Before her fiancé came along, food blogger Molly Wizenberg didn't think about pickles much. The jarred dills she grew up with were nice, but nothing to make a fuss about. Then along came Brandon -- and a universe of things pickled and brined.
Some women marry for love, and some women marry for money. I'm marrying for pickles.
Before my fiancé came along, I didn't think about pickles much. I grew up with a bottle of store-bought kosher dills in the refrigerator door, and they were the only pickles I knew. I ate them alongside grilled cheese sandwiches, and that was about it. They were nice, but nothing to make a fuss about. Then along came Brandon, and with him, a whole universe of things pickled and brined.
There were clues. I heard about his vinegar collection before I laid eyes on him: The man is obsessed with vinegar. His pantry, he told me proudly on our first phone call, contained at least 30 types, from the simplest white vinegar to aged balsamics, specimens made from Cabernet grapes and others made from cherries.
For someone who loves to cook as much as I do, meeting him was like winning the lottery -- only instead of a big check, my grand prize was pickles.
Each night, Brandon scours the shelves, sampling and sniffing, to pick the best vinegar for our salad. When we make soup, he sometimes adds a drop of vinegar to help perk up the flavors.
And whenever we have a surplus of a particular fruit or vegetable, he commandeers the stove and cooks up a batch of pickles -- or, as I now think of it, vinegar in its most delicious, lip-smacking form.
Before Brandon, I'd never dreamed of such things as red onion pickles or pickled prunes with orange zest. I now know that a kosher dill is good, but a pickled grape is great.
Brandon has always had a thing for pickles, but most of what he knows about making them he learned more recently at Seattle's Boat Street Café and Kitchen. It was there that he had what he calls his "pickle awakening."
It came with the restaurant's signature pickle plate appetizer, a painter's palette in shades of vinegar and salt: a stroke of asparagus here, a splotch of peppers there, a splash of rosy onions, spindly young carrots, golden raisins, even cauliflower tinted with turmeric.
Each pickle was infused with its own mixture of spices: some sweet, some prickly, all ticklish to the tongue. A heady cloud of vinegar hovered over the plate, and we plunged our noses into it. These were not your soggy jarred spears; they were serious pickles, the kind that get under your skin.
It wasn't long before Brandon applied for a job at Boat Street. (You've got to love a man who goes to such lengths for his pickle habit.) He now helps with catering and cooks the occasional lunch shift.
He not only gets to eat plenty of pickles, but he has also befriended the pickle-makers themselves: Renee Erickson, chef-owner of the dinner-only "café," and Susan Kaplan, chef and co-owner, with Erickson, of the "kitchen," the catering and lunch side of the business. With their inspiration and guidance, Brandon is now cooking up a variety of pickles on his own.
Our home kitchen often moonlights as a small-scale pickling plant. The smell of hot brine can make you cough at first, but once you get accustomed, it's kind of intoxicating. On the right man, it makes a lovely cologne.
Brandon and I will be married in a few days. Our rehearsal dinner will be a picnic, and because no summer meal is complete without something cool and crunchy, we're making pickles. (Our caterer offered to provide them, but that was before they heard about Brandon.)
We'll be busy with guests and last-minute errands, but it really isn't any trouble. We're making the simplest pickles we know -- which, conveniently, are also some of the best.
First on the list are Brandon's quick-pickled red onions, doused with apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sugar. It's a recipe he made up on the fly for a Mexican supper with friends last spring, to enliven plates of beans and braised pork tacos. Soft but still crunchy, the onions are delicious on a sandwich, but we hope our guests will eat them out of hand, too, with swigs of cold beer.
In addition, we're calling into service a couple of Boat Street recipes, offered to us with wedding blessings. We'll be making the restaurant's sweetly spiced pickled prunes, which pair beautifully with pâtés and cured meats. (I made a trial run of the recipe for a cocktail party in May, and all around the buffet, people gasped and marveled, "These are prunes?" They're that good.)
We're also borrowing Boat Street's recipe for pickled grapes with mustard seeds and cinnamon. They're cold, crisp-skinned and sweet-tart, and sure to get conversation flowing among our newly joined families and friends.
Tradition says that on her wedding day, every bride needs "something borrowed." It's only appropriate, of course, that mine should be a couple of pickle recipes.