There’s something satisfying about a kitchen project.
Instead of racing to the next place we have to be, or sitting hunched at the computer completing another assignment, or trying to figure out what to have for dinner in ten minutes, a big project forces us to slow down. Focus. Be there.
All that work can be a sweet release.
I especially like when a kitchen project produces pickles at the end of it.
I’ve always loved pickles. A few weeks ago, I waxed lyrical about why I love them. Read that, if you haven’t. Today, I want to talk about the pickles themselves.
We bought these cucumbers from the older couple on the island who run a farm stand in the middle of town. Every week, they bring in fresh produce from Yakima (the other side of the mountain from here), where the sun scorches sooner than it does in western Washington. And so, pickling cucumbers sat in a cardboard box on the sidewalk in the middle of June. When I spied their bumpy lovely selves, I had to buy some.
Time to make pickles.
You see, I had never made pickles, at least not by myself. We made some for our family day-before-the-wedding party, but Danny really did it. I helped by pouring vinegar into the mix. And standing in awe of it, taking pictures. Without this, we wouldn’t have a website.
But sometimes, it’s too easy for me to defer to Danny on this, to let him do all the cooking, especially after Little Bean arrived. When it comes to big projects, he’s five times as fast and he needs to do this. Working with food, inventing something new, is like breathing to him, like writing for me. But if I let him do all the cooking, I miss it: standing in the kitchen, humming under my breath, the dishwasher chugging along, music playing in the back. I miss that focused place of being, the moments beneath my hands.
So we split the cooking around here now. Imperfect as my meals can be, they make Danny happy. A couple of weeks ago, I wanted to make pickles, without him. Danny was gone for the day and the baby was in her bouncy chair in the doorway behind me, so I started toasting spices for the pickling spice.
You probably have your own recipe for pickling spice. Each of us has a different taste. So I’m not going to tell you that this is the only recipe you should use.
I just think that its mix of warmth and heat, slight sweetness and puckery flavors mean that it’s the only recipe for this house, right now.
(I love that this jar once held our friend Nina’s superb blackberry jam, then became a water glass, and then held chicken stock — chix is Danny’s shortcut for chicken stock — and now holds pickling spice. I don’t know what it will be next.)
Slowing down means I see more. That’s probably part of the reason I like cooking, as well as taking photographs, and writing. Just after I had stuffed the cucumber slices in the jars, the sun flitted out from behind the clouds. While the light darted back and forth between flat grey and illumined, I stood there, waiting. And then I took this shot.
Little Bean giggled when I tickled her under her chin. With a board book propped up in front of her, she was engrossed. This gave me time to survey the scene and really begin.
There was something so satisfying about being systematic here. Dill on the bottom of the jars, cucumbers stuffed in, picking spice sprinkled, more dill on top. I was building pickles.
I felt like dancing.
That light helped.
I like any recipe that requires you to stuff food into jars, pell mell, without worrying if it looks pretty.
With the brine poured in, the cucumber slices looked even more green. (I always think of Kermit.) All I had to do was put the lids on loosely, slide the jars to a dark corner of the kitchen, and wait.
Oh, the waiting. It’s the waiting that makes the pickles.
And yesterday, we ate the pickles for the first time. A crunch, a crisp layer, a bit of heat from the red pepper flakes, a sour fermented taste that works great in pickles (but not so much in milk). They tasted like thin slivers of the pickles I used to suck on when I was a kid at Disneyland.
I’m so happy I made pickles. After we’ve eaten these, I’m going to put up quarts of them this summer, to be able to crunch down on them all winter long.
I know, of course, that people have been making pickles for generations. But I like how so many of us are starting to learn these old traditions, of pickling, preserving, and canning.
Are you starting to grow food for yourself? Have you pickled anything for the first time? Made jam? I’d love to know what your latest kitchen project is.
Dill Pickles, adapted from David Lebovitz, who adapted them from Arthur Schwartz
Pickling is a community event, even though I was standing in the kitchen with only a baby to keep me company when I made these. Reading this question and answer with Eugenia Bone started me thinking about pickling and preserving in earnest. Visiting Food in Jars almost obsessively, looking for new ideas, compelled me to stop talking and start chopping. (And Marisa just linked to this piece on preserving cherries that has me thinking about the weekend.) Then I ordered The Joy of Pickling and Well-Preserved and The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving from the library. I could pickle and preserve all summer and still not be done.
For this pickle recipe, I studied Tea’s recipe for refrigerator pickles and the beautiful narrative recipe that Margaret Roach transcribed from a railway conductor and organic gardener from Long Island. They both called to me, of course. But in the end, I went with a recipe that David Lebovitz adapted from Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited. Mostly because I trust David. And also, this recipe doesn’t require vinegar. Danny grows persnickety about the way food looks. Adding vinegar can make green foods a little grey. And so, here it is, only slightly adapted. But that’s what we do, right? Pass foods from one to the other.
Have a pickle.
8 pint jars with lids
4 quarts water
6 tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
8 cloves fresh spring garlic, peeled (you can also use storage garlic)
2 tablespoons pickling spice (see above)
8 fresh bay leaves (or dried if you don’t have fresh)
1 large bunch fresh dill
Run the jars and lids through the dishwasher to sterilize them. Or, you can put them in a 250° oven and keep them warm until you are ready to work with them.
Slice the cucumbers into the size of pickle spears you want.
Heat 1 quart of the water with the salt. When the salt has dissolved, add the remaining water. Bring to a simmer and then turn off the heat.
Put a generous clump of dill on the bottom of each of the jars. Stuff the jars with cucumbers, tightly. (Don’t stuff them so high that the tops will stick up above the brine when you are done.)
Divide the garlic cloves, pickling spices, and remaining dill into the jars.
Pour the salted water (brine) into the jars so the cucumbers are completely covered. Put the lids on loosely. (Or, you can use cheesecloth and rubber bands.) Shove the jars into a dark part of the kitchen and wait.
You can check the fermenting pickles three days after you make the pickles. Taste. Want them more sour and fermented? Wait. We liked our pickles after six days of fermenting.
Like your pickles? Screw the lids on tightly and put the pickles into the refrigerator. Eat to your delight. You should probably eat them all within the month. You will.
Yields 8 pints of dill pickles.