I think I would enjoy a book from Chris Schlesinger and Doc Willoughby on just about any culinary subject, based on their excellent `How to Cook Meat' and even more so on this tasty little book `Quick Pickles' on what may loosely be described as refrigerator pickles, as no heat-based preservation techniques are involved. I should note that while Schlesinger and Willoughby are certainly the big names on this briny marquee, the third author, Dan George, is probably the most important contributor of content. George is a lawyer by training, but his real passion and skill is in cooking, especially in cooking pickles. In addition to his role as a litigator, he is billed as the `pickle chef' for Schlesinger's restaurant `Back Eddy' in Westport, Massachusetts where pickled this, that, and the other thing are a big feature of the cuisine. What this means is that this book is not the result of Schlesinger and Willoughby's wanting to make a fast buck by attaching their name to a book about a subject on which they have no expertise.
As revealed in the introduction, pickling, at least some of the most traditional pickling techniques, belongs to two venerable culinary traditions.
The first and more important theme is that of methods used to preserve food before the advent of mechanical refrigeration. In this vein, pickling vegetables joins curing meats with salt and preserving foods by drying as a means of retarding spoilage by bacteria. That most of these techniques are still in use is a testament to the fact that they are also methods for enhancing flavor by removing water and adding salt or vinegar or both to the food.
The second theme is that as a method for preparing foods, pickling is in the same class of techniques as the baking of artisinal breads, beer making, vinegar making, and cheesemaking. All these techniques involve fermentation of sugars or starches into alcohol or acetic acid by the action of yeasts or other microorganisms. This means that in spite of the title `Quick Pickles', pickling procedures simply proceed at a much slower pace than a roast, sautee, braise, or even a marinade. Some recipes may take hours, but others, especially those involve fermentation often need days.
One big surprise is in the number of different pickling subjects and methods. There is a lot more here than dill pickles and Kimchee. The chapters of recipes are:
Fresh vegetable pickles where the stars are cucumber, chiles, corn, onions, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes beets, squash, and turnips. The authors do not cover gherkins or cornichons as the vegetables on which these pickles are made are simply not grown in this country. Pity.
Fresh Fruit Pickles, the most common of which are from watermelon and rhubarb. It is more surprising to see pickles made of grapes, peaches, citrus fruits, pineapple, and mango. The secret to pickling soft fruits seems to be in the use of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and spirits, preferably bourbon.
Fermented Pickles, like breads raised with natural yeasts, are the artisinal versions of pickles. This is the land of Kimchee and sour pickles and procedures that run for many days. These are the pickles you fish out of great wine barrels in 19th century general stores.
Oil Pickles are the big surprise in this book. The most familiar oil pickled products to western palates are olives done in a North African style. The true star of this chapter is the technique that comes from India. The famous spice mixes of India such as garum masala plus lots of mustard, garlic, and chiles are heavily used here. Greece and the Middle East are other sources of oil pickles.
Pantry Pickles give us many of the recipes we are most likely to expect in this book, including purple pickled eggs, pickled horseradish, and pickled cherry peppers. Some recipes produce interesting edibles in a few minutes, but all give better results after a few days.
It is just a little surprising that after presenting both East Indian and Pennsylvania Dutch specialities, there is no mention in the book of either chutneys or chow chow or any other pickle relish for that matter. I do not think this is a weakness in the book, but it should temper buyer's expectations by knowing they will need to find a book on relishes to get recipes for these preparations.
While this book offers great recipes, great background, and great applications for pickles, it also happens to be a great book to read. I suspect the Schlesinger and Willoughby team is so successful in it's combining a very talented chef with a very talented culinary journalist. It also does not hurt to have the inspiration of a passionate pickle chef.
Highly recommended recipes that are easier than you may expect, but do not be surprised at the need for one or more days for the products to reach their best taste.