Usually when I'm invited to a special party, I worry about what I'm going to wear.
For yesterday's special party, the Second Annual Bay Area Food Bloggers' Picnic, I worried about what I was going to cook.
Was I in a pickle? No. In a flash of light, I solved my problem by deciding not to cook.
And considering that the party guests were People of Palate, I decided no ordinary pickles would do. I needed to challenge taste buds. I wanted to break rules. I had to respect my own Cookiecrumb nutcase personality.
So I made Strange Pickles.
I won't say they were entirely successful. In some cases I think I could have used a little more restraint. A little more finesse.
But I'm proud of my crazy attempt, and a couple of the finished pickles were really good.
So: Top row, left, is green beans marinated in blackberry vodka, vinegar and bay leaves. They were a little too crunchy, and the cut ends of the beans sucked up berry stain, which is pretty if you know what you're looking at, but maybe not so pretty if you don't.
Center dish holds fresh blueberries marinated in an exhilarating syrup of vinegar, sugar and black pepper. A couple of cloves, too. The berries only bathed for a couple of days, so not a lot of infusion occurred, but the flavor was right on.
Right top dish holds okra pickled in vinegar, fennel-infused vodka, chili peppers and fennel pollen. I think that came out plain weird.
Things get really good on the bottom row, though.
Left dish holds locally foraged pickleweed, aka seabeans, samphire, glasswort, or salicornia. When they were freshly cut, the aroma was surprisingly nice: sort of greenish, floral, a tad marshy and utterly new-smelling. I tried to imitate that with a pickling brine of vinegar, salt, and the 3 C's — coriander, caraway and cloves. It was just right. Pickleweed is crisp and tender, all at once, and it grows right down the road. Heaven.
The center dish was my second-most ambitious attempt, and possibly the most successful. I immersed Rainier cherries in a blend of sage/mint-infused vodka and vinegar, and tossed in a few sage leaves, bay leaves and a handful of lavender buds. It sat in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and emerged jewel-like and exotically perfumed.
Finally, in the last dish is — well, maybe these are the smoking pickles. They were kind of smoky-tasting, anyway. They are mushrooms briefly warmed in olive oil, then marinated in vinegar mixed with coffee-vanilla infused vodka, with a few sprigs of rosemary. Our generous party host, Owen, tried a cherry first, then a mushroom. Pretty soon he went back and ate another cherry.
Maybe he just needed to get that taste out of his mouth.
Update: This is such a cheap trick, and I resorted to the same cop-out last year, but for a super-duper report on the picnic, go read Sam's gorgeously redesigned blog. And she links to a whole slew of other reports and photos that are graciously less self-centered than mine.