Please pardon the oversight, but I have nothing to drop on your doorstep this year. No holiday cookies, no baby poinsettia. I promise it doesn’t mean I intend to ignore my neighborly duties. I will still drink your chocolate milk when you’re in Hawaii and let you bring my garbage cans in three days late and loan you chickpeas when you’re desperate to make hummus. But this year, there probably won’t be any pickles left.
It may sound outlandish, but I’m going to blame a hipster at Metropolitan Market. He came barreling down the produce aisle in a panic. “Peach-basil or pear-lemongrass?” he asked frantically, eyes searching. I looked around, wondering whether his sidekick had a bad moustache also.
He was talking to me. (Was he flirting with me?) “Peach-basil,” I said, missing only the briefest beat. I was standing in front of a giant peach display at a grocery store that’s recently outfitted its employees with t-shirts advertising their peaches’ Brix levels. It seemed so obvious. He took off again. (He definitely wasn’t flirting.)
But you know what that goober did? He went over to the lemongrass and picked up a big bunch. Then he took some pears. Then he was gone. I wanted to elongate my arms and twist that annoying little moustache til it hurt, then lift him until he was dangling by nothing by a few hairs. I’d look him straight in the eye and say, “What’s the matter with you? It’s peach season, buster.”
But he was gone. There was nothing I could do, except take advantage of having an empty trunk and buy a flat of peaches myself. I looked around the produce section, thrilling at having landed there the week when the grocery store looks most like a farmers’ market, with “grown locally” signs proudly painted near so many picks. I took home blueberries and basil and onions and peppers, and those peaches.
They rode home in the front seat, coddled in their cardboard box like jewels. It made me wonder whether the store puts all the peaches away at night, the way fancy jewelry stores do.
That afternoon, I did a lot of staring, the same way I do at Tiffany’s, when I’m not really sure I deserve to be in the presence of things that are so delicate and beautiful. I stared at cookbooks and at the peaches and at the basil. I piled those blushing beasts up in a wide wooden bowl, and fed one to my kid, who’s decided peach juice does a much better job polishing wood floors than almost anything. Then I sort of wussed out. What can you do to a dripping-ripe peach that makes it taste better?
Onions, though. I’ll tell you something, loud and clear: I don’t care for raw onions. But slicked with vinegar, sweetened and spiced, I’ll put them on anything that sits still. Ditto for peppers, especially the spicy ones. So it made sense to me, the way two people make sense together, to postpone the peach decision and instead pack the peppers and onions into little jars and smother them in vinegar.
I started with a pickled jalapeno recipe from Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars. I changed the vegetables, and the vinegar, and the sugar and seasonings, and a few other things. So actually, it wasn’t really her recipe at all, but she was there, holding my hand through it all, promising me that if I wanted to, I could still put the end concoction on everything from sandwiches to nachos to hot dogs. In that moment of panic I still face when I’m canning, I looked her in the eye for a some quick assurance. She nodded.
I made five pints of pickled peppers and onions. The first jar went with my husband to work, and the second jar came camping a few weekends ago. The third went down easy at home, disappearing the way a batch of brownies does, little tastes at a time. The fourth is coming to the Wild & Scenic Music Festival this weekend, where we’ll be camping out, and the fifth . . . well, let’s just say the fifth reaches the criteria for stage four edibility, and probably won’t make it until Christmas.
But oh, those peaches. I did go back for more, and the hipster was nowhere in sight. The next box of peaches went into three little peach and raspberry crisps, which I’ve carefully packaged and frozen for our camping trip. I’m hoping to set the little foil pans over the fire in the space between dinner and new hunger, so their sweet scent fills the air as we finish off the pickle jar.
With any luck, there will be pickles or jam next year. Until then, please accept my apologies.
Spunky Pickled Peppers and Onions (PDF)
Based loosely on Marisa McClellan’s recipe for Basic Pickled Jalapeño Peppers in Food in Jars, this colorful, mildly spicy blend of bell peppers, red onions, and jalapeños makes the perfect Christmas gift—if you can keep them around that long. If you want to use them this summer, wait a week for the flavors to marry, then try piling them on grilled pork with slices of grilled peaches.
If you’re familiar with canning, you’ll be comfortable with the instructions below. If you’re new to it, check out Food in Jars. It’s an excellent guide.
Note that this recipe makes extra pickling brine. I tend to do that each time I pickle; I keep the brine for quick pickling things like green beans and carrots.
Makes about 5 pints
2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 pounds small bell peppers, stems and seeds removed, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
4 jalapeño peppers, stems and steeds removed, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
Prepare and sterilize five pint-sized jars (or similar) and fresh lids for canning per the jar manufacturer’s instructions. (Marisa McClellan has superb directions on page 10 of Food in Jars.)
In a large soup pot, combine the vinegars, water, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, mustard seeds, and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for a minute or two, until the sugar has dissolved completely.
Add the bell and jalapeño peppers and the onion to the brine, stir, and let cook over the lowest heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the red onion begins to lose its color and the jalapeños are a darker shade of green.
Using tongs, pack the peppers and onions into the sterilized jars. Pour the hot brine over the peppers and onions in each jar, leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace. Use a wooden chopstick to poke and stir the ingredients (to encourage any bubbles to escape). Add more brine, if necessary.
Wipe the rim of each jar carefully with a clean cloth. Apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, again using the jar manufacturer’s instructions or the directions on page 11 of Food in Jars.