Most kids aren’t big on “sour” and won’t enjoy it until their taste buds mature. Sour, like pickles and olives for example. However, I’m half Polish and half Finnish (this was recently verified by the genomic testing company “23 & Me,” which is another story for another day) and I grew up with olive and relish trays. Start ‘em young and they won’t complain later…
I’m a big fan of quick pickling. The sort of picking that can be made in one day and eaten the next, and the kind that doesn’t require laborious jarring processes or special equipment. And really, you can pickle just about any vegetable and many fruits that happen to be in season. But the type of vinegar, the amount of sugar and heat/no heat play important roles and vary greatly depending on what you’re pickling.
The act of picking, killing bacteria through a vinegar brine solution, extends the life of a vegetable for up to a month in the refrigerator if it’s covered in the brining solution. It’s a great technique to prolong some of your favorite vegetables when they go out of season, or to alter their tastes through the herbs, spices, and brine you use.
For our first pickle excursion, I present the fine fennel bulb. Eaten raw, it has a crisp licorice taste. A definite palette cleanser. Cooked (roasted, braised), fennel bulb is mellow, sweet and almost creamy in texture. But pickled fennel has its own unique flavor. Still crunchy, less licorice-y, and exotic.
- As slaw on a pulled pork sandwich (the way I had it for the first time many years ago, and as shown in the main photo)
- Warmed and used as a base for a white fish
- Chopped as an ingredient in a vegetable salad
- A side dish all on its own
Here’s the recipe
- 2 large fennel bulbs
- 1 small or half medium white or yellow onion
- 1 large orange (for strips of the peel and the juice)
- 5-6 strips of peel (Use a vegetable peeler. Try to get only the orange portions, avoiding the white pith)
- 1/4 cup orange juice, pulp strained
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white wine vinegar (see note, below)
- 1 cup rice vinegar (see note, below)
Note: You may use the two types of vinegar listed here, or use 2 cups of either. I like the balance of using both but it’s up to you and your preference. Do not use plain white vinegar, as it’s too harsh. Using these naturally sweet vinegars, plus the orange juice adds enough sweetness to tame the vinegar without having to add in extra sugar.
- Combine cloves, salt, sugar, strips of orange peel, orange juice, water and vinegar(s) in sauce pan. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and simmer for five minutes.
- While the brine is simmering, core and thinly slice (1/8 inch) the fennel bulbs and onion. A mandolin is great for this if you have one. Otherwise, a sharp knife is fine. Combine fennel and onion in a large bowl.
- Remove the cloves from the brine and pour the hot brine over fennel and onion. (A little clove flavor in this recipe is delicious. However, if you keep them in the brine they continue to get stronger to the point of being overbearing.) Toss the fennel a few times until the brine is cool.
- Place and pack down the fennel, onion and orange peels into a large jar or a couple of smaller jars. Pour brine to completely cover the fennel. Refrigerate for at least one day to fully “pickle”. Refrigerated, enjoy for up to three weeks.