Pulchritudinous Pickles

Next Saturday we’re having a St. Patrick’s Day party for twenty people. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up at such a pass. I knew that I wanted to have a party, but I didn’t know that I wanted to invite the entire population of my home state; Teacherman has a lot of friends.

In any case, because we are insane, Teacherman and I will be feeding this multitude on a vast array of superior–and homemade–comestibles. The usual St. Patrick’s Day suspects will be in evidence: corned beef, braised cabbage, champ, etc. I had wanted to corn the beef myself, but I was dubious about presenting a cured meat product that I haven’t mastered to that many people. I’m willing to risk my own health on the duck pastrami that I made the other week, but not that of Teacherman’s sister. Nor all of those other people, even. Instead, I wimped out and bought the corned beef, which I still feel guilty about, especially as Teacherman chose this party to begin his forays into alcoholic beverage creation. Another one of his Christmas presents this year was a book on home-brewing, and scarcely had the new year begun before he’d sent away for all the required ingredients for making an Irish stout. I do not care for beer, except as an ingredient in stews, but I hear that this batch turned out particularly well. In addition to the bubbly stuff, there is a big bottle of home-mixed Irish Cream in the fridge, mellowing.

As lovely as a St. Patrick’s Day party is, though, the expected menu leaves considerably little scope for creative cooking. I expect that the beef and vegetables will be lovely–I have no problem with meals based around slabs of protein–but it’s very difficult not to have something fiddly to do. I’m sure I’ll come up with something interesting to for dessert, and I’m not above noodling with the soda bread recipe to make it more my own, but I wanted something exciting to add that wasn’t baked. While contemplating the plainness of the planned appetizer (good Cheddar cheese and the aforementioned soda bread) I was suddenly struck by the idea of a ploughman’s lunch. Even when in Britain I had never consumed such a meal (or at least never purchased one billed as such), but I recalled descriptions of the requisite bread and cheese being accompanied by an onion pickle.

Aha!

I am a bit of a fiend when it comes to pickling–in season, no vegetable is safe from me, and even flank steak was once subjected to an Asian soy-pickling treatment (and very well it turned out, too). Earlier on the very day of my revelation I had made up a southern recipe for pickled corn, and I had all of the base ingredients readily at hand. I swung by the store for a small bag of red pearl onions, blanched and peeled them, then wedged them into a pint-sized canning jar. I boiled cider vinegar, a little sweetener, allspice berries, black peppercorns and a crumbled bay leaf or two, then poured the mixture over the onions. As soon as it cooled I put the lid on and slid it into the fridge. (As you may notice, I did not seal or boil the jars–the pickles I make are refrigerator pickles and thus do not require actual preservation techniques).

The onions’ red flesh deepened to ruby under the heat of the pickle brine, and they are now bobbing in their jar like tiny stained-glass orbs. By Saturday they should be ready for consumption and will make an excellent accompaniment to an extremely aged Irish cheddar and an as-yet-to-be-determined variety of soda bread. (The pickled corn, though, will be ready to eat by tomorrow, and if the scent of the mace- and turmeric-infused brine is anything to go by, it will be an excellent accompaniment to anything, even down to just a spoon in a very greedy hand).

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Published in: on March 12, 2007 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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