Pickling is described as a method of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or vinegar. Archaeological evidence shows this method of food preservation has been around for thousands of years. The cucumber seed first traveled from Northern India along the banks of the Tigris River, where it ended up in ancient Mesopotamia: now Iraq, Kuwait and Syria. Anthropologists believe that the Mesopotamians began preserving their cucumbers in brine; a technique that spread the popularity of the cucumber through much of Europe.
Pickling began out of necessity. It was a way to preserve food in an era when refrigerators didn’t exist and fresh food spoiled quickly. The high ratio of salt and vinegar in the brine extended the edibility of fruit, meat and vegetables. The salty, sour taste of pickled foods also served to disguise any “off” flavors that may have developed during long storage.
It can be argued that pickles helped early explorers circumnavigate the globe: in fact, Christopher Columbus wouldn’t have made it to the New World without rationing pickles to his sailors. These pickled vegetables, the sailors’ only source of vitamin C during long voyages, prevented them from getting scurvy.
The technique of pickling has spread worldwide and just about every culture has some beloved version of a pickled vegetable. South Korea has kimchi, Germany has sauerkraut, and Japan has umeboshi (pickled plums). In the U.S., it’s nearly impossible to find a hamburger or hot dog without a dill pickle garnish. Crisp, crunchy, sour, sweet, flavorful: the unique characteristics of pickled foods have a legion of devoted fans. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats 8.5 pounds of pickles a year.
It’s possible to pickle just about anything. The range of ingredients, vinegars, and spices that can be used in the pickling process is only limited by your imagination. One of my favorites to make and eat is escoveitch. Escoveitch is a Jamaican version of the Spanish escabeche. This spicy vinegary pickle was introduced to the island by Spanish conquistadores in the 15th century. The Spanish loved fried foods and brought the technique of making escabeche as they colonized the New World.
Jamaicans have adapted this recipe by using local ingredients such as pimento and scotch bonnet pepper to make this recipe their own. Traditionally, large fish such as kingfish and bonito were cut into steaks then fried the night before, marinated with escoveitch and eaten for breakfast the next morning. Nowadays any fish can be given the escoveitch treatment, even tilapia.
JOMO’S RECIPE FOR ESCOVEITCH
The main ingredients used to make escoveitch are Scotch bonnet pepper, pimento seeds, carrot, white onions, chayote and white distilled vinegar. Most Jamaicans will have a jar of homemade escoveitch sauce in the refrigerator because it’s so easy to make. You’ll need a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, preferably one that can hold 2 cups of liquid. Adding chayote (cho cho) is optional; this recipe works just fine with or without it.
2 -3 scotch bonnet or habañero peppers
1 carrot (peeled and cut into thin rounds or batons)
1 white onion cut into thin rounds
1 chayote (peeled and cut into batons)
1 sprig of thyme
3-4 pimiento seeds (allspice)
2 cups white distilled vinegar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
Cut one of the Scotch bonnet peppers in half to give the pickle some heat. Add carrots, Scotch bonnet or habañero peppers, white onions, chayote and pimento seeds in alternate layers until the glass jar is full. Heat the vinegar and pour into the glass jar until full. Tightly seal the jar and store in the refrigerator for at least a day before using.