I love pickles. Not just pickled cucumbers but pickled cabbage, radishes, mushrooms, and carrots. In Brighton Beach I’ve feasted on pickled watermelon, apples, grapes, and tomatoes (both red and green). On a recent trip to Estonia and Lithuania we ate pickles at almost every meal, so much so that my girlfriend started to get tired of pickles. And yet with one big exception I have never really made my own pickles. Sure, I’ve done some quick pickles — essentially salting this slices of cucumber (or radish or carrot), letting them sit for a while, then rinsing them off and letting them soak in vinegar (and maybe a little sugar) for a while. It’s a great way to make a quick salad, but it’s not really a pickle.
Unfortunately I don’t have the equipment or the patience to make real pickles. I figured there had to be a better way. A few weeks ago I bought some fiddlehead ferns at my local farmer’s market, and a friend mentioned that she likes pickled fiddleheads. I had never heard of pickled fiddleheads, but I was intrigued. A quick search brought me to this Serious Eats recipe, which I adapted to my own purposes. These aren’t the kind of pickles that will keep for months/years, but they should keep for a couple of weeks if you don’t eat all of them first.
First I rinsed the fiddleheads, then boiled them in salted water for five minutes (the SE recipe calls for 10 minutes, but that seemed way too long). Then I drained them and rinsed them under cold water. In another pot I added a cup of apple cider vinegar, a cup of water, a teaspoon each of salt and sugar. I also added a tablespoon of black mustard seeds, some dried garlic, and two dried chili peppers. I brought this mixture to a boil then turned off the heat.
While waiting for it to boil I cleaned (not sanitized) a mason jar and added the boiled fiddleheads. Using a funnel I poured the hot vinegar mixture over the fiddleheads, including the seeds and chili peppers, then screwed on the lid. It was still quite hot at this point, so I let it come to room temperature on the counter (this took several hours) and then put the jar into the fridge overnight.
The next day the ferns had soaked up all of the vinegar, yet still were slightly crisp. The chili flavor was lost though, and I thought the apple cider vinegar overpowered most of the fern flavors. Still, they were very good pickles.
I repeated the experiment this past weekend with sugar snap peas (only boiled for two minutes), and replaced the mustard seeds with lemon zest and spring garlic. I used red wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar, and I also added two more chili peppers, which resulted in a much spicier pickle. The shorter cooking time meant that the snap peas stayed nice and crunchy, and the lemon and garlic flavors were more pronounced.
I’m planning on repeating this experiment with more veggies (though if I do it with cucumbers I won’t be boiling them) as the summer progresses. Or until I get sick of pickles.