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The rhubarb and spruce tip pickles in the photo above (and post below) by Carri Thurman, baker and chef at Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska, make, she says, a refreshing palate cleanser. I knew you could pickle rhubarb. I didn’t know you could eat pine needles for pleasure. Below, how a chance phone call and a culinary curiosity resulted in an intriguing preparation (and a solid all-purpose vinegar-based pickling ratio).—M.R.

by Carri Thurman

It has been unsettlingly sunny and warm this spring here in Alaska, but thanks to the still cool nights the season is lingering a little later here than down south—or “Outside,” as we like to call it. This gives us a little more time to capture nature’s emerging bounty before it fades into the true heat of summer. One recent sunny day I arrived to work just as my cell phone jingled in a new text message. It was from a friend who clearly needed to talk, so I slipped out the bakery back door and into our quiet little garden to phone her. The bakery was busy, with both the back and the front of the house bustling, making me feel uneasy and distracted, so as I was counseling my distraught friend I found myself nervously pacing about. At one point I looked up and admired the bright green tips on the small spruce trees surrounding the garden. As I talked my hands absentmindedly stroked the soft green bud, then, just as absentmindedly, picked it. I went on like this, stroking, then picking these little green gems throughout the rest of our conversation until, when I finally hung up, I had collected a huge pile. Cradled carefully in the papers I’d been carrying, I brought them into the back kitchen to share. We tried one, so good but a little green. How to tame? My latest obsession came immediately to mind: I knew I had to pickle them. I quickly made a basic pickle liquid, cooling it somewhat before I poured it over the spruce buds. I wanted to soften them slightly, so I left it a little warm. After covering the container lightly, I popped them in the refrigerator overnight and the next day fished one out for a nibble. It was perfect. A little piney, a little sweet and sour. It would make a great addition to a fatty dish as sort of an herb/acid “combo replacement pack.” We used it at dinner that night added to a light stone-ground mustard cream sauce in place of dill and lemon, and tossed with freshly made duck egg pasta. We topped it off with seared Kodiak scallops and locally foraged morel mushrooms as a delicious interpretation of this time and place. Not to mention a way to channel good energy after bad, if only I could have fed this dish to my friend. I’m not sure my advice helped her, but I know the pasta would have. Another thing we have in spades up here in late spring is rhubarb. It is not indigenous, but it is everywhere! Every garden has a big stand—or two. The bakery yard has a thriving bush that pops up year after year no matter how many delivery trucks drive over it. I have wanted to figure out a way of using it in a savory fashion for the dinner service and it dawned I me I could pickle that also! (My staff is afraid to get too close these days, for fear I pickle them too!) In order to maintain crunch I sliced it thin, about 1/8 inch on the bias, and then poured cold pickling liquid over it. To help it keep some of its pink color I added 1/4 cup red wine to the pickle formula before I boiled it. The result is a crisp little sliver of summer. We used this on a salad with roasted baby beets, soft goat cheese, and a chive flower vinaigrette. Bring on the summer!

Straight-Up Pickle Liquid

  • 12 ounces water
  • 12 ounces rice wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar (200 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (15 grams)
  • 3 cups spruce tips (or other fruit or vegetable)
  1. Combine all ingredients except the spruce tips in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and cool completely.
  2. Pour over the spruce tips and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. These will keep for at least 3 weeks.

Rhubarb Pickle

  • 12 ounces water
  • 12 ounces rice wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar (200 grams)
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon salt (15 grams)
  • 3 cups sliced rhubarb (about 8 medium stalks cut into 1/8-inch slices)
  1. Combine all ingredients except the rhubarb in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt and cook off the alcohol.
  2. Cool completely (if you’re in a hurry, put the pan in an ice bath). Pack the sliced rhubarb into a quart-sized glass jar. When the liquid is fully chilled, pour over the rhubarb.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. These will keep for 3 weeks or more.

If you liked this post on a Fine Summer Pickle, check out these other links:

© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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3 Wonderful responses to “A Fine Summer Pickle”

  • James O.

    Before the advent of using hops as a bittering agent in beer, many other ingredients were used — it depended on what was available where one lived.

    Spruce tips are one of the better-known ‘hops substitute’, and are still occasionally used in specialty brews, today.

    Makes me wonder how many wonderful flavors are just outside in the yard or neighbor’s field.

    Except the oleander. Pretty to look at, but not good on the plate.

  • Angel Reyes

    Nice. We just ate our first homemade pickles last night, and they were unbelievably AMAZING. They were unlike anything I’ve had before.