Pickled Chanterelles

Eugenie with her take

At the start of mushroom season in western Oregon, I was lucky enough to take a gathering trip in the Willamette National Forest with employees of the Sweet Home Ranger District, who had scouted out a good site beforehand.

Yellow and white chanterelles (two distinct species that apparently differ only in color) grow at moderate elevations, to about three thousand feet, in partly sunny, recently logged spots full of prickly Oregon grape. Since the mushrooms were just beginning to emerge, most were hidden in the duff. My young friend Eugénie, a farm intern from an agricultural college in France, seemed to know just how to find them. When her head stayed down and her back up for minutes at a time, I knew I should keep close, preferably on all fours.

Thanks in part to another fellow gatherer who didn’t like mushrooms enough to keep them, I brought home about four pounds. Nobody else was home for dinner, so I pleased myself, by eating about a pound of chanterelles sautéed with home-cured bacon, onions, and arugula. Then I set to cleaning the rest of the mushrooms, a tedious job. Though cultivated mushrooms may need no more than a light brushing, wild ones won’t come clean without washing. I shot each mushroom quickly but carefully with the faucet sprayer and picked, scraped, or cut away sticking bits of dirt with a knife. Then I spread the chanterelles out to dry on a towel.

Cleaned chanterelles

The next morning I could have packed the mushrooms into a paper bag and stored them in the refrigerator, where they would have kept well, slowly drying, for several days. Or I could have cooked them (mushroom connoisseurs recommend sautéing them dry, to better evaporate their water and concentrate their flavor) and stored them either in the refrigerator or freezer for later inclusion in soups, stews, omelets, and other dishes. But I am the Pickle Lady, so guess what I did?

I’d never pickled chanterelles before, and I wanted to try something different from the recipes in The Joy of Pickling (although the one I call Polish Pickled Mushrooms would work well for these delicately fruity mushrooms). I decided to try a variation on an Italian recipe. Here it is, modified to just fill a quart jar:

Pickled Chanterelles

Juice of 1 lemon
3 teaspoons pickling salt
2 pounds cleaned chanterelles, cut into pieces if they’re very large
1 2/3 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 sprig tarragon
3 allspice berries
6 black peppercorns

Put the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the pickling salt into a large pot of water, and bring the water to a full boil. Add the mushrooms, preferably in a blanching basket, and bring the water back to a boil. Immediately drain the mushrooms; they will have shrunk by about two-thirds. Let them cool, covered with a cloth. (You can boil down the blanching water, if you like, to make a tart, mildly mushroomy stock.)

While the mushrooms cool, combine the vinegar, the wine, the garlic, the herbs and spices, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt in a saucepan. Cover the pan, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce the heat. Simmer the liquid for 5 minutes, and then let it cool.

Pack the mushrooms in a quart jar, tucking the herbs around the edge. Pour the vinegar with the herbs and spices over. Store the jar in the refrigerator.

Wait at least a day or two before starting to eat the mushrooms. Then serve them as an appetizer or relish, sprinkled with olive oil, or add them to sandwiches. They are wonderful with melted cheese.


The Diva Cucumber: Green Goddess of the Vegetable Garden

My favorite fodder for the nuka pot, at the moment, is the ‘Diva’ hybrid cucumber. Sleek, smooth, seedless, thin-skinned, and absolutely never bitter, this creation of breeders at Johnny’s Select Seeds was a 2002 All-American winner. At the recommended harvest length of 5 inches, with an approximate diameter of 3/4 inch, this tasty cuke is perfect for a 1-gallon nuka pot. I bury two or three of them at a time, and take them out to eat the next day. See the nuka-pickled ‘Diva’ cucumbers here.

UPDATE 2022: Thankfully, ‘Diva’ is still available from numerous seed companies.

The Pickle Throwdown

I had the honor yesterday of serving among the judges at the first annual Kenny and Zuke’s Pickle Throwdown, at Kenny and Zuke’s deli in Northwest Portland. Eleven restaurants presented a total of thirty pickles, categorized as classic, sweet, non-cucumber, and “Portland weird.” Five hundred people came to taste them.

My own clear favorite among the classics was Biwa’s, a brined cucumber with just the right levels of salt and tang and loads of garlic. The sweet category included some good cucumber bread-and-butters, but I was most impressed by Toro Bravo’s zucchini b&bs—unusual in that they were neither too sweet nor too spicy, so that you could actually taste the delicate flavor of the zucchini. (Oddly, Biwa is a Japanese restaurant and Toro Bravo is Spanish.) It was hard to choose a single favorite in the non-cucumber category, which included cherries, strawberries, bourbon-pickled apples, cauliflower, rhubarb, asparagus, jalapeños, kimchee, and giardiniera. Sunshine Tavern’s pickled eggs were interesting in their mild acidity and their semi-cooked yolks, but I most liked Olympic Provision’s pickled roasted red peppers. The weird category included Grüner’s delicious but ordinary pickled mushrooms and Kenny and Zuke’s just-too-weird Koolickles, cucumber pickles soaked in cherry-flavored Kool-Aid, according to a Mississippi Delta tradition. Most imaginative were Spints Alehouse’s pickled duck tongues with longan halves (don’t you wonder where somebody found five hundred duck tongues—and how those ducks are feeling now?). The judges’ favorite, though, was cuttlefish caponata, an elaborate treat prepared by Garden State Cart—yes, a food cart, whose proprietor also makes his own pancetta and barbecue sauce and hand-cuts his own shoestring potatoes.

Here are a few photos of the Throwdown pickles:

Putting Up Pod Peas

I could have sworn that the only variety of pea I planted this year was English—the kind you shell before eating—but instead we’ve found ourselves struggling to eat our way through a big, continuous crop of flat-podded snow peas. Although I’ll probably freeze some, I’ve found that peas in their pods, like green beans, are best preserved by pickling. So the other day I pickled some snow peas just as I often do snap peas (the kind with rounded but still edible pods), with white wine vinegar and tarragon in a quart jar that I’ve stored in the refrigerator. Today I may stand some peas in pint jars and process the pickled peas for pantry storage in the same way I do dilly beans.

You can vary the seasonings in this recipe, of course. If you shy away from the licorice-like flavor of tarragon, try thyme. Use black, green, or pink peppercorns instead of chiles, or try some mace or nutmeg. And instead of wine vinegar use cider vinegar, if you don’t mind its slight golden hue.

Once you open a jar of these sweet, tart, crisp pea pods, expect them to disappear in a wink.

Pickled Snow Peas

1  1/4 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
1 tablespoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 pound snow (or snap) peas, stemmed and strung
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 or 2 small dried chiles, slit lengthwise
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh tarragon

In a saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, water, salt and sugar, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Let the liquid cool.

Pack the peas into a quart jar along with the garlic, the hot pepper or two, and the tarragon. Cover the peas with the cooled liquid, and close the jar with a plastic cap.

Store the jar in the refrigerator for at least two weeks before eating the peas. Chilled, they will keep for months.

Cure Your Own Olives

olives close upTo my regret, I never got around to curing the fruit of the huge old olive trees on my parents’ California ranch, which they have long since sold. Like many other gardeners in the Pacific Northwest, I now have my own little olive tree, of the hardy Arbequina variety, and I await the first crop with greedy anticipation. Last year, though, I got to wondering: In the age of the Internet and overnight delivery, did I have to wait? Could I buy some fresh olives to cure at home?

In fact, I could. For less than thirty dollars, I had ten pounds of green Sevillanos delivered to my door in early September. I looked them over carefully; you don’t want to cure olives that are bruised or otherwise damaged. Nearly all were perfect. I grabbed my copy of the University of California’s Olives: Safe Methods for Home Pickling and began to study up.

There are many ways to cure olives. The best choice depends on the variety, whether the olives are green or ripe, how you want to store them, and how long you’re willing to wait before you eat them. I chose the method that Olives calls Sicilian-style—that is, simple brining—for most of the olives. For the rest, I chose a lye cure followed by a shorter brining.

For the Sicilian-style olives, I filled two glass jars, one gallon-size and one 3-quart-size, with olives, hot peppers, chopped garlic, bay leaves, and fennel umbels, and then I added a brine made of 1 cup pickling salt, 1 gallon water, and 1 pint red wine vinegar. The remaining 2 quarts of olives I treated with lye mixed with water. The olives soaked in the lye water for about 12 hours, and then I repeatedly rinsed them and soaked them in pure water for about 30 hours, to remove the lye. At this point the olives had lost their natural bitterness, but they still needed to ferment to develop their flavor and texture. I mixed up a brine with the same ratio of salt to water as before, but this time I left out the vinegar. Presumably because lye kills the lactic-acid-forming bacteria on the olives, the recipe told me I needed to add a starter. I used a little brine from a jar of unpasteurized fermented cucumber pickles.

Two months later, the lye-treated olives were already tender, but they also tasted of dill and cucumbers from the pickle brine. So, though the recipe didn’t call for seasonings, I added hot pepper, garlic, bay, and thyme. A week or so later, these olives were delicious, and my husband and I started eating and sharing them.

Now we have finished off the lye-treated olives and are waiting for the Sicilian-style ones, which have lost most of their bitterness. I actually like the slight bitterness that remains, but the texture is still a little too chewy. We’ve just reached the minimum curing time for these olives—about four months. We’ll probably wait another two weeks or so before we start eating them.

Olives includes recipes for other curing methods, and none of these methods is more complicated than the two I tried. Curing olives, like making other sorts of pickles, is not only possible for people who don’t grow their own; it’s also easy.

UPDATE 2022: I don’t have an olive tree here in town, and in recent years I’ve have trouble buying fresh olives from California. FedEx deliveries now take about a week, and after that much time olives aren’t fresh enough to use. But, for those who can pick their own olives or buy them at a farm, a complete recipe for fermented olives is in The Joy of Pickling.