Monday, April 27, 2009

Zanahorias en Escabeche

I've been fond of pickles my entire life. My mother, her mother, her mother, my aunts, all the women in my family, were accomplished pickle makers. When I was growing up, making pickles was what you did to put the summer bounty by for the winter.

I remember dipping peaches in a gigantic pot of boiling water in the already steamy August kitchen and peeling them until I was sick of them. They'd be loaded into canning jars, topped off with a heavily spiced syrup, and processed to seal the jars, adding yet more steam to the kitchen. Likewise for all manner of other things: figs in lemon syrup, hundreds and hundreds of jars of dill pickles, lime (sweet) pickles, okra, pepper relish, green beans, tomatoes and tomato juice, beets, and so forth and so on. Hardly anyone puts things by any longer, but I still remember the hot and sweaty labor with some fondness and a lot of nostalgia.

I still like to put up things for my customers; well, if the truth be told, it's probably for me, to reconnect me to the generations of my family who have done so. I try not to dwell on the idea that I will probably be the last of my family and the last generation to do so. My children seem to have little interest in the kitchen.

Last August, I put up a bushel of pickled peaches using my mother's recipe, which was certainly her mother's and her mother's before her. The peaches were outstanding and we managed to eke them out with roasted duck breast into the new year. I often make quick cucumber pickles for same day use. I put up half a bushel of lemons just recently to use in my tagines, something that the women in my family might look askance at. I can just hear the hens now, "Whoever heard of pickled lemons?" But they'd be proud that I am carrying the torch, no matter that it is foreordained to sputter out in the not terribly distant future.

My latest endeavor involves a style of pickle that I first encountered when I moved to Texas in my early 20s. As I have written previously, I was pretty desperately poor in those days, and when I could eat out, it was alongside the Mexican laborers in the local tacqueria/dive. Señora would always bring a dish of pickled jalapeños to the table with the beans and tortillas or menudo (tripe, if I was feeling particularly flush) and tortillas. And I always counted myself fortunate if I found some sliced carrots and onions in the jalapeños. I came to love the spicy carrots in red wine or cider vinegar brine.

I love them so much that this time, I dispensed altogether with the jalapeños and just pickled the carrots. I also kept the spice level down so that I could share them with my customers. I wonder if they will sense the history behind these carrots?


  1. I hope they do. It's one thing to lose the skill-set, it's another--a much sadder--thing to lose the sense of heritage.

    This post reminded me of gajar ka achar.

  2. They are very similar in concept. But when I make gajar ka achar, I load the carrots up with mehti (and other less prominent spices) and cover them in mustard oil rather than brine. I love them both.

    I also do a version, a hybrid Thai-Indian one, in which I pickle the carrots in a red curry paste thinned with oil.