cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

To Pick a Peck of Pickled....Pickles

How, I used to think, did peter pick pickled peppers? Peppers are not grown pickled, I would muse, where would the jar come from? Until a few moments ago I kept to the explanation that the nursery poem was just a silly conglomeration of words that rhymed and didn't necessarily make sense. But in those few moments ago I learned that peck was an actual word with meaning and not mere gobbled-y-gook, henceforth my entire relationship with Peter changed. Peter was not picking peppers as one would pick carrots from the earth, he was picking, in the sense of choosing, jars of pickled peppers to the equivalent of eight quarts or one quarter bushel. There now I have tied a simple rhyme to a chair and beaten it with a garden hose, the matronly fowl is rolling her eyes in perturbance at my attempt to analyze and quantify everything into sense. Now I know all Peter did was choose a few jars of canned peppers {a peck, if using pint jars would yield about 16 jars. Peter must have had a trolley}. Either way, why is there a nursery rhyme about this? And in further contemplation, why are there so many nursery rhymes about food? Little miss muffit was disturbed while eating her curds, to market to buy a fat hog, 4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie, Mr. & Mrs. Jack Sprat licking the platter clean, St. Clements bells ring of oranges and lemons, the abusive husband Peter Pumpkin Eater, the plumb on the thumb of little Jack Korner, Patty cake patty cake, the muffin man, etc. While yet there are many others that have absolutely nothing to do with food, there are more in the category that do. I view it as food is something we can all relate to, and particularly for children most of these foods represent a treat; i.e. pies, fruits, and cakes--treats that when the majority of these rhymes came into being were by far rarer in appearance than they are today. How much a child of yesteryear pined for a pint of pickled peppers though may be in need of debate, however, fresh fruit and sweets were rare treats in Europe during the 17th century when the majority of the traditional English rhymes emerged. Scholarly analysis of the conte de fee has proffered the genre's true meanings as cleverly disguised representations of political and social strife of the time. Innocent rhyming subjects play the decoy of sickness and disease, corrupt political figures, and the realities of class and station. Though not all, as I am in want of an analogy for Peter's pickles. Food is a facile stand-in for these subjects, innocent, appealing, and understood by the children they may or may not be for.

Peter Piper came to mind as I, for the first time, made pickles. The process is near enough to jam that it was neither a daunting nor difficult task, though my half-peck is not without quirks. Traditional pickling of vegetables is done in large open faced vats, where the produce is steeped in brine for a time and then packed in jars. Lacking pickling vats, my homemade pickling adventure consisted of stuffing as many small gherkins in pint jars that would fit, sprinkled with a medley of spices, covered in hot brine, and hot water processed until sealed. The yield per jar is quite minuscule, as 5 raw cucumbers were all that would fit prior to shrinking. The pickling spices used range from black pepper corns, mustard seed, dill seed, red pepper flakes, cloves, and the like. The process was time consuming, and the vinegar made for the feel of a science lab. However, the 8 jars that emerged are excruciatingly quaint. Though unready until near November, the pickles will be a "hey, remember Mallory" dish at the family thanksgiving dinner. Have you made pickles? Undoubtedly it would be cheaper and less toilsome to purchase pickles form the market that not only are more uniform in taste, but crisp and packed tight. First attempt, as I tribute.

A children's rhyme, I believe is in order about a cod. If ever one can find or write one, the honor would be of mine as it hangs framed on the wall in the bakery. Food as a literary decoy--the cod, perhaps a dead one, representing modern commercialism, or perhaps a dancing cod discovered and enslaved as a court jester. Moving on. I do intend the Salty Cod to offer of a line pickled something, whether pickles or not, I must keep experimenting until something unique, or rather just quite tasty emerges. Perhaps a relish. But for this first attempt it is joyous, and perhaps if Peter were around he would drop the peppers and pick a few pints of me pickles.

A bientôt

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