amount of garlic.
And as you may have guessed, the DIY pickle maker has every option under the sun for seasonings and further improvisations.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.