Pickles are a truly wonderful thing and it’s time to think beyond the ubiquitous spears and floppy slices found on bad bar burgers. In Chicago and around the country, they’re currently in the midst of a robust renaissance with all kinds of pickled delights on store shelves and menus touting “housemade pickles” left and right. My refrigerator and pantry shelves, home to all kinds of interesting items, typically have a slew of different types at any given time. Right now, I have no less than eight jars of different pickled things in my fridge and can put together a helluva spread in no time (see above). I’ve taken to pickling everything lately as it’s a great way to preserve too much garden or farmers market bounty and this week I pickled strawberries. Green strawberries. True story.
A while back while enjoying a fantastic meal at Big Jones, a Southern restaurant here in Chicago, I had the great pleasure to share a pickle assortment with friends. A large plate full of all kinds of pickle-y delights was placed in front of us – cucumber pickles of course but also okra, little pearl onions, chow chow, cauliflower, carrots and right in the center, a delicate little pile of pale green strawberries. I was intrigued. Firm, tart, a little crunchy from the tiny seeds and with an ever so slight hint of sweetness, they were very interesting. Last week at the farmer’s market I found little wooden baskets of green strawberries on my friend Farmer Pete’s table and snapped them up. Oh yes, pickling was going to happen.
I perused the recipes online, hoping to find Big Jones Chef Paul Fehribach’s recipe but when that didn’t pan out, I settled on one from Martha (but now I think I need to get Chef Fehribach’s recently released book.) It was a fairly typical brine recipe but with a little honey and the additional of caraway seeds, which appealed to me and I was pleased to see they were “refrigerator pickles” in which a brine is poured over the strawberries and left to cure in the refrigerator. I tend to prefer this method for small batches. The process is the same as other refrigerator pickles though the brine is heated to fully dissolve the salt and cooled before pouring over the berries so as not to soften the fruit. I wouldn’t say these have an overly distinct or unique flavor as the berries themselves are relatively mild, but they are extremely attractive and a very interesting accompaniment to a charcuterie platter or as an acidic component to rich meats and sauces.
The most difficult part of this recipe will be finding the green unripe strawberries. If you’re growing them yourself then you have no problem. If not, then you’ll have to put in a little effort as these aren’t easily found at your neighborhood Jewel or Albertson’s. Ha! Find a farmer – they’re your best source. Talk to them. Depending on where you live (i.e., if they don’t have a lot of chef customers who tend to do wacky things), they might give you a cock-eyed crazy look but persevere, explain your plan and maybe even promise to share. I’ve discovered that most farmers are interested to see what people do with their produce. In most places it’s early enough in the season that they may pick a basket special if you ask nicely.
While I’m on the subject of pickling, please don’t be intimidated by the process as refrigerator pickles are incredibly easy to make. You can even do a single jar without the hassle of lugging out the giant kettle, funnels, ladles and whatnot. I actually prefer the texture of a refrigerator pickle over that of a water processed shelf stable pickle – they’re crispier longer and have a much more bright and vibrant flavor.
Remember, this is so easy. All you need is a clean jar and lid, herbs and/or spices, vinegar, salt and whatever it is you want to pickle. You simply pack that item into the clean jar with the herbs/spices, then depending on the vegetable or fruit, pour a hot or room temperature brine on top, seal and stick the jar in the fridge overnight though they’re usually best after a week or two. That’s it. Really.
Starting with my standard quick garlic pickle brine, here’s a little guide for when to use a hot versus room temperature brine:
- Hot Brine – for a sturdier vegetable that would benefit from a little cooking. Heat the vinegar, water and the salt/sugar to dissolve then pour over the filled jar.
- green beans
- onions, garlic, ramps
- jalapeños, peppers
- Room Temperature Brine – for more delicate vegetables (and fruits). Mix the vinegar, water and the salt/sugar to dissolve then pour over the filled jar.
- cucumbers (they seem to stay much crisper)
- green cherry tomatoes
- small green strawberries
- beets (assumes beets are pre-cooked)
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: VERY SATISFYING. Having a refrigerator shelf full of pretty jars packed with delicious things makes me happy. Pickled green strawberries are a new, unexpected one that most folks have never seen, much less tried. Mix up your relish tray by sneaking this one in, channeling your inner Southern soul. I love the tart acidic garlicky crunch of a cucumber pickle but get bored easily, which is why I like an assortment of things. Okra, asparagus, beets, tomatoes, onions, garlic, green beans, carrots, zucchini … I’ve pickled it all so why not strawberries? Putting out your own pickle assortment platter is impressive as all get out. Since it’s so easy, why aren’t you doing this? Too much to deal with? Make a small jar. Problem solved.
additional pickle recipes: Spicy Garlic Refrigerator Pickles, Pickled Ramps, Pickled Garlic, Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumber Kimchi, Ramp Green Kimchi
6 years ago: Chino Farms Strawberries
5 years ago: Vanilla Bean Cheesecake, Cobbler & Cabining Annoyances
4 years ago: Puff Pastry Asparagus & Prosciutto Spears
3 years ago: Steel Cut Oats On the Go
2 years ago: Lime Angelfood Cake
last year: Guinness Crème Anglaise
PICKLED GREEN STRAWBERRIES – from this recipe
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups green (unripe) strawberries, washed
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup water
2 Tablespoons mild honey, such as clover or wildflower
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- Remove the leaves from the berries but leave the stems and wash well. Lay on paper towels and let dry.
- Thoroughly clean and dry a jar big enough to hold strawberries (at least 2 ½ cups in capacity).
- Fill the jar with the strawberries, then add peppercorns, bay leaves, caraway and mustard seeds.
- In a small saucepan, simmer both vinegars, honey and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until honey and salt are dissolved, about 8 minutes.
- Add the water and let cool completely.
- Pour the mixture over strawberries to cover completely.
- Seal jar and give it a few gentle twists to evenly distribute the spices.
- Refrigerate at least overnight. Martha says consume within 2 days but I’ve had these in the fridge for nearly 2 weeks and they’re fine. If your berries were firm to start, you’ll be in good shape.