For my birthday this year my friend Rebecca gave me the book “The Pickled Pantry” by Andrea Chesman.
While Rebecca is truly one of the most generous people I know, there was a selfish motive lurking behind the gift.
Rebecca wanted me to make her more pickles.
This past summer, when Rebecca couldn’t keep up with the veggies she got in her weekly CSA, she handed the extras off to us. As I stood in the kitchen staring at the bounty of fresh sexy (yeah—what can I say—I think food is sexy) vegetables strewn across the countertops, I decided to try my hand at refrigerator pickling. Refrigerator pickles fit my lifestyle perfectly: there is no need for sterilization or fancy gadgetry: all I needed to do was cut the veggies, pack them into jars, and pour some brine over them. After a week in the fridge, they’re ready to go.
Sure, I pickled the ever-obvious cucumbers, but I also pickled turnips, cabbage, onions, carrots, zucchini, beans, beets (when I wanted a red brine), as well as garlic, celery and peppers. With each new batch I’d experiment with different spice concoctions. No prepackaged pickling spice for me, no: I was like a crazed witch hunched over her black cauldron (but in my case I had pretty good posture and my cauldron was really just a saucepot filled with boiling vinegar and water).
Each week’s new load of vegetables called for new flavor combos. I tried dill, bay, oregano, rosemary, pepper, fennel, fish sauce, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, every peppercorn I could find in the bulk section, cumin and coriander, chili peppers. Sometimes the brine was spicy. Other times, sweet and salty both.
My pickles were full-proof: no matter what I did, they turned out delicious and crunchy and amazing.
I was a pickling machine, making two batches every time—one for us and one for the girl with the excess vegetables.
But, sadly, the summer came to an end, and with it, a dearth of fresh produce worth pickling. I thought about learning how to make “real” pickles, the kind you can store in your basement for a century. I must have thought aloud, because suddenly it was December 12 and Rebecca was handing me a book about how to do just that.
I skimmed it, dog-eared a few pages, then slid the book under a stack of other books I’d planned to read. I just couldn’t be bothered with all that PROCESSING.
But when our local co-op offered a kimchi-making class, I jumped on it. I love kimchi. I love spice and crunch and—well, that’s already obvious, so I’ll shut up about that.
I went to the class last night. It only cost $5 for members, and since good kimchi in stores is double that, I figured it couldn’t hurt to spend two hours with my hands rooting around in spicy cabbage if it meant saving a few bucks. What I didn’t expect was that Andrea Chesman, herself, would be the teacher!!! “I just got your book for my birthday and I’m so going to try all the recipes,” I lied with much enthusiasm. The short kinky-haired woman with the glasses and stained apron beamed her thanks at me and then got everyone together in the large kitchen at the senior center so we could learn how to make her kimchi recipe.
I was paired with a funny cool 20-something named Kristen. We made a great team, slicing and dicing cabbage and carrots and garlic and ginger; then smooshing and packing and pressing the vegetables until they gave off enough liquid to start the fermenting process. Once all 16 of us had our take-home jars packed and sealed,
Andrea divided us up into four teams and we cooked various rice and noodle and tofu and fish dishes using her kimchi. In the end all the dishes basically tasted the same—like cooked kimchi.
That’s because kimchi, like any pickle, should be enjoyed for its own sake. Is there really anything quite as satisfying as biting into a crisp salty vegetable tugged from the ground only weeks ago? I don’t think so. If you don’t believe me, go ask Rebecca.