What a pickle
Let the fruits of summer brighten autumn and winter too. Try these recipes for traditional pickles and the shorter-life, ‘fridge’ variety
The Sami family I stayed with in Norway this summer divides the year into eight seasons instead of four, and it is ‘summer-autumn’ that Elinor, the mother, likes best. I’m with her. It isn’t so much that you let go of summer, it’s that it lets go of you. The slide towards autumn can be subtle but you know it’s happening. The light gradually recedes and that autumnal feeling of settling down starts to creep in, yet you still sense the ease of summer.
Some cooks find this period overripe – the tomatoes seem bloated; peaches have lost their firmness – but every year I feel overwhelmed by the abundance of this in-between season. I’m happy for the weather and the food to change, but something in me wants to preserve ingredients. This is only partly because I want to eat summery foods in the autumn and winter. Mostly, it’s about the enjoyment of making something and the pleasure of having labelled jars of pickled peaches, cherries, radishes and cucumber hugging up to each other on the kitchen shelves. Peaches because their skins turn the vinegar a glowing pinky-orange; cucumber because its greenness makes you think of the piney freshness of dill before you’ve even opened the jar. An American-Iranian poet wrote of pickles ‘gossiping in vinegar’, and I always remember that line.
Pickling doesn’t have to mean hours spent waiting for the water from vegetables to drip – during salting – from colanders. We’ve now taken on the habits of other cultures: ‘quick pickles’ or ‘fridge pickles’ are common in South East Asia and America. There’s no salting; you just put the vegetables in a solution of vinegar, water, salt (maybe sugar too) and add spices. Most vegetables – carrots, courgettes, cucumber – need only to be sliced into batons or rounds but some, such as green beans, should be blanched to soften them, then rinsed in cold water to set their colour. The mixed pickledvegetable recipe below can be used at any time of the year (and with other spices).
The cucumbers and the peaches are properly pickled, and you can use these recipes as blueprints too. Plums and apricots can be treated like peaches (they just need a shorter cooking time), and ginger, star anise, cinnamon and cloves can all be used instead of rosemary.
To sterilise jars, either wash them (and their vinegar-proof lids) in soapy water and put them in a low oven for 20 minutes, or run them through the dishwasher.
I’m already looking forward to eating the rosemary-pickled peaches with roast pork in October: salty crackling, sweet-tart fruit and a meeting of summer and autumn.