Thursday, May 11, 2017

Getting into a pickle (juice)

Vegetable season is upon us.  Our CSA shares have started rolling in again.  Huzzah!

Of course, together with an abundance of vegetables comes an abundance of vegetable preparation.  I've said before that I've become a fan of trying to chop and store the veggies right away so that (a) they don't wilt before we get to them and (b) they look like snacks or dinner or lunch, instead of like potted plants taking up space in the fridge.

Here's one of my fave helpers these past few weeks:  two jars of pickle juice, left over from purchased pickles my husband and sons like.

The reason that one jar of juice looks red is because it held radishes for a while (and then we ate the radishes).

Pickle brine is wonderful for a few reasons.  One reason is that the combination of vinegar and salt (mostly the vinegar) serves as a preservative, keeping the food from going bad.  The traditional use of pickling is to preserve summer food long into winter, but it also works for preserving Tuesday food well into the weekend.  At any rate, my radishes never got soggy or wilty, even though I left them in the jar on the counter for several days before we actually got around to taste-testing them.  (In fact, leaving them out on the counter is better for pickling them than sticking them in the fridge).

The other big reason that pickle brine is wonderful is that pickle brine adds taste, making veggies even more yummy.  People love acidic foods (soft drinks being a prime example of this preference gone bad), and salt is so danged good it's become a Biblical metaphor for awesomeness.  Plus, there are a few other sugars and spices in the commercial pickles that just add to the overall flavor. I don't think that any of my kids or husband would have looked at a bowl of sliced radishes and thought, Yum!  Snack!  But pickled radishes are actually quite munch-able.

If you're a pickle neophyte, you'll be happy to hear that learning to pickle foods is like learning checkers: the basic rules are so easy anyone can start playing, but if you're super serious, you can get more complicated.  The basic rules of pickling are these:
  1. wash and cut up the vegetables
  2. put them in the brine.
That's it.  As you learn more about pickling you learn things like, the flavor deepens if you wait a few days; you can speed-up or enhance the process by heating the brine properly (one recipe I saw suggested leaving the jar on a sunny window sill for the first day); you can muck around with spices; etc.  But since all I want to do is to have my CSA vegetables wind up in people's tummies instead of on the compost heap by the end of the week, steps 1 and 2 are just perfect for us.   I'm not going to go all radichal with my radishes.

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