Preserving memories and your favorite foods
We were an Army family, moving from post to post, often staying in one place for only a year. But when I was in third grade my father was assigned to a posting in Panama. We were to be there for three years, an unheard of length of time for our itinerant little group.
Those three years were magical. At 9, I had almost unlimited freedom to explore the jungle around our house. Our carport was turned into a makeshift zoo for the animals I would rescue—an undersized iguana, an ill-tempered parrot I named Pablo Picasso Piccolo Pilk who screeched for his supper, and a baby boa constrictor named Bob whose back end was flattened by an unfortunate run-in with a car. Bob slithered like a drunken sailor.
Of all my memories of Panama, the one I cherish most is of our housekeeper. Beryl was short and solid and unfailingly cheerful, with a laugh you could hear around the block. And Beryl could cook. The meals she prepared were simple and fresh with lots of flavor and little waste, a feat made more difficult in Panama’s unrelenting heat and humidity. In our house without air conditioning, a slice of bread left overnight on the counter would be covered in a bloom of fluffy green mold by morning. Potato chips turned limp and soggy minutes after the bag was opened.
Pickling was the perfect solution to preserving the flavor and extending the life of Panama’s abundant varieties of fruits and vegetables. And Beryl was the pickling queen. Her technique was straightforward and without frills—vinegar, salt and sugar were her go-to ingredients. Most days my after-school snack was a bowl of pickled mango slices, a taste that still floods me with memories to this day.
It would be hard to find a climate more different from Panama’s than Maine’s but here I am. And preserving the bounty of our brief growing season makes pickling in Maine every bit as productive as pickling in Panama. Green beans, tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumbers, watermelon rinds, pears, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, beets—the list is limitless.
Pickled fruits and vegetables can be preserved indefinitely by canning—immersing the jars in boiling water. Or for a quick pickling fix you can make a jar or two at a time, keeping them in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
These recipes are all quick and easy—no canning required. For larger batches of pickled produce during the height of Maine’s summer growing season, canning is definitely the way to go.
⇓ BERYL’S PICKLED MANGOES
Pickled mangoes are a delightful way to experience this tropical fruit. The addition of li hing mui powder makes them an exotic snack or appetizer that conjures up warm sea breezes in palm trees. Li hing mui is a Cantonese word for salty dried plum. It has a sweet, sour and salty kick that is said to be an acquired taste, but for me it was love at first taste. You can find li hing mui powder in most Asian markets or online.
3 large green mangoes, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon li hing mui powder (optional)
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
Place mango slices in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Add li hing mui, if using.
Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in a non-reactive saucepan, stir and bring to a boil.
When sugar and salt are dissolved, remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Pour over mangoes.
Tightly cover and let stand for several hours then move to refrigerator. They should sit for several days before serving and will keep for up to three weeks (if they last that long).
⇓ PERFECTLY PICKLED TOMATOES
These meaty, melt in your mouth tomatoes can be used in so many ways—top a hamburger with these little lovelies and you’ll never want ketchup again. Dice them with bits of leftover chicken and toss into fluffy rice for a quick, delicious dinner. Put them on your next grilled cheese or top your next pizza with them. The pickle possibilities are endless.
2 pounds Roma or San Marzano tomatoes, peeled (For easy peeling, cut a shallow X on the bottom of the tomato and blanch for one minute in boiling water. The skin will slip right off.)
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel, and 2–3 fennel fronds
Combine vinegar, water, salt, sugar and peppercorns in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 2–3 minutes, then let cool to lukewarm.
In one or two wide-mouth Mason jars (depending on size) add half the garlic slices, lemon zest and fennel. Add tomatoes to half way up, then another layer of garlic, lemon zest and fennel and tomatoes, leaving about a half inch of space at the top of the jar.
Slowly pour brine to just cover the tomatoes.
Cover tightly with lid and let sit for several hours before storing in the refrigerator. Try to wait three or four days before eating.
⇓ CLASSIC PICKLED EGGS
Pickled eggs, a staple of dive bars, convenience stores and grandma’s kitchen are enjoying a newfound popularity. There is something magical that happens with a hard cooked egg meets a brine packed with flavor. Pair that egg with a cold beer and, well, you can thank me later for reminding you about this culinary classic.
2 cups white vinegar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons pickling spice
2 bay leaves
1 cup water
3–4 sprigs of fresh dill
1 dozen hard boiled eggs
Combine all ingredients except dill and boiled eggs in a pot.
Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 2–3 minutes.
In a large jar with a tight fitting lid, put three eggs in, then layer with a garlic clove, onions and a sprig of dill. Repeat layering eggs and pickling bits to the top, then cover with pickling liquid, making sure to get the pickling spices in and leaving a half-inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
Cover tightly and let sit until eggs reach room temperature. Refrigerate for three or four days before serving.
Candace Karu is a writer and passionate home cook who lives and works in a tiny apartment on Portland’s West End. Her life partners are three ill-behaved, exceedingly small dogs, who make up in attitude what they lack in size. When she’s not working, you can find Candace in the kitchen, at the gym or on Maine’s roads and trails, running and photographing all the way home. Check her out on Instagram @candacekaru.