Monday, June 6, 2011

Pickle Joy

One of the most marvelous yet slightly silly way of feeling joy in my life frequently involves getting something right the first time. This concept feels rather foriegn to me in the long term (concerning my heart wrenching/cardiac arrest inducing bachelors degree). But nevertheless, I have been compensating this fact with what pretty much always gives me joy - cooking. And not just cooking, because that would be a waste of my wallet and another contribution to my expanding waistline.

No, cooking involving making something that a specific person or people would enjoy.

One of my goals since meeting and becomming engaged to my handsome Canadian is to learn more about food in general from his side of the world. New Zealand to its credit has a wonderful array of ethnic foods specific to our land and sea, as well as the traditional favorites handed down to us from our settler ancestors (whether they be Maori or European). But at the end of the day, we are still a tiny country, and upon reading a 'Lonely Planet: Canada' book I realised how impressive and gigantic their food heritage is. Compared to the US where people go to become "American's" in the "land of the free", I find Canada's history a lot more open, friendly, explorative and sensitive than compared the US (my experience with American and Canadian border securities prove this theory of mine..) In Canada, I noticed, ethnic differences (especially concerning food) are not given the cold shoulder but are highly celebrated. And being the second biggest country in the world, I grant theres a lot.

What I want to reflect on is the humble sweet pickle that until this morning I have underestimated my entire life.

I won't bother trying to figure out where the sweet pickle comes from or who makes them the best. But to my fellow New Zealanders, before you laugh at me for crowing over the delishness of something that resembles a lumpy green penis, think again!! Have you truly tried them? I suppose after my penis joke no one will now.

I did this for Steven and for my own curiosity.

Every day since Steven moved away from his family and country to be with me, I have made it a priority in my life to incorporate and meld with my own, his Canadian culture. That means I wear the maple leaf as proudly as the fern (except in rugby cos they suck), maple syrup AND ketchup are now twin staple condiments on the table. Secondly I now say specific words like Steven (mainly cos I lost a bet re pronunciation), like Tom-ay-toz instead Tom-ahh-Toes. Mar-Garrr-Rin instead of Mar-Gaar-Rene, Ketchup instead of tomato sauce (shock, horror!! as my Mum says). Our children will have encyclopedic knowledge of both Rugby Union and NHL and *gulp dare I say it - Canadian Football...

When I first went to Vancouver, Canada to see Steven after 6 months of long distance and for meeting his family for the first time, I noticed he had a weird penchant for eating sweet gherkins/pickles straight out of the jar with a fork in one hand and an endearing childish grin on his face. Obviously this strong smelling green thing gave him enjoyment and with my only knowledge of gherkins comming from those disgusting little sour floppy green things you get in your Big Mac, I wasn't going to touch his sweet pickles with a 10 ft pole.

I do of course LOVE the Anathoth Farmstyle Relish that is made here in NZ. I don't know why. Its crunchy, its sweet and sour all in one taste. Its delicious on toast, its delicious on veges esp the good ol baked potato. In the words of Road Dahl its scrumdidliumpcious!

So out of wanting to give Steven this lovely home made treat that reminded him of home I never once thought the flavours would pretty much be identical with only a different vegetable being used.

I planned for two whole days. I scoured recipes online as well as processing instructions for using glass jars and storage and such. I remembered the wonderful Christmas present my futher mother in law gave me - a mennonite cookbook. I found over 10 bread and butter pickle recipes. All pretty similar but with a few differing tweaks in ingredients and processing methods. For my first time making such a foriegn recipe - this indecisiveness in recipes freaked me out! I thought, wasn't there just a base recipe that Mennonite women just stuck to?! Out of desperation I went back to my comfort zone for a mental break - New Zealand cookbooks. No where in the hugely celebrated Edmonds Cookbook was there any mention of any kind of pickle recipes. Then I took a risk and pulled out my Mums copy of Dame Alison Holst '500 Recipes' cookbook. This glorious woman had an entire section of pickles, relishes and chutneys along with the usual jams/jellies. Hallelujah!! AND two pages devoted to incrediably clear instructions for idiots like myself on preserving and sterilising.

I found a bread and butter pickle reciple with excellent instructions but the ingredients seemed rather bland compared to its Canadian Mennonite counterparts. So, I merged the two recipes.

The torturous thing about making home made pickles is not the cooking process but the wait. Every recipe version demanded that I wait a minimum of a week for the flavours to develop. I thought to myself - 'Great, I have to wait seven days in which I torture myself on whether I did it right only to find that when Steven eats it he will pull an ugly face or worse get food poisoning...'

Well, today was the big reveal and I couldn't help it, I was excited. I was reasonably sure that I got the recipe right but I still had a tinge of worry that I think kept me prepared should the worst occured.

Firstly, the seal was perfect. How did I know this? After 1o years of confidently opening difficult jars on my own I finally had to hand it over to Steven, who tried and then regretfully handed it to Mum who opened it with a jar opener by which it made a clear 'pop!' noise a freshly sealed jar makes when opened. Secondly the smell was amazing. Vingary, sugary and mustardy. Sounds like a weird trio but it works it really does.Thirdly, was the look on Steven's face when he poked a fork in the jar and ate some. Delighted surprise is the best way of putting it :D That made me soooo happy. We both then promptly cut into fresh bread buns with ham and cheese and loaded it with my pickles.

Oh my goodness, the taste was brilliant.

My only regret was that every pickle recipe catered for multiple jars. I only wanted one jar, so having to figure out how to divide ingredients and interpret conversions made me very anxious.

On making this recipe I had no idea how many cucumbers I would need so I ended up buying three very fat, over ripe, seedy dark green and lumpy ones. And after I poured the vinegar syrup with the cucumbers in the jars I found I had quite a bit left over. So, I will make an educated quess while looking at my pyrex measuring jug and say that the amount I made overall equalled to two 900g Pams jam jars. (thats two and a half pints). My other regret is how few cucumbers I used. This is my fault as several of the recipes suggested I soak the cucumbers in plain salt and water for 24 hrs. I ommitted this stage out of pure impatience and learnt my lesson from it. At the time, I remember packing the cucumbers in the hot jar like sardines in a can. But while it was in the fridge I noticed worryingly how it was appearing to look like there was just liquid and only a few cucumbers floating around. What happened? The cucumbers shrunk I think. I don't know how to deal with this in the future so I suppose Ive got to hunt for answers.

Until then, below is the recipe for two jars:

3 medium garden cucumbers (cut them depending on your jar size. I sliced mine into thick rounds, others like to slice them lenghways or not at all :D
1 Pickling onion for each cucumber (or half a normal onion for each)
2 Tbsp of plain salt (not iodised or else it goes scummy apparently)
1 cup of plain white vinegar
1/2 cup water

1 cup of brown sugar
1 Tbsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp of celery salt (or seeds)
1 tsp of turmeric

- Slice the cucumbers and onions into a bowl and prinkle half the plain salt in and mix ( I put rubber gloves on for this). Cover and leave in refridgerator for 24 hours.

- After 24 hrs, rinse the veges well and set aside.

- In a medium (non reactive) saucepan on medium heat bring remaining ingredients to simmering point. Add veges. Keep watchful and remember to stir so it doesn't get congealed. If it does add a little water and keep stiring

- In a large saucepan place chosen jars and lids and fill with water til everything is submerged. Remove and bring to the boil. Once the water is boiling place jars back in and set timer to 5 mins. It needs to boil for the entire time. Watch this very carefully and don't burn yourself! (Cover your arms and wear two cooking mitts if you freak out over spitting boiling water like I do).

- On your work bench place a clean tea towel or cloth and on top of that paper towels.

- For the last two mins of boiling time, place in boiling water the tongs you will use to lift out jars.

- After 5 mins is over turn off the heat to both saucepans. Very carefully transfer the hot jars using the tongs to the prepared surface and let dry for a minute.

- If you don't have a jar funnel like me, what I found useful for reducing spills was getting a piece of baking paper and folding it in half and placing it in a circle in the rim of my jars.
With the baking paper in place, use a large slotted spoon and scoop the veges out and place in the jars. It they overflow, pack them in (I used a potato masher). Pour the remaining syrup in until it overflows a bit (hence the paper towels!).

- Put the lids on and screw on snug (but not tightly!) and wipe down and store in the fridge

- Remember not to open it for a week!

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