Sunday, 18 October 2009


Not long after I arrived in Turkey a friend of mine, Gonul, was showing me how to make stuffed cabbage leaves (which, by the way, are one of the most mouth wateringly delicious little things I've ever eaten). After we were done we had quite a lot of cabbage left over. If you've ever seen a cabbage here, you'll understand why. Anyway I said (or at least kind of tried to say... I used a lot of hand motions during this phase of my life), "What should we do with all this extra cabbage?" I must have communicated somewhat effectively because she looked at me with a smile and a sparkle in her eye, raised a finger in the air as if to say, "Ah ha!" and then started making pickles.

Gonul found a large jar, chopped the cabbage into wedges and stuffed it in. She opened my refrigerator and started pilfering the contents and throwing them into the jar - carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, bell peppers. Then she grabbed my vinegar, dumped it in along with water, salt, some garlic and lemon juice, and screwed the lid on. Next Gonul pointed to my calendar and showed me that I needed to wait at least a week and then (pointing to the strange assortment curing in the corner of my kitchen and motioning with her hand to her mouth) I could dig in and eat it up, and (patting her tummy, smiling, and saying "mmmmm") I would like it.

What Gonul couldn't have known is that I'd already tried a similar concoction of pickled vegetables at a neighbors house and absolutely hated it. It was, let's see, how can I put this delicately, well, it was absolutely disgusting. But I ate it. I ate a whole lot of it. After choking down one bowl of pickled who-knows-what in order not to offend my hostess, she assumed I loved it and served a second even bigger bowl.

Back to Gonul's pickled assortment. I let it sit for a week so that when she came over she'd see I hadn't just tossed it, then I put it in the refrigerator and every day threw a little bit away. Yep, in order to keep from offending, I basically lived a big fat lie until the giant jar was empty.

Since that time I've learned to speak Turkish and become less scared of offending. Whenever anyone offers me a bunch of pickled stuff I kindly explain that I don't care for pickled stuff. Then, without fail, they say, "Oh, that's because you've never tried MY pickled stuff" As if their recipe is so very very different from everyone elses.

They serve me up a big bowl and wait eagerly while I try it. And without fail, I plaster a fake smile on my face, say, "Oh, you're right... this is better." Then I try my best to choke down at least half of it before lamenting about how full I am and how I can't possibly eat another bite. I lie, I know it's bad, I know I shouldn't, but at least I'm being honest for you, right?

Now I feel like my world has turned upside down. I feel like I've become the thing that I once detested. I've entered a dark and confusing phase of my life.

I make my own pickles. Not only that, I feel really really cool making them, like a pioneer, or a pilgrim, or at least a really homey domestic make everything yourself kind of gal.

It makes me feel so cool that I want to fit it into conversations, just to let people know how crafty I am... but I don't find the opportunity very often.

I keep hoping that one day a friend will be complaining about the price of pickles, and I can say, "Oh really? I wouldn't know... I make my own pickles... from scratch." Or maybe someone will say that they can't decide which brand is best, and I'll say, "Oh, you mean store bought pickles? I wouldn't know. I make my own."

It started with my friend Kim giving me a pickle recipe and a jar of pickles she'd made. This was the first and only time I've ever experienced homemade pickles in Turkey and actually enjoyed it. It probably had to do with the fact that she only pickled cucumbers. She didn't venture into the vile world of pickling vegetables that the Good Lord never intended to be pickled.

Thanks to my new inspiration, I made some pickles too. First I bought cucumbers. Do you see how cucumbers here are much smaller than cucumbers in the States? These are sold in grocery stores as pickling cucumbers.

I tried to take a picture of a cucumber in my hand so I could show you the size, but then I looked at it, gasped as I realized how badly I need a manicure, and immediately deleted it. Here's Marie demonstrating the size for you instead.

I washed these babies up, and threw them in a jar, like so....

Then I put a couple of cloves of garlic (they're called teeth, not cloves, in Turkish... thought you might enjoy a bit of Turkish language trivia). I poured a mixture of boiling vinegar, salt, and water over the top, then tossed in a few sprigs of dill. Last I put on the lid, put it in the fridge, let it sit a few days, and wa-lah! I had myself a jar of pickles. Easy as pie. Or really, it's much easier than making pie.

Sadly, I've now become one of those annoying pickle pushing people I once tried to stay far away from. If you come to my house it wont be long before we're having this conversation:

"So, do you want some pickles?

What? You don't like pickles?? Oh, well that's because you haven't tried MY pickles. Give them a try (pointing at the bowl of pickles that I've shoved in front of your face and motioning hand to mouth) and you'll find they're delicious (saying "mmmmmm" while I smile and pat my belly)."


TnT said...

i want one of these jars of pickles. oh me oh my, they look wonderful. my cucumber seeds are just coming up in my garden, a little too late... alas...there's always canning pickles next year.

Jamie and James said...

I'm sure there are tons or recipes out there, here's the one I used... so easy!
For 1 kg. cukes;
1 1/3 c vinegar
2 2/3 c water
3 T salt
fresh dill
garlic cloves

Put cukes in jars, add 1-2 cloves garlic per jar, pour boiling mixture of vinegar, water and salt over cukes, add dill sprigs on top. Refrigerate and you can eat the next day.
(different amount: 1 c vinegar, 3 T salt, 2 c water)

Jess said...

Yay! I've been thinking of pickling for a while but always thought it was too much like making jam with the crazy lid seal thing involved. Now only grad school time commitments stand in the way...maybe over christmas break I can make them. Thanks for posting it!
much love.

Jamie and James said...

Jess, take a break from your studying and projects and try it!!! It seriously takes only 10 minutes! They're good the next day, but really taste like pickles 4 or 5 days later. The lid seal thing intimidates me too... I keep thinking I need to get over it so I can can summer fruits, but haven't yet... maybe next year.
Miss you!

Anonymous said...

Do the Turks also make pickled watermelon rinds?!

Also, why do you boil the vinegar?

(this is Kristal...can't remember my password!)

Ruth said...

love your pickle story! i have used that recipe for years and my turkish friends love it! esp since you can eat them the next day!

Jamie and James said...

Kristal, I've never heard of pickled watermelon rinds... do they make that in Albania? You boil the water, salt and vinegar all together... I guess it's to dissolve the salt? Maybe it also helps them cure faster if it starts out really hot.

Ruth, I'm so glad you shared your recipe with Kim. I LOVE it.

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