When I was a kid, and my mother set out her oval cut-glass platter and assembled a relish tray, we knew a celebration was at hand. Arranged artfully on the platter were sweet gherkins, quartered dills, bread-and-butter pickles, fat pimento-stuffed olives, celery sticks, and a mound of pimento cheese (sometimes a Hickory Farms cheese ball, if my parents were feeling flush).
These days, folks put out all sorts of really impressive trays — crudités, charcuterie, “a selection of farmhouse cheeses.” Most of the components of my mother’s offering came from the canned goods section of the A&P. Still, I trace my devotion to pickled things to her loving assembly of that relish tray.
I like all kinds of preserved and fermented foods, from sauerkraut to kimchi. I’ve been musing about making fish sauce. “Ick,” says Christopher.
Hands down, it’s pickles I love the best — and pickled turnips are one of my favorites. I first made these for the wedding supper of our friends Ericka and Rosa. Displaced by the Paradise fire, it was, by necessity, a small affair. I saw to it there was a relish tray. What could be more hopeful than electric-bubblegum-pink pickled turnips?
No matter how you compose your relish tray (ours always includes sweet gherkins), it will be elevated by this pink pickled turnip. And if you have a vintage cut-glass platter to serve it on, all the better.
I make these as refrigerator pickles, but they are acidic enough to be made shelf stable with the hot water bath method. As with all pickling, it’s best to use the best — select small, fresh turnips that are heavy and hard. The pickles are at their peak for a month or so. If you’re not composing a relish tray, these are delicious with Israeli or Lebanese food, served alongside roasted meats, or sliced onto any old sandwich. I especially like a fat pink slice in a martini.
Refrigerator Pickled Turnips
Makes 3 one-pint jars
1 cup distilled white vinegar
3 cups cold water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1½ lbs. small white turnips, trimmed and peeled (cut into halves or quarters, if large)
1 small beet, peeled and trimmed
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
3 dried red peppers or small jalapeño peppers (or pinches of pepper flakes)
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and salt to make a brine. Heat and stir until the salt is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
Cut the turnips and beet in half from top to bottom, and then into ½-inch thick wedges. If using a jalapeño or other fresh pepper, pierce it with a knife.
Pack the turnip wedges into pint jars, distributing the beet wedges among the jars. As you pack the turnips, tuck a bay leaf, garlic clove, and pepper into each jar.
Pour the brine into the jars, fully submerging the contents and leaving about ½-inch headspace. Top the jar with a lid and allow to rest at room temperature in a cool dark place for about a week, shaking the jar occasionally to distribute the pink hue of the beet. Then refrigerate until ready to serve. The pickles will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks and will mellow as time passes.