Sep 30, 2014

The Pickled Apple

Mark & I found this sign while apple picking in Connecticut yesterday. I think it was meant to encourage pickers to explore more of the orchard, but I saw it as a quiet, more figurative reminder.

Sometimes when you have an idea, it can be a true struggle to keep it alive, and even harder to make it into a reality. Maybe it's a piece of art, or some sort of innovation or renovation project. Sometimes you aren't sure how it's going to turn out, so there's no other option but to keep going.

Writing, in particular, is hard. You usually have to sit still to do it (infuriating) and you have to not get distracted by e-mails, pets, phone calls or hunger (near impossible) and you have to ignore the constant doubts that creep into your mind.

Keep going the sign says. 

I realize this saying sounds a lot like the British poster from WWII: "Keep Calm and Carry On" which has now been mutilated into a thousand different variations printed on t-shirts, e.g. "Keep Calm and Eat a Cookie." among others

But never mind all that. The point is to keep going, to stay curious, to keep up hope, to keep creating things and revising them and sharing them. 

Pickling is one of my favorite ways to preserve foods, and especially because it allows an opportunity to be creative and also to share, as batches usually yield enough to give to others. 

Often you'll find recipes calling for "pickling spice." What does that mean, exactly?

"Pickling Spice" generally refers to a mix of whole spices that can be added to a hot brine in order to add aromatic flavor to the vegetable or fruit being pickled. In using whole spices, the flavor is maintained over a long period, as the essential oils hidden inside the spices are slower to emerge than if they were ground. The spices stay in the brine, which means that after you eat all of the pickles, you can reuse the flavorful brine. Plus, you gain the benefit of visual beauty in seeing the different shaped spices float in the jar. 

Here are some typical pickling spices (some pictured above):

Black pepper
Bay leaf
Cardamom (green or black)
Cinnamon (soft or hard stick)
Chili peppers
Dill seeds
Fennel seeds
Mustard seeds
Nigella seeds
Mace blades
Star Anise

Since pickled fruits and vegetables are preserved in some kind of acid (though sometimes not, as with many fermented items), spices are used as a flavor enhancer. They add complexity and depth, and can help connect the pickle to a cultural tradition or dish. 

In the case of the pickled apples, I went for a combination of sweet and savory spices, because I love eating apples in savory contexts as opposed to sweet (apples + cheddar cheese, apples + pork, apples + sweet potatoes + onions) so here's what went into my brine:

red chili flakes
guajillo chili
star anise
black pepper

But you can make your pickles your own by adding the spices you love best. If you want traditional "autumn" spices, go for cinnamon, mace, black pepper, cloves. If you want a more exotic flavor, add some black cardamom and hot chili peppers. 

Avoid adding herbs like mint or oregano.

Quick Pickled Apples

Enjoy with slow cooked pork (we made pulled pork tacos with apple pickles!) or on a platter with cheese, or with beans and rice, or in a turkey sandwich! Oh so good! Adapted from the popular website Food52

1 cup water
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (or maple syrup)
1/2 tsp each of any whole spices: coriander, allspice, cumin, black pepper, mace blades, cloves, chili flakes, fennel seeds AND/OR: 1 whole dried chili, 2-3 whole star anise
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 large apples, such as Honeycrisp, Macoun, Pink-lady or Macs

Combine the water, vinegar and brown sugar in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring often. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the spices and salt and turn down the heat to low.

Meanwhile, wash and slice the apples (keep the peel!) on a mandolin so they are very thin. They should be sort of translucent when you hold them up to the light. Avoid the core. If you don't have a mandolin, just slice as thin as you can.

Place the apples in a wide-mouth jar or glass measuring cup and cover with the brine. Weigh down the apples in the brine, such as by using another glass jar or bottle (I used an empty wine bottle.) Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel and allow the mix to come to room temperature. Strain out the spices if you so desire, then transfer to a clean jar and refrigerate. Keeps for 1 month.

yields 1 jar

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