Saturday, June 15, 2013

They call me Colonel Mustard.

This past weekend, I made my own pickles and mustard.

If that statement conjures up sweetly domestic homesteader-ish images of me standing over a large, steaming fragrant kettle of cooling pickle slices or pounding mustard seeds into a paste by hand (actually, this one I would do if I hadn't left my beloved but oh-so-heavy marble mortar & pestle in storage back in Phoenix. Someday!), maybe leaning demurely over the stove in a calico dress and Ma Ingalls-like 'do........well, don't let it. It's more likely that I'm wearing a ponytail, ripped jeans and a paint-stained t-shirt, listening to my beloved Tom Waits and balancing lightly on one foot that is almost surely bare (I like to stand in flamingo-attempting-yoga poses, and there are no shoes in the kitchen, ever). But still, it does make me feel like a homesteader, even if in some weirdly modern way. This is a re-run of a batch I made a few weeks ago (also retro: they were intended for a midcentury-themed picnic; I paired them with another vintage 1950s classic I'd never attempted before, deviled eggs) I'm not canning this batch of pickles, or any batches in the foreseeable future because I haven't yet been able to justify buying a kitchen pot large enough for the water bath necessary to the canning process. Where on earth would I keep it? Under the bed? In the bathtub? On the roof? So these are refrigerator pickles, designed to be kept cool and to be eaten as quickly as possible, not usually a problem around these parts. With a few extra hungry mouths around, the first batch disappeared within days.

Most of the makings of bread & butter pickles: cute little cukes, shallot, vinegars, spices.
Here's something else: I love mustard. I really do. You can call me Colonel Mustard. Sweet, hot & tangy, fiery Asian-style, bright yellow & acidic, mellow brown & toasty, honeyed, herbed, creamy with garlic, I love it all. But I've never made it before, and I'd venture to guess that neither have you.

Strangely beautiful, surprisingly colorful
mustard seeds, looking a bit like strange alien
pod creature larva. Or, you know, like mustard
As it turns out, mustard is surprisingly easy and non-threatening to make. The hardest step in the process you may run into is that actual finding of the mustard seeds. Some stores will have them tucked away in the spice aisle, along with the more esoteric and less frequently used items like anise pods (not so esoteric to me, I have totally bought, used & loved these on a regular basis in the past. Food-snobbery street cred achievement....unlocked!), whole vanilla beans (ditto, although terrible expensive), saffron (see previous), and epazote (say what?). Most stores won't stock them at all. Just keep looking. Try to find both yellow and brown mustard seeds, if at all possible. You'll only need yellow mustard seeds for the bread & butter pickle recipe at the end of this post, but you'll need both kinds to make the kind of coarse, grainy Dijon mustard I was experimenting with, and it's well worth it.

Bread & Butter Pickles

Makes about 4 cups of pickles

1 lb. cucumbers, sliced to about 1/4" thick* 
1 cup thinly sliced onion (I combined shallot & yellow onion for variety, but try any kind you like)
1/8 cup salt
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds (Aha! Another reason to do your pickling on mustard-making day!)
1/2 tsp celery seed

(*large, common grocery-store cucumbers will work, but if you can find smaller 'pickling cucumbers' like the ones pictured, which I scored at a local farmer's market, they are firmer and less watery and will give your finished pickles a crisper, snappier texture)

In a mixing bowl, combine sliced cucumbers & onions with salt, mix well. Cover with ice and let sit at room temperature for two hours. Now's a good time to go off and make your whole grain mustard. After two hours, drain cucumbers & onions. Bring honey, vinegar and spices just to a boil, stirring to make sure everything is fully combined. Remove from heat and pour over cucumber & onion mixture, mix thoroughly. Let mixture cool to room temperature, then place in airtight container and store in fridge. These will be good for up to three weeks, but if you've got pickle-lovers around trust me, they won't even last that long.

Protip: Try these on a homemade hamburger with a slice of barely melted white cheddar and a loving schmear of the grainy mustard you're about to make. You're welcome.

Whole-Grain Dijon Mustard

Please keep in mind: Mustard must be made ahead of time, and will need to sit for a minimum of 2 days before it is ready to eat. So if you're hosting a backyard barbecue like, tonight, and need mustard then it looks like you're headed to the grocery store. Still, trust me when I say that this mustard is worth waiting for. 

And it's so easy that you barely have to do any work at all! Just the waiting. 

Which, as we all the hardest part.

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup dry white wine (necessary for that 'Dijon' flavor, although in the future I'd like to try a version using beer for a completely different result)
1/2 cup vinegar (I used the same combination as for the pickles, a blend of white & apple cider vinegar, but white wine vinegar would also be appropriate here)
1/2 tsp salt
honey, to taste

Place everything except the honey in a nonreactive bowl or a jar with a lid, stir to combine. Cover tightly with  plastic wrap or lid and let sit at room temperature for two days. During these two days, SCIENCE WILL HAPPEN.

Mustard seeds soaking in a mixture of vinegar
and white wine, which even after just about
two hours at room temperature....
.......looked like this! EXPANSION. It's SCIENCE!
Sweet, sweet, mustardy science.
After two days, place the mustard mixture in a blender or food processor and pulse until desired consistency is achieved. I like to blend it just until enough of the seeds begin to pop, release their oils and emulsify the mixture that the whole thing starts to resemble a paste, with lots of whole seeds still swirled into it. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they pop beautifully under your teeth like flavorful mustard caviar. Yum.

Store in an airtight, nonreactive container (I like a glass jar for this task) in the refrigerator for up two three months.