by JAY PIERCE
LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 22. Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce.
In days gone by, when unexpected company popped in or supper was not quite at hand, assorted preserved foods could be pulled out to nourish, sustain, appetize or entertain. The idea was to sample a few preparations, share with friends, and whet the appetite for the meal that lay ahead.
Here at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, we’ve embraced the resurgence of this culture of pickling. We make our own pepper vinegar for collard greens; preserve a rare bounty of wild ramps from an earlier spring foraging adventure, and make our own pickled cucumbers that are then fried for an appetizer.
Not only does pickling go well with the food we serve, it delivers the message that we’re rediscovering something our ancestors have already figured out: ways to extend seasonal foods, to balance rich and creamy southern foods with a zesty counterpoint, and to transform the taste of seasonal vegetables.
Sample Granny’s Relish Tray on our Endless Summer Menu (now through Oct 2.) The appetizer features tomato aspic — an heirloom tomato puree, flavored with celery seed, cayenne and green onion, that is set with gelatin and served cold (a Southern tradition you just don’t see anymore); Goat Lady Dairy Crottin; butterbean pate; zucchini pickles; and Nabisco Premium Saltines.
Extend the season
Before kitchen freezers, Interstate transportation and commercial agriculture, the only way you could enjoy okra in the winter was if it were preserved with one of three traditional preservation methods: salting, drying, and pickling.
The advantage pickling brings is that it adds depth of flavor. Pickling discourages bacteria while the natural juices of the vegetable undergo lactic fermentation and become sour.
A zesty counterpoint to rich and creamy foods
Our European ancestors pickled foods to balance the palate. In cooler climates like Northern and Eastern Europe, you find more vegetable pickling. In warmer climates, people cut rich foods with acidic wines or citrus fruit.
In addition to being a beneficial part of a macrobiotic diet, which introduces enzymes to improve digestion, pickled foods cleanse the palate and balance the rich, creamy dishes of the south.
Try it at home: Transform your favorites
The great thing about chowchow is that you throw in everything from the garden at the end of summer: unripened tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, cabbage – chop finely, season well and cook away. Scroll down for the recipe below.
- Chowchow is a wonderful addition to anything that needs a little zing. Use it with anything bound with mayonnaise such as egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad.
- Put chowchow in the food processor for your deviled eggs.
- Spicy chow chow or pickles are good chopped finely and folded into pimento cheese. Or bread and butter pickles can be served atop pimento cheese.
One of my favorite suppers at home — if we don’t feel like cooking — is lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, some sort of grated cheese, and whatever we have pickled in the refrigerator: pickled cucumbers, sunchokes, turnips, or chow chow.
Make your own Relish Tray
Don’t contaminate the reagent jar. Don’t use your hands to pull pickles out of the jar, bacteria on your hands will spoil the pickles.
The key to building a relish tray is contrast. Use a variety of pickles, not just sweet pickles: use sweet pickles, sour, and spicy (tell your guests which are which).
Pick a homemade potted meat. Choose devilled ham or pate’.
Pick a creamy side. Deviled eggs, pimento cheese, hummus, or butterbean pate’.
A thick, creamy cheese. A slice of Brie, or Goat Lady Dairy Crottin, a surface-ripened chevre that has begun to mellow.
Barbecue is always a good addition.
Serve with crackers. Nabisco Premium Saltines are my favorite.
For more information, read “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz. Several of our pickle processes are adapted from his book. The zucchini pickles on the tray are from Judy Rodgers’ book, “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.”
Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Green Tomato Chowchow
1½ cups green tomatoes, seeded and rough chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, rough chopped
¼ cup red bell pepper, rough chopped
½ cup yellow onion, rough chopped
¾ teaspoon mustard seed
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon chopped garlic
½ teaspoon turmeric
⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
In a food processor, pulse tomatoes until finely chopped, but not pureed. Pulse peppers and onion until finely chopped. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer on medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Cool and store in a properly labeled container with lid.
Makes – 2 ½ cups
8 pounds watermelon
2 tablespoons salt
4 cups water
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ginger puree
1 each yellow peel only from one lemon
2 tablespoons Allspice
2 tablespoons whole cloves
Remove rind from watermelon and reserve the red part to enjoy at your leisure. Using a vegetable peeler, remove green skin from the rind; discard skin. Cut rind into ½ inch x ½ inch pieces; the yield should be about 8 cups.
In a large bowl combine 2 tablespoons salt and 4 cups of water and allow rind to soak in brine for one hour, then drain.
In a large pot, combine lemon juice, 1 cup water, sugar, ginger puree, lemon peel and spices. Add rind, cover and bring to at boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered over medium low for 40 minutes or until rind is translucent.
Transfer rind with slotted spoon to a plastic container. Strain liquid and pour over rind.
Makes 4 cups