Recipes: Putting Up
The Grocery chef and owner Kevin Johnson shares recipes for preserving the season’s best produce and tips on incorporating the flavors of summer into your fall and winter menus
While summer is in full bloom and mountains of verdant produce stock the markets, most chefs are busy updating their menus. The delicate flavors of spring have turned to more robust fruits and vegetables—tomatoes, beans, and peaches—and local cooks take full advantage. Chef Kevin Johnson is among them, but the self-professed “pickle man” is also contemplating other, more preservation-minded affairs—how this perfect produce might be saved for another day.
A walk into his Cannon Street restaurant, The Grocery, reveals that passion literally embedded into the walls. Rows of jars line the nook above the open kitchen like edible trophies, filled with the best products of the seasons, slowly transformed through the alchemy of fermentation into memorable highlights that he describes as “acid, spice, and crunch.” They will inform his cuisine well into the chill of winter and back again.
Say “pickle,” and most people think of cucumbers. But Johnson preserves a variety of produce, expanding flavor profiles outside of their typical seasons. “Pickling allows us to add a brightness that might not be available in the winter, or the depth and structure of something from winter in the middle of summer,” he says.
And while pickling may have taken a turn towards a mass-manufactured commodity in the last century, chefs like Kevin Johnson have a much more inclusive view of its potential. “At The Grocery, we never really start conceptualizing a dish by wondering how we can highlight a particular pickle,” he says. “More often, as the dish evolves, we are compelled to reach into our arsenal to elevate the dish to a different level.”
So the jars pile up on The Grocery’s shelves like a delicious tapestry, and the kitchen staff works overtime preparing the feast. Some produce goes in whole, like dilly beans (green beans spiked with dill) or the freshly picked carrots dunked in brine full of cumin, coriander, and fennel. There are sweet ones and sour ones and fruits that get jarred, awaiting roast pork at Christmastime. Some jars become piquant mixtures, relishes that will back oysters and crab cakes further down the line. Beets in winter bring depth to a summertime charcuterie plate, Brussels sprouts become “Brussels krauts,” and even drinks get a bit of a sour lift. “I love the versatility of green tomatoes,” says Johnson. “They add a nice punch puréed into a salsa verde, and their juice is the backbone to our version of a dirty martini and the savory acidic punch to our charred Bloody Mary.”
Regardless of the ingredient or even myriad herbs or spices that might accompany a preparation, what started historically as a way to safely store vegetables became a taste of cultural significance. In the South, that means okra, tomatoes, and slivers of pickled peppers on a salty, paper-thin slice of cured ham. Your grandma did it. The Grocery excels at it. Using these tips and tricks from chef Johnson, perhaps you can put up a pickle or two.
Tips on sterilizing and processing jars and lids:
Sterilize quart- or pint-size Mason jars by boiling in water for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and dry on a clean cloth. Before filling, wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, dampened cloth.
Pour boiling liquid into jars with produce inside. Top with flat lids then close tightly with rings, but do not over-tighten. Arrange the filled jars in a large pot of water. The water needs to be at least one inch above the jars. Bring to a full boil. Cover and continue boiling—process pints for 10 minutes and quarts for 15 minutes.
Carefully remove jars to a rack or place on table covered with a towel to cool. After jars have cooled slightly (about 10 minutes), invert jars and leave for at least 12 hours. Check lids to ensure all jars have sealed properly.
If proper seal was not achieved, place in refrigerator and use within about two weeks. If properly sealed, store in a cool dark place for one week until flavors have set and are ready to serve. Chef Johnson suggests using the contents within the year. Once a jar is opened, store in refrigerator and use within about two weeks.
(Yields 3 quarts or 6 pints)
30 basil leaves
12 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tsp. black peppercorns
3 1/2 lbs. cherry tomatoes
5 cups champagne vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 Tbs. kosher salt
Fill each sterilized jar with five basil leaves, four garlic clove halves, and a half teaspoon of peppercorns. Fill each jar to the top with tomatoes and pack tightly.
In a pot over medium-high heat, bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil until sugar and salt have dissolved. Pour into jars, leaving about a half inch of space at top of each. Process jars to seal.
■ Add to a salad.
■ Purée with some of the pickling liquid and olive oil for a refreshing vinaigrette.
■ Chop and add to a Bolognese sauce for a nice acidic kick.
■ Serve as part of an antipasto with mozzarella, olives, cured meats, and baguette.
(Yields 3 quarts or 6 pints)
12-15 pickling cucumbers, depending on size, sliced into rounds
3 Tbs. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. tumeric
1 1/2 tsp. celery seeds
1 1/2 tsp. dill seeds
Big pinch of red chili flakes
1 Tbs. mustard seeds
3 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar
Toss cucumbers with salt in a nonreactive bowl. Top cucumber mixture with a couple inches of ice and place bowl in refrigerator for three to six hours. Remove any ice remaining in the bowl and drain cucumber mixture in a colander.
Combine spices and seeds in a small sauté pan and toast on low heat or in a 350°F oven for four to five minutes or until very fragrant.
In a nonreactive pot over high heat, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil. Pack cucumbers in sterilized jars. Push down to fill jars as much as possible. Divide spices evenly among the jars. Fill with vinegar mixture, leaving about half inch of space at the top of each. Process jars to seal.
■ Serve with hot dogs and burgers.
■ Mince and add to a remoulade or tartar sauce for fried, broiled, or chilled seafood.
■ Mince and combine with some of the pickle juice, dill, and olive oil for a great vinaigrette over fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet onions.
■ Serve on top of fried oysters with deviled egg sauce.
(Yields 3 quarts or 6 pints)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 Tbs. salt
1 1/2 qts. apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbs. cumin seeds
1/2 Tbs. caraway seeds
1/2 Tbs. coriander seeds
1/2 Tbs. black peppercorns
1/2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1/4 Tbs. allspice
1/4 Tbs. cloves
1/4 Tbs. mustard seeds
1/4 Tbs. sumac
Pinch of chili flakes
15-20 carrots, freshly picked and peeled
3 slices ginger, peeled
3 slices jalapeño, seeded
3 star anise pods
1 1/2 bay leaves
3 mint leaves
Place the sugar, salt, and vinegar in a nonreactive pot and bring to a boil over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved.
Toast spices and seeds in a sauté pan over low heat or in a 350°F oven for four to five minutes or until very fragrant.
Pack the carrots into jars. Add one ginger slice, one jalapeño slice, one star anise pod, one-half bay leaf, and one mint leaf per quart jar (half that amount for pints). Distribute the toasted spices evenly among the jars. Pour the boiling mixture over the carrots, leaving one-half inch space at the top of each jar. Process jars to seal.
■ Slice and toss with almonds and currants for a new take on carrot salad.
■ Slice very thin and add to a salad for a nice bright crunch.
■ Purée with orange juice, cumin, and chilies and add to olive oil for a great vinaigrette.
(Yields 5 pints)
1/2 cup plus 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
5 cups water
4 lbs. radishes, trimmed then halved or quartered depending on size
5 pods star anise
5 slivers fresh ginger
5 slices jalapeño
5 garlic cloves
4 cups white vinegar
3 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. coriander seeds
In a large container, dissolve one-half cup salt in water. Add radishes, cover, and refrigerate for eight hours or overnight. Drain and rinse.
Divide radishes into five pint-size, sterilized jars. Add one star anise pod, one ginger slice, one garlic clove, and one jalapeño slice to each jar.
Combine remaining ingredients in a nonreactive pot over high heat and bring to a boil until sugar dissolves. Pour over radishes, leaving at least one-half inch at top. Process jars to seal.
■ Slice into a salad.
■ Serve with very rich charcuterie.
■ Slice and combine with carrots (raw or pickled), parsley, mint, and scallions for a great topper for roasted lamb.
(Yields 3 quarts or 6 pints)
2 1/2 lbs. green beans, ends trimmed and cut to fit into jars
10-12 sprigs dill
10 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
2 jalapeños, sliced
1 Tbs. red pepper flakes
5 cups apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs. and 1 tsp. kosher salt
Evenly distribute first five ingredients amongst jars. In a large nonreactive pot over high heat, bring vinegar and salt to a boil until salt dissolves. Pour vinegar mixture into the jars, leaving a half-inch space at the top of each. Process jars to seal.
■ Serve with a few greens, some toast, and a slice of rich pâté.
■ Cut and add to some cooked field peas, fresh green beans, and tomatoes for the best three bean salad ever.
■ Garnish a Bloody Mary.
(Yields 4 quarts or 8 pints)
15 green tomatoes, chopped
2 heads cabbage (about 1 1/2 lbs.), thinly sliced
8 yellow or sweet onions, diced
5 red bell peppers, diced
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 Tbs. yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp. celery seeds
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 jalapeño peppers
2 Tbs. turmeric
1 Tbs. dry mustard
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups sugar
Combine the chopped vegetables in a large nonreactive bowl. Add the salt and stir to combine thoroughly. Cover and let stand for four hours or refrigerate overnight. Drain the vegetables and rinse thoroughly.
Toast seeds and spices in a sauté pan over low heat or in a 350°F oven for four to five minutes or until very fragrant.
In a large nonreactive pot, bring the vinegar, sugar, and toasted seeds and spices to a boil. Place vegetables in sterilized jars and pour hot vinegar liquid over vegetables, leaving at least one-half inch at top. Process jars to seal.
■ Serve alongside a hot dog or sausage.
■ Add to a braise of beef or pork to add complexity.
■ Layer on a sandwich.
■ Serve with a charcuterie plate.
■ Chop and add to a deviled egg recipe.
(Yields 4 quarts or 8 pints)
8 lbs. ripe peaches, freestone variety recommended
2 tsp. ascorbic acid
4 qts. water, divided
1 qt. ice
5 cups sugar
4 vanilla beans
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Make a small ‘X’ on the bottom of each peach. Try to just cut through the skin and not the flesh. In a large bowl, mix the ascorbic acid with two quarts water and the ice. Carefully place the peaches in the boiling water and blanch for about 20 seconds. Remove and place in the acidulated water bath.
For the syrup, split the vanilla beans and scrape them into another pot with two quarts of water and sugar. Bring to a simmer over high heat.
Peel the peaches, cut them in half, and divide into sterilized jars.
Pour the vanilla syrup into each jar, leaving about a half inch of space at the top. Place one vanilla bean into each jar. Process jars to seal.
■ Muddle with fresh herbs (mint, basil, etc.) for a great cocktail with bourbon, rye, or rum.
■ Dice and combine with a little bit of the syrup for a summertime ice cream treat in winter.
■ Purée with a bit of sherry vinegar and add to a sauce to liven up pork, duck, or other fowl.
■ Dice and mix with yogurt and granola.
■ Purée and add to a mustard-based barbecue sauce.