The Southern Cocktail Hour

From Living Within, July/August - a little late in the day but just for the record.

July and August are the easiest months to write about food, in a normal year that is. This is the time when we can expect the early treasures to be superseded by the just plain plentiful and for the weather to be hot and balmy - at least some of the time. Now is the time to fire up the barbie and be outdoors with friends and family and food that is just so easy because it already tastes great before you even think about paying it too much attention. The only thing that might be sending you to your stove to spend some quality time is to preserve some of this bounty for the winter. Except this year such bounty as is coming in (normally by air) may also have been deprived of enough sun to develop character or flavour and, frankly, I am losing confidence in what to expect that we might be expecting.

So I think it might be best if, just for now, we imagine a place where warmth is more or less guaranteed and where food is the stuff of legend. Imagine, for example, that we are in the Deep South (and I’m not talking Brighton, we have headed off to the Cotton States of the US of A) and are looking forward to the crawfish boiling in a ten gallon outdoor pot, or the gumbo bubbling on momma’s stove, or the pulled pork that has been marinated and slow cooked to tangy perfection, or the corn that needs no more than shucking and tossing in a pan with a little butter and some chilli flakes. Meantime, sitting on our porch in the sultry heat that surrounds us, a little craving is making itself felt for something to snack on that will make those taste buds sit up and pay attention to that cold beer in our hand or that julep beaded with ice cold water dripping from the glass.

Are you with me yet? Well, allow me introduce you to one of my new favourite snacks - one that needs no sun on its back but will not be diminished by a little heat either, one that has been gaining ground away from its southern heartland in the States but which has, in this corner of leafy Surrey, yet to find the recognition that it so surely deserves. Let me introduce you folks to the fried pickle - yes, you heard that right and, please, don’t look away now, it has so much more to recommend it than the name or even the pictures might suggest.

Tangy and sour with some sweetness around the edges (if you are careful in your choice of pickle that is, which you really must be - choose large crisp dill pickles, ones that have a little sweetness) served fresh from cooking and with dipping and hot sauce fixin’s on the side, the fried pickle is a bit of a revelation.

To make these little delicacies: slice your pickles whichever way and however thick you like; dust in some flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper, paprika and a pinch of cayenne; dunk them in a dish of buttermilk (the sourness of which is the reason why you need your pickle to have a little sweetness) and, finally, coat in some breadcrumbs. When you have them all prepared and ready to go, fry in batches, in enough hot oil to cover the pickles and to turn them golden in a matter of minutes, and then drain on paper towels over racks and season lightly with more salt. Serve hot with the dipping sauce (mayonnaise, or more buttermilk with a couple of spoons of mayonnaise mixed in and seasoned with salt, pepper, ground cumin and freshly chopped dill leaves), sprinkle hot pepper sauce liberally over, if hot sauce is to your taste, dunk in the dipping sauce and enjoy with that ice cold drink.

I do hope all y'all have a great rest of the summer, whatever it brings from here on in, and with a bit of luck, by the time we are all back in September, an Indian summer will be settling in nicely.

Erica x

“If it ain’t fried, it ain’t cooked” ~Southern saying