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Picklingby Luciano Valdivia & Julie Goldstein

Whether it’s canning the garden’s tomatoes to make sauce for the year, or pickling the last of summer’s plums as your new favorite condiment or snack, canning and pickling—both rendered quaintly obsolete by modern food preparation and packaging—are making their way back into kitchens, both professional and home.

The word “pickle” stems from the Middle English word pikel—a spicy sauce served with meat—dating as far back as the year 1400. The Dutch pekel is a flavorful brine used for preserving food. In fact, the expression “in a pickle” originates from a Dutch saying “in de pekel zitten”, literally meaning to “sit in pickle juice,” not a particularly nice place to be, we’re told.

Pickling began as a result of necessity. How could one manipulate perishable foods to hold up over time? Preservation methods of all sorts were created to lengthen the lives of food: salt curing, fermenting, and pickling—all of which are processes that kill harmful bacteria—became common mediums in which to preserve foods and, ultimately, save money. It is said that the first non-cucumber pickles were created over 4000 years ago in Mesopotamia, and since then, just about everything has been pickled at one time or another: beetroots, walnuts, even watermelon (in Russia). But it’s pickled cucumbers that seem to have caught on the most, especially in the U.S. The cucumber itself originated in India, and was later introduced to Europe by the Romans. The pickling solution itself can be either (or both) a brine (salt in water solution) or an acid solution, most commonly vinegar.

But the presence of cucumber pickles in the United States can be attributed to two men whom you may have heard of before: Amerigo Vespucci, who was actually a pickle vendor in Spain before becoming the famous explorer after whom an entire hemisphere is named, and Christopher Columbus, who brought pickles on his long voyage to fight the effects of scurvy. I suppose that means we could say America was made possible by... pickles.

Now, pickling has become more of a nuanced art, and the Asians have taken it to a new level. The recipe below will show you how to create delicious Japanese pickled plums…enjoy!

Bull and Buddha
Pickled Plums

  • 8 Plums
  • 2 cups rice vinegar
  • 2 pods star anise
  • 1½ tablespoon yuzu juice
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Szechwan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp salt, adjust to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar, adjust based on sweetness of plums
  • 1 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp hoisin sauce
  • ½ tsp fish sauce

Slice plums in half, remove pits, and lay out in a baking pan in one layer. Combine remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover plums. Let cool and refrigerate for 24 hours.

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