Quick pickles and I have a history.
My family didn’t do a lot of preserving when I was a child, but one thing that was always in the fridge was some sort of pickle. In the summer it was often home-grown cucumbers, floating in a mixture of vinegar, water, and sugar. And year-round, we had pickled quail eggs – usually made by dropping a new batch of hard-boiled quail eggs into a big jar of recycled brine every time it emptied out. (If that sounds a bit questionable, I should also add that we didn’t make the brine: We bought a jar of those commercial pickled sausages, and when the sausages were all gone, we pickled eggs in the brine. I’m pretty sure the only time we ever actually started using fresh brine was when someone had a craving for pickled sausages again. Food safety was not a big deal in Georgia in the eighties.)
Quail eggs were a dietary staple in my family’s home because my father pen-raised bobwhite quail. The pens were outside my bedroom window, and I loved listening to the birds murmur and call early in the morning. I still miss that sound. We ate most of the eggs, but once or twice a year, we’d collect a bunch and hatch them out in a big wooden Farm Master incubator with questionable humidity and temperature control. (I begged this incubator off my parents once it was exiled to the garage, and stripped out the insides to make it a cedar chest. After applying some bronze cleaner and about a gallon of furniture oil, it makes a lovely bedside table.)
Side note: Quail chicks are the cutest, dumbest creatures known to man. I still miss cuddling those brainless little balls of fluff every year.
So in homage to my childhood, I pickled quail eggs and cucumbers for the April challenge. Since I don’t have a pen of quail in my back yard (hmm… life goals?) I went to the local Asian Market for quail eggs. The cucumbers came from my CSA share, and since I had two giant English cucumbers, I decided to try two different brine recipes.
I followed this recipe for my quail eggs in the name of keeping it simple, with the addition of some shredded beets that were in my refrigerator and (spoilers) don’t appear to have added appreciably to the taste.
I’d read that quail eggs were a pain to peel, and I have vague memories of this being true. So I followed the recipe’s suggestion and soaked the boiled eggs in vinegar to dissolve the shells.
Wow. Wow. This is serious Mr. Wizard stuff. It was like evolution in reverse: I turned bird eggs back into dinosaur eggs. How cool is that?! Once the vinegar dissolved the shell, only a thick, rubbery inner membrane was left. It had about the consistency of a latex glove and was easy to peel away.
I popped the eggs in a jar, poured the prepared brine over the top, and then sat on my hands for 24 hours before I tried one. I was a little nervous: Were pickled quail eggs going to live up to my childhood memory? Was it a taste I’d outgrown? Was my love of pickled quail eggs wholly dependent upon the heinous flavor of gas-station pickled hot sausages?
Nope. Delicious. This one’s going on my list of things to keep in the fridge all the time. I was wary of making my first batch too spicy, but next time I’m definitely going to punch up the heat.
I was uncertain about the cucumber pickles. Both recipes seemed like quite an ordeal, compared to what I remember (slice cucumbers; put in bowl; mix cold water, white vinegar, and sugar in somethingmumble proportions; pour over cucumbers; refrigerate). What’s all this business about extracting the water from the cucumbers and boiling brine? But I followed both recipes to the letter. One used white wine vinegar, allspice berries, and bay leaf – and that sounded very interesting to me. The other used rice wine vinegar, but otherwise more closely resembled the recipe I was accustomed to.
As of this writing, both of these still need a little more time in the brine to get properly flavorful – but I can already tell I like the rice wine vinegar recipe better. The white wine vinegar is a little too sweet for my tastes. I still think I prefer the bite of white vinegar for pickled cucumbers, though – so next time I’ll dig up my family’s recipe.
Even though I chose two familiar things to pickle for the challenge, I know I’ll do some experimenting with other vegetables. Because I haven’t made quick pickles in years, I didn’t fully appreciate how many different things you can throw in brine in the fridge. (I’ve got a whole fleet of radishes sitting in my crisper bin that require my attention…) This is a particularly useful approach during CSA season, because I often end up with too much to eat, but not enough to bust out the hot water bath canner. I tend to preserve for the enjoyment of the process, and to put up jams and jellies to use as holiday gifts and marathon fundraiser incentives. But quick pickles come far closer to fulfilling their original purpose: They lengthen the shelf life of what’s in my kitchen.