I remember spending my formative years in the midst of a love affair with pickles. I think most kids did. It would be tough in my neighborhood to find a child who didn’t like pickles.
Watching the Laurel Tornadoes play Friday night football, we would grab a few quarters for a concession stand pickle, and that was highway robbery! My apologies for that “back in my day,” comment. Given a choice between a burger and a hot dog after a Little League victory, I would always take the burger and load it up with pickles. Relish, though exquisite, is no match for a dill chip.
Kosher spears on the side can make the dullest sandwich come to life, and a style of pickle can force you to stand your ground in a choice of one deli over another. Fried dills with a zesty ranch and a touch of hot sauce make a mean appetizer poor Yankees rarely get the chance to savor. I’ve had them as spears or chips, though the latter is the classic preferred preparation.
Yes, pickles were a dominating force in my early diet. The briny green juice gives a higher purpose to the cucumber, delivering it from its lowly status as humdrum salad topper to deal-breaker garnish. For me the choice was always dill. God forbid you trick me with a disgusting bread-and-butter pickle, which my sister would occasionally have at my grandmother’s house.
Then it became that for a few years in my life the pickle was an afterthought. It no longer held the status it once enjoyed and gave way to college phases of experimentation with things such as Buffalo wings, ramen and copious amounts of beer. Yes, I still enjoyed pickles but I no longer sought them out. Then something fabulous happened.
I can’t recall where. I cannot tell you who made it. But at some point in my 20s I was given my first (and by the way, spectacular) Cuban sandwich. The pork, the ham, the cheese, the mustard, the bread, all of it was good. But what made that sandwich rise from good to great was, you guessed it, the pickles. What I do remember is the cursing and swearing that came from my mouth. Holy this and holy that, I was so fired up about the sandwich that I sounded like Batman’s sidekick with Tourette’s syndrome.
It was a defining moment for my palate and I never took the pickle for granted again.
As far as food goes, pickles are another absurdly polarizing treat. Those who hate them hate them with a passion. The rest of us can’t get enough. It’s not quite as bad as our current political situation but it is pretty obnoxious. Even among pickle lovers you have infighting over the sweet versus the dill, and it’s tearing the pickle party apart.
You read that as a younger man I hated the bread-and-butter pickles but as an older, softened soul I have been more accepting and tolerant of their position in life. I’ll concede it’s the proper pickle in certain situations. Sweets are for tuna and some potato salad. B-and-Bs are for particular sandwiches, including plain buttered toast with pickles (hence the name) and dill is for everything else.
As the reignited fire for pickles leads me onward, I have become crazy about Wickles, a sweet and spicy brand of pickles. Chef friends of mine have shared recipes that I have shamefully never attempted. But of all the pickles out there I am most enthused about those that also have onions.
So it was this week that I decided to take a stab at pickle-making, mostly because I had a strong craving for the onions. Just a little education and research and I ended up with a pretty great first attempt that I am sure will be tweaked to tone down the sweetness.
While reviewing recipe after recipe, I formed a guide in my head for direction. The first decision was the vinegar. Red wine vinegar, white (anything but industrial stuff) and apple cider vinegar all have their place. I began with cider vinegar.
I also noted that almost every recipe called for turmeric. This is somewhat of an aromatic, bitter superfood that has many associated health benefits. There were also many calling for mustard seed, allspice and whole cloves. I wasn’t well-stocked on this side of my spice cabinet, but I fixed that.
My first foray ended up sweeter than I had hoped so my next try will be for a true dill pickle/onion combo. I wasn’t the least bit upset with my results, though. Here’s how I did it.
• 4 medium white onions, peeled and sliced into rings
• 3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and julienned
• 1 cucumber, cut into thin chips
• Kosher salt
• 2 cups apple cider vinegar
• 1 ½ cups of sugar
• 1 teaspoon mustard seed
• 1 teaspoon pickling spice mix
• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Place onions, peppers and cucumbers in a large bowl and salt them generously. Regular iodized salt may have an adverse effect and could possibly turn your pickles brown; be sure to use Kosher salt. Cover with a towel weighted with a frozen Saints tumbler. The salt dries the water out of the veggies in a couple of hours.
Heat the rest of the ingredients to boiling in a nonreactive pot, stirring frequently. Make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.
Drain the veggies and cover them with the vinegar mixture. An airtight container works great as they will need to be kept in the refrigerator. Enjoy them after 8 hours or so and for up to 2 weeks. They work well with pork or smoked chicken. A strong horseradish cheddar is a nice cheese pairing.
Use this as a base for your pickle adventure but make it your own! I’m excited about my next batch. Look out, dill.