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Food and Drink

Passionate about pickling

Author and food maven Andrea Chesman shows how it’s not just for cucumbers anymore

BRATTLEBORO—Earlier this month, celebrated food writer Andrea Chesman came to Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro to talk pickles.

Facing a table in the bookstore set out with a tantalizing spread of varieties of homemade pickles for the tasting, paired with palette-cleansing crackers, an eager, pickle-crazy crowd was excited to try her delicacies. They also longed to hear this cooking and canning expert speak to them on the art of fermenting food at home.

“Millions of Americans are discovering that growing and harvesting their own vegetables is only half the fun,” Chesman said.

“It’s even more gratifying to preserve that produce for year-round eating and there’s no tastier way to stock the pantry shelves than by making pickles and relishes.”

Chesman was in Brattleboro to promote her new book on pickling, The Pickled Pantry: From Apples to Zucchini, 150 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, Chutneys & More.

A resident of Ripton, a small town near Middlebury, Chesman is a food writer and gardener. Some of the many cookbooks she has authored include Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and Pickles and Relishes.

She had been contributing food editor for Vermont Life for 10 years, and had a regular column on food in both the Burlington Free Press and Edible Green Mountains.

“Mostly, I have written about vegetables,” she said. “I’ve also written about cooking with the seasons, roasting vegetables, and healthy eating.” She co-wrote Mom’s Best Desserts, Mom’s Best One-Dish Suppers, and Mom’s Best Crowd-Pleasers.

Chesman’s latest work, The Pickled Pantry, is a guide to pickling the harvest. She said the book provides 150 recipes for pickling everything from apples to zucchini. “There are techniques for making fermented pickles, salsas, relishes, and chutneys; freezer and refrigerator options; and recipes that feature pickles front and center.”

She added that there are “instructions for single jars and small batches, as well as ways to preserve a bumper crop of produce. Backyard gardeners, farmers’ market shoppers, and CSA shareholders will all find what they are looking for.”

Chessman introduces readers to the foundation techniques of pickling before delving into the recipes, explaining ingredients, equipment, preparation, and safe pickling procedures. Profiles of pickling experts throughout the book include Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation; blogger Tigress in a Pickle; and Addie Rose Holland and Dan Rosenberg, owners of Real Pickles in Greenfield, Mass.

She was eager in this book to include voices of others who are passionate about the art of pickling.

A whole world of pickles

Chesman’s pickled recipes in The Pickled Pantry are astonishingly diverse — from Korean kimchi to French herbed jardinière, from chutneys to chow chow, and from classic bread and butters to rosemary onion confit, Italian tomato relish, and old-fashioned watermelon rind pickles.

She explains to her readers how to use all of the pickled produce, with almost 40 recipes for a wide range of dishes, including fried pickles, creamy dilled smoked fish pasta salad, oven-baked barbecue ribs, Korean bulgogi tacos with kimchi, and even German chocolate sauerkraut cake.

“I got started in pickling back in 1974 when I worked in a community garden in Ithaca, N.Y., as a way to preserve my first harvest,” she explained. “I asked my grandmother how to pickle, and she said you add just enough salt until you gag. I guess my gag reflex was not as developed as hers, because I did not add nearly enough salt. My first attempt at pickling was a failure, as it came out a smiley mess.”

Pickling, whether in vinegar or with salt, has a very ancient legacy, often as a means to preserve food, or just for the taste itself. “Cleopatra used vinegar pickling, and the record of salt curing vegetables goes way back in history,” Chesman said.

Asked why she wrote the book, she candidly replied, “To make money. I make a third of my income from my books.”

Her earlier book on pickling, Pickles & Relishes, has long been beloved by connoisseurs.

“In 1984, Garden Way Publishers wanted to do a book on pickles. I was a staff writer there, and I was asked to find an author or someone qualified on the subject to write the book. When this proved to be rather difficult, I thought ‘Hey, I could do this myself.’ My editor agreed, and the book has never been out of print. However, I never made a dime on it because I wrote it as a staff writer as part of my job.”

In some ways, this new pickling book is based on her first.

“Over the years, Garden Way evolved into Story Publishing, and 30 years later, they wanted me to revise the earlier book,” she said, “but I essentially wrote a new book.”

Her new book includes more ethnic cuisines. “People have grown much more open to these foods,” she said. “For instance, I have three different recipes for kimchi, that Korean delicacy; and I use kimchi in other recipes in the book.”

Chesman knows that all pickling is not for everyone.

“Of course, there are many kinds of pickling, and some of it involves regional tastes,” she said. “For instance, in the South, they like their pickles far sweeter than I prefer, since I like my pickles to be of the salty briny variety. I also have a hard time with some of the Indian pickles. But, you see, there are pickles for all persuasions.”

Her website, www.andreachesman.com, gives more detailed descriptions of Chesman and all her books and provides readers with many recipes. Of special interest is the section Roots and Leaves, where she talks about the art of eating seasonally and locally.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #163 (Wednesday, August 1, 2012).

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