Ca N’est Pas une Cerise

That is not a cherry.
In point of fact, it’s a crabapple.

About a month ago, I was at the Lincoln Park farmer’s market, in a stall I frequent mostly for their enormous, basketball-sized puffball mushrooms, when I discovered a true treasure: one lone quart container of tiny pink crabapples. 

I had never before in my life eaten a crabapple (my youhtful response to a neighbor’s overladen tree was to use them as missiles in a 2-hour war against my best friend), but cookbooks from Britain had incited my interest, and I had been searching for them for years.  Even at farmer’s markets I had never had any luck.  There, however, they were, and I swooped in to buy them in front of an actual chef and wouldn’t back down even when she gave me The Eye. 

When I got them home, I cautiously tasted one, remembering stories of how mouth-puckeringly tart they are supposed to be.  Hmm.  These were tart (and utterly UTTERLY delicious), but nothing that couldn’t be handled raw.  I did a little research and discovered that there are many modern crabapple hybrids, intentionally bred to be sweeter and palatable without added sugar.  I was mildly disappointed that I didn’t have the kind of crabapples I’d always read about, but I didn’t really mind: they were still delicious. 

I had eaten about half of the little basket by the time the next farmer’s market rolled around.  I headed immediately for that same stand, hoping to buy even more crabapples, only to discover an absolute dearth of any such thing.

“Oh, yeah,” said the teenager at the scale, “That was a one-time thing.  I don’t know where he got them, anyway.”

Boo!  Hiss!  Bereft of crabapples!  Why had I been so profligate with what I had?

Forced to consider a coming autumn with no more crabapples, I did the only thing I could up with the rectify the situation.  When I got home from the market, I carefully washed all of the little gems, cut off all the leaves, and then pickled them.

No, I did not stuff them into a jar with garlic and onions and dill–pickles can be sweet as well as savory, and though I abhor sweet cucumber pickles, pickled fruit is one of my greatest joys.  Not only does pickled fruit preserve a perishable fruit until long after its season has ended, but the spices and vinegar one chooses as the pickling medium add their own tang to the finished product. 

To anyone who is unconvinced: think of it as poaching, but with a difference.  The fruit is cooked in liquid with spices.  In poaching, this liquid is usually wine or juice; in pickling, the liquid is still about vinegar, but cut with that same wine or juice, or even just water.  In both cases, the fruit is sweetened and spiced to taste, but in the case of the pickles, a little more heavily, to hold firm against the strength of the vinegar.

I poached my crabapples in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and simple syrup, with a big, broken cinnamon stick, some allspice berries and some whole cloves.  I took the ingredients from a recipe in The Joy of Pickling, but changed the proportions to suit the quantity of crabapples, and my own taste.  When the crabapples skins started to split (something which the recipe claimed would not happen, but didn’t concern me overly much when it did), I turned off the heat, packed them into a quart-sized mason jar, and poured the liquid over, making sure to wedge in all of the spices.  I capped the jar, screwed the ring on halfway, and then let it cool slightly on the countertop before I put it into the fridge. 

That’s right–I didn’t actually can them.  I didn’t process the jar in a big vat of water or any of that, so it wouldn’t be safe to store it at room temperature.  I would not, indeed, have any place to PUT shelf-stable pickles in my kitchen–cupboard space is annoyingly limited–so a refrigerator pickle isn’t a bad compromise.

Believe it or not, within a day or two, the pickles were shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten.  It wasn’t until this past weekend when I discovered them again, hidden behind the eggs on a lower shelf, still luminous and jewel-toned.  I siezed them immediately, already constructing an entire meal around them. 

I served the crabapples with a warm-spiced pork terrine and roased Brussels sprouts.  Some us preferred them as a savory accompaniment the pork, some of us drizzled the juices over the sprouts, and some of us horded each one until the meal was over, as a kind of dessert. 

We ate half of the jar, though we could have eaten all of it, and I have no doubt that I’ll have finished them within the week, eating them one by one, each time I pass the refrigerator.  I’m sad that I dont’ have an unending supply, but their sweet tanginess and current soft texture seems like a good transition to full-on autumn, like the stepping-stone between stone fruits and pomme fruits. 

Also, there is an unexpected benefit: the sweet, syrupy, but still vinegary pickling juices make an excellent shrub syrup.  One or two tablespoons of the liquid mixed into a glass of sparkling water makes a better soda than anything a store could come up with, and tastes like liquid fall. 

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful post which captured the feeling of the fall season! I mentioned it in my weekly blog round-up. Thanks, chefjp

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