Wow, Oregon has been really hot this year. Most of the time it means not doing anything to create more heat — lots of salads and ice cream! The one good thing for me was that it created the perfect opportunity to defrost my upright freezer that is in the basement. I had cleaned it out of old food (my shame) but it was still full of lots of ice. The mass at the top I was starting to think of like a malignant tumor — sucking out my life force every time I thought of using the freezer to store something. I had put a few things in there recently, but they were getting icy immediately so action was necessary.
Enter the hot spell. I figured this would be the best time to do it since it would be accelerated by the heat. Sadly, I didn’t use nearly enough towels to capture the mess, but the freezer is now clean. I did move some items down from the upstairs freezer that I’m less likely to “forget” like before: walnuts and pecans, extra chocolate chips, some small jars of chicken broth, a jar of pasta sauce, a jar of base for mimosas (we ran out of prosecco before we ran out of the juice), and one jar of recently made salami-fennel sauce.
And that triggered my memory: FENNEL!! My CSA farmers had put fennel into our shares on Tuesday. Many people don’t take it or leave it behind. I’m convinced it’s because they haven’t eaten enough of it because it’s one of the things I adore. I had a full basket of fennel from the farmers. I put it in the basement where it was cool since I didn’t have room to put it in the refrigerator (there was so much!), but then I had kind of put it out of my mind with all of the cool weather eating.
Today I had the day off and nothing planned so I had plans to sleep in. Of course, this means I was awake at 5 a.m. I tried getting up to feed the cat and going back to bed, but I just couldn’t sleep. I also noticed that it was unusually cool given how hot it’s been. I decided to get in the kitchen and make more of the salami-fennel sauce while it was cool. I had lots of salami in the freezer and it just had to thaw out long enough to cut it into strips. I had jars and jars of my home canned tomatoes from the summer (I used 4). I had that basket full of fennel which I had brought upstairs so I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I was all set to begin.
To my regret, the fennel fronds were toast. Some were still in reasonable shape, but outside of the refrigerator, they do what plants do which is begin to yellow and dry out. I had to compost the fronds and most of the stems. It made me sad because usually I could have put those to use in things like salads, salad dressing, and pickles. The good news was that the bulbs were still fine so I filled a salad spinner full. I’m not even sure how many bulbs I started out with (didn’t bother to count), but it was at least a double batch of the sauce. Now I have two quart jars to add to the downstairs freezer for a couple of great winter meals and a partial jar (maybe 1/3) upstairs in the fridge to eat soon. Maybe tonight.
Last Tuesday we also got some really lovely small cucumbers, perfect for pickling. I had really rotten luck a couple of summers ago making bread and butter pickles. They ended up being super salty — almost too salty to eat. I keep hoping they’ll mellow, but they haven’t. I’m on the verge of finally tossing the last two jars. ‘Tis pity, as my Ukrainian friend always says.
I saw a recipe years ago on the Splendid Table website for “Lois Lee’s Icebox Pickles.” I’ve saved it and probably even printed it out a couple of times but I’ve never bothered to make it. It came around again on Facebook and I finally looked at it carefully to read it. It was the recipe I needed. It didn’t need to be canned — the trade off is you need to eat in a week or two. I had all of the spices required (mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric, and ground clove). It was the ground clove that got me. I’m not sure I even really registered that the result would be bread and butter pickles. The turmeric should have clued me in for the yellow color it gives, but I kept wondering what clove pickles would taste like. Delicious, as it turns out.
Better than the ingredients is the technique. For a hot weather location, it is ideal since there’s almost no cooking.
The main process is putting the sliced cucumbers and onion and salt into a bowl with ice and letting it sit for 3 hours. I did stir it occasionally but I’m not really sure that’s necessary. Given my earlier “too salty” experience, I did halve the salt to 1 tablespoon instead of 2. I kept tasting and did eventually add a bit more, but still not the 2 tablespoons of the original recipe. The salting process softens the raw vegetables and draws out a lot of their liquid giving a better result to the pickles by not watering down the flavor and helping to improve the texture. I can’t be sure of the science, but I think the ice keeps things crisper than just salting alone — softening and crisping at the same time.
Once the 3 hours passes, you drain off the salty liquid. In a pan, you boil the water, vinegar and the 4 spices until it comes to a boil. Once it does, you add the cucumber/onion mixture and bring it to a boil again. Once it boils, you remove it from the heat, put it in a jar or container (I used glass so as not to stain with the turmeric), and put it in the fridge to cool. That’s it! So easy. Not heat producing, really.
I did taste a few of the warm pickles and they tasted good already. The next day, they were fantastic. The clove adds a little mysterious “something” to the flavor but isn’t super recognizable if you don’t know it’s there. I took them to gatherings before and on the 4th of July. They were delicious as part of a salami-cheese feast and they were good as one of the sides with barbecued ribs and sides. I plan to take the rest to a gathering this week where we very often eat brats. I think they’ll be delicious that way too.
The color is amazing. The flavor is amazing. I feel bad now that I haven’t given Lois’ pickles a try until now. I guess everything in due time, right?