Sunday, July 10, 2011

Snacking State-by-State: Kansas II - Hello, Pickle!

Bread and pickles don't really go together in my mind, unless there's a sandwich going on somewhere. In fact, pickles don't really strike me as "Midwestern food". Or are they?

Official Name: State of Kansas
State Nicknames: The Sunflower State; The Wheat State; The Breadbasket of the World
Admission to the US: January 29, 1861 (#34)
Topeka (4th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Wichita (largest city); Overland Park (2nd); Kansas City (no, the one in Kansas: 3rd largest)
Midwest, Great Plains; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Bison
Bordered by:
Nebraska (north); Missouri (east); Oklahoma (south); Colorado (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: buffalo (animal); wild native sunflower (flower & flower emblem); honeybee (insect - its honey is what is edible)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: prairie foods, including Native American and pioneer foods; wheat, wheat and more wheat; sunflowers; honey; did I mention wheat?

Judith Fertig, in her Prairie Home Cooking, mentions that prairie housewives regularly put out relish trays and, during the hot summers, had ice cold pickles ready in the refrigerator (or perhaps the icebox). The following recipe comes directly from Fertig's cookbook. This isn't her recipe per se - she tells us where she got it:

I first tasted these pickles in Ernestine Van Duvall's kitchen in Nicodemus, Kansas, when the temperature outside was 106 degrees in the shade. She had made them to accompany a barbecued rib dinner for Emancipation Days [celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation], held in late July. Cold, crisp, crunchy, and slightly sweet, they were just what my parched tastebuds wanted. Good home cooks all over the Heartland keep a tub of pickles like these in the regrigerator for days when temperatures soar and appetites flag. If you are a novice pickler, these quick pickles are a simple place to start. [Fertig 1999: 50]
Again, there isn't anything specifically Kansan about these pickles, but this seems like a good thing to have on hand during the hot summer months that are about to hit here - not to mention the hot spring we've had lately.

The recipe: Icicle Pickles

As Fertig suggests, this is an easy pickle for pickling noobs like me. I have hardly ever pickled anything. I did make a very fast Cambodian-style pickle a while back, but that's a different type of pickle altogether.

* cucumbers (about one pickling cuke yields a cup of cucumber slices, and you will be slicing them thinly)
* yellow onions (again thinly sliced and chopped)
* pickling salt (a large box is not too expensive; you can also use kosher salt, but you will need to adjust the amount: What's Cooking America talks more about this)
* distilled vinegar (got it, but bought a much bigger bottle since I needed a lot)
* sugar (same, but I had more than enough)
* celery seeds and mustard seeds (I needed to buy both. These can be pricey, but there is no shame in buying the budget herbs and spices)

First, slice the cucumbers thinly. The best way to do this is with a mandoline slicer with a safety. You don't want nice little slices of you, do you? This is why these mandolines freak the hell out of me.

Gently mix the cucumber slices and the onion slices together and set aside while you prepare the brine.

I had no idea just how easy brining pickles for the fridge could be. All I had to do for this recipe was mix an equal amount of vinegar and sugar together, and boil them with pickling salt, celery seeds and mustard seeds.
Boil them until the sugar dissolves, and pour the liquid over the cukes and onions.

They aren't done yet, of course. Set them in the fridge to pickle for at least 24 hours. Fertig notes that they will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.

These were simple and nicely sweet and tart pickles. It was not quite a pickle I was used to eating - a little sweeter than the more savory and tangy pickles I prefer. I would like to play with some variations: dill, more sour pickles, perhaps an Indian pickle version, or even one with actual pickling spices. But even though I cut the recipe in half, I am unlikely to finish these pickles anytime soon. I guess that's what a hot summer is for.

My first foray into the Midwest is done. Next I head not too far away fro the Midwest, to Appalachia and bluegrass, bourbon and burgoo: Kentucky is coming up very soon.


Fertig, Judith M. Prairie Home Cooking: 400 Recipes That Celebrate the Bountiful Harvests, Creative Cooks, and Comforting Foods of the American Heartland. The Harvard Common Press: Boston, 1999. Also partly available on Google Books.

Hester, Bree (BakedBree). "Honey Wheat Sunflower Bread Recipe". Published August 24, 2010.

Kansas Wheat Commission. Facts About Kansas Wheat. Kansas Wheat, copyright 2009.

Kansas Wheat Commission. "Sunflower Wheat Bread". Kansas Wheat, copyright 2011.

King Arthur Flour. "Kansas Sunflower Bread". King Arthur Flour, copyright 2011.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Kansas" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Kansas".