Fight Winter Depression With These Fruity Pickles

Pickling is the ancient art of canning. Without it, many of our ancestors would have died of starvation or malnutrition, especially in the dead of winter. This is especially true in the Baltic countries, where freezing temperatures wreak havoc on soil and vegetation as early as November. Therefore, it is not surprising that in places like Latvia you can find the most exciting tastes and varieties of pickles.

Riga Central Market is a massive sprawling structure of five reconstructed German Zeppelin hangars. If you were born after the Hindenburg burned down in 1937 and have no idea what it looks like, imagine the tall, semi-cylindrical pavilions sticking out of the ground like a row of symmetrical Art Deco camel humps. In total, it covers about 778,000 square feet with approximately 3,000 stands in and around the market. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the building’s importance in 1998 when an international cultural organization listed it as a World Heritage Site along with Old Riga, the historical center of the Latvian capital.

Fruits and vegetables are usually found outside, even in freezing winter temperatures on late November mornings. Meat, fish and dairy products are for the most part separated by the terminal, although you will notice some mixing. Honey and beeswax, for example, seem to pop up anywhere, like moths. Then there are bakeries, a few clothing stores, and a modest-sized food court given the immensity of the market.

What attracts me and tickles my imagination is cucumbers. The vendors, mostly women in their fifties and sixties, are armed with white buckets almost overflowing with pickles—large onions, mushrooms, and cucumbers soaked like an earthen sponge in this delicious brine.

Niels Gelvele leads me around and chats with various vendors as I lose myself in the landscape and the cacophony of smells, hoping that some of these pickles might well be on his shopping list. Indeed they are. We buy five small plastic containers to return to FERMA , where Gelvele works as a chef. In a way, he is now the chef of Latvia itself, having won the title of “Chef of the Year in Latvia” thanks to the Latvian Chefs Club.

FERMA is about an hour from opening for lunch when we arrive. I follow Gewele down the snowy alley to the kitchen, where food preparation is in full swing. Valeria Chudova, sous-confectioner at FERMA restaurant, works on various desserts, including honey cake. Later we finish decorating it along with walnuts, biscuits and of course honey.

I watch as Gelvele begins gathering ingredients for a salad with fresh and roasted Jerusalem artichoke, arugula, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, and blackcurrant vinegar. But which cucumber is best? Finally, we pop off the plastic lids and start tasting. We have cabbage in different pickles, from sweet and sour to white wine, and mushrooms soaked in vinegar, salt and sugar. Neither disappoints, but raspberry marinated kale wows us both with rich, vinegar-filtered raspberry flavor sliding down my tongue like it’s rolling down a waterslide.

I myself pickle from time to time, but always followed a simple recipe of vinegar, water, salt and sugar. The idea of ​​using fruit vinegars for pickling never occurred to me, and I mentioned it to Gelvel. It was then that he blurted out his transition formula:

In one 250 ml container, he will brine vegetables in the proportion of 1/3 raspberry juice, 1/3 white wine and 1/3 raspberry vinegar, that is, about 80 ml of each liquid, plus 2 tablespoons of sugar and one tablespoon of salt. That’s all. The addition of fruit vinegars and juices transforms a standard pickle into something unique with little to no extra effort. This opens up new possibilities for experimenting at home with your favorite vinegars and fruit flavors.

“I just started using marinades like this to get more interesting flavors and make the dish more balanced,” he says. “I love when the taste of berries is combined with other ingredients.”

Gelwele says home cooks can experiment with this formula on other vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, beets, cauliflower and cabbage. “Though maybe not raw potatoes.

The darkness of winter wreaks havoc on our moods, making us yearn for the long days of summer, so it’s important to find fresh scents to keep life interesting. So take your vegetables to taste, experiment with a new batch of berry vinegar and juice, and turn your lazy plate of winter manure into a delicious stream of goodies.


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