Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pick and Pickle, Pick and Pickle

On Pete and Xander's kitchen counter in Le Gers, the little cornichons reflect a moment of the days work. A highly quaffable, inexpensive and local pink wines is perfect for hot summer days. A loaf of bread, a bowl of ratatouille that begs volumes of words and discourse and Sam's portrait of Mattie the dog. Perfect.

The cornichon at the Little Land produces rapid a succession of blossoms and fruit to seed and reproduce. I undermine it's success. I pick and pickle as fast as I can. Day in and day out. Slowly, the stores are filling.

On the dining room table sits an old American stoneware crock passed down from my mom. Right now it holds about 30 half sours. Before the half sours, it cured two gallons of tarragon vinegar and years of sauerkrauts. The crock's previous life is a mystery but it is a warehouse of beneficial microbes and secret ingredients that provide the layers of patinated smells that shape every batch.

On the counter, to the left of the stove, is a pottery bowl that holds little cornichons in batches large enough to fill a pint sized jar. One jar and two days at a time the shelf in the basement gets a little fuller twice a week. The cornichons are a crispy noisy bite. Picked when tiny, young and crunchy, they sit overnight in a bowl of salt. They weep. They absorb salt. They turn a brilliant emerald green. Then, into a pint jar with a dousing of wine vinegar, add some herbs and something from the allium family. "Shoo! Off to the basement with you!" There is no recipe, just a basic brine adorned with whimsical accessories and the mood of the day. On the six month horizon I can see ham, butter and pickles on a baguette for a gray winter lunch.

The refrigerator has a half gallon mason jar of senfgurken curing. Anthony at Ayers Creek turned me on to senfgurken. Anthony, will pickle anything. His inspiration is contagious. Senfgurken requires large, yellow cucumbers that are lost in the dense vine foliage. No time to lament the lost harvest, these oldies are as good as gold. The recipe uses a similar process as the cornichons but requires mustard seed. Lots of mustard seed. A plate piled high with pale white spears of senfgurken will add a special "je ne sais pas" to most meals.

The half sours in the dining room are a different story. They are the current occupant of the American crock and require testing daily. At this rate, they will be gone on the day they are done. Thirty cucumbers, thirty days. What a pleasure. Everyday the fermentation smells a little different and the texture of the pickles changes. Some mornings, the smell of the live brine escapes and climbs like tendrils across the dining room table, beckoning another taste, another sample and another entry in the pickle journal. It is just so hard to resist.