Pickling, home canning, or “putting up” is something I covertly delight in. Pickling of any kind, channels my inner Martha Stewart. As an old school technique born out of pre-refrigeration necessity, pickling conjures up happy thoughts about simplicity and home. There was an entire summer where I focused on learning the art of pickling and canning. I learned the basics, made many mistakes, but my takeaway was a revival of nostalgic interests.
I find it delightful that with pickling, I can literally bottle up summer and store it in a jar. I get to enjoy the pickings of summer throughout the year. Acting as a postcard from summertime, “putting up” offers the ability to make and share idiosyncratic, pretty things. It offers hope and optimism, during dark, grey wintery days. Something, I think we all kind of need.
I find it endearing that the practice is associated with grandmothers, homesteaders, even fanatical gardeners who have too much crop and need to “make do”. Let’s be clear, I am none of those. In general, today’s pickling, more so my pickling, takes on a modern twist that focuses on aesthetics and ingredients rather than learning the skillset or kitchen logistics. For me, the craft of pickling is a litmus test that indicates how adaptable and creative I am in the kitchen.
My sentiments for reviving pickling also has to do with thriftiness, healthfulness, and a bit of an environmental mindset. In my second year of university, I read the polemic book, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Written in the 1960’s, Carson was able to convey science in a manageable, even whimsical tone. The premise of the book was that the health of our environment directly affects us, and that as citizens of the planet we’d better take a stand to protect it or we would suffer the consequences. Perceptive much?
Her message of minimizing the carbon footprint of our foodways and preserving biodiversity stuck with me and her prose has much to do with today’s food movement. Knowing about Silent Spring also helped me to answer the final question and ultimately win, okay annihilate, my competitor in a sibling Jeopardy battle. I could never have the official title of environmentalist, but I am to a certain extent aware and able to control what I am eating and how it is grown, hence the enthusiastic draw to pickle.
Now this specific recipe was inspired by my recent fascination with a ploughman’s lunch. You may be thinking what is this? It’s traditional English pub fare, before gastro pubs were all the rage and food was not really cooked at a pub.
The template is simple, pair cheese with some bread, chutney, and maybe some meat, definitely some pickles or hard-boiled egg, and call it a lunch. Sort of a deconstructed sandwich that places pickles and cheese in the centerpiece (that pun was intended). I eat this type of a meal often. The simpler, the better.
For a ploughman’s lunch to have gusto, the pickle component needs to have just enough acidity to cut the remaining ingredients’ richness, and just the right amount of sweetness and spiciness to complement. When it comes to these cherries, the pickling process is trivially easy. Creative, relaxed, and considering the ingredients, delivers a relatively high return on investment. Because the glass jar is not processed in a hot water bath, it will need to be refrigerated for storage. (Yay, no processing!)
You can use fresh Bing (dark sweet) cherries or frozen ones for this recipe. Bing cherries are the sweet, deep red, heart-shaped variety that you see in every supermarket. They are predictably stellar in crumbly desserts, a worthy accompaniment to savoury turkey or pork, and a surprisingly good candidate for pickling. Sweet and tart at the same time, crunchy, the seasonings in the pickling stop just short of overpowering the cherries.
The cherries sweet meatiness combines effortlessly with the tart vinegar and permeates perfectly with the spices. You can trim the cherry stems, or not. Pit them, or not. In my opinion, the cherries are prettier if you leave the pits in, and the pits add a nice, slightly almond flavour to the brine. My pickled cherries use garlic, chilies, ginger, cinnamon, and whole coriander seeds as flavouring. As they mature for a week or so, the vinegar and spices deepen to produce a sweet, sour, spiced pickled cherry that is absolutely delicious.
How to eat these pickled cherries? Add to your cheese platter, ploughman’s lunch, accompany grilled or roasted pork, turkey, even chicken. Add to a salad, make the cherry bruschetta listed below, or like me, eat them straight out of the jar.
What to do with the remaining pickling liquid? Make a dressing, of course. Mix with grainy mustard, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, Himalayan pink salt — and the pickling liquid. It’s an instant vinaigrette.
Mouthwatering Pickled Cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 inch piece of ginger, cut into chunks
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 pound fresh or frozen cherries
In a small saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups water, sugar, salt, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, garlic, ginger, and chili. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let steep 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar.
Place cherries in a 1-quart (4-cup) glass canning jar. Pour in enough vinegar mixture to cover cherries and almost completely fill the jar; you can either strain out the whole spices or place them in the jar (I recommend the latter). Allow the jar to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 6 weeks.
Pickled Cherry Bruschetta
1/2 baguette, sliced 1/2-inch thick, toasted
1/3 cup whipped Greek yogurt cream cheese
½ cup Mouthwatering Pickled Cherries, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling
Himalayan pink salt
Drizzle toasted baguette slices with oil, spread with cream cheese, and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Top with cherries. Drizzle with more oil, if desired.