Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Food Experiments: Pickled Apples


One of several square yards of counter space in 99% Bittersweet's kitchen is devoted to various fermentation experiments: a couple of kombucha SCOBYs*, some sauerkraut, pickled turnips, pickled beets.

A glass menagerie of Ball jars (just like the ones my mom and both of my grandmothers used for canning) spread out in front of me. One of them had a bunch of little pink balls bobbling around.

"Are those what I think those are?"

"Crab apples!"

"No way, I gotta try that pronto!"

Crab apples of course are simply apples that do not grow much larger than a large cherry in size - which is to say, this is probably the apple our ancestors enjoyed before the monster sized apples we know and love today took over.

Apples, even crab apples (which tend to be more tart than their commercial cousins), are near and dear to the heart of anyone who grew up in Ohio. Like Ohio sweet corn in the summer, the feature harvest of the fall was that most tempting of fruit that would fall from the trees as the leaves turned into a magical Bill Watterson watercolor and smoke and cold would start to tickle our noses.

They say odor is the sense most tied with memory, and those days we were unafraid to dive into a pile of leaves, to run around in technicolor orchards, and the smell of the leaves and the wood fires and the pies baking told us that Christmas was around the corner, with the pine cones, snow angels and all those things that make Christmas... Santa or not, Jesus or not... a magical time.

De-lidded, the carbon dioxide trapped inside the fruit fizzed away. Here bacteria and yeast labored to produce alcohol, acids and gas feasting on the crab apple.

The resulting pickle was fizzy, tart, sweet and salty.

I needed to go home and make my own!

Pickled Fall Fruits:
  • 1 quart of filtered water.
  • 3-5 tablespoons of kosher salt.
  • 2 whole medium sized apples (we like the Pink Lady).
  • 2-3 whole ripe pears (we prefer the smaller, sweeter variety).
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seed.
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns.
  • 6-7 cardamom pods, whole.
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, blanched and peeled.
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, bruised.
Mix water, salt and spices.

Rinse fruit and arrange whole in a large Ball canning jar.

Cover with pickling brine.

Cover opening on top with a well rinsed, doubled over patch of cheese cloth. Secure with a rinsed rubber band.

Allow to ferment at room temperature for up to two weeks (it's been chilly here in San Francisco, so fermentation can take a long time). You will see signs of activity - gas forming on the surface of the fruit.

Seal with a fresh lid and refrigerate, opening every couple of days to release any built up gas.

You can probably keep this for a month or so, but you'll find yourself having a pickled apple with some cheese for a light lunch of slicing up the pear for a turkey sandwich. Use instead of fruit for cheese plates.

Not to mention the potential cocktail applications!

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* Symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.