One of my first days in New York, back on a blustery late fall afternoon in 2006, I met Rick of Rick’s Picks at the Union Square Farmers’ Market. I was a confused recent graduate fresh out of a bad job inteview, and I wandered into the famers’ market as a safe haven. And there was Rick — cool as a cucumber (fresh, not pickled), wearing aviators and giving out samples of his astounding variety of pickles. I read the New York Times article he had laminated and clipped to his stand — we’d gone to the same college, where he, too, hadn’t known where things were all headed. And then he moved to New York and still couldn’t figure it out, and then he moved to Brooklyn and started a pickling company. Now, I am still confused about where things are headed most of the time, but thanks to Rick, I have at least learned that there’s more than one kind of pickle out there in this big wide world.
If only I had had as much success over the past two years as the mighty pickle. Pickles are becoming a new hot thing, or maybe have already become the new hot thing. After all, Momofuku has been serving them practically since day one, and now Rick’s Picks are everywhere (and I doubt Rick is the one manning the booth anymore). And that makes sense — after all, if we’re all trying to get back to the land, then of course we’re going back to the good ol’ days of “putting up,” that is, canning and preserving. And of course we’d want to expand our repertoire beyond the “pickle” hereafter to be known as the cucumber pickle.
I found the recipe for these Cauliflower & Carrot Pickles in New York Magazine, as part of their Thanksgiving menu. I’d never made pickles before, and I can’t say it went perfectly, but it did go pretty well for a first attempt. Pickling is basically just preserving vegetables (mostly) in a brine of vinegar, sugar, and salt. Within that formula, there’s some room for variation, I would think, but I’m not expert enough yet, so I just followed the recipe. I got a beautiful golden cauliflower and some purple carrots at the food co-op, to mix up the colors a little, but the regular white and orange will serve you fine. Also, I’m copying the original recipe below, but I ran out of Sherry vinegar and had to substitute red wine vinegar for the last cup. Which is fine. The one qualm I have with the way this recipe was written is that it says to “simmer for 6 to 7 minutes,” giving a time, rather than a description. I found that this amount of simmering plus the amount of time the vegetables had to sit in the hot liquid while it cooled ended up with too soft of a final result. The carrots crisped back up a little in the fridge, but the cauliflower wasn’t quite what I would like. So my advice would be to simmer just until starting to get tender, checking the vegetables frequently and thinking less about the amount of time.
One last note: anytime you’re putting up, it’s important to sterilize the jars you’re going to use, so that your preserves will last as long as humanly possible without being invaded by bacteria. You can sterilize them in a couple of ways. Usually, I just boil a big pot of water and let the jars and lids bob around for a while before I fish them out with tongs and let them air dry. I have read that you can also use the dishwasher or the microwave to do this. I will admit that I am not as exacting as most recipes will lead you to believe that you should be. None of my preserves have spoiled yet, however. So don’t drive yourself crazy sterilizing the jars, but do make a go at it.
And do make a go at pickling. I can think of few cooking pursuits quite as satisfying, especially two weeks later, when (if you’re lucky, and they haven’t all been consumed) a jar of your goodies is still sitting in the fridge.
Cauliflower and Carrot Pickles
Adapted from New York Magazine
Makes two 32-oz. jars (I doubled the NY Mag recipe, because if you’re bothering to pickle, you should really get pickling)
– 1 head of cauliflower, broken up into small florets
– 4 medium carrots, sliced horizontally, into about 1/4 inch thick slices (I didn’t bother peeling them)
– 4 cups sherry vinegar
– 2 cups sugar
– ½ cup kosher salt
1. In a saucepan combine vinegar, sugar, and salt and boil for 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Add vegetables and simmer until just starting to become tender (NY Mag says 6 to 7 minutes, but I’d bet more like 4 to 5).
3. Remove from heat. Cool; jar; refrigerate.
You can eat these pickles with just about anything that needs a little zing. I added them to some Annie’s mac and cheese (along with some bacon and my beloved red pepper flakes); ate them alongside a pita-grilled cheese; and put them as a garnish to black beans with a fried egg. When it comes to pickles, the sky’s the limit.