Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Lost Art of Real Cooking (& Lacto-Fermented Jicama Pickles)

The Lost Art of Real Cooking is a real book! You can get it here.

Yesterday, I got off the train from Oregon and just like that, all of a sudden, I was a published author. I was also tired, smelly, grumbling at the fog, and oddly nervous.

Is it odd to be nervous about book releases? Particularly, cookbook releases? It's not like I've just published The Collected Love Letters of Thirteen-Year-Old Rosanna (which, incidentally, would be a longer book than I'd like to admit). But still, reading over this cookbook, I find myself thinking, "I said that? But it's so opinionated! How bold!" and I shiver. Not that I don't hold those opinions, of course. But I've had a bit too much practice actively suppressing my opinions in the short-sighted belief that they would only stir up contention if I uttered them. I was nervous. I sidestepped controversy, nodded and said "hmm." I was afraid of being engaged. And now, there's a permanent record of my cooking opinions, in a book! So I'm nervous.

If only I had so actively suppressed my romantic opinions at the age of thirteen.

Certainly it's not very odd to be nervous about live radio interviews. Can you conceive of something more nightmare-and-fever-inducing to an introvert than a live radio interview? It's like talking on the telephone. Times a billion. Of course it's always worth it afterwards, when I'm glowing in the knowledge that the gracious interviewer was actually interested in my book and what I had to say, and that there were many stupid things I could have done and said but didn't. Then I play the interviews back, and notice how my voice sounds so girly and breathless, and wish all over again that I were one of those people who can be effortlessly warm and funny at once.

Like Ken, my co-author. You should listen to an interview he did for Good Food on KCRW today. You can find it here, sometime in the future when it airs.

Now I'm wondering if I'm supposed to confess this timidity, or not! I should be bold and forthright, shouldn't I?

Here's something decidedly bold: jicama pickles! I've only ever had vinegar-pickled jicama before, but it was good enough to convince me that lacto-fermented jicama pickles would be sublime. (It is one of my opinions that lacto-fermented pickles are superior to their vinegar equivalents.)

It took them almost a month to ferment at cold room temperature, but as soon as I got back from [sigh] Oregon, I stuck my nose in the crock and was rewarded with the beautiful aroma of mature lacto-fermentation. They had a little mold growth, which I skimmed off before ladling them into a jar for refrigerator storage. They're delicious right now -- snappy crisp, briny -- but I know they'll only improve as they age in the fridge.

There is one problem. Jicama is a starchy vegetable. The starch from the cut jicama has dissolved into the brine, turning it milky and unpleasantly viscous. Perhaps I should have rinsed the jicama very well after I cut it, to wash off its external starches. Without trying that method, I'm suspicious that more starches would have simply seeped out during fermentation. Or perhaps I should rinse the pickles now, before serving. But that makes me sad, because usually I treasure the brine nearly as much as the pickles (there's nothing like brine in a salad dressing!). Perhaps after I eat the pickles the starches will settle, and I can decant or siphon some clear brine off the top.

Jicama Pickles

Take two or three large jicamas. Clean and peel them and cut out any bad spots. Cut them into sticks about 1/4" wide. (Here you might try rinsing them.) Peel several cloves of garlic and pick the stems from a couple of dried chilies. Pack everything into a medium-sized crock. Mix a tablespoon of salt with a cup or two of water. Pour the water over the cut jicama just until it covers it. Place a clean, flat-bottomed weight inside the crock on top of the jicama. A half-gallon jar filled with water works well, depending on the size of your crock. The closer your weight comes to the edge of the crock, the better (air exposure = a place for mold to grow). Cover everything with a tea towel or layered cheesecloth to keep out bugs, and secure with a rubber band.

Put the crock in a dark, warmish place. Here in San Francisco, that means the cupboard over my refrigerator. If you're anywhere else that actually has a summer, you should probably seek out a relatively cool place. For the next few weeks, check on your pickles every so often. Skim off any visible mold and let them ferment until they start to smell like pickles. Transfer them to a quart jar, pour the brine overtop, and refrigerate. You can eat them now, or let them keep curing. They will only get better.


Jennifer Jo said...

Aren't you going to share the link for YOUR interview???

Rosanna said...

Here's one from Join Us at the Table, a warm, wise show on BlogTalkRadio out of Miami:

We're in the July 3 episode, in the last 15 minutes.

Julia said...

Hey, love the book! Isn't it always easier to be bold when you are writing? Then, you are up on stage it all melts away to reveal your inner thirteen year old. And you know, that 13 year old has a lot of redeeming qualities, contrary to popular belief! The pickles look great, too!

j-st-n- said...

Congratulations! I can't wait to actually hold the book in my grubby, flour-ridden mitts. You've always been an inspiration, so much so that as folks were complimenting me on my mini-blueberry pies (so much better for an evening concert in the park than regular pie) I felt as though I ought to parcel some credit back to you.
I am caught, as with many artists, between the desire to share my muse with the world and the desire to covetously guard our secrets. As it should, the better good wins out and we are all more enriched for it. Proast!

Cindylee said...

I am a grandmother of four and find myself suddenly in love with, 25 year-old female. How can this be, Dearest Paprikahead? I have never even heard of you before! But last week, I saw your book in Williamsburg, VA and the title reeled me in for a closer look. (I've been struggling to learn more about REAL food and REAL cooking...and feeling sometimes REAL overwhelmed. I have also tried recipes from another traditional cookbook with marginal results.)
Reading your book...Where do I start? I LOVE the way you present your recipes-traditionally. It never occurred to this 'gentle reader' that once upon a time, the ingredients were not listed first and separately from the instructions.
Your humor grabs me, your adjectives and descriptions even made my 6 year-old grand-daughter drool at the prospect of creating Tomato Sauce. My family loved the Onion Soup as well as the sauce and I plan to use YOUR method of creating sourdough my next 'go-round'. I'm already using my big mouth and typing skills to spread the word about your book and I eagerly await the sequels...There WILL be sequels, right?
Thank you for a life of real cooking excellently shared.

Rosanna said...

Thank you so much, everyone! Your encouragement is good for me.

Julia -- you're right, it's much easier to be bold when writing. And that moment when my words face their audience is a little bit like going on stage.

J-st-n- --How I wish I could join you for pies and concerts in the park!

Clee -- I am so glad you find our recipes useful and delicious, and that you like the words, too! Enjoy Virginia for me. I miss it dearly.

Gabriela, the Food Lover! said...

Got the book last week and am already experimenting in my kitchen (in Sweden!). Thanks for writing such an informative and inspiring book! :-)