By Chef Alexa Weeks

We are in the midst of a renaissance for all things pickled. Gone are the days when a “pickle” only referred to a cucumber in brine. But, to be fair, this wasn’t the intended connotation of the word “pickle”. In fact, the United States and Canada are among the few countries that have made the word “pickle” synonymous with a pickled cucumber. “Pickle” truly refers to the process. Items that can be pickled are abundant and include anything from asparagus to squash to sweet potatoes. Almost any fruit, vegetable, or meat can and has been pickled at this point.

Pickled cucumbers can be naturally fermented using the native bacteria found on the surface of freshly harvested cucumbers. This can be somewhat variable because the fermentation is dependent on the naturally occurring bacteria. Another option is to add a culture to the cucumbers to ensure that the same amount of lacto-fermentation takes place every time. However, it’s become more common to simply add vinegar to the brine to reach the desired sour flavor. Much like pickled items, vinegars are becoming more customized and unique, which brings another layer of flavor to pickled items.

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Traditional pickling spice includes cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, coriander, bay leaves, ginger, chilies, cloves, black pepper, salt, sugar, and (in the case of cornichons) tarragon. Perhaps the most classic ingredient for pickled cucumbers is dill. However, fewer and fewer restaurants and retail pickle makers feel the need to play by the traditional rule book. The result is amazing flavor combinations with a background of sour goodness.

Many great small batch regional pickle producers have popped up recently. Fox Point Pickling Company began as a Kickstarter. This Rhode Island based company (named after the riverside neighborhood in Providence) makes Spicy Dill Pickles with habanero as well as Dill Carrots. Another pickle centric business that began as a Kickstarter is Nevada Brining Company, based in Reno. Their “Icky” Pickle is made with Ichthyosaur India Pale Ale from Great Basin Brewing Company. The local partnership has resulted in pickles that are hoppy and delicious. NBC also has Boozy Pickles made with local Nevada whiskey and chili peppers. 

If you find yourself in need of quirky pickle inspiration, check out “Putting Up with Erin – A Canning Blog”. Erin blogs about her adventures in pickling and has great recipes including pickled lemongrass and lotus root, sriracha pickled eggplant and zucchini, and habanero and ginger pickled green tomatoes. Another great read is Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee. This tribute is Southern cooking will make you want to smoke and pickle anything within arm’s reach. Travis Lett of Gjelina has also recently published a cookbook and the first chapter is wholly dedicated to condiments and pickles.

Pickled items have migrated beyond just sandwiches and charcuterie plates. The possibilities are infinite. So the next time you’re at the farmers market looking at a beautiful spring vegetable and you’re not quite sure how to prepare it … pickle it.

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