There are a lot of ways to enjoy pickled preserves: on or beside a sandwich, mixed into a spicy curry, or straight from the jar. I consider no use more noble (or mandatory) than as a foil to the salt and fat on one of those two collations of savoury greatness the charcuterie and cheese boards. If I can’t picture myself chasing a piece of crusty baguette slathered in chicken liver mousse with a piece of a particular pickle I probably won’t get out the canning kettle. Pickled carrots pass the charcuterie/cheese test on taste (sweet and acidic), texture (one of the best retainers of natural crunch without chemical assistance), and colour (other than Beemster and its French cousin Mimolette orange is a rare colour on these platters).
Other than my own culinary demand this project was made possible by a bountiful supply. I had read last winter that carrots and tomatoes are great garden companions and because I knew that we would be devoting one of the cottage garden’s largest of four beds to tomatoes again this year I figured there wasn’t much to be lost by buying a packet of carrot seeds and sowing them around the designated spots for the tomato plants. I’ll write more about this in my round-up of 2009′s gardening season but suffice it to say that this low-intensity experiment was a stunning success. From a total of nearly ten pounds of carrots I designated three pounds of the smallest specimens for canning purposes.
I wanted something simple here so didn’t really need a recipe–a straight 50/50 water/vinegar brine with the usual amount of salt and sugar seemed like the best bet–but used a quick Google search to confirm my first intuition. The best result was David Lebovitz’s A Recipe for Easy Pickled Carrots (I used the dill-seed variation) adapted from Epicurious. Chef Lebovitz wonders how necessary peeling the carrots is and my guess is that the carrots which should be peeled are both the ones with a particularly tough skin and those with enough nooks and crags in the skin that its just easier to peel the skin away than try and get all of the dirt out. I opted to leave mine un-peeled.
As I mentioned in the preserving summary post earlier in the week a side-benefit to pickling with whole or large pieces of vegetables is that spices can be varied from jar to jar. Because they will float around and flavour the brine (which will flavour the carrots) the garlic cloves, dill (or fennel or anise) seeds, or other spices like chili flakes can be dropped into the bottom of the jars before the carrots and brine are added. In this case one of the three jars got a healthy pinch of hot chili flakes. I almost definitely won’t open two jars at once for a head-to-head taste test but I think this variation will suit different tastes and with alternatives I’m more likely to blindly stumble on a memorable and repeatable version.