Chow Town

Summer produce is ripe for pickling

Cut green tomatoes, their firm, tart flesh makes a perfect foil for pickling
Cut green tomatoes, their firm, tart flesh makes a perfect foil for pickling

Summer is the time abundance — there are a million things to do, places to be and things to eat.

Swimming pools and baseball games vie for time on the schedule against barbecues and farmers markets, not to mention the weddings and concerts that seem to pop up weekly.

With so many demands on your time, it can be easy to forget that rather large pile of summer produce you picked up from the market, ripening and wilting as it waits for your attention.

While heartier fare like onions and peppers will play nice with a long shelf life, those peaches, eggplant and tomatoes are ticking time bombs waiting to explode with flavor, but only if you get to them in time.

That’s the blessing and the curse of seasonal eating — when nature says an ingredient is ready, that means you have to be ready.

We’ve talked about the plethora of options you have with tomatoes when you tire of those same old salads and sandwiches, but sometimes there is so much amazing summer produce and so little time to fix it.

Luckily, you have a vast kitchen arsenal of techniques and tricks to handle these problems, and there is one culinary method perfect for the job — pickling.

Pickling is not just a great way of preserving the season, it can also be exactly the tool you need to maximize your produce throughout the summer. The notion of pickling as only a long-term preservation option is outdated, as many cooks and restaurants now see the array of options a pickle brings to the table, be it a quick pickle or a long brined item.

All ingredients have individual life cycles as they go from the ground to market to you, and this presents different options for how best to enjoy them. Judging each item of produce on its own merits is the best strategy to choosing what to pickle and what should be eaten fresh.

A slightly under ripe ingredient has a bit firmer flesh and structure, lending itself well to pickling, whereas a succulent, juicy one like a ripe peach or heirloom tomato is best enjoyed fresh.

The pickling process has two major benefits in your kitchen. First off, it gives you more time to store and plan how to employ your summer produce. Rather than looking at a countertop or refrigerator bin of things that must go tonight, you have the option of using something here and there, spreading out the its impact over many meals.

The second way pickling can improve your seasonal cooking is flavor and texture. You control every aspect of the process from what ingredient you use to type of vinegar or acidity and all of the flavorings involved.

As every ingredient has its own characteristics, you can play with adding layers of flavor at each step in the process. Think about what each vegetable is like fresh, and you will have a better idea of how to enhance it with more fragrant herbs and powerful spices.

The recipes for these pickled tomatoes are only a jumping off point, a prime example of a summer ingredient that comes in heavy waves that necessitate quick action.

With pickling, you have the option to use it how and when you want and as everything from a condiment on a cheese plate to a component on a main dish.

Use your pickle jars as a way to get creative and play with your produce; it is an ideal way to make the most of what summer has to offer.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

Fresh bay leaves are prominent in this green tomato pickle, lending a distinct but hard to place flavor to the brine. Dry bay leaves are stronger and don’t have the same fragrant flavor, so it is worth seeking out the fresh bay leaves for this unique summer recipe.

Makes 1 quart jar

1 pound small firm green tomatoes, halved or quartered

1/2 cup white wine or apple cider vinegar

3/4 cups water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 fresh bay leaves

2 cloves garlic

1 whole cayenne or Thai Bird Chili (optional)

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, whole

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, whole

2 sprigs fresh thyme

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

This recipe uses half white wine vinegar, and half sherry or red wine vinegar to add another layer of sweetness and color to the tomato pickles. White wine vinegar alone will work, but won’t have the same depth of flavor.

Makes 1 quart jar

1 pound cherry tomatoes, (mix of red, yellow, purple) halved

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 fresh bay leaf

2 cloves garlic

1 whole cayenne or Thai Bird Chili (optional)

1 clove, whole

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, whole

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, whole

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, whole

2 sprigs fresh thyme

To make either pickle: In a sterilized quart jar, add the cherry tomato halves or green tomato halves/quarters, fresh bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. In a small pot, bring vinegar, water, sugar, salt, garlic, chili and whole spices to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.

Pour the brine over the pickles, then seal the jar and chill at room temperature. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.