Market Musings Blog

Instant Cucumber Pickles for a Strange Season

I don’t know about your garden, but mine’s cranking out kale as if there’s no tomorrow, the herbs are doing well, too, and everything else is sulking. I’m getting one or two wee cukes each day, and if I were to pickle them in my usual way, I couldn’t even fill a ¼-pint jar at a time. So I’ve devised a fridge pickle that makes the most of my micro-harvests, and tastewise, it has one foot in the world of fresh cucumbers and the other in the world of pickles.

cukes in a barrel CL web

If your cucumber vines are as sulky as mine, give this method a try—it’s fast, the pickles have a very fresh flavor, and any kids in your household, young or otherwise, will enjoy checking to see when the pickles are ready (they swell and change color). Just remember that these pickles aren’t keepers: keep them refrigerated, and eat them as they become ready, one by one. If you aren’t growing your own cukes but can locate small ones elsewhere, you can create a bigger batch that will ripen in their jar all at once.

In either case, as soon as you have washed your cukes, use your fingernail or a paring knife to remove the tip of the blossom end of each cuke (this is always the smaller and paler end; enzymes reside there that start to soften the cuke soon after it’s been picked).

The quantities below are for a 1/2-pint canning jar. Scale up if you’ll be making more than 6 or 7 little pickles at a time.

equal quantity of water and white wine or apple cider vinegar*
small pickling cucumbers
1 unsprayed grape, peach, sour cherry, or oak leaf**
1 peeled and mashed garlic clove
a few coriander and dill seeds
1–2 allspice berries
a few black peppercorns
1 dried Thai pepper, broken in half

*You could use distilled white vinegar, but it contributes no flavor, just a fiery sharpness. Apple cider vinegar will make it difficult to see when the cukes change color, but it’s very tasty.

**Why the leaves, you ask? Grape, oak, peach, and sour cherry leaves are high in tannin, which helps to keep the pickles crisp.

1. Bring the water and vinegar to a lively boil, then allow it to cool before use.

2. Remove the tip of the blossom end of the cukes; if the vine end is still there, looking like a wee handle, leave it in place.

3. Wash the leaves in cold water; put one in the bottom of each canning jar you’ll be using.

4. Add the cukes, garlic cloves, coriander and dill seeds, allspice, peppercorns, and Thai pepper.

5. Pour the cooled vinegar solution over the cukes, close the jar with a nonreactive lid,*** and put the jar on a shelf in the upper half of your fridge. (If you are doing a biggish batch of these fridge cukes, add another leaf or two atop the batch to keep the pickles below the surface. If you’re adding cukes one or two at a time, you don’t need the extra leaves.)

6. The pickles are ready to eat as soon as they’ve changed from bright to olive-y green and swollen significantly in size from absorbing the vinegar solution. This takes about 2 days for very small cukes and 3 or 4 days for 3–4-inch cukes—watch for these two signs that your pickles are ready!

7. These lightly pickled cukes must be kept refrigerated. Eat them within 2 weeks.

***Ball BPA-free plastic lids sold at Mississippi Market are terrific for storing pickles in the fridge.

reFRESHing spritzers

We all know sodas aren’t good for us, but sometimes a fizzy, fun beverage really hits the spot.  To make a fruity spritzer with much less sugar than soda (and no caffeine), pair together fruit juices with sparkling waterRead more …

Hoppin’ John for good luck in the new year

New Year’s Day in the American South is celebrated in many families with Hoppin’ John, a stew made with black eyed peas. Some people add a penny or other small trinket to the beans when serving them. Whoever finds it is promised especially good luck in the new year. As many recipes can be found for Hoppin’ John as there are cooks who make it, so use this one as a foundation for creating your own version. Read more …

Fresh & fruity cocktails for Spring

Bellini photoThe Flowering Quince
This beautifully colored drink is named to honor the blossoming of quince, a harbinger of spring in Japan, China, and on the West Coast, where tall bundles of quince branches are sold in Chinese markets and at farmers’ markets to celebrate the season.

Made with SnoPac frozen strawberries, which are local and organic, and a spring-fresh Ataulfo mango (now plentiful in the produce department), this heady-but-light cocktail is perfect for sipping on the porch, glorying in the return of greenery and warm weather. The combination of strawberries and mango yields a beautiful coral color reminiscent of quince blossoms, while the mango gives the drink a silky mouth feel.
Makes 1 serving (can be scaled up indefinitely).

6 oz. dry Champagne or extra-dry prosecco
1 handful of small frozen strawberries
1 small Ataulfo mango
Fresh spearmint leaves

• Pour wine into the beaker of a blender; add handful of frozen berries. (This doesn’t work with blackberries or raspberries because of their prominent seeds.).

• Peel the mango and slice it into the beaker.

• Purée until smooth.

• Pour into a tall glass and garnish with mint leaves.

Peach Bellini
A classic Italian cocktail

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 lb fresh peaches, peeled & pitted
1 bottle Prosecco or other sparkling white wine
Mint, for garnish

To make simple syrup for the Bellini, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. You can make the simple syrup days in advance.

Place the peaches in a blender with 1/4 cup of the simple syrup mixture. Puree until completely smooth.

To serve, pour the puree about a quarter of the way up a champagne glass and top it off with Prosecco and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Need help peeling peaches?
Just drop them in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then in ice water for 30 seconds. The peels should come right off!