I’m in a pickle: in my day job, we are reaching the end of a project which means that a deadline is looming. As so often happens in research projects, one underestimates the time involved in not just the data analysis, but writing up and saying what needs to be said. My week has been characterised by long (very hot) days and writer’s block. I’m tired. My colleagues are tired and stressed.
Not just with the report that we’re writing, but here, too. It’s not the material – there’s plenty of that – it’s deciding what to choose and then the panel beating…
A bit of a pickle. And pickles need time. I’ve not had much of that lately, it seems.
Then I realised that when I’ve not been in the office, I have been making pickles – real ones. Sannie Boervrou (pronounced Sunny – because she is) blessed us again with a crate of courgettes, so we’ve been eating them with almost every meal (new ideas for zucchini coming soon) and they’ve been pickled. At the same time, Jan Boer gave us two trays of beautiful baby (or, as far as the canning factory is concerned, undersized) beetroot. With those, and because one can only eat so much beetroot in salad, I made a cold soup (recipe also to come once it’s perfected), there was more pickling…
For the pickled beetroot, I used the surplus brine from the courgettes, but added about a third to a half more red wine vinegar so that it wasn’t quite as sweet – these baby beets are sweet enough. On this occasion, and after pickling, I sterilised the bottles so they’ll keep for longer. See below.
The prettiest pickles I have ever made, and which have become one of my “signature” products are the mixed pickles I first made for the McGregor Food and Wine festival last year. Since that first effort, I’ve adapted the recipe slightly and learned a few things; here’s my adaptation along with a couple of tips:
Coulorful Pickled Vegetables
For the brine
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp each, black/brown and yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 cups (500ml) cider vinegar
5 medium cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
2,5cm-thick piece of ginger, julienned
half small yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
½ cup (125ml) sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp turmeric powder
4 cups cauliflower, cut into 2 to 2,5 cm florets (about)
2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced 1 cm thick on the diagonal
1 cup red bell pepper, cut into large dice
The quantities are hard to work out exactly, but there is more cauliflower than other bits – the ratios are more important.
To make the brine
Put the seeds in a saucepan. Toast the spices over a medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until fragrant and slightly darkened and beginning to pop – about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar, garlic, ginger, onion, sugar, salt, peppercorns and turmeric to the toasted spices. Bring to a boil.
Pack the vegetables into clean, hot jars. Pour the hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1 cm. Remove any air bubbles by tapping the sides of the jars and/or slowly raising and lowering a swizzle stick or plastic blade around the inside of the jars. If you have extra brine, strain it and distribute the solids among the jars or reserve in another jar for use at another time. Lid the jars, tightening only by hand.
To sterilise the pickles
Place the jars in a large (stock) pot and fill with water (do this on the stove – don’t try to lug the full pot and the jars from the sink to the stove and give yourself a hernia … or worse…) Oh, and before you begin, put a tea towel at the bottom of the pot so that the jars don’t rattle around. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool. The lids should all pull in and form a vacuum at the top of the jar as they cool.
These pickles keep their crunch and can be stored for a good few months.
What else I’ve learned
For this batch, we had lots of red onions and some beautiful heirloom carrots, from the garden, and I thought that they would add to the colour of these pickles. They did.
But only for about a week: the vinegar bleached the colour out so that the red carrots ended up just being orange and the red onion lost its blush and went slightly yellow from the turmeric. The flavour is not affected and the pickle is just as pretty because of the red of the pepper, the gold turmeric which is absorbed by the cauliflower and, or course, the orange of the carrots.
This time, and because they were baby carrots, I left a bit of the stalk on them and then quartered them longways. Just adds to the character and texture of the pickle.
© Fiona’s Favourites 2016