Used to extend the life of food, pickling has been a part of many cultures for countless generations. In certain parts of America, hot on the heels of a harvest is canning time. An assembly line of sorts is set-up, neighbors and friends lend a hand to tackle the very-involved process of sorting, cleaning, trimming, boiling, jar-filling, sealing and labeling that goes along with pickling and canning.
Not that I'm going to run out and pickle a Twix bar, but the options of what to stick in a jar with sugary vinegar or salt and spicy pepper bits are quite broad and go well beyond cucumbers; there's asparagus, green beans, red bell peppers, carrots and cauliflower. Pickled fruits like melons, pear, lemon, peaches and green tomato are a great addition to mixed green salads, add pizzazz to regular meats, as appetizers and side dishes. In addition to salt and vinegar brines that kill bacteria, certain flavor enhancing spices and herbs have antimicrobial benefits that help along the curing process.
Truly a labor-intensive endeavor, the reward is food that keeps for great lengths of time, big flavor in blah winter months, and an economical way to store up excess produce from family gardens or bulk purchases straight from area farmers. When making your own, think outside the jar, and try adding curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, cumin, basil or lemon juice.
At the store
It's easy to have an eating adventure at European deli and grocery Friendly Foods (3612 Center, Tacoma). Shelves are loaded with jars, cans and packages that bear hardly any English. As local artist Jeremy Leveque once said, "The less English there is on the package the better it's going to be." I've taken a gamble on "mystery" items and had a fun time taste-testing the culinary surprise they held. An entire wall of glass jars holds whole pickled tomatoes, frilly branches of dill, cloves of garlic, eggplant, beets, parsnip, cabbage and more.
Speaking of taste-testing, I was given a jar of pickles from Tacoma start-up Lynnae's Gourmet Pickles that had one pickle spear left. Yep, just one. The bearer of this gift confessed to munching down 95 percent of the contents with his family. After a nibble, I see why. On the sweeter side, the bright flavor of Lynnae Schneller's original recipe, Mrs. Pickles, immediately launched my brain to compile a list of things I could do with just the remaining brine: cook it into rice, mix it with tuna or chopped chicken, use it all salad dressing or pour over shredded pork. Bold, vibrant flavor and a nice low burn of her Hot Mama pickles satisfied my need for heat. Jalapeno, garlic and pimento swim next to dill spears. Watch for Lynnae's booth at farmers markets this season in addition to Dave's Meats & Produce, Greener Bean Coffee Co. and other area stores. Find her online at lynnaesgourmetpickles.com.
In your home
Lincoln High School teacher, musician and artist Ryan Loiselle has dabbled in pickling over the years. Taking instruction from friend James Bender's mother, who Loiselle describes as a "Pickle Master," Bender and Loiselle began their own pickling adventure. Loiselle likes it on the hot side and has used habanero, jalapeno, cayenne, dill and elephant garlic in his jars along with green beans and cucumbers from farms on River Road in Puyallup.
"We went totally nuts one year. We bought so many pickling cucumbers and washed them in my washing machine," says Loiselle.
This Tacoman boasts running two cycles of vinegar water through his washer. "The low (agitate) cycle knocks off dirt nicely. It works great," he explains. He's enlisted the help of friends to tackle the process of getting produce from the washer to the jars. His finished product sits for three months or so before the spicy-tart goodness is given as gifts. "It's a lot of work, but totally worth it," he adds. The smiling faces of recipients are a bonus.