It’s twelve days till Shavuos, and counting. Actually, eleven, because Yom Tov starts Motzei Shabbos, so everything has to be ready Erev Shabbos for a three day Yom Tov. Oy! We’ll eat some of the meals in shul, most probably, but the dairy lunch I am doing at home. As I have already mentioned in my very first post Hello, Beautiful People! this is my father’s birthday, and it will be the first birthday that he will only be with us in spirit and in memories, but not in person sitting at my table. He would have been 87.
That’s how my father looked 17 years ago, at my wedding. It’s a picture taken by my phone from a small framed photo, but that’s the only one I have from that time.
This one is taken at my younger son’s wedding seven years ago, with my husband, my cousin and her husband. The chasseneh was on Lag b’Omer, only five weeks before my father’s 80th birthday. My brother did that one for him, up North. We all traveled there. I did the 85th, two years ago, and everybody came here. At that time, he would still get up at six every morning and swim in the pool for at least an hour.
And this is one of the latest photos where he not only looks good, but where you can see his kind and gentle personality shining through. I keep catching myself: I still talk about my father in the present tense. I know that the closer it comes to Shavuos, the more difficult it will be, but I have invited relatives and friends who have always celebrated this day with us, and I will make a table the way I always have, the way my grandmother had taught me.
Some things need to be done well in advance, such as pickled appetizers. In Odessa, we learned to pickle everything, all vegetables and some fruit as well. Yes, I do know how to pickle apples, pears, and watermelons, but I have never liked them, so I don’t do them. I stick to veggies, hard and soft. It’s really the easiest thing you have ever done, it takes minutes, and you know that naturally fermented foods are good for you. Basically, the recipe is the same for all vegetables, so you can apply this to anything you want. There is only one rule: soft goes with soft, and hard and crispy goes with hard and crispy, i.e. you can combine carrots with cauliflower or bell peppers with tomatoes, but not carrots with tomatoes, for instance. Cucumbers are usually better off on their own. It takes a little longer for hard and crispy veggies to get ready, so give yourself a few extra days if you are planning a party.
Put your vegetable, in this case grape tomatoes, in a class, ceramic, or enamel container. No wood, no plastic, and no metal! Wood is only good for making sauerkraut, plastic will just get eaten up by acid, and metal lends a very unpleasant taste when it is exposed to fermentation. You need a lot of fresh dill (see my post Saving Animals and Herbs for some tips), a lot of garlic, some whole peppercorns, salt, and hot water. If you use any vegetables larger than grape tomatoes, you’ll need to cut them into halves or quarters. I usually cut even the small Kirby cukes lengthwise, to absorb flavors.
Throw some peppercorns in and shake it up lightly to distribute them evenly among tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are in season now, and they are juicy and sweet. I usually go to the farmers’ market and pick up whatever is in season and whatever looks good. I come home with a carload of fruit and veggies and start figuring out what to make of them. For Shavuos, our tradition specifies mostly green vegetables on the menu. Altogether, every dish served must have something green in it. As I proceed with my Shavuos recipes, it will become evident. I might still find good Kirby cukes with enough time to have them ready, but these tomatoes just looked too good to pass out on. Well, the dill is green, isn’t it?
Garlic also gets halved lengthwise, each clove, to imbue the brine with even more flavor. Add it in and shake lightly again. Those pickled garlic cloves are delicious on their own. I have lately been told to go easy on tomatoes,but I can still pig out on pickled garlic. And if you really like it hot, add a couple of Jalapeno peppers, also halved. Be careful, though; fermented hot peppers turn into dynamite!
Fold dill on top and pour hot salty water until everything is covered. Close lid tightly and put it in a warm and sunny place, but not actually under the sun. The pickling process takes anywhere from a couple of days to a week or even more, depending on the temperature and exposure to sun. Here in South Florida, we treasure houses that look out to the North. They feel cooler and save on air conditioner bills. I don’t have a sunny spot in my kitchen, so it should be ready right in time for Yom Tov, G-d willing.
You know it’s ready when the brine looks a little murky and the dill is brownish and wilted. Garlic might turn a little greenish/yellowish and a bit softer to the touch. You might still want to taste tomatoes for readiness as some people like it really pickled, while others prefer half-sour. The more pickled they get, the softer they become, yet they retain their shape and color. Once ready, dill needs to be discarded and the container refrigerated immediately, so as not to have it overdone. Theoretically, it could stay in the cold for quite a while, next to forever, but watch it disappear pretty fast!
- 2 pints grape tomatoes
- 1 head garlic
- 1 bunch of fresh dill
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons of salt
- 2 cups of boiling water
- Optional: Jalapeno peppers to taste
- Place tomatoes into a glass, ceramic, or enameled pickling jar that has a tight lid.
- Add peppercorns. Peel garlic and cut each clove lengthwise. Add to tomatoes.
- Fold dill on top of tomatoes, pressing lightly.
- Dissolve salt in boiling water and pour over tomatoes. They should be covered with water. Close the lid.
- For a spicier taste, throw in some Jalapeno peppers.Put in a warm and sunny place for 2 to 3 days. It may take a day or two longer if it’s not very hot and the sun exposure is limited. Once the dill starts turning brownish and the water looks murky, your tomatoes are ready. Refrigerate immediately before they get overdone.