Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pumpkins: Day 2

I am not sure what has gotten hold of me, but I appear to be in a pickling mood. I took my first stab at dill pickles this summer, and made a second batch after my trip (and consultation with pickle guru Louie) at LJB Farms in San Martin. Then I saw the post by Molly over at Orangette about the pickled grapes that she made and served at her & Brandon’s rehearsal dinner, which I was intrigued by. And after hearing Tea rave about them, I gave them a shot. Despite what you may think. They are delicious. They are now a staple on Friday nights—a night where I do not cook and we have cocktails and appetizers. The grapes go wonderfully with a selection of cheeses. Really, you should try them sometime.

That brings me to my latest escapade: pumpkin pickles (or as Mr. B insists, pickled pumpkin). You probably thing I am way out there and might start pickling anything that passes under my nose, but I found the recipe in a perfectly respectable place, the SF Chronicle food section, a few weeks ago and cut it out thinking that maybe I would give them a whirl, which I did on Sunday.

This endeavor was a bit more of a challenge. My old potato peeler died several weeks ago. I was upset about it, but Mr. B reminded me that it was probably at least 15 years old and it had served me well, and I was overdue for a new one anyway. Brilliant Daughter had recommended one of those new peelers that goes over the finger, thinking it might be easier. So we went on down to the local Target and picked one up. Nope. Hated it. Almost gave up making the pumpkin pickles it was so bad. In fact, as I neared the end, Mr. B got worried and went down to our neighborhood market and probably paid an arm and a leg for a Zyliss traditional peeler, just to keep me from going near the knives. But once I peeled and seeded a pumpkin, and chopped it up into the requisite blocks, all was right with the world again. I doubled the recipe and got to cooking. I made 6 pint jars, and due to the small batch, just stuck them in the refrigerator rather than processing them through a canning bath. And then we waited…. The recipe said 24 hours, but I really wanted the flavors to meld longer, so we waited 48.

As is my modus operandi these days, I sent a jar up to the butchers at Robert’s Market. No one hated them, thankfully. Some were hesitant to try them, but the response ranged from “interesting” to “good.” I think that eaten on their own, out of context makes it difficult to judge these wedges. Mr. B and I tasted them ourselves last night. The first bite didn’t taste that great, but after two more it was much better. Mr. B ate half and dropped the other half, which I thought was on purpose, but which he vehemently denied. Served with Thanksgiving turkey dinner or sliced on a turkey sandwich, I think these would be great. Not sure what else to do with them, so if you have suggestions, please let me know. Meanwhile, Paul—the kind soul who procured all the pumpkins for me—took a jar for himself and for the pumpkin grower. Can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

Pumpkin Pickles
Yields about 1 quart

1 pumpkin, at least 1 1/2 pounds 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4-inch-long cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
4 cloves
Four 2-inch-wide strips lemon peel
1 small dried chile (arbol), optional

Instructions: Slice the top off the pumpkin. Cut into wedges so it will be easier to handle. Using a paring knife, remove inner fibers and seeds and discard. Use a potato peeler to remove the pumpkin's skin and then cut the pumpkin into 1 1/2-inch cubes.

Combine the sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, 2 cups water, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel and chile and simmer for 5 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Add the pumpkin cubes and simmer until tender, about 18 minutes. Check with a fork to make sure they are just tender enough to be easily speared. Remove the pumpkin cubes to a glass bowl and continue to simmer the liquid until it is reduced and syrupy. Be careful, as it can turn to caramel very quickly. You want the syrup to just coat a spoon. Cool it down for 15 minutes and then pour over the pumpkin cubes. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. Place in a pretty glass jar to give pumpkin pickles as a gift. They will keep for a month, but should be refrigerated at all times.

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