Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Return to Form: the Pickle Edition

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It's been one year, three weeks, and two days since my last post.

It seems that after a hasty sign-off, I promised to return with tales of canning and pie-making. Gus was having cranial surgery and our then 6-month-old, Solly, was waiting for us in Ethiopia. I thought I'd be back when the fuss died down.  I guess the fuss lasted longer than I'd planned.

There are certainly parents, writers, bloggers out there who can change diapers and cook and post promptly. I ain't one. We got home from Africa and the peaches couldn't wait--we scooted up to Jones Orchard every couple of weeks for the rest of the summer, till the last fuzzy nubbin was plucked. Solly lay on a mat, gazing up through the branches, and I like to think that this introduction to America can explain part of his sunny disposition.

We peeled their skins (a nude peach is as beautiful as a baby's naked bottom), then canned, pickled, and stewed them.

We roasted them with lemon, honey and thyme, and just ate them out of hand. We made cobbler and pie.

My husband Josh even managed to pick up a wicked rash up and down his inner arms and legs by snuggling a poison ivy-swaddled peach tree.

But blogging was beyond my strength. Between processing all this food and bonding with our energetic new baby--who swiftly phased into a kinetic crawler, then a gonzo toddler--I had only enough energy left over to stagger to bed. And then stagger back out to get a bottle and rock Solly back to sleep.

Lately, though, Solly's learned to snooze the night away. He's in a toddler program at the same Montessori as Gus--so I'm back in the saddle. And I've got news.

Pickled okra.
Okra pickles show up at parties and picnics here in Memphis sometimes, but apparently they're not universally savored. Leaving the Kroger with a case of Ball jars the other day, I got a curious look from a friendly lady shopping with her son. "You doing some canning?" she asked me. "Okra!" I said brightly, assuming that a native Memphian would cotton (sorry--couldn't resist) to the idea of a Yankee like me falling under the sway of such a idiosyncratically Southern foodstuff.

Instead, her sweet brown face squinched up. "Ergh." Her son's followed suit. "You eat that stuff?" Oh, well. So much for my stereotypes about Southerners.

Gus, on the other hand, loves the stuff. His schoolmate Dantz has it every day in his lunchbox, I was enviously told. Well, I'm not going to let any kid have a better lunchbox vegetable than mine. So Gus and I have been hitting the MFM, buying big bags of okra and smaller piles of Thai chiles. Following a recipe from the Lee Bros. cookbook, we've cured them in a brine of dill and spices and garlic. Mmm. Tasty crunchy goodness.

These little spears are great in a picnic with hard-boiled eggs--or better yet, alongside curried egg-salad sandwiches, with some Bedekar's Lime Pickle on the side for added zing. We've also paired them with Gus's Fried Chicken. I even did a few jars of mixed okra and green beans. Fantastic.

I'm on the verge of getting myself a proper pickle-centric cookbook, but till then I've been relying on the combined counsel of the aforementioned Lee Bros. and the almost-infallible Rombauer and Becker. Below is the basic recipe, without a canning primer. You can find all that yourself.

(By the way, you don't need to tell me that all this pickling is just a desperate subliminal bid for some kind of Southern authenticity--trying to out-Delta the locals, or whatever. Bear with me. At least I haven't taken up the harmonica.)

Pickled Peaches
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook
Enough for 2 qt.-sized jars, easily doubled
4 lb. small, firm peaches
2 lb. sugar (yes!)
2 c. cider vinegar
2 sticks cinnamon
1 T whole cloves
1 heaping t finely chopped crystallized ginger (I subbed 1T each peppercorns and cardamom pods, to good effect)

1. Check whether your peaches are too large to fit through your jars' mouths. If they are, you'll cut them in half after you skin them.
2. Fill a sink or large pot/bowl with ice water. Set another big pot of water to boil and sterilize your jars.
3. Score the bottom of each peach with a little "X". This will make them easier to peel. After you remove your jars from the boiling water, using the same water, plunge each peach in for a minute, then move with tongs into the ice water. After peeling (and halving, if necessary) each peach, place it in a bowl.
4. Clean that big pot and then bring to a boil all remaining ingredients in it with any peach juice that has collected in the bowl. Boil gently for 20 minutes until you have a concentrated syrup.
5. Poach the peaches, about a pound at a time, in the syrup for 8 minutes. Roll them around in the syrup so they cook evenly. Repeat until all peaches have been poached and gently placed in sterilized jars.
6. Carefully ladle hot syrup into jars up to 1/2" below rims. Seal with lids, and process if you plan to keep them longer than 4 weeks in the fridge. (I processed mine and gave them as gifts. They make a great substitute for cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, or if you give them out for Christmas, they're amazing with New Year's Day ham.)

Pickled Okra
This is remarkable easy. Also from the Lees, also relatively easy to double or even triple.
1 1/2 lb. okra or mixed okra and green beans (look for pods small enough to fit in your jars)
1 qt plus 1 1/2 cups water
1 T plus 2 t kosher salt
2 dried hot chiles (actually, I used fresh, and it was fine)
4 sprigs fresh dill
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
4 c. distilled white vinegar (the kind made from grain) or cider vinegar
2 t sugar
1/2 t peppercorns (see below for add'l. spice ideas)

1. Sterilize your jars (see above or read up on canning).
2. Trim the woody ends of the okra's stems, but don't cut into the pods. Dissolve 1T salt in 1 qt water and soak the okra for a couple hours, covered, in a cool place.
3. After the soak, put a big pot on the stove with the vinegar, remaining 1 1/2 c water and 2 t salt, sugar, and peppercorns. (I did a batch with coriander and mustard seeds, too. That worked out well.)
4. Meanwhile, drain, rinse, and dry the pods. Preferably with clean tongs, place a chile, a dill sprig, and 2 garlic cloves in each jar.
5. When the brine boils, let it simmer for 4 minutes. Then ladle it, using a canning funnel if necessary, into jars, leaving 1/4" at the top (the okra will soak up some of the brine). Seal and process, or seal and turn upside down, storing in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.


  1. I can't even tell you how happy I am to have you back in the blogosphere (bloggersphere? blogutopia?) and to open this post and see your son's beautiful face took my breath away.

    It almost, ALMOST made up for the fact that you've posted about okra.

    And your husband's poor luck reminds me of my husband's story about boy scout camp, when some unsuspecting soul tossed a bunch of poison-ivy covered vines in the campfire. The fumes, shall we say, didn't do good things to little lungs.

  2. bless you liz, for I will pickle okra next week.