Wednesday, August 5, 2009

guest post: pickling as soulcraft

Hi, all. Today we've got a guest post from my husband Daniel. But instead of writing about his usual dinner party soundtracks, here's a thoughtful piece about pickles. -Lisa

Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon has a great website full of author interviews. Recently, I was reading one with Matthew Crawford who wrote a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy and owns a motorcycle repair shop in Richmond. He argues that our society no longer values manual labor. Here’s what he said to Powell’s:

ome people, including some who are very smart, would rather be learning to build things or fix things [than getting a liberal arts education and working in an office]. Why not honor that? I think one reason we don’t is that weve had this fantasy that we’re going to somehow take leave of material reality and glide around in a pure information economy. Crawford believes we’re disconnected from handicraft not just at school and on the job but in our role as consumers, too:

f you try to fix your own car nowadays, you may pop the hood and find theres another hood under the hood; there’s a design trend to hide the works.” It’s hard to get a handle on things. When the world lacks a basic intelligibility, it doesn’t elicit action and responsibility. The experience of individual agency can be elusive.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), r
ight next to the Crawford interview is an interview with Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects. Solomon considers herself a crafter and wants to encourage people to “take that pride and ownership with their food that maybe they didn’t have before because they were buying it at the supermarket.” She says:

It becomes a fun craft project; it becomes something to be proud of; it becomes something to share as a conversation piece, and in that manner, it can
be kind of infectious. To say, “Oh, do you like that butter that you’re eating on your toast, friend? Well, I made that myself.

So what does all this have to do with me? Lots! If anyone has taken leave of material reality, it’s me. I have a liberal arts education. I work in an office in front of a computer all day. I live in a small apartment in a big city: no garden, garage, or shed. I have no idea how to fix a car. The only time I really get to work with my hands is when I make dinner, and frankly, when you live with a master craftsman like Lisa, it can be hard to make yourself useful. [Ed: Aw, that's sweet. You can make yourself useful and clean the bathroom. Kidding. Or not?]

That’s why the idea of making pickles spoke to me. When my dad told me that my great grandfather used to pickle cucumbers and green tomatoes in the backyard of their Montreal home every summer, that was all I needed to hear: I knew pickling was in my blood. I ordered up my jars, scoured the web for a simple recipe, and hit the farmers market with Lisa in a matter of days.

We settled on dill cucumbers (the classic) and beans with curry (the experiment) for our first go-around. The recipe comes from Jamie Oliver’s excellent show and companion cookbook, Jamie at Home, which is a kind of primer for people who want to roll up their sleeves, dig in the dirt, and connect with food. He’s come a long way from that Naked Chef bachelor flat, hasn’t he? We used Jamie’s brine and marinade but substituted our own vegetable and herb combinations. You know what? It was pretty damned easy. But not too easy. I got to tell Lisa to stand aside while I fished the packed jars out of the pot with a colander and the wrong-sized tongs, boiling water splashing over the sides. Now that was satisfyingly manly.
Our pickles aren't even ready to eat yet (they need a couple more weeks to achieve full flavor), but we're already planning our next attempt. Call it pickling as soulcraft. Call it reconnecting with my roots. Just don't call it a barrel of fun (because that's corny).

Spicy dill pickles
Adapted from Jamie at Home.
(Makes six 1-quart jars)

For the pickling liquid:
1 quart cider or white wine vinegar
1 quart water
2 Tbsp. sea salt

For the pickling marinade:
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped (we used 1 to 1 Tbsp. red chile flakes)

Vegetables and herbs:
2 lbs. cucumbers
1 handful dill sprigs, plus extra

Make sure you have some small sterilized jars ready to go. (To sterilize, dunk the jars and lids in boiling water for a minute or two. Remove and place on a clean dish towel.) Bring the pickling liquid ingredients to the boil in a big pan. Put the pickling marinade ingredients into a large bowl with your chosen herbs and mix well.

Place the vegetables in the boiling pickling liquid and leave for around 3 minutes—they'll probably rise to the surface, so keep pushing them down to ensure they are all immersed. Lift the pieces out with a slotted spoon and place them into your bowl of pickling marinade. Toss together—it will smell fantastic. (It did.)

Pretty much straightaway, put the hot vegetables and pickling marinade into your sterilized jars, filling them to the very top. Fill the jars with the pickling liquid, as well, dividing it evenly among the jars. Cover the vegetables completely with the liquid and put the lids on tightly.

Put the jars aside until they're cool. (We took the additional step of processing the filled jars by submerging them in boiling water for 15 minutes. This seals the wax so they’ll keep longer. Through subsequent research I’ve learned that processing the jars for a shorter period of time will give you a crisper pickle. We’ll see.)

Store the jars somewhere cool and dark—it’s best to leave them for about 2 weeks before opening so the vegetables really get to marinate well, but if you absolutely cannot wait, you can eat them sooner.


Colin P. Delaney said...

There are so many awful, awful jokes I could make here. Dozens. But, instead of indulging, I'll listen to the better angels of my nature and just say how I can't wait to try one.

Anonymous said...

The pickles look like they will make a delicious "snap" when you bite into them!
Get a portable grill and throw some burgers on to go with those pickles....then you'll
need some corn on the cob...
picnic music!
A full circle :)

Margaret Pinard said...

OMG- I only just now realized that certain pickles must have been called "dill pickles" because they were pickled with dill. Talk about your disconnected growing-up... thanks for that discovery! I love the topic of getting back to real reality- and btw, that author spoke on the colbert report a while ago- he was pretty good. :-)

Lisa said...

CPD: Mean people do not get pickles.

Anony: We're hoping they snap! We read that boiling them as long as we did cuts down on the crunch.

Margaret: Ha! That's very funny. That kind of thing happens to me all the time.

Larry said...

Sorry, Colin P. seems that there's a pickle in Dan's genes. Couldn't resist.

Colin P. Delaney said...

Well done, Larry. Well done.

Unknown said...

That's so cool. We have a fig tree in our yard and I've been wanting to make jam, but always talk myself out of it. Maybe I'll give it a shot this year.

Lisa said...

Larry: Zing!

Nikkilooch: Oh, please make jam! Do it for all of us city-dwellers who dream of having a fig tree in their imaginary yards.

Daniel said...

Yes, dad with your wit and my mastery of the handy arts, we could reclaim our family's birthright and conquer the pickle-making racket. Let's not call the business Browne Pickles, though.

Larry said...


Kool-Aid Pickles (a.k.a. "Koolickles")

Kool-Aid pickles (enjoyed by children in parts of the Southern United States[6]) are created by soaking dill pickles in a mixture of Kool-Aid and pickle brine.

Lisa said...

Larry: Yeah, I've seen (but not tried) Kool-Aid pickles before. And also deep-fried pickle chips.

Maybe our next batch should be cherry-dill pickles?

Larry said...


Daniel said...

What about another Southern classic: pickled water melon rinds? I want to try that.

Unknown said...

next will be the inevitable pickled pigs feet....ugh

Megan and Butch! said...

If you're all into pickling now (oh man, what a good hobby) you should try either pickled eggplant (delicious because eggplant is so absorbent that you don't have to cook it) or Batali's preserved eggplant, which is basically eggplant, salt, olive oil, vinegar, and a ton of garlic. It requires a couple of mason jars and a few days. I highly recommend it.
That said, I want a Lisa-Dan pickle.

Lisa said...

M&B: It's funny, because I told Dan I didn't want to do eggplant! I thought it would be too mushy. Next time we'll try it.

Judy said...

Ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

Anyway, give Larry a pickle for me.

Peabody said...

I still have never made pickles. I even have the family secret recipe. Seems so hard, but you make it seem easy.

Lisa said...

Peabody: Yes, I think you'll be surprised at how easy it is! Hope you'll try it.

Unknown said...

this gives me a new sense of romance: joint pickle making.

Bridgett said...

Learning to can was the best thing I could have done to get close to my grandmother's generation AND my neighbors. Just made garlic dills and bread & butters yesterday!

Lisa said...

Pink: Ha!

Bridgett: That is so cool. And I love bread and butter pickles. That was my preference when we decided to make pickles, but Dan's love of dill prevailed.


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