Wednesday, May 30, 2007 FOOD
Pick a peck of pickles
Rick Field makes some jarring statements with fresh produce and brine
You might think that these old-fashioned pantry staples are just like Grandma's. If that were the case, Grandma wouldn't be afraid of combining green tomatoes with curry powder and Spanish onions, or adding enough cayenne pepper to her dilly beans to earn the name "Mean Beans."
These days Field's pickling is done in a
Field is playing around with recipes for a new asparagus pickle. He'll call it "WhupAsp." Even in a home kitchen, pickling can feel a lot like lab day in high school chemistry class. First Field sterilizes glass jars in the dishwasher. "If you're low-tech, you can boil them for 15 minutes," he says. The pickles start with two pots on the stove, one for the vinegary brine, which is the flavoring liquid for the vegetables, the other filled with boiling water to seal the filled jars later.
Before he starts pickling, Field lays down the law. "You shouldn't be scared of pickling at home," he says. "One, pickling in your kitchen is really fun, and you should be able to find your own way through it. And two, you will not die of botulism making pickles. Just follow the steps carefully and patiently."
Field, 43, looks the part of the tortured artist. He favors a jaunty straw hat and drives an old Subaru wagon, usually with his trusty old mutt Lefty riding shotgun. Shaggy-haired and wearing baggy cargo shorts and laid - back slip-on shoes, he could be mistaken for a roadie with one of the summer tour jam bands.
Cambridge Native Rick Field lifts a
jar from a canning pot with a jar lifter. Field's pickles are sold under the
label Rick's Picks. The company is based in Brooklyn; the pickles are made in
Rick's Picks is three years old ; Field formed
it with business partner Lauren McGrath, a former caterer. They began with nine
varieties, selling them in greenmarkets and specialty stores in
Field grew up in
At his friend's house, he follows one of his own rules: He wants every jar of pickles to taste of three elements. For the WhupAsp, he's decided on tangerine juice, hot cherry peppers, and white peppercorns.
While the water comes to a boil, he slices the bright round chili peppers, trims asparagus with a Japanese knife, and adds white wine vinegar and fresh tangerine juice to the brine pot in equal proportions. He tastes the mixture with a spoon until it has the right balance of sweetness and acidity. When he's satisfied, he brings the brine to a boil.
Field began his career on a film crew.
After college he moved to
He nurtured a hobby making pickles. He
bought vegetables at the
Field has always bought produce locally
and sold pickles at farmers' markets. "I knew that I could connect with
people at the greenmarkets," he says. "I knew that I wanted the
company to be about what was fresh and local." He buys his spices from
Sahadi's Specialty and Fine Foods in
Most of Rick's Picks are bottled between early July until the first hard frost. Workers fill
750 to 1 , 500 jars in one session in a rented
commercial kitchen in
When the jars are settled in the water, Field slams down the lid and starts the timer. "These will boil for 6 minutes," he says. "Much more than that and they will start to turn to mush. With pickles, crispy should be the number one adjective."
Before they're ready to eat, the pickles need to sit on a shelf for a couple of weeks to absorb the flavors of the brine. Once opened, they're good for many months in the fridge, to use as a snack with sandwiches, or as a piquant mouthful beside a steak.
Not that they would ever last that long.
Rick's Picks are available at Concord Provisions, 73-75 Thoreau St., Concord, 978-369-5555; Darwin's Ltd., 1629 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-491-2999, and Whole Foods Markets, or go to http://rickspicksnyc.com.