Even before Mollie’s delicious looking carrot soup post, I had carrots on my mind. After trying hopelessly to cling to summer for the months of September and October, I’ve finally come around to the reality of seasons and started bringing home root vegetables and winter squash and big bundles of colorful chard instead of bags filled to the brim with zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. I managed to sneak in one last perfect season bridging recipe – a simple carrot soup by Nigel Slater with equal parts carrots and yellow tomatoes – before succumbing to more substantial soups and all things roasted and stewed.
Here’s one more season extender – a quick spicy carrot pickle recipe. Now is the perfect time of year to make these pickles. In October/November you start to see big bundles of baby carrots stacked high on the tables of farmers market stands. No, not those slimy baby carrots you find in bags at the super market; verifiable baby carrots planted in the summer and plucked out of the earth hardened by a first frost. These tender little carrots are not only delicious but pretty much exactly the right length to stand upright in a pint jar in a mix of spicy pickling liquid.
I’ve always been one of those people who has a problem with trying to do too much. I take on epic, oversized projects then sweat bullets trying to complete them. And somehow I usually am so overwhelmed by actually completing these projects that I rarely pause, take a step back and enjoy what I’m doing. A classic example of this type of manic behavior went something like this:
“I like making pickles. I’m getting married. Hmm, some of my friends like pickles.
Why don’t I make them for my wedding as a gift to give to guests.”
I then rushed headlong into the endeavor without stopping to realize just how much time and effort making over a hundred jars of pickles would take. Most of my free weekends and summer evenings were spent standing barefoot in an overheated kitchen with jars bubbling on the stove. I stank of vinegar and sweat and wanted nothing to do with pickles for at least a full year after my wedding. But as you can see from the lovely photos taken by our very talented photographer Ryan Muirhead of You Look Nice Today Photography I managed to pull it off.
There were pint jars stacked high of spicy summer squash pickles, dill spears, bread and butter pickles, dilly beans, dilly asparagus spears, and spicy carrot pickles. It had never occurred to me, however, that most people would be flying to our wedding meaning that unless they consumed them at the wedding, most of our guests would need to check their luggage in order to bring home a jar of Pauline’s pickles. Some people cracked open a jar right then and there, passing them around the table while waiting for dinner to be served. The lucky few who drove, tucked a few extra jars under their arms and stowed them away the next day under their wrinkled wedding clothes.
And then there was Mollie. I don’t know if she tasted other pickles or just was immediately drawn to the spicy carrot pickles. But she decided on the spur of the moment that it was worth checking a bag in order to bring some pickles home, and she hauled away as many jars of these spicy carrot pickles as she could get her hands on. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that the whole reason Mollie invited me to join her in this blogging endeavor was so that she could get her hands on this recipe.
This is as close to a as perfect a pickle as you can get. They have a nice balance with the heat of the pepper offsetting the natural sweetness of the carrots. Plus I love how these full carrot spears look in a jar up on the shelf. They have a more nuanced taste and texture than your run of the mill pickles and if I only had to pick one type of pickles to make, it might be this one.
They’re fairly straightforward with only one difference from the standard pickle recipe. You prep the carrots – I leave them unpeeled and try to keep a bit of the carrot tops on as a reminder of their big bushy tops. You then bring the vinegar to a boil with the other flavoring ingredients and put the spices in the bottoms of the pickling jars. Then you cook the carrots briefly in the pickling liquid as opposed to most recipes where you leave the vegetables raw and pour the hot liquid over them. There’s lots of room for experimenting here. I left out the sugar from the original recipe but you could add as much as 3 tablespoons of sugar or honey for a more traditional sweet/sour flavor. You can experiment with adding more or different types of heat. I reduce the amount of dried hot peppers I put in my jars since I’m a spice weenie but you could add more hot peppers or different types of dried pepper. I typically used dried arbol chilies, red pepper flakes, and black peppercorns but I could see experimenting with aleppo pepper and some cumin seeds for a more Mediterranean flavor profile or maybe add in some urfa biber or isot pepper instead of dried red chili peppers. Or maybe you could try using Tien Tsin or habernero peppers for more heat. Or imagine making this recipe with baby purple carrots or a mix of white and orange carrots for a truly beautiful jar of pickles.
With this recipe in hand and a jar of pickles in the mail, maybe Mollie will finally try making these herself. I certainly hope so. Enjoy!
Tips and Tricks:
- I like to leave the carrots alone as much as possible so that they retain their appearance. I don’t peel true baby carrots since their skin is soft. I simply scrub them lightly with my fingers under cold water to remove any dirt. If they have any small hairs sticking out of the skin, use a small brush to clean them more vigorously. I try to find carrots at the farmers market that are about 4 inches in length and then after washing them cut them so that about an inch of the carrot stem remains on top. Sometimes this means I need to trim the root. To some extent you can have slightly longer carrots since the thin root tips will bend and easily curl up at the bottom of the jar without taking up too much space.
- In order to get the right height for pickles I always like to keep out one extra pint jar. I start by cutting one vegetable and testing it in the jar then use that as my guide for cutting the other vegetables. If I’m ever not sure I’ve caught a vegetable short enough, I can easily pop it into the extra jar to make sure it will fit. You can also use this extra jar to test to make sure you don’t have too many vegetables to fit in your jars.
- When making pickles it’s important to always use a vinegar that has a 5% acidity level or higher to ensure you’re safely pickling. You need this level of acidity to ensure that any organisms cannot grow in the pickling solution. You can, however, substitute other vinegars. For example halfway through prepping for this recipe I realized I didn’t have enough apple cider vinegar. While it has a sweeter taste and nicer color well matched to this recipe, in a pinch you can add in regular white vinegar or even rice vinegar or slightly diluted red wine vinegar. The moral of the story is don’t let a lack of the correct ingredients hold you back from making pickles. The recipe is a base from which to jump off in exploring your own preferred pickling flavors.
- Another important safety tip is to remember to keep a chopstick on hand. Whenever you make pickles, you’re pouring a liquid over solids in a jar. This inevitably results in small air bubbles at the bottom of the jar that can trap organisms. After you’ve filled the jars, take your chopstick and run it along the edge of the jar, allowing the air bubbles to rise to the surface and pop.
- When making pickles we always have on hand the following tools: a large, deep bottom pot for the water bath, a medium sized heavy sauce pan for making the pickling liquid, lots of clean kitchen towels, jar lifters, tongs, a wide-mouth canning funnel, and a chopstick.
- We love filling the extra spaces in between carrots or cucumbers or any other vegetable we pickle with white onions. They not only improve the flavor and appearance of the pickles, but they help you make more efficient use of your pickling liquid. By more tightly packing the jar, you reduce the area available for liquid and thus need less pickling liquid to fill the jar. This is helpful when you’re not sure if you’ll run out of pickling liquid before fully filling out all the jars of vegetables you have prepped. I also always like to keep some vinegar and water on hand in case I run out of pickling liquid. I mix equal parts of the vinegar and water and top off any jar that’s not filled to the top with liquid.
- Lastly something I found very helpful in this recipe was to sort out my carrots based on size so that I could throw the bigger carrots in first and let them cook for a full 8 to 10 minutes. I added my smaller carrots a few minutes later so they only cooked for 4 to 6 minutes. This allowed me to ensure that none of my carrots were overcooked and therefore no longer crunchy when pickled.
Spicy Carrot Pickles
An easy pickle recipe that showcases the freshest, in-season baby carrots you can find. This recipe is adapted from Liana Krissof’s wonderful books “Canning for a New Generation.” Vowing to make every pickle in this book is yet another example of those crazy projects I try to take on but it seems worth it in this case. I left out the sugar but you can feel free to add 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar or honey for a sweeter flavor. You can also adjust the amount of spice by reducing or increasing the amount of dried chilies or adding in a teaspoon or two of crushed red pepper flakes.
Quantity: 4 pint jars
Time to Prepare: 1 hour and 30 minutes
2 lbs carrots, trimmed and scrubbed (roughly 3 large bunches)
5 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
8 dried hot chilies
4 garlic cloves, whole
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 small white onion, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
Scrub the carrots and cut off tops. You can peel them if you prefer but it’s a lot of work and if they’re really baby carrots, they’ll be fresh and tender with the skin on. If you only have larger carrots on hand, you can cut them into thinner sticks. Cut the carrots to approximately 4″ length to fit upright in pint jars. You can keep in ice water to keep crisp until you’re ready.
Start sterilizing the jars in a water bath by submerging the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
While the jars are sterilizing, prepare the pickling liquid. In a large, heavy-bottom sauce pan, combine the vinegar, water, salt, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and any sugar if you’re using it. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes to get the flavors to blend. Then add the carrots and cook just until crisp – roughly 8 to 10 minutes based on their size.
Remove jars from water bath and place upside down on clean, dry kitchen towel. Ladle some boiling water into a heat-proof bowl and put in the lids, fully submerged. Working quickly, turn the jars over and divide the chilies, garlic cloves, and peppercorns (and any red pepper flakes if you’re using them) among the jars. Use tongs to transfer the hot carrots to the jars, dividing them evenly among the jars. It helps to tilt the jar on an angle so you can pack the carrots in more tightly. Then fill in the empty spaces with slivers of the white onion. Using a wide mouth canning funnel, ladle or spoon the pickling liquid into the jars leaving a 1/2″ head space/and/or just to the bottom of the screw top. Then remove any air bubbles from the carrots by running a chopstick around the perimeter of the jar to disrupt them from the bottom. Place a lid and ring on top of each jar and tightly seal.
Return the jars back to the water bath and cover them by one inch. Bring back to a rolling boil and once you’ve achieved that rolling boil, let the jars sit in the water bath for 15 minutes. Then remove the jars and let them sit on a towel undisturbed overnight. Check that the lids have sealed. If they haven’t, then place the pickles in the fridge where they’ll keep for several weeks. Store the sealed pickles and hoard them.