The new self-sufficiency movement has inspired people to can fruits and vegetables like old-fashioned homesteaders. Even my local warehouse club was selling Mason jars this summer – a true sign of a movement gone mainstream.
But this trend hasn’t spoken to me. While I like to cook, the notion of boiling a pot of glass jars on a hot August day (which is always when the veggies are ripe) makes me want to leave the kitchen and head to the air-conditioned movie theater instead.
And yet, Pickled Carrots called to me like little orange sirens from the pages of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, the New York Times bestselling cookbook by the chef at The French Laundry. Despite its upscale restaurant origins, the book is all about home cooking, and includes a whole section of surprisingly unfussy recipes for jarred delicacies like sweet onion tapenade, fennel mustard, and fig and balsamic jam (which Keller uses to stuff a pork loin). And a platterful of bright and spicy vegetable pickles – carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and more.
What’s the appeal of Keller’s homemade pickled vegetables? First of all, there are about four ingredients in each of these recipes, and most of them are already in my kitchen cupboard. Second, there is no mention of boiling jars or fitting on those scary lids when they are blazing hot. (Instead, Keller asks you to stick the finished product in the fridge, and eat it up within a month – that I can do.) Third, these pickles are gorgeous to look at: jewel-toned carrots, tiny champagne grapes in curry…looking at the pictures in the book is like window-shopping at the ultimate gourmet store.
It never really occurred to me I could make pickles (let alone out of carrots). But it turns out I can, with remarkably little fuss. In approximately 28 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, start to finish, I made a collection of stunningly pretty Pickled Carrots – a yield large enough to serve with a cheese plate over Thanksgiving weekend and still have a couple jars left in the fridge to go along with sandwiches for the next week or two. (Like I said, eating within one month is not going to be a challenge.)
The most time-consuming part of this recipe was peeling the carrots. After cutting them into sticks, all I had to do was heat up some curry powder, and add Keller’s incredibly easy pickling liquid (good vinegar + water + sugar, stirred together in a measuring cup) and the carrots. After two minutes of simmering – truly, two – I was standing those little carrot spears up in some jars and pouring the liquid over them. And trying not to burn my fingers by sampling too many while they were still hot. They are delicious – enough heat from the jalapeno to keep things interesting, and a bold flavor that doesn’t shout “curry.” And they are gorgeous to behold: bright orange and crisp after such a short time on the heat, and sparkling in their glass jars.
The sight of those jars of Pickled Carrots in my refrigerator makes me feel like a new-fangled, gourmet Laura Ingalls Wilder. This self-sufficiency thing, it turns out, can make one feel very smug indeed.
Page Edmunds, associate publisher at Workman Publishing, lives with her family near New York City. She is currently reading Spooner, by Pete Dexter (which is so brilliantly funny she’s been reading whole paragraphs aloud to her husband) and cooking from What Can I Bring? Cookbook (banana bread) and Barefoot Contessa at Home (butternut squash soup).