Recently up at my beloved green grocer, Clifton Greens, I couldn’t resist the long, shiny stalks of pink rhubarb. My near-daily visits to this little shop always inspire me to try something new, play with nature’s textures and idiosyncracies. Did you know that in most of the world rhubarb is considered a vegetable, but in the US it was ruled a fruit in 1947 because it is used as a fruit would be, not a vegetable? A little backwards, no? There are few things more British (and hence appropriate given my new British citizenship) than rhubarb. In fact, there are greenhouses in “The Rhubarb Triangle” region of this country where the first harvest of the year is done by candlelight, a practice thought to produce a sweeter, more tender stalk. More than a little weird, no?
Anyway, I thought perhaps I’d make a tart, or stew it, or if ambitious, an ice cream. It was, perhaps, a subconscious nod to my dear mother who’s been ill recently. You see, she is a fervent Anglofile if there ever was one, and adores rhubarb. While we were growing up she’d buy all the rhubarb could lay her hands on (not easy in Moscow, let me tell you), stewing it to serve over vanilla ice cream (the only flavor available). My problem was that often tasted like fuchsia celery – stringy and sour. However, it was this same sour quality that encouraged me to try pickling it instead of making dessert.
It might be the dreary weather, but I found myself also drawn to the bright pink, white and green bunches of radishes that day. It’s another vegetable that smacks of all things British and hints of Spring to come. Their satisfying crunch and sinus-clearing heat is sorely under-appreciated in America, I think. Tossed in salads, sautéed or simply eaten on their own as a snack straight out of the fridge, these are another of nature’s treats. Lately, I’ve been making my way through blogger Katie Quinn Davies gorgeous “What Katie Ate and other bits and pieces” cookbook (without much success sadly), but her recipe for Barramundi with pickled radish, green bean and watercress salad piqued my interest. While I’ve found that many of her recipes lack flavor in spite of sounding divine and being gorgeously photographed, her recipe for these pickled radishes were delicious. Not sure I’d eat them with the fish again (see, this has been a problem I’ve run up against repeatedly with this book), but I’ll keep the pickles….with a few small tweaks that I’ve made.
When I think of pickling or canning or anything that requires special jars that need to be sterilized, sealed, and then kept in a cool pantry for a very long time, I always think of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. If memory serves me, she and her Ma spent a lot of their time and energy each Fall, preserving fruits and vegetables for the long and very hard winter months ahead. Perhaps this is why I’ve always thought of it as something archaic and unnecessary in this modern age. And pickles, which I adore, well, they’ve always been something you buy, I mean where do you find those small cucumbers anyway? I adore the twinge of sour back behind your teeth that a good pickle delivers, the crunch, the powerful counter to fatty dishes. What is a hot dog, after all, without a hearty dollop of pickle relish? Alas, as usual, I’ve come late to the preserving and pickling party that chefs around the world have so zealously revived, but now that I’ve started, if you’re a vegetable, watch out, you’ll likely end up in a glass jar!
My challenge in this project was the whole sterilization process. I’ve read you can now do this in your dishwasher, that you needn’t get out those tongs that look like forceps and boil glass and fear bursting jars and botulism. The pickles I’ve done are quick pickles that you can eat almost immediately and you’ll love them so much that there’s no need for the long-term preserving process. They’ll be long gone. Next to be pickled, quince, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, beets. Now that I’ve got the bug and the techniques under my belt, there’ll be no stopping me. I hope you give it a try.
1 pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/4 inch coins
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
5 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
3 star anise
1 teaspoon salt
Bring the vinegar plus one cup of water, the sugar and all of the spices to a boil. Place the rhubarb in a large non-reactive bowl. Once the sugar has dissolved in the liquid, pour it over the chopped rhubarb. Allow it to sit for 3 hours then place the rhubarb in the glass container of your choice. Place in the fridge allow to sit at least overnight before eating. They will stay good for about 2 weeks in the fridge.
1 bunch of radishes, quartered
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
3 cardamom pods, crushed
3 star anise
1 teaspoon salt
Bring the vinegar plus one cup of water, the sugar and all the spices to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved reduce the heat to medium-low and add the radishes to the pot. Bring to a simmer once more but don’t allow the liquid to come back to a full boil. Remove from the heat and cool for one hour. Then place in a glass container of your choice and put in the fridge.