Introducing…Pickled Cauliflower

1 Nov

Ta da!  This, dear readers, is pickled cauliflower.  Pickled with brine, and canned in a water bath canner.  By me.  (Sort of.)

Hallelujah!  Finally.  Seven days before the end of my intended month of canning and baking (don’t ask about the baking) I took a real step towards domestic goddessness.

After I had already committed October to learning to can (and bake, but let’s not go there), I discovered that October is really late in the season to can, and even later to learn to can.  Most canning is done – and therefore most canning classes are offered – in the summer, when gardens are bursting with produce and gardeners are faced with more than they can eat.  Canning provides a way to preserve the surplus of those summer gardens.  By October, many gardens (including mine) have fizzled out, and those that are still going offer forth mostly beets, carrots and other root vegetables (some of which are mighty fine for canning, but, again, it was the canning class I needed).

In the end, I had to go all the way to Brooklyn, to a place called the Brooklyn Kitchen to learn to make a pickle.  I do feel little tingles of domestic divinity for having done it.  Plus, I discovered that pickling and canning are really the same thing (more on that further down), so, even though it won’t be October anymore, I’m going to try to apply my newfound skills to a big batch of applesauce sometime soon.  But back to the pickles.

I knew from the website that the Brooklyn Kitchen was going to be a very trendy, very hip kind of place.  It is located in Williamsburg, a neighborhood long known for its large community of Hassidic Jews, but currently the epicenter of New York hipness.

I am not hip.  I wasn’t hip even when I lived in Brooklyn, several decades ago.  Back in my Brooklyn days – the late 1980’s – I was that most boring of creatures, a yuppie.  I worked on Wall Street and wore suits with enormous shoulder pads.  I had an extensive collection of silly little scarves that were supposed to be the female version of the necktie and faithfully watched thirtysomething with my roommate Tina. I not only didn’t can, I didn’t even cook.  Breakfast was a cup of coffee, bought at the Korean grocer, and a cigarette.  I ate lunch at the employee cafeteria of the large, boring, commercial bank where I worked, and alternated between Smiling Pizza and the Donuts Luncheonette for dinner.

I like to think that my life has become more interesting since then, but I have not gained one ounce of hipness.  So faced with having to learn the secrets of canning amongst the hip and trendy, I began by panicking.  I thought I could claim a hipness I didn’t have by at least looking hip, until I remembered that I had no idea what constituted hip clothing.  I considered asking my daughter for a hip-clothing tutorial, but then I realized it would do no good.  Even if I could identify what a hip person wore, I wouldn’t actually own any of the uniform.  My wardrobe consists of three pairs of jeans, all from Gap, a drawer-full of t-shirts, both short- and long-sleeved, and various fleece tops to be layered on for warmth.  Easy and comfortable, but not hip.

So, unable to call on a former hipness or even fake the appearance of present hipness, I took a deep breath and headed off to the land of Williamsburg, armed with my GPS and my mom jeans.

The Brooklyn Kitchen, which I found without incident, arriving unspeakably early, is housed in what looks to be an old commercial garage, facing an elevated highway.  It is a kind of combination kitchen goods store, specialty grocer, event space and community center.  If you are single (or just curious), you can peruse the extensive Personals listings that paper one wall of the entryway.  Once inside, you can purchase all manner of prepared foods, such as herb-infused olive oils and gourmet catsup; meats (technically sold by the Meat Hook, which isn’t so much of a separate store as a counter and prep area inside the Brooklyn Kitchen); retro, hip cooking utensils like Chemex coffee urns and Bluebird Stoneware crocks; cook books; and refrigerated glass bottles of expensive sparkling fruit juices and gourmet sodas.  You can also sign up for the one of the “food events” held in their event space – a large, unnaturally picturesque exposed-brick-walled room that houses a well-stocked kitchen and several long tables.  Or you can take a class. As I did.

My class was held upstairs, where there is another well-stocked kitchen with a 30-foot long stainless steel counter.  Two stainless steel tables run perpendicular to the counter.  We students were instructed to sit at these tables.  When I arrived, there were two other wanna-be pickle makers already in attendance. Our teacher, Bob McClure, of McClure’s Pickles, was puttering around in the kitchen area, setting out little bowls of spices and larger bowls of red pepper strips and cauliflower florets, organizing an impressive array of kitchen utensils, and checking up on two giant pots that were bubbling on the stove.

By 6:30, when the class was scheduled to begin, most of the sixteen of us who were signed up had arrived, filling the two tables, and I learned my first lesson of the evening: what hip people wear.  Hip men wear skinny jeans, fitted button-up shirts left untucked, and knit caps.  Hip women wear very short knit skirts or dresses, opaque tights or leggings in any color other than black, and desert boots.

By 6:45, the stragglers had arrived, and Bob began the class with an overview of his company and of the art and science of pickling.  He was an entertaining speaker, no surprise really, as he is an actor and stand-up comic in addition to a pickle-making master.

Bob explained that pickling began as a way to preserve vegetables before people had ready access to refrigerators.  Vegetables need to be pickled (preserved in a brine solution) because they are not naturally acidic, and an acidic pH – of 4.6 or less  – is necessary to ensure that bacteria, such as botulism, can’t grow in preserved food.  The brine, usually made from vinegar, salt and water, provides necessary acidity.

The steps and tools to pickle vegetables are essentially the same as those involved in canning fruit.  However, fruit, which is naturally acidic, does not need a brine solution.  Some fruit canning recipes call for adding a little lemon juice to ensure a proper pH.  Bob encouraged us, in our home canning of both fruits and vegetables, to use reliable recipes, and to follow the recipe quantities and instructions exactly.  This is the best way, he said, to ensure safe and tasty canned produce.

After his entertaining and informative overview, Bob moved to the real purpose of the evening: making pickled cauliflower.  He explained that he had chosen cauliflower, rather than cucumbers, because cauliflower is in season in October, and cucumbers are not.

We each took a half-pint glass canning jar, added the spices of our choosing – I skipped the hot pepper and used ginger and curry – packed the jar within a half-inch of the top with cauliflower and a few bits of red pepper, for color, and then poured hot brine into the jar, covering all of the vegetables but leaving about an eighth of an inch of space, called headspace, at the top.  Then we placed a flat metal lid over the top of the jar and screwed a metal band on over that.  The flat lid has a rubber ring on the underside, and it is this flat lid with the rubber ring that actually provides the seal for the jar.  The metal ring holds the flat lid on during the canning process, but can actually be removed once canning is complete.

After we all had our jars filled and closed, we tipped them upside down, to help complete the seal.  Then Bob put them into a large pot of boiling water and processed them for 10 minutes.  This final step of processing raises the temperature of the stuff inside the jars high enough to kill any remaining bacteria.

While the jars boiled, we were encouraged to check out the rest of the place and, maybe, buy a little.  Since I didn’t really need any artisanal pork sausages or bottles of sparkling juice, I spent my time peeking in on the raucous party happening in the event space.  It was a casserole cook-off.  Really.  Surprising numbers of people had signed up to bring casseroles, which were being dished out and placed before a panel of judges.  The music was loud and thumping, everyone seemed to be having a rocking time, and there were many, many pairs of desert boots in evidence.

A short while later, I left the Brooklyn Kitchen, and headed home, proudly clutching my very own jar of pickled cauliflower.


8 Responses to “Introducing…Pickled Cauliflower”

  1. Laurie November 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    This is hilarious! So much time and effort for one little jar…….
    On what occasion will you break out this jar of delectable goodies? Should be something important, yes?
    (By the way, what are desert boots? [a question from a another not-so hip mom]}

    • Cathleen Barnhart November 1, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

      I’m planning on serving the cauliflower at Thanksgiving – that feels like an important enough occasion. Everyone will have one little taste. And desert boots are a particular type of suede ankle boot that was popular in, I think, the early 1960’s (my mother, who was an artist, and may have actually been hip, had a pair). You can click on this link to see a picture of a desert boot:

      By the way, I got to that particular image by typing “desert boots” into Google. These days, you can find out anything by Googling it.

  2. Karen November 1, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    The real question is….will you ever pickle again?

    • Cathleen Barnhart November 1, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

      I do plan on pickling again, hopefully not in a roomful of hipsters in Williamsburg. I want to try applesauce and maybe chutney first, though.

  3. Louis Greenzweig November 2, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    You smoked a cigarette. Therefore you, who I presume have quit, know the smell and the evils. I applaud you. I am a 42 year reformed smoker. I cannot tolerate smoke and no longer understand anyone who smokes in this information age. Canning is like anything else. If it is a passion then do it to the MAX. As for me a Vodka cocktail while preparing a and serving an interesting dinner is enough! Happy belated Halloween (now considered to be a great American Holiday). We always need reasons to celebrate, I for one celebrate waking up everyday!

    • Cathleen Barnhart November 2, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      I did smoke. I quit (for good) almost 25 year ago, and like you now can’t stand the smell of it. I love your positive attitude, Louis – thanks for commenting.

  4. Robin November 3, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Does this mean we should all be looking for desert boots? Maybe we should go on Zappos during book group!

    • Cathleen Barnhart November 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

      Apparently they carry them at Target too. Maybe a trip to Target…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: