Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dean's Pickles

The color palette of our kitchen domain has been sporting a decidedly more emerald hue of late. We have been pickling everything that we can capture in a jar.....ok, maybe not lightning bugs, but many things of a vegetable variety, at least. Keith recently made a successful batch of bread and butter pickles as well as dill pickles, so I jumped in on the in-house pickling craze, as it were. I had a fairly crystalline idea of what to make, as my inspiration came from a beloved old friend and co-worker named Dean.

Dean and I were servers together in an eatery in Marietta, Ohio called the Becky Thatcher Restaurant and Lounge. Located in a moored historic sternwheel boat, this unique joint was a beloved hangout for my friends and I long before I was employed there. It was long a fun, casual joint that served wonderful breaded chicken wings and various Greek specialties (owing to owner Manny's family heritage) such as spanakopita and later would enjoy a time as a true fine-dining destination featuring fresh, flavorful dishes (including my favorite; a mouth-watering Steak Au Poivre). Dean was one of the lead servers at the Becky, and pretty much everyone, from employee to customer, adored him. He was an excellent server and an even better friend. Dean had a wicked wit characterized by a devilish twinkle in his eye and when he told a humorous (and frequently salacious) tale, he did so with a faux Southern accent that was somewhat inexplicable as he was from New York. These were also the bygone days of restaurant work; when it often meant hoisting drinks after work and Deano and I got rather pickled together a few too many times; but oh, I can still feel the catch in my side from the uncontrollable laughter that would inevitably ensue. Dean was also quite the pickler...he made some marvelous pickles and quite often brought jars of them to generously share with us. My roommate at the time, also named Greg, and I were partial to Dean's pickled green tomatoes....zesty with a spicy, flavorful punch...its a wonder Greg and I remained friends while we tried to race each other to that last green tomato.

One of the memories I flash back on frequently was a summer afternoon when I was riding with Dean to work and we spied a somewhat heavier-set woman in her 60s astride a riding lawn mower, buzzing around her yard while sporting a barely-there pink halter-top. I braced myself for what I assumed would be a catty, cutting remark from Dean regarding her but instead he drawled, "Honey, that right there is gonna be me...letting it all hang out and not givin' a damn". I remember cracking up and agreeing. Sadly, that was a reality not to be...a few years later while I was living in Atlanta, I got a call from Greg tearfully telling me that Dean had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Not long after, I spoke with Dean on the phone a few times and he always insisted in that soft voice of his that he would beat that illness and sure enough, he remained as upbeat as ever. Not long after, we found out that despite his valiant fight, we had lost him. Dean was one of those voices, no matter how soft it was, that seemed impossible to go completely silent. His spirit though, lives on.

So, indeed, when it came time to join Keith in pickling, it was Dean's pickles that I wanted to recreate. I tried a different variation by using tomatillos; the first ones that Keith and Kiko had grown in the garden. I wanted that zest, and the first attempt didn't get it. The flavor just wasn't there. I found a pickled green tomato that came very close to Dean's at an Amish market: Jake and Amos' Pickled Green Tomatoes. These addictive little beauties feature that flavorful punch I was looking for. On a weekend lake trip later, we tested them on (Keith's brother-in-law) Daves' palette and he identified some ingredients: caraway, cumin seed, white peppercorns. Still later I decided to give it another try and used those ingredients with some garlic and onions and apple cider vinegar with another batch of beautiful tomatillos. Now this was more like it...a week later, I sampled them and the taste was much closer, zesty and punchy and savory. I sealed them back up for another couple of weeks to soak up all the goodness. In the meantime, the K-Man whipped up some spicier bread-and-butter pickles.

Deano, I think you would dig the pickles. They are still not as good as yours and maybe that was meant to be. We miss you, friend, but in the meantime, keep 'em laughing 'til we see ya again.


Lisa Mandina said...

I like pickles, but as you know, I'm not much of a fan of other green foods. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, Greg.....such a beautiful tribute to Dean. As I sit this evening, in my melancholy state, I will raise a glass to his memory. Thank you for sharing.


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