Picklefest! Slow Food's contest is one that welcomes sour grapes

Peter Piper didn't make it but 34 other picklers showed up for the second-annual Picklefest contest, nosh-athon and demos, sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh, on Sunday, Oct. 14. Vinegar lovers gathered at Wild Purveyors' new store in Lawrenceville.

Competition was intense in all categories: cucumbers both processed and refrigerated, other vegetables and fruits, condiments. While the judges nibbled and quibbled, crowd control came in the form of a lavish outlay of charcuterie from Crested Duck and Pennsylvania cheeses from the host store.

Crested Duck's Kevin Costa showed how to prepare bacon grease aioli, preserved lemons and fennel mustard, all possible accompaniments to the rabbit terrine being sampled. Wild Purveyors' Cavan Patterson concocted Concord grape shrub and cranberry shrub, using the same procedure as the blueberry shrub everyone was sipping.

Then came the announcement of winners: Jeff Kramer's Sweet Pickle Chips and Betsy Hollweck's Pickled Peppers, with honorable mention going to Theresa McNeill's Kosher Dills and Jeff Kramer's Pickled Vidalia Onions, among others.

All 34 entries were brought out, everything from pickled gooseberries to sweet potatoes, pickled carrot sticks to green beans preserved in from-scratch beer vinegar. And the noshing started all over again.

Judges who had to make the hard choices were chefs Jamilka Borges from Legume and Kevin Cox from Bar Marco, along with pro/ams Susan Barclay and Virginia Phillips from Slow Food Pittsburgh.

Betsy Hollweck's Pickled Peppers

This prize should be shared with Betsy's dad, Jack Weixel, who grew the peppers, garlic and shallots in his garden in McCandless.

  • 24 habanero peppers
  • 1 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed, divided
  • 1 or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2-inch ginger root, peeled, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon non-iodized salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup cider vinegar

Place peppers in a non-reactive bowl. Cover with white vinegar for at least 24 hours or until ... forever.

Divide mustard seed between 2 half-pint jars.

Drain the soaking vinegar into a non-reactive saucepan. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile pack 12 peppers into each jar. Pour the hot liquid over the peppers, trying to divide everything evenly. Cap the jars, invert and let cool. No need to process. Makes 2 half-pints.

To serve: Eat as a condiment with chutney. Chop finely and add to mayonnaise. Puree and add to barbecue sauces.

-- Betsy Hollweck

Marlene Parrish's Pickled Jalapeno Peppers

This pickle entry fell through the cracks and didn't get judged. Marlene won last year for her ginger pickles and judging by a post-contest tasting would have won this year, too.

  • 8 jalapenos
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced paper-thin
  • 3/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (or unseasoned in a pinch)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1/4 cup lemon-lime soda, such as Sprite

Using a sharp knife or hand-held slicer, slice jalapenos crosswise into thin rings, about -inch wide. If you prefer a less-than-incredibly-spicy pickle, scrape out and discard the seeds. Place the jalapenos rings in a glass jar.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the soy sauce, garlic, vinegar and sugar to a gentle boil and let it bubble for a few minutes. Remove from the heat. Add citrus juices and soda and let cool until no longer piping hot, about 5 minutes.

Pour the warm soy mixture over the jalapenos. Tightly seal the jar with the lid. Immediately refrigerate the pickles for at least a day and up to 2 weeks before strewing them onto anything and everything. Makes 1 cup

-- "Seoultown Kitchen" by Debbie Lee (Kyle, 2011)

Theresa McNeill's Kosher Dills

These have been a family favorite for 30 years, ever since Theresa got the recipe from who-knows-whom.

  • 12 or more large pickling cucumbers
  • 4 1/2 large garlic cloves, divided
  • 4 1/2 sprigs dill weed, divided
  • 1/4 cup coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 2 quarts water

Wash cucumbers and pack 4 or more into each of 3 quart jars (mayonnaise jars are OK if you remove cardboard liners from the lids).

Add 1 1/2 garlic cloves and 1 1/2 dill sprigs to each jar.

Combine salt, vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Pour hot brine over cucumbers to cover.

Seal jars and stow in a dark, cool place for 8 days.

On the eighth day, put pickles in the refrigerator. Enjoy! Makes 3 quarts.

-- Theresa McNeill

Jeff Kramer's Sweet Pickle Chips

  • 1 pound pickling cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/4 pound onions, sliced
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Combine cucumbers, onions, cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, salt and mustard seed in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Drain. Divide cucumbers and onions among sterilized jars (2 pints or 4 half-pints).

Combine remaining sugar, wine vinegar, celery seed, allspice and turmeric in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over cucumbers and onions. Cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate.

-- "Charcuterie" by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn and Thomas Keller (Norton, 2005)

Freelancer (and pickle contestant) Nancy Hanst: nhanst@zoominternet.net.


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