August 17, 2010

a pickle update, and pattypan success

Well, I have good news and bad news.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first...My first batch of lactofermented, salt-brined pickles was a fail. Boooo! 

I suspected from the start that the pickles might be a little, um, unusual. Dill, the requisite herb for cucumber pickles, wasn't in the pantry, so I ended up using a hodge-podgy assortment of other herbs and spices instead. I also didn't have any tannin-rich leaves (grape, oak, horseradish, etc), which are they key, I've read, to keeping brined pickles crisp. I was not off to the most auspicious start - but I did have a pile of fresh kirby cukes and an overly exuberant urge to get started on the pickle making, so I decided to make a go of it anyway.

I checked the pickles each day, made sure they were completely submerged in the brine, and skimmed off any foam that formed on the surface. On day 5, I tasted them. They were slightly sour - getting there maybe? - but they were just blah. Their crunch was gone, and they were lacking flavor. Probably could have let them go a few more days to see if additional fermentation would have improved the flavor, but really, I thought by then I would have two jars of pickled mush on the counter. So I chucked the pickles, taking comfort in Sandorkraut's admission that his first batch of sour pickles didn't yield stellar results, either, and decided to try again another time.

On to the good news: I've had pickle success with a much-more-cooperative vinegared refrigerator pickle recipe. And I now have two pints of totally addictive, crisp, sweet and tangy pattypan squash pickles in the fridge, ready at any moment to toss into a salad, nibble beside a burger, or eat straight out of the jar.

Pattypan squash has been one of my favorite greenmarket treats this summer -- I don't think a week has gone by when I don't return home with some of these little guys in my bag. I've been getting my fix from Lani's Farm, in Bordentown, NJ -- their pattypans are hands-down the best I've ever tasted. Harvested small, they are firm-fleshed, dense, and crisp when raw, with a scant amount of tiny, tender seeds -- the epitome of summer squash perfection. Mostly I've been slicing them thinly and caramelizing them in a blend of butter and olive oil in a cast-iron skillet, along with leeks, sweet corn, baby eggplants, and any other summery things I happen to have around. They hold up well in the pan, becoming tender but retaining some of their firmness, delicately flavored and sweet.

When I spotted the recipe for zucchini pickles in my newly acquired copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers (I know, I know, I'm about 8 years behind on this one - but better late than never!), I knew just what to do with my latest bunch of pattypans. (And I think these scrumptious-looking zucchini pickles also inspired me!) The technique for Zuni's pickles is simple as can be: while thinly sliced zucchini and onions soak in an ice-cold brine, simmer up a pickling liquid with apple cider vinegar, sugar, dry mustard and mustard seeds, and turmeric. Drain the vegetables, combine them with the cooled vinegar mixture, and refrigerate. In about a day you'll have delicious, crisp, and vibrantly golden-hued pickles. Pretty no-fail. They'll keep for a long time, too.

And not to worry - my love for these vinegar pickles has not dissuaded me from experimenting with the powers of wild fermentation. In fact, I've already started a couple of new batches: two jars of brined cukes with dill, mustard seeds, garlic, and fresh jalapeno, and another jar with the same mixture plus an oak leaf. (Until my search for oak leaves began, I never noticed how high up the branches start on an oak tree's trunk! K and I foraged some in Central Park on Saturday, when we finally found a tree with reachable leaves. He picked a few perfect specimens for me. It was an exciting moment.) The no-oak-leaf pickles are on day 5, the with-oak-leaf pickles are on day 3. I'll be reporting on these later this week. Fingers crossed!

I'm also making lactofermented ketchup. In fact, with all the pickle and ketchup jars lined up on my kitchen counter right now, it's starting to look like I'm opening a a mickie D's for fermentation fetishists....

sweet and tangy pattypan pickles, from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Makes about 2 pints

1 pound pattypan squash (or other variety of summer squash)
1 small onion
2 Tbsp sea salt (if using kosher salt, use a little more than 2 Tbsp)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar (I used turbinado)
1-1/2 tsp ground yellow (dry) mustard
1-1/2 tsp yellow or brown mustard seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp turmeric

  1. Thinly slice the squash using a knife or mandolin. In order to keep the pretty scalloped edges of the pattypans, I halved the pattypans lengthwise (along the stem-to-stem axis), then sliced very thinly with crosswise cuts (at a right angle from the stem-to-stem axis). Judy says the slices should be about 1/16th of an inch - some of mine were a bit thicker than that.
  2. Halve the onion and slice thinly (I made saute slices - first cut lengthwise along the root-to-stem axis, then thinly slice each half making cuts that are parallel to that axis).
  3. Combine the squash and onion slices in a large, shallow bowl. Add salt and toss to combine. Then add cold water, just to cover the vegetables, and a few ice cubes. Allow to sit for about an hour, until the squash is firm-tender and pleasantly salty. 
  4. While the squash and onion soak, combine the vinegar, sugar, ground mustard and mustard seeds in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Cool the liquid until it's just slightly warm before pouring it over the vegetables (if hot it will cook them and make them flabby).
  5. Drain the squash and onions, drying them well with paper towels or spinning them, a few handfuls at a time, in a salad spinner. Return them to the bowl and pour the just-warm pickling liquid over them, and stir to combine.
  6. Transfer pickles to a glass jar (or jars) and pour the brine over them, making sure the pickles are completely covered and leaving about 1 inch of space betwen the brine and the top of the jar.  (I used 2 pint-sized Ball jars with "shoulders" to help keep the pickles submerged in the liquid). Cover tightly and refrigerate, allowing to marinate for about a day before eating. According to Judy, they'll keep indefinitely in the fridge. 


  1. Hi Nancy--so sorry your first fermentation was a "fail" but sometimes, that's the way of it; sounds like you are on the right track now! I am so interested in the ketchup experiment, too.

    What a pretty pattypan squash---I'll have to try those in the refrigerator pickle recipe next time. thanks for the link, happy to inspire...

  2. shame about the first pickles, but those pattypan squash do look amazing!

  3. Dear Nancy!

    We all have our failures in the kitchen,...We learn from them a lot!! Your second batch looks quite delectable & mighty tasty too!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    Kisses from Brussels!

  4. Hi Nancy! The cultured ketchup turned out well, but it needs a little more spice so I'm going to experiment with it (I used the recipe from Nourishing Traditions - good but the only seasonings are garlic and cayenne. Might add some cloves and allspice next time.)

    Hi Lady Grey - thanks!

    Hi Sophie! Definitely a leaning experience :) Luckily the new batch is yummy.

  5. Nancy- I come across thos pattypans in the market and always wonder what you do with them. Great to hear about your experiments.