by Dori Fern
When I posted the above shot on Facebook with the caption “Mama’s First Pickles,” a friend expressed shock that I had never before then attempted to make these simple, sour treats at home. I am, after all, an avid and adventurous cook with Semitic, pickle-eating, roots who resides in Brooklyn, the locavore locus of do-it-yourselfness.
I have resisted making my own mainly because, unlike many foods and dishes I boldly believe I can improve on myself, I cannot imagine besting the Eastern European-style pickles I have most enjoyed. Growing up, that meant Ba-Tampte half sours, the brand favored by every self-respecting Jewish New Yorker. In my post-adolescence years, Guss’ pickles out of the barrel on the Lower East Side were a real revelation: garlic, half-sours, sours, sometimes tomatoes and always the addictive pickled mushrooms.
My pickle tastes have wandered in recent years. These days I tend to go for quick-pickled veggies decidedly not of the European variety, like sweet, hot and sour shredded cabbage and carrots. A perky topping, indeed, for tacos and Southeast Asian dishes. These I have made at home.
But last week at the market, I couldn’t get my mind off the classics of my youth. Ray had everything I needed to make a reinvented, neo-Brooklyn, version of the pickles I love: cute-as-a-button little kirbys, garlic scapes, new season garlic. And since I was buying the fennel for a salad, I decided to use the wild mane of fronds as a substitute for dill in my pickles.
This recipe on Food52 seemed perfect. I was curious about the lacto-fermentation process and liked the idea of watching it “cook” right on my countertop for a few days. My few tweaks: swapping in fennel fronds for dill, adding some dried pickling spices I had (which I wouldn’t bother with again) and adding both a few cloves of new garlic along with the scapes. I wouldn’t bother quartering, or even halving, Ray’s tiniest of kirbys next time. They’re small enough to leave whole.
They turned out bright and garlicky, sour and salty. Not exactly like the ones from my youth, but a transporting bite nonetheless.