Salty and crunchy cucumber pickles have been a mainstay in American refrigerators for decades. But The Daily Beast recently listed pickling as one of its top trends for 2010. And the trend isn't just for cucumbers—you can pickle just about anything. At the restaurant where I work, we serve pickled red onion on our burgers and pickled beets in our salads.
Pickling is by no means a new technique. Vegetables, fruit and even meats can be preserved using the pickling process to keep them good for months after their peak. Different cultures have their favorite pickle fodder. Korea has kimchi, Scandinavia pickled herring and Italy giardiniera. There are two standard pickling methods: the salt-brining method, which results in a shelf-stable pickle, and the refrigerator, or quick, pickle method. The latter pickles are created using a vinegar solution and must, as the name suggests, be stored in the refrigerator.
When I began searching for recipes, I came across the great Food in Jars blog that focuses on, among other jar-based endeavors, pickles. Although I didn't end up choosing a recipe from here, mostly because I wanted an in-season quick pickle, I learned a great deal about the basics. For instance, when pickling vegetables, it's important to use a vinegar that has at least 5 percent acidity. In the brine, this can be diluted to one part vinegar, one part water.
When I visited the Spotted Pig in New York City on my pig-eating journey, I ate pickled pears in an appetizer and really wanted to try some at home. I remembered the pickling episode of "Good Eats" and the pickled summer fruit recipe. In this recipe, Alton Brown uses Bartlett pears and plums. Since neither of those are in season right now, I went with the sweeter Comice pear, which is in season, and cut out the plum altogether. I kept the rest of the recipe the same with lemon slices and slivered fresh ginger.
Since these were quick pickles and would be stored in the refrigerator, I didn't have to worry about sterilizing the can. I cooked up the vinegar mixture and poured it over the pear, lemon and ginger already packed into a recycled pasta sauce jar. I let the whole thing cool on the counter for a bit and put it into the refrigerator for two days. (The recipe suggests two days to a week in the refrigerator.)
After 48 hours of marinating, I opened the jar and was surprised at how sweet the pears and brine smelled. I pulled out a pear and bit in. The pear slice still had quite a bit of crunch to it, and the vinegar had soaked into the flesh. I got notes of lemon and ginger from the rest of the ingredients. While they're pretty good now, I want to wait and see what they taste like after a week in the brine. I already have plans to use the leftover liquid as a vinaigrette for a salad.