To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks

Purslane is a bitter, wild, edible plant. In June, I didn’t know what it looked like: Now I see it growing in the cracks of sidewalks and spreading out in abandoned flower pots every time I leave my house for a walk. Today, I’m sharing a recipe “To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks” with you.

Over the past month, I’ve been doing two things that have me thinking a lot about bitter herbs, weeds, and wild foods: attending the Oxford Food Symposium’s “Herbs and Spices” Conference online; and gardening, weeding, and clearing out raised beds for planting at a community garden in Philly that will supply a kitchen that feeds people in need. At the conference, I was moved by Fabrizia Lanza’s film Amaro (about bitter flavors and foraging practices in Sicilian food culture) and inspired to look for foraged ingredients in recipe books after hearing Gina Rae La Cerva‘s paper about wild herbs in Renaissance cookery. At the garden, we found established asparagus beds thriving under the weeds and transplanted nutritious purslane and dandelion plants into the newly cleared soil. When some stalks broke off in my hands, I took them home at the urging of my fellow gardeners.

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Description: Purslane

After more than six years spent cooking in the archives, I have quite a lengthy list of recipes that I want to test and post here. But sometimes an ingredient sends me back to the books. I located this recipe for pickled purslane by searching recipe books at the Folger Shakespeare Library that have already been transcribed by the Early Modern Recipes Online Collective through classes, conferences, and annual transcribathons. (For instructions on how to search these transcriptions, read this EMROC blog post.) As long-time readers know, I love pickles and I’ve been thinking a lot about preserving food during this long, strange summer spent mostly inside. This recipe book bears the names of Ann Smith –“Ann Smith sen. Her Book October the 10th 1698” — and Thomas Barnaby — “This book was written by Thomas Barnaby sen. of Reading” — and was compiled and used in Reading in the last years of the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century. (For more information about the manuscript, see this entry in the Manuscript Cookbooks Survey.)

The Recipe

pickled purslane cropped.jpeg

To Pickle Purslane or Littice stalks
First pick your Leaves off then boyle your
stalks pretty Tender in water & salt poure
thatt from them & when they are Cold
putt them into A pott with some venigar
& salt Cover them Close & you may steep them
all the yeare Round

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Description: Purslane stems and leaves with salt on cutting board.

Updated Recipe

These proportions fill a single, 2-cup mason jar. Double, triple, and quadruple if you have a lot of purslane on hand!

purslane, approximately 2 cups leaves and stems (100g)
1 t salt, used in two 1/2 t increments
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
a 2-cup mason jar, fresh from the dishwasher or sterilized with boiling water

Pick the leaves from the purslane stalks. Set the leaves aside. Cut the stalks into 3-inch pieces that will easily fit in the jar.

Put the stalks in a small sauce pan with 1/2 t salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook for three minutes. Pour off the water. Set the stalks aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

Put the cooked stalks and leaves in your prepared jar. Add 1/2 t water, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup water. The liquid should cover the purslane.

Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Consume pickled purslane within a month of opening the jar.

The Results

The pickled purslane was sharply sour and refreshing. All of the potent bitterness of the raw green was gone. Perhaps this transformation is the desired effect of the recipe – a uniformly sour pickle that can be consumed year-round – but I experienced this taste transformation as a loss. An anodyne flavor took the place of the bitter intensity that I liked in the raw greens. If I pickle purslane again according to this recipe, I’ll cut the vinegar in half and see if more of the original flavor shines through. Nevertheless, pickling is a great way to preserve an abundant ingredient like purslane when it’s at the peak of its growing season.

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Description: pickled purslane on a plate.

To pickle Cucumbers

I love pickles. I devour jars of them so quickly that I rarely have any in my fridge. I make platters of quick-pickled cucumbers, beets, cauliflower, and fennel for parties. I’m always tempted by the spicy pickled green beans that this one stand sells at the farmers’ market. Last week I realized that for all the pickled vegetable recipes in manuscript cookbooks, we’ve only prepared one so far (these delicious “Pickled Tamatas“) and I made it my business to change that.

I cannot think of a single manuscript cookbook without a recipe for something pickled. In an economy of thrift, pickling is an excellent way to save seasonal produce. Since I’ve been working on an article about other recipes from MS Codex 785, I decided to try a pickle recipe from this manuscript. (See my posts on “Lemmon Cakes” and “Bisket Pudding” for more information about Restoration-era lifestyle guru Hannah Woolley and MS Codex 785). I was also intrigued by the inclusion of thyme in this one.

The Recipe

pickled cucumbers

To pickle Cucumbers

Boyle your Vinegar with some long pepper,
and all Sorts of Spice, a little Salt, Thyme, and
Dill, lay your Cucummers into the pot, and
pour on your pickle boyling hot, and Couer
them up very Close, and set it by, and do so
for two or three days.

This recipe is very straightforward. Slice your cucumbers, prepare a spicy brine, rest, and eat. [UPDATE: The original recipe does not instruct you to slice the cucumbers, I sliced mine out of habit and because used a single-medium sized, slicing cucumber and I needed it to fill my jar! Feel free to use smaller kirby cucumbers here and skip the slicing.]

Long pepper was the only new ingredient for me. According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia (linked above), long pepper is a flowering vine with small, flavorful fruit. Although the plant is similar to the Piper nigrum, or standard black pepper, the individual fruits are far spicier. This spice is often used in South Asian cooking, but I was unable to locate any. Instead, I substituted in a small amount of red chili flakes to add some peppery heat. Let us know if you use long pepper, chili pepper, or black pepper when you make these pickles! I’ve made some suggestions in the recipe below.

 

Our Recipe

These proportions fill a single, 2-cup mason jar. Double, triple, and quadruple if you have a glut of cumbers on hand!

1 medium cucumber, thinly sliced (Peel or don’t peel as per your preference) [Per the update above, feel free to use different kinds of cucumbers and slice, or don’t slice according to your preference and ingredients.]
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh dill
1 c white wine vinegar
1/2 t salt
1/4 t chili flakes (or some long pepper, or 1/4 t pink or black peppercorns)

Put the sliced cucumber in the mason jar with the fresh thyme and dill.

In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar to a boil. Add the salt and stir until combined. Add the chili flakes.

Pour the spicy brine over the fresh vegetables. Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Consume pickled cucumbers within a month of opening the jar.

pickled cucumbers

pickled cucumbers

The Results

After three days in the refrigerator, these pickles are salty, spicy, sharp, and crisp. The  dill and thyme add depth to each bite. These pickles are not going to outlast the weekend!

Since the brine is very strong and I’m really making these as refrigerator pickles, rather than shelf-stable canned pickles, I might reduce the amount of vinegar in the brine and try a 1/2 c vinegar and 1/2 cup water brine instead. In addition, the original recipe also mentions “all Sorts of Spice.”  I only included spices that were listed in the recipe in this batch, but I wonder how cloves, mustard seeds, or caraway seeds would change the taste of these pickles. I may have to start another batch.

Let us know if you experiment with this recipe!

 

To Pickle Tomatas, Cooking in the Scripps Archives Part 3

This is the third post featuring a recipe from the Earl of Roden Commonplace Book held at the Scripps College, Denison Library. Read the first post here for information about this manuscript.

It’s tomato season, dear readers. The farmer’s market stalls and supermarket shelves are laden with sweet, tangy, luscious tomatoes that I can’t resist eating out of the container on my walk home. Other bloggers are also fueling my tomato-craziness with tasty recipes like this one. Our recipe for pickled tomatas captures tomatoes in their prime. It doesn’t require any special canning equipment beyond a clean jar so have no fear! Read on!

We haven’t always celebrated the tomato or even considered it edible. The tomato is a new world fruit. At first, Europeans and American colonists didn’t eat them at all for fear of a poisonous, painful death. Later, English gardeners would grow especially garish varieties to display as beautiful objects, gorgeous examples of horticultural prowess and cosmopolitanism. These two books document our slow conversion from a tomato-fearing to a tomato-loving food culture : Andrew F. Smith’s The Tomato in America and David Gentilcore’s Pomodoro! A History of the Tomato in Italy. This Modern Farmer article offers a more condensed history.

This recipe for pickled tomatoes is from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century based on the history of the manuscript . The compiler notes Count Puzzi as a source, but I haven’t been able to track down a count by this name. (I did find Giovanni Puzzi, a celebrated horn player who resided in London in the nineteenth century, but, alas, I see no way to connect him to our tomato recipe.)

Not only was I excited to see a tomato recipe from relatively early in this history of European consumption of nightshade vegetables, but it also reminded me of an appetizer I’ve ordered many times at a favorite restaurant. Union on Yale serves a mason jar overflowing with vinegary heirloom cherry tomatoes, burrata, and basil-infused olive oil with lovely pita bread toasts on the side. I’ve never said no to burrata and I’ve come to love the way the sharp tomatoes compliment the luscious cheese.

The Recipe

To pickle Tomatas

Wipe the Tomatas clean and dry, the put them
entire into an earthen Jar, sprinkle them with Salt
and Pepper at your discretion and with some bruised
Cloves; then fill up the Jar with a sufficient quantity of
Vinegar to cover the whole x
Count Puzzi

This recipe is perhaps equal parts pickled and fermented tomatoes. Like any lover of kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, or even sourdough bread knows, when you put a lot of tasty veggies in an earthenware crock you’re inviting natural yeasts and microbes to transform your food into something new. For our recipe, I turned to what I know about making fridge pickles as a compromise between proper canning and crock fermenting. I frequently make batches of string-bean, cauliflower, fennel, and beet fridge pickles to add to salads or compliment a cheese platter so this method is what felt natural to me. If you try this in an earthenware jar or properly can a batch and like what you taste, please let us know!

Our Recipe
1half lb tomatoes (whole, small tomatoes like cherry, grape, or sugar plum will work best)
3 twists black pepper
1 t cloves
1/2 t salt
1 c apple cider vinegar
a 2 cup mason jar, thoroughly washed

Put about a half pound of tomatoes in the mason jar. Fill to the top, but leave some space at the neck of the jar. Add seasonings. Fill with vinegar until the tomatoes are completely covered. Firmly affix the lid and label the jar. Leave in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. I tried this batch after 10 days.
Consume pickled tomatoes within a month of opening the jar.

The Results

Pickled tomatoes are tart, juicy, and remarkably fresh. As I’d hoped, they tasted wonderful with cheese. The clove and vinegar seasoning combination reminded me of fancy homemade or artisanal ketchup. Next time,  I might consider flavoring them with coriander, fennel, or caraway seeds instead. I like cider vinegar, but I think red or white wine vinegar or even sherry vinegar would also work as a base.