I believe in canning, putting up the glory of summer for winter. I always loved the fresh tasting flavors of the quick refrigerator, but could not get around liking the store bought ones. Even the fancy brands seemed to be tasting too much like vinegar, salt and spices. To my palate that is. Hence I got my mind set on a line of pickles very soon - especially as here at The Scrumptious Pantry it is all about making foods that are connected with the culinary heritage of a region. If not pickles made in the Midwest, then where? All those immigrants from Germany, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe - pickling was their preferred choice of preserving the summer bounty.
And that is the keyword PRESERVE. We wanted to make pickles that preserve the flavor of the ingredients, accentuate the character of the veggies - not alter it to a point that if you took out the texture component and taste a pickle blindfolded you would be unable to identify the veggie.
Today, we are launching our first two products in the new line of pickles. It has been in the works for two years now. Our obsession with authenticity led us to put up jars and jars of pickles, trying every pickle recipe we could find in historic recipe books. Just for the fun of it, I just counted the open jars in my fridge that represent the various stages of testing (and which I am eating no matter how they taste cause I cannot throw food away. A salty dill pickle for example is great in an omelette w. potatoes) - 38 jars. I still have 38 open jars in my fridge, and 47 jars that have already been cleaned and stored away for the next round of testing. That equals 85 different test batches on four products. Now, surely that is not a lot of R&D for big food companies. It is a lot for us.
Besides canning batch after batch in the test kitchen, this project led us to browse seed catalogues and speak with agricultural historians, in our quest to identify vegetables that have a history in the Midwest. With all the Polish & German immigration patterns beets made it onto our list pretty early in the process. The Giardiniera was decided on without much discussion, too, because this vegetable medley is the signature "vegetable preserve" of Chicago. The Lemon Cucumber we fell in love with at local Farmer's Markets. And then the Beaver Dam Pepper jumped out at us, when we were researching the Slow Food Arch of Taste – a listing of culturally significant varietals at the brink of extinction. The Beaver Dam Pepper was introduced to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, around 1913 by an Hungarian immigrant. It has a mildly spicy flavor and is just delicious. But it is very difficult to grow – the peppers can get enormous, requiring to put up trellises. So although it was a great tasting pepper, it was abandoned in favor of the easier to grow varieties
John of Stone Circle Farm with a small (!) Beaver Dam Pepper
Luckily by word of mouth we found a farm in Reeseville – Stone Circle Farm – that had been growing some experimental Beaver Dam Pepper plants last year. And how excited we were to hear that John would be willing to give the Beaver Dam Pepper a try on a larger scale. He brought on another Farm close to Beaver Dam – Good Earth Farm- and we were ready to go. We had some setbacks and we had some great successes. Some beautiful peppers and some pretty ugly ones, scarred up with sunburn. The spice profile for brine we developed for the Beaver Dam Pepper was reminiscent of the flavors of Hungary, and we are pretty excited about what we think is a greatly balanced flavor, supporting the characteristic taste of the Beaver Dam Pepper.
Today, we are launching the Beaver Dam Pepper and the Lemon Cucumber. Giardiniera and beets should follow before Thanksgiving. We want to thank our Farmers - John, Nicole, Rink, Jenny, Alison, Alex, Andy and Dirk - for trusting us with their beautiful veggies. A special thank you also to all our taste testers, that might not have tasted through all 85 batches, but still ate a considerable amount of pickled veggies. I personally want to thank Andy Fair, my partner in the kitchen, for not giving up on me and my quest for the perfect preserved pickle.
All our pickles make great additions to a Cheese plate or as an antipasto, but my favorite match so far are slow cooked beans with pulled pork over rice and a Beaver Dam Pepper on the side. How do you like to eat our pickles? Have a taste and let us know! They are available in our online store and moving to your trusted retailers in these days, too.