“Are there carrots?” my friend asked.
The question wasn’t existential. He was planning to feed a lot of people and wanted to be sure he had the proper condiments to accompany the food. By carrots, he meant carrots and peppers, packed into quart-sized jars with sweet and salty vinegar.
Once upon a time, those spicy, crunchy pickles served as a currency among a certain circle of friends. In those days, I would make about 30 quarts per year for gifting, swapping and sharing at the table. The meal planner had asked me if there were carrots so we could properly feast at an upcoming work party. I had none but promised to make a few jars.
I’d never pickled carrots in the winter before — only late summer, when peppers are fresh and abundant. I use fleshy peppers like jalapeño or cherry bomb, but almost any variety works. When I visited the winter farmers market to pick up some freshly dug carrots, I found a bag of dried Thai chili peppers and decided to give them a shot.
I knew the chilis would become chewy and possibly deadly when reconstituted, but I couldn’t resist making a few jars of especially spicy pickled carrots. For old times’ sake, I also stopped by the supermarket for jalapeños, which are, in my opinion, the world’s greatest pepper.
On a whim, I decided to roast my jalapeños before pickling them. This made their flesh softer than desired, but roasting brings immense gains in flavor, and I was fine with the trade. When I ran out of carrots and roasted jalapeños, I packed the top few inches with cauliflower, also from the farmers market. I finished with a few tablespoons of olive oil, which would sit on top and coat anything pulled from the jar. It looked like something from the salsa bar of a borderlands Mexican restaurant.
When the jars were packed, I heated the brine, adding vinegar, water, sugar and salt. I poured the hot brine into my packed jars, screwed on the lids and enjoyed the chorus of pings as the lids sealed.
That night, I pondered how long I should let the carrots pickle before trying them. Two weeks, perhaps? “Seems reasonable,” I told myself.
As I chewed my salami sandwich, though, I gazed at my beautiful new jars of pickled carrots. They looked tantalizing. They had barely cooled to room temperature, but I figured they had been pickling long enough — at least for a taste. It’s not like I’d be halting the pickling process by eating one carrot. So, I popped open a jar and pulled one out to eat with my sandwich. And just like that, it was the best sandwich I’d ever had.
This recipe is for refrigerator pickles, which must be stored in the fridge, not at room temperature. If you want to make storage pickles that will last for months on the shelf, use the same recipe but follow sterile canning procedures.
This recipe yields a 1-quart jar of pickled carrots. Scale up the recipe to make several jars at once.
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups peppers, whole or sliced
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
¼ cup sugar
Add the salt and mustard seeds to a sterile 1-quart jar, followed by the carrots and peppers. Leave at least an inch of space between the top of the veggies and the rim. Combine the vinegar, water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until it starts to boil. Pour this brine into the jar so it covers the contents. Screw on a sterile lid and ring. Within about 20 minutes, you should hear the ping as the lid seals. It will last for months in the fridge.
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