As a child, nothing sent me into full-on meltdown mode at a restaurant like the pile of pickles tarnishing my sandwich basket. Pickle juice is a fast-traveling, pungent contaminant whose only antidote is a decisive amputation: quarantine by knife-stroke. Even in adulthood, with my myriad food aversions, those limp slices are one of the most unwelcome sights on my plate. Shawn, bless him, will extract the offending pickles immediately, or, if he deems the contamination bad enough, deftly switch his sandwich with mine.
One thing I've learned, thanks to living in Brooklyn during the Golden Age of Artisanal Pickling, is that not all specimens deserve the scorn I've heaped on them my entire life. The two reasons for my revulsion - soggy texture and the flavor of dill - aren't universal to all pickles. Depending on the type of vegetable, the brine, and the method of pickling, I've come to actually enjoy pickles. My gateway pickles were spicy, crunchy ones Shawn insisted I try at Wilfie & Nell a couple of years ago. I liked them so much I inquired with our server about their provenance so that I could purchase a jar. They were McClure's, and they opened up a whole new world to me. A few months ago, my Dad was reading through my blog archives and noticed I had taken a picture of a jar of McClure's. He texted to tell me that he dated Jennifer McClure (her married name), pickle matriarch, back in high school. She made prizewinning pickles even back then, and Dad joked that, had things turned out differently, I could have been a part of the (differently-named) empire.
When the fine folks at CourseHorse reached out to me and offered a free class of my choosing, I was definitely dazzled by their extensive catalog. I've always wanted to learn how to throw pottery on a wheel, knit, sail, and play poker. But my newfound appreciation of pickles and my family connection to McClure's led me to choose a pickling class with McClure's pickles at The Brooklyn Kitchen (one of my favorite stores). I've been both intrigued by and fearful of hot-water canning (the boiling water! the threat of botulism!), so I figured I needed to arm myself with the skills to master this age-old practice.
As I swilled beer and noshed on pickles, the class listened to Bob (Jennifer's son, and co-owner of McClure's, along with his brother) explain how the company got its start. The class's location was fitting, since Brooklyn Kitchen was the first retail store to sell their pickles (and McClure's was the first food product to be sold at the store).
Bob then explained the process of hot-water canning, stressing the importance of sterilization and achieving the proper pH balance of the brine.
The hands-on portion came when we got to pack our very own jars full of cucumbers (I heaped on the red pepper flakes and skipped the dill). My pickles still need about a week before they're ready to eat, but even without testing them I'd say the class was a huge success.
Occasionally a friend from out of town will email wanting recommendations for a New York City-related present to give to a couple honeymooning here or a friend who just relocated to the area (last year I did a round up for Vanessa on this topic). My favorite gifts to give (and receive!) are experiences, but coordinating them can be tricky. I was actually going to suggest to CourseHorse that they sell gift certificates, but after poking around on their website I learned that they already do! It takes the hassle and guesswork out of giving an experience, and it's a great place to go for a pretty comprehensive listing of classes. (Many of the cooking classes I've taken over the past three-plus years here, like my tour of Murray's cheese caves and cupcake-baking, are listed on CourseHorse.)
I am not profiting in any way if you check out CourseHorse - I just think it's a great idea! They did pay my tuition for pickling class, but I'll definitely use them to register for courses (which aren't marked up from the price you'd pay if you went directly to the source) in the future (paying my own way, of course).
This post's title is a reference to this hilarious Portlandia skit.