I always assumed my pickles were tasty but it wasn’t until this country girl ventured up to the big city for a ‘Pickle Smackdown’ at The Drake that it was confirmed with a first place win beating out ‘the’ chef Michael Smith’s pickled goods. It was a shining moment in my culinary career, only slightly overshadowed by the fact that early that morning, in the wee hours, my sister had decided that we should enter our pickles as a pair. She had aptly marked both jars ‘Kaiser Sister’ pickles while I was upstairs grabbing my coat for our outing.
Sibling rivalry in a nut shell, or pickle jar; I am fairly sure it was my jar that officially won and I feel better already publicly setting the record straight about the winning cukes! My sister and I have of course had our share of competitiveness growing up but we have also had some great moments preparing and sharing our family recipes.
We often set time aside to preserve together and share fond memories of the early days pickling with my Dad, recalling how my father would assure us that it was okay to use large garbage bins to brine our pickles as they were indeed clean! Even though they were purchased new for the task, it was difficult to explain to visiting friends why we would have to venture into the garage to retrieve our pickles with a large pair of tongs, from a garbage pail.
I prefer to use a small batch, traditional approach to making pickles – rather than in large garbage bins – and sterilize my mason jars before processing in a canning pot. As my Dad’s recipe tended to change from year to year in his efforts to continually improve, I now rely on Granny’s tried and true recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Pickling, also known as brining, is the preservation of food in a solution of salt or in an acidic solution, usually vinegar. It can be an all day affair and may seem like a daunting task but I promise it’s not, especially if you can find new recruits. My team now includes my daughter’s friends Alex and Alyssa. Jobs are shared preparing the dill, onions, garlic, brine and stuffing the jars and at the end of the line. In years past, we have even had pickling parties, annually canning asparagus with a crew of great friends – always a fun occasion.
Although it can be an all day event, pickling or brining can also be done in time for dinner. I feel compelled to brag that my Mom makes the best red cabbage salad by ‘pickling’ her slaw through a brining process. She thinly slices the cabbage on a mandolin and then salts the cabbage to draw out the excess water, weighting it down with something heavy for a couple of hours. Once the cabbage is softened, it is rinsed and then dressed with chopped sweet onion and a basic vinaigrette. Simple but delicious. It can also be as easy as boiling fresh beets and then sprinkling with salt and vinegar while hot. The result; great pickled beets for salads all week long. The possibilities are endless and with the summer upon us, start picking your favourite vegetables and planning your pickling weekends according to harvest. The memories that will be jarred will not only be realized in the cold winter months but in years to come.