The art of pickling those summer vegetables – The Denver Post

If you’re going to get into a pickle in the kitchen, you’d best go all the way.

We commonly think of “pickles” as merely those jars of fermented cucumbers (that we so adore) that’ve been dilled, or half-soured, or breaded and buttered.

But there’s a world of pickles beyond those greenies, well worth some putting up. With.

I am thinking, nostalgically, of a quintessential slice of 20th-century Americana, the “relish tray” presented before any dinner that was to be enjoyed in another person’s home: small bowls of corn relish, chow-chow (not the dog, but sweet-and-sour mixed vegetables), watermelon rind pickles, piccalilli (a mustardy, chile-hot chow-chow), hard-cooked eggs with slices of beets, the eggs dyed a monsignor’s purple from the sweet-tart beet juice.

Sometimes there even were pickled peaches, a specialty of my grandmother from Fort Lupton, peach halves swimming in a mild sugar syrup, like the regular canned variety, but also with a whisper of cider vinegar, the liquid carrying a few whole cloves.

The relish tray, offered as it was before a meal, was meant to stimulate the appetite in invitation to the meal to follow. Edible aperitifs. What Marion Cunningham said about pickles in general in the 13th edition of “The Fanny Farmer Cookbook”: “Pickles and relishes, so much a part of our heritage, have given a lift to many a homely meal.”

As part of a meal, not merely its vestibule, pickles of all sorts provide a foil to richness, carried by fat especially, which is why they often are seen nestled next to fatty or oily foods: cornichons and pâté, for example, or lamb and Indian achar, or pickled daikon matchsticks and the ham of Vietnamese banh mi.

As a pantry genre, pickles are those foods conserved in a liquid that is either salty or acidic, often both. Their lineage is ur-paleo, from the time we put anything we wanted to eat later, unspoiled, under sea salt. Sometimes the food — cabbage, say, or olives — fermented, creating its own (lactic) acid, further preserving our afterwards. That these longer-preserved foods also developed additional flavors was a delicious lagniappe.

But the large range of unfermented pickles — what are called “short-brine,” “quick,” “fresh-pack,” or sometimes “refrigerator” pickles — simply and directly add the acid, typically vinegar, in order to inhibit any microbial spoilage.

These pickles are not processed in a boiling water bath as so much of what is put up (or canned) at this time of year. They can be, wordplay intended, and some recipes end by saying so, but while the hot water extends shelf life it also kills off a lot of crispness and that fresh aliveness so much a part of these sorts of quick pickles.