As an avid listener of OPB on the morning commute, I was super excited to learn about last month's annual Portland Fermentation Festival, held Thursday, October 20th at Ecotrust's Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center in the Pearl. In my salivating anticipation of all things pickled and brined, I left the workhouse early and invited a friend on our first food-tasting date.

Luckily we arrived early. By the time we'd made the rounds, there was a line of hungry pickle lovers wrapped down the stairs and out into the parking lot. Everybody was packed into the crowded room, pushed up against folding tables to sample batches of brines and ferments from over 3 professional and amateur makers.

We tasted over 10 varieties of sauerkraut alone--starting with traditional green, red and napa cabbages, adding beet, burdock, daikon radish, spring onion, chili, sea vegetables, even blueberry with lavender to make some spectacular kim chee.

We also partook of drinkable ferments: beet kvass, kombucha, ginger-lime soda, kefir and Rejuvelac, to name a few. By the time we left, our bellies were full of briny, sour pickled goodness. What else did I learn? Pickling is super fun, and easy.

Pickling is one of those things that really makes me feel connected to food. I love being able to bring traditional elements to my cooking that wake up the palette, and make my table totally unique and exciting. It's the perfect method for preserving the last of the farmers' market season, and a great way to add that extra bite to salads, meats and mixed drinks.

This fall season, our Chef has featured pickled veggies in many of our favorite menu items. Look for sweet pickled onions in our simple green salad, pickled zucchinis, peppers and onions on our House-Smoked Wild Salmon or Lox Platter, and a briny array accompanying our Chicken Liver appetizer.

I tried Chef's amazing assortment of pickled vegetables in my Bloody Mary this morning--it's really exciting to see how different veggies take to the pickling process. In mine, I had crunchy pickled cauliflower and carrot, tender stalks of chard, fancy fiddlehead ferns, spicy pickled garlic and chewy chantrelle mushrooms!

We thought we'd share a recipe for Pickled Cauliflower, so you can make fancy Bloody Mary garnish at home! Any combination of vegetables will do, just make sure you have enough to tightly pack your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. As in cooking, your veggies will pickle more evenly if you cut them in same-size pieces.


Pickled Cauliflower

Yield: about 5 pints

3 quarts cauliflowerets (about 2 large heads)

1 1/2 Cups peeled pearl onions

1/4 Cup pickling salt

2 Cups sugar

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1 tablespoon celery seed

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 quart vinegar

1 hot red pepper (optional)

Combine cauliflowerets, onions and salt. Cover with ice; let stand 2 to 3 hours. Drain; rinse and drain thoroughly. Combine sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, turmeric and vinegar in a large saucepot. Cut two small slits in hot red pepper. Add pepper to vinegar, if desired. Bring to a boil. Add cauliflowerets and onions; return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Discard hot red pepper. Pack hot vegetables and liquid into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Note: When cutting or seeding hot peppers, wear rubber gloves to prevent hands (and eyes) from being burned.

Variations and Other Things of Interest:

When Chef makes pickled veggies here at Besaw's, he likes to replace half the vinegar with white wine--it gives the pickles a sweeter, subtler flavor that we all love! Almost all of the alcohol burns off during the 5 minutes of boiling, so don't worry about serving to children or teetotalers.

When packing and filling your jars, consider adding fresh herbs to your pickle! Chef likes to add fresh sage, tarragon or sprigs of rosemary. You can also pack your hot peppers in with the veggies if you like your pickles extra spicy, or add a few cloves of garlic to the bottom of the jars for zip.

The sugar in this recipe is totally optional. Most important in any pickle recipe is the salt to vinegar ratio, and the sugar is added to taste. Make sure to use pickling salt, as it has no additives, is finer and will yield more consistent results. Do not use iodized table salt, as it can darken or cloud your pickles.

If you don't have a boiling water canner (usually an extra-large stock pot with a removable tray that holds the mason jars), it's ok to store your packed and cooled pickle jars in the refrigerator. They should be really tasty immediately, but sometimes benefit from a few days' rest.

Like eating (but not cooking)? Come join us any time, we're always trying new things, and love to share!