Monday, August 18, 2008

Kitchen Experiments: Pickles Day 1

"How camest thou in this pickle?" Alonso asked Trinculo in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and centuries this blogger asked herself staring into a sink full of cucumbers. It all started with a request, a trip to the Minneapolis farmer market, and a dream (chuckle, chuckle).

As any good adventurer should, first I ga
thered information. The Pickling process was originally developed to preserve any number of foods from going bad and maintain a food supply during winter months or times of famine....that is, until its deliciousness was fully appreciated. The pickle has its roots in 2030 BC Mesopotamia when travelers brought cucumber seeds from India to the Tigris valley. Pickled food immediately took on an international flare. In China, construction workers ate fermented cabbage (not unlike German Sauerkraut) as they built the Great Wall around 200 BC, Vitamin C-rich pickles were fed to sailors to prevent scurvy during Columbus's quest for America in 1492 and now in 2008, I'm just learning how to make the tangy morsels. I feel so behind the times.

Pickling food works by lowering natural pH level, and increasing acidity to kill its bacteria and enzymes. The American Pickle is a product of a brine based or acid based fermentation process, but there are other ways to pickle a pickle including Lye-based, Dry-salt and sugar-based processes.

For my first batch, I wanted results quickly, so I opted for a recipe in which the cucumber are cooked with a bouquet garni filled with two types of dill , pepper corns and loads of garlic. I was skeptical of the cooking....would it produce mushy pickles? Can you really get great taste in a few hours? Check back to find out, better yet, cook a batch along with me!


1 pound pickling (Kirby) cucumbers , each sliced lengthwise into 4 spears
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried dill weed
6 cloves garlic , smashed
½ cup chopped fresh dill leaves plus 1 additional tablespoon
1 ½ cups distilled white vinegar
½ cup ice

1. Toss cucumbers with salt in colander set over bowl. Let stand 1 hour. Discard liquid.
2. Place peppercorns, dill weed, garlic, and 1/2 cup fresh dill in paper coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth and tie tightly with kitchen twine. Bring spice bag and vinegar to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low and add cucumbers. Cover and cook until cucumbers turn dull olive-brown, about 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.
3. Transfer cucumbers and liquid to glass bowl, add ice, and stir until melted. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon fresh dill. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 1 hour before serving. (Pickles can be refrigerated in covered container for up to 2 weeks.)

Cooks Illustrated