Dayton DIY: Pickle and preserve with Lily’s Bistro
By: Vivienne Machi and Allegra Czerwinski
Thanks to Lily’s Bistro, we have no need to buy Claussen Dill Spears anymore.
When the restaurant at 329 E. Fifth St. announced they would share their pickling and preservation techniques with the public at an evening event on Sept. 10, we jumped at the opportunity to learn. Though even a month later, the weather is still warm, we all know how quickly the cold and ice will take over and all prospects of patio dining will seem like a lost dream.
Lily’s course, led by General Manager Emily Mendenhall, Head Chef Mariah Gahagan and Bar Manager Amber Brady, then combined several aspects: the instruction in how to turn vegetables into pickled delicacies with minimal effort in your own kitchen and fresh fruit into vinegar-based syrups called shrubs to pair with alcohol or carbonated drinks, which then allows you to enjoy the taste of summer well into the winter months. And of course, it offered an opportunity to enjoy Lily’s back patio while we still can.
For $15, the course offered two small mason jars, a variety of fruit and vegetables, herbs, spices and the pre-made vinegar brine, plus two handmade jar labels by local artist Brooke Medlin. Lily’s is known for using local sources for many of its dishes, and led by example here by using Patchwork Gardens produce and OYO vodka and whiskey (not from Dayton, but nearby Columbus) in their demonstrations.
And of course, you can’t put a price on the invaluable knowledge base from Mendenhall, Gahagan and Brady. Here’s what we learned:
For pickling vegetables
Take a 16-ounce mason jar. Fill the jar with one cucumber, sliced, and about half a medium red onion, sliced, for basic pickles. But you can use any vegetable really; we also went for sliced eggplant with roma tomatoes, while others experimented with okra and red bell peppers.
Add herbs and spices to your personal preference. For traditional dill pickles, we went with three or four branches of dill. For spicier versions, try diced jalapeño pepper, or whole black peppercorns, or both! Emily Mendenhall had an inspired moment when she suggested red chili pepper flakes for the eggplant and tomatoes; we also added garlic and black peppercorns. But feel free to experiment with any and all herbs and spices; you never know what winning combinations you’ll make.
Fill the jar with a brining solution: Lilys’ version uses one part water, one part white vinegar, and one part equally salt and sugar. Seal. Shake. Store in a cool, dry spot for up to one month, shaking from time to time, especially if the veggies soak up the brine like our eggplant did! Pro tip: try the pickles after two weeks to check if they’re ready early; wait too long and they’ll lose their crunch, though not their flavor.
For creating shrubs
Mendenhall calls a shrub “a sipping vinegar,” and paired with alcohol and/or a sparkling beverage, makes a sweet, fruity and oh so delicious drink that brings the summertime even in the coldest months.
The more traditional went with berries and stone fruit, which break down easily, but Lily’s offered a Garden Shrub made from carrots, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, which sounded a little too V8 at first, but paired with OYO Vodka, was a succulent and refreshing beverage.
Nevertheless, we went the safe route and went with a mix of blackberries, raspberries and plums with a few grates of fresh ginger — to be paired with ginger beer and whiskey — and a blackberry, raspberry and peach combo with a few mint leaves that would taste great with gin and a bit of club soda, per Brady’s recommendations.
Fill with a mix of one part water, one part red wine or white vinegar — depending on the taste you’re going for — and one part sugar or salt. Seal. Shake until the fruit starts to break up. Store in a cool, dry spot for up to one month, shaking every once in a while. Once you’re ready to use it, strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve before mixing for cocktails or simply refreshing drinks. The mixture can stay in your fridge indefinitely without going bad (that’s what preservation’s all about!), though the taste will change over time.
About a month later, we pulled our mason jars out of the cabinets and into the light, and boy, are we glad we did. Though we may have benefited from removing the pickles a week or so earlier (they had lost their crunch a bit, though the taste was divine), we were happy, and pleasantly surprised, with the fruits of our labor.
That eggplant. We need to keep a stock of it around at all times. The garlic and red pepper flakes had seeped into the fruit and the result was magical on top of toasted French baguette and paired with feta cheese crumbles, as Chef Gahagan had suggested. That’s why you have to learn from the best!
We may have waited a week or so too long on our pickles: Both of our jars had lost their crunch. But the flavors were intense and delicious, with the traditional dill tasting so much more flavorful than store-bought pickles. The spicy varieties had the best combination of peppery heat from the black peppercorns and jalapeños. Suffice it to say, we may be officially addicted to pickling and shrubbing and are already coming up with more combinations.
Mendenhall said that Lily’s plans on holding more courses on preservation and other cooking techniques in the future; know that we’ll be one of the first to sign up. Keep an eye out at lilysbistro.com and by Liking them on Facebook.
Want to try more preserving classes?
Ball Canning Supplies sponsors canning and preserving classes around the area, including at Dorothy Lane Market Culinary Center in Washington Twp. and down the road at Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield. Find a time near you at freshpreserving.com.
The Little City Cooking School, 70 Wisteria Drive in Oakwood, occasionally offers canning and preserving courses. Check their calendar at thelittlecitycookingschool.com.