In a Pickle, I Learned to Love That Dirty Water

I’m gonna tell you a story. I’m gonna tell you about my town. I’m gonna tell you a big, bad story, baby. Aw, it’s all about my town …

A few weeks ago, Boston found itself in a bit of a pickle—and so did I. A water pipe responsible for delivering Boston’s water supply burst, making the safety of Boston’s finest questionable. Bottled water flew off supermarket shelves and Starbucks was unable to sell lattes. The city was on edge. I wasn’t worried about bottled water or espresso. I could boil my water and use it to make coffee at home, but the busted pipe added a new twist to my plan to spend the day baking bread and pickling. (Oh dear, I know how that must sound.)

Aside from the obvious problem of thinking that this was a delightful way to spend an afternoon, I had another issue: I was in a clean dish deficit; I had to figure out a way to safely wash the necessary dishes, if I was to avoid the liver failure and vomiting threatening the Boston area. The department of public health was recommending to submerge washed dishes in a bleach solution, however eyedroppering an 1/8 of a teaspoon of bleach into a gallon of water seemed like a bad idea. What—apparently—seemed like a GOOD idea was to—instead—boil my washed dishes. And so I did not turn back; I went fearlessly, full speed ahead with my previously devised plan to bake pan integral and pickle.

So there I was, in unusually hot 87-degree weather, with my 475-degree oven and pots of boiling water bubbling away on the stovetop. Things got a little dicey when boiling water splashed on the fresh blisters I earned gardening the day before: blisters, I might add, that were made even more raw with repeated application of hand sanitizer (also recommended by the health department). Suffice to say that these are not problems an individual living in the 21st century typically faces on a Sunday: the irony of the situation was not lost on me.

Pickling, when done centuries ago, was a way to preserve food, as the high acidity helped to keep bacterial growth at bay. Now, if I was slightly more delusional (and slightly less of a hypochondriac), I might have reasoned that my present-day pickling would kill any nefarious Boston-based bacteria, but I knew better, and so I cut the vinegar brine with white wine instead of water. Sure, I suppose substituting booze for non-potable water is old news to any swashbuckling pirates or beer-swilling serfs out there, but I was quite tickled with the substitution and, in the end, I think it was an improvement. Dare I say that we might all stand to benefit a bit from small disasters every now and then; for me, the water ban was a way to get creative and problem solve. Also, it made me very thankful for clean water.

So next time you find yourself in a bit of a pickle, perhaps try this pickling recipe. The addition of cloves and grapes may sound unusual, but it’s actually my favorite component. I had the idea to add the grapes after being offered pickled grapes at a new bar in Boston called
Woodward (instead of the traditional mixed nuts often served at such establishments). This modern saloon—I kid you not—describes itself as “Ben Franklin meets a supermodel.” If plucky Ben Franklin isn’t the apotheosis for creative invention, then I don’t know what is. Lucky for you, if you have clean water, the recipe is quite simple and shouldn’t use up too much of your ingenious brainpower. Oh Boston, you’re my home.

Pickled Carrots, Grapes and Cucumbers with Cloves and Juniper

2-2¼ cups apple cider vinegar
¾ cup white wine (or water)
¾-1 cup sugar
8-10 cloves
8-10 juniper berries
1 tbsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp pink peppercorns
1 tsp black peppercorns
1½ tbsp salt
¾ pound red grapes, with the stem ends cut off so that flesh is exposed
3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 cucumber, sliced
¼ habanero pepper, seeded
Few sprigs of dill

Combine vinegar, wine, sugar, spices (not including dill) and salt and bring to a boil on the stovetop, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Put the grapes, carrots and cucumbers in glass jars (or any other container you wish to store them in) and pour the hot mixture over them, top with additional vinegar, if needed, until they are completely covered with brine. Add the dill and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Makes about 6 cups with brine.


I gave a range for some of the ingredients listed above so that you could tailor the brine to your personal tastes. I assure you the combination of spices is quite delicious, however feel free to use whatever you have around. With the addition of habanero, the recipe is admittedly not for the faint of heart, though I suppose no pickle (or problem) is for that matter. So have at it.

The pickled nibbles get better the longer they sit, so try to wait 3 or 4 days before tearing into them. I couldn’t find a consistent recommendation on how long refrigerator pickles will keep; the general consensus online was between 1-2 months in the refrigerator, though I doubt there will be anything left by then.

And oh yes, I almost forgot. After the pipe break was repaired, officials tested the water: it was safe the entire time.

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