Friday, April 17, 2009

pickled grapes with cinnamon and black pepper

pickled grapes

Wow, people, just wow. I expected a few baby squish, cow country and dishwasher-crazed compatriots out there to squeal with excitement when we shared our news but nothing, nothing like this. You are the nicest group of readers a girl could ever hope for and you make it so much fun to share bits of our lives, and tiny kitchen, with you. Thank you.

purple and black grapes

So when you tell people you done got knocked up, the first question they ask is when are you due (September 22nd, but that’s the fourth date we’ve been given so I don’t get too attached to it), followed by how are you feeling (pretty darn good, thank you, but I think I need another nap) and then whether it’s a boy or a girl (think we’ll leave it as a surprise), if you have morning sickness (um, no, not a lick, please don’t hate me) and then if you’re craving anything weird, like pickles and ice cream.

The problem is, my cravings of pickles and ice cream are what health insurance companies call a preexisting condition, as in, nice try but we’re unimpressed. Heck, we’ve told more than one person that we’re moving to the East Village just to be closer to The Pickle Guys, and the smart ones knew that we weren’t joking. (Other food-related reasons: proximity to pirogis, two farmers markets, one Trader Joes, my friend Molly, who makes killer dry-rubbed ribs and quite possibly the best homemade doughnut I’ve ever had at Back Forty on Avenue B. It’s evil, I tell you.)

black and purple grapes

But there is one thing that didn’t much do it for me before that I cannot stop eating. That even the thought of right now makes me regret chowing through yesterday’s batch so quickly. That if left alone with a freshly-washed bundle, I can chomp my way through it before Alex can look up and say “you realize that was a two pound bag, right?” and then I “uurp?” and quickly eat the last four, because really, it was a little past the point to feign moderation.

trimming the belly buttons

Yes, people, I am obsessed with grapes. Unseasonal, dubious origin, and with a politically incorrect number of food miles on their back, grapes. Do you think it’s just that I miss wine? Is this a fixation that will pass? One can only hope. I haven’t had my teeth this purple-stained since, like, December.

mustard seeds

I do know this, however: When I saw the recipe for pickled grapes in Molly Wizenberg’s first, wonderful book, A Homemade Life, I knew that this was my recipe to try at home (along with the cream-brasied cabbage and buttermilk vanilla bean cake and avocado radish salad, not to mention her cinnamon buns which sadly didn’t make it in). I remember hearing about these before her wedding, and was fascinated. You see, Molly’s Brandon and my Alex are cut from the same brine-loving cloth: they are both obsessed with pickles. There’s nothing too puckering, soused or sour for them, and although I’m newer these (non-cucumber) brining ways, I have quickly made up for lost time, pickling carrots and cole slaws and coins of cucumbers in a potato salad and red onions and roasted red peppers.

cinnamon sticks

But I had yet to make the leap to pickled fruit, at least somewhat due to my vision of pickles including garlic, dill and an abundance of salt. But these pickled grapes are a whole other animal, a dessert pickle if you will,brined with a more delicate white wine vinegar, a good amount of sugar, a cinnamon stick and just enough mustard seed and black peppercorns to keep it on this side of a fruit compote. After a couple days, the grapes firm up and get a little punch to them, while remaining something I could imagine serving with toothpicks at a cheese course. Or you know, standing in the kitchen in my stretchy-waist yoga pants, willing all of those pots and pans to pack themselves. We’re all class around here these days.


One year ago: Peanut Sesame Noodles

Want to come hang out at The Pioneer Woman Ranch with Ree and me? Ree is organizing a get together for local fans of Smitten Kitchen on Saturday, April 25 at the Lodge on her ranch. And by “get together” I mean that I have been talked into demonstrating how to make some of my favorite New York-style grub for a roomful of people. Which should be entertaining as I’ve never demoed anything in my whole life. Ree is holding a contest today until 6 p.m. in which five people (plus their choice of guest) who leave the comment “Enter Me” on this post will be randomly picked to fill the demonstration seats. Not local? Fear not. Ree and I will be posting all about the day on our sites, so you won’t really miss a thing. Except for me fumbling around and trying to pretend that a grape-induced pot belly is a “baby bump”. [Contest Details!]

Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper
Adapted from A Homemade Life, where it was adapted from a Susan Kaplan recipe

I know it takes some time to mentally get around the idea of pickled grapes — heck, even my pickle-loving husband was frightened of them, not that I think a guy who eats pickled watermelon reserves the right to judge — but even if you are a pickle-phobe, I believe these grapes in a syrupy vinegar could convert you. Their flavor profile is more dessert than dinner. The brine is sweet, and the pucker is at a minimum, but with just enough to get a zing of flavor from the pale presence of vinegar that you know you’re eating something spectacular.

Makes about 3 cups

1 pound red or black grapes, preferably seedless
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds (hm, mine might have been yellow? I was unconcerned.)
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 (2 1/2-inch) cinnamon stick, cut in half (if using two jars, otherwise leave whole)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse and dry the grapes, and pull them carefully from their stems. Using a small sharp knife, trim away the “belly button” at the stem end of the grape (and try not to eat all of the belly buttons at once, m’kay?), exposing a bit of the flesh inside. Divide the grapes among 2 pint-sized clean, dry canning jars.

In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then you have two choices. The original recipe has you pour the bring mixture over the grapes and let them cool together. I personally prefer a cold brine on certain foods, not wanting to wilt the fresh fruit, so I cool the brine completely before pouring it over. The former will yield a more tender pickle, and it will pick up the brine’s flavor faster. The latter will take a bit longer to souse, but the grapes will stay more firm. Both will be delicious.

Once cool, chill the grape and brine mixture in their jars in the refrigerator for at least eight hours or overnight. Serve cold, perhaps at a cheese course, and I say you should let people figure out for themselves what they’re eating.


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