On the Road with Pickles

I’ve been taking my pickle show on the road ever since the Pickled Pantry hit the bookstores in June.  I’ve visited bookstores, taught cooking classes, and performed demos at festivals. 


 Part of my show on the road. These are Dill Chips

People who want to promote their cookbooks must bring samples with them of foods to taste.  (One envies the novelists who simply have to read from their works.)  But bring pickles I do.  For most of the summer I have brought my No-Fail Half-Sour Pickles (see post, June 8), not the least because it is a no-fail recipe.  It also makes a darn fine pickle.  But now that it is fall my attention turns to recipes utilizing cabbages, carrots, and daikon radish.

When I take my show on the road, I find myself explaining why I wrote another book on making pickles when my 1983 book, Pickles and Relishes, still sells well and contains some very fine recipes.  (Hopefully, I recycled all the good ones in the new book—or at least all the favorites).  Pickles haven’t changed over the years, but our interest in pickles have. For every pickler who just wants recipes to deal with garden excess, there are picklers who are interested in exploring traditional ways vegetables and fruits are pickled in other cuisines.  


On a pickle trip to Montreal's Chinatown, I loaded up my cart with mysterious looking pickled vegetables—all research for The Pickled Pantry

Curtido is my favorite pickle of the moment.  It is called the Salvadoran version of sauerkraut but the flavor profile is so different that calling it “sauerkraut” does not do it justice. Curtido is a lightly fermented cabbage and flavored with onion and oregano.  It is the traditional Salvadoran accompaniment to pupusas, which are cheese- or meat-stuffed pancakes made from masa harina (the same dough from which torillas and tamales are made).  Not surprisingly, curtido makes a great topping for fish tacos – it also makes a wonderful salad.


A bowl of Curtido

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 quarts

2 pounds green cabbage (1 small to medium head), cored and grated or thinly sliced 

2 carrots, grated

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 fresh red or green jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped

2 teaspoons pickling or fine salt

2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

Optional Brine

1 teaspoon pickling or fine sea salt

1 cup water

1. Combine the cabbage, carrots, onion, and jalapeños in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix well.  Let stand for 30 minutes.

2. Using a potato masher or your fists, pound and press the vegetables until they release their liquid and are quite wet. Add the oregano and toss to distribute. Pack the mixture tightly into one or two clean quart canning jars or crocks, tamping down on the vegetables with a wooden dowel or your fingertips with as much force as you can until the level of liquid rises above the vegetables. 

3. If the vegetables do not make enough liquid to cover the vegetables, add the optional brine.  To make the brine, combine the salt and water.  Heat until the salt dissolves.  Let cool to room temperature before adding to the jar; you should not need more than a couple of tablespoons, but it depends on the surface area of your container.

4. Weight the vegetables to keep them submerged. Cover the jar to exclude air. Set the jar where the temperature remains constant; 65° to 75°F is ideal. Let ferment for 2 to 3 days.  Taste; when pleasingly sour, refrigerate.

It's a Book!

The Pickled Pantry is here!  thumbnail imageAnd now my summer truly begins.  I am planning to take my show on the road and bring dilly happiness to folks at book stores, festivals, farmers’ markets, and cooking classes.

Over Memorial Day weekend I pickled a case (that’s 48 pounds) of pickling cucumbers into dill chips, bread and butters, and curry chips. I have 60 pint jars of pickles aging in a corner of my dining room.  Then I bought another 5 pounds of cukes and made a gallon of half-sours, which I hope to be ready by Sunday, June 8, when I take part in the Grand Opening of Phoenix Books in Burlington, Vermont.
60 jars of pickles plus a gallon of half-sours
People often ask how long it takes to write a cookbook like this, which has about 150 recipes.  The answer is usually, “All my adult life.”  If the book covers a subject I care passionately about – cooking vegetables, making pickles, preserving – then, truthfully, I’ve been at it since I left my mother’s house, a long, long time ago.  

Pickles got me started as a cookbook author.  As the newly anointed cookbook editor for Garden Way Publishing, which specialized in books about gardening and other self-sufficiency, homesteading skills, I was looking for someone to write a book about pickling.  When I couldn’t find anyone, I said to the publisher, “Heck, I could write it myself.”  That book was Pickles and Relishes: 150 Recipes from Apples to Zucchini, and it was publishing in 1983.  Then Garden Way morphed into Storey Publishing but I went freelance rather than relocate when the company moved.  My next book was Summer in Jar, which included jams as well as pickles.  That publishing company was bought out by a Christian publisher with no interest in cookbooks.  But I was off and running, writing  and editing cookbooks as a freelancer, writing for magazines, gardening, cooking, and raising a family.

Those first preserving books are out of print. The Pickled Pantry combines the very best of those original recipes with new ones.  Kimchi, anyone?

All along, through busy summers and leisurely ones, I had one quest: to make the perfect dill pickle.  Have I succeeded?  You be the judge. 


 A sample of No-Fail Half-Sour Dills

No-Fail Half-Sour Dill Pickles

Makes about 2 quarts


Vinegar gives a kick-start to the pickling process in these quick and easy pickles, guaranteeing success. If you’ve never tried fermented pickles, this is definitely the recipe to start with. You can multiply this recipe as many times as you like, but these pickles are best enjoyed at 1 to 2 weeks, so it makes sense to make small batches as the cucumber season progresses.


4 cups water

2 tablespoons pickling or fine sea salt

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1 dill head or 6 sprigs fresh dill

4 garlic cloves, peeled

8 cups whole pickling cucumbers


1. Heat the water and salt in a saucepan, stirring until the salt is fully dissolved. Add the white vinegar and let cool to room temperature.


2. Slice 1/16 inch off the blossom end of each cucumber.


3. Pack a clean 2-quart canning jar or crock with the dill, garlic, and cucumbers, in that order. Pour in the brine. Weight the cucumbers so they are completely submerged in the brine.


3. Cover the container to exclude the air. Set the jar where the temperature will remain constant: 65° to 75°F is ideal.


4. Check the jar daily and remove any scum that forms on the surface.


5. The pickles will be ready in 2 to 3 days, although full flavor will not be reached for a week. If your kitchen is reasonably cool, you can leave these pickles out for up to 2 weeks. If the brine starts to become cloudy, refrigerate immediately to prevent spoiling. The flavor of the dill and garlic will continue to develop. The pickles will keep for at least 3 months in the refrigerator.


Kitchen Note

If your cucumbers are large, you may want to cut them into spears rather than leave them whole. Spears will pickle faster and more evenly than whole cucumbers.

Adapted from The Pickled Pantry  by Andrea Chesman.  ©2012 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.