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Stocking the larder

(post, Marjorie Taylor)

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Things have been busy here at The Cook's Atelier.  In addition to my cooking classes, I've been fermenting heirloom tomato seeds for next year's garden, canning, pickling and enjoying the never-ending task of making jam.  The markets are in full swing and are bursting at the seams with the flavors of summer and it is difficult to control the urge to purchase one of everything.  On my list for this week's market were ingredients for duck rillettes; one of the classics of French charcuterie, sweet tiny strawberries for this week's jam, and a crate of organic peaches to make Alice's pickled peaches for my upcoming cooking class on charcuterie.  

As I left the market with my baskets filled to the brim, I spotted little cornichons at Madame Petit's table. Madame Petit is one of my favorite market vendors at the Saturday market in Beaune and the best place for fresh eggs.  Each week she brings a basket filled with eggs from the hens she keeps in her yard.  You have to arrive early though, so you don't miss out, as they are usually gone by 9 am.  In addition to her fresh eggs, she always has a few little baskets filled with things from her garden.  You never know quite what to expect.  Depending on the season, you might find blackberries, haricot verts, walnuts or a fresh rabbit from Monsieur Petit's morning hunt.  She was quick to spot my enthusiasm and scribbled down her recipe for pickled cornichons for me.  Needless to say, I added them to my list of kitchen projects for the week.

In an era when supermarket produce is no longer tied to the local seasons, we sometimes forget that prior to industrialized commercial food processing, it was necessary to stock your larder by preserving the bounty from your garden or local market.  The secret to your preserving success begins with quality, full flavored and seasonal produce.

Although we are enjoying the warm days of summer with light dinners alfresco and chilled rosé, it is time to begin stocking your larder so you can enjoy the flavors of your summer garden through the cold months of winter ahead.

If you would like to grow cornichons in your garden next year, click here.

Serve these lemon-scented, tart little pickles with homemade sausages and cheese or as an accompaniment to a slice of country-style pâté.

inspired by Madame Petit

Makes 2 quarts

2 pounds cornichons
1 cup coarse sea salt
several springs of fresh thyme and tarragon
6 garlic cloves, peeled
bay leaf, one per jar
whole peppercorns, a pinch per jar
2 quarts distilled white vinegar, preferably organic
1/2-inch slice of lemon, preferably organic, one per jar

Wash the cornichons in several changes of cold water while rubbing them to remove the dirt from the garden and the prickly part of their skin.  Place them in a large colander and sprinkle them liberally with the course sea salt.  Toss to distribute the salt evenly and let them stand in the colander, in the sink or over a bowl, for two hours to drain.  The salt will help remove the moisture from the cornichons and allow them to soak up the brine.

Dry the cornichons with a clean, dry kitchen towel, leaving some of the salt. Transfer to clean jars. Arrange the cornichons, thyme, tarragon, garlic, bay leaf and whole peppercorns in each jar.  Heat the vinegar and pour it over the cornichons making sure to cover them completely.  Let cool completely, uncovered. Place a lemon on top of each jar and give it a shake or two.  Refrigerate at least 10 days.  You can give them a taste within the first few days, but keep in mind they will be quite tart at first but mellow as they absorb the brine. The cornichons will stay fresh for up to a month.  Keep refrigerated.