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In the early days of my parents' marriage, they teamed up with five other couples and bought a cow. They got about 75 pounds of meat from the deal and were thrilled to fill their freezer with locally raised beef. Unfortunately, as soon as they cooked up the first steak, they knew there was a problem with their purchase. The meat tasted strongly of licorice.
As it turned out, the cow they bought had regularly grazed in a field of wild fennel. Every single pound of the meat was infused with that flavor. Eating through the meat in the freezer became a chore and once they were through it, my mother swore off fennel for good.
Because of this, I've spent the last few years trying to redeem fennel for my mom. Whenever I'm in Portland visiting my parents, I try to cook it in a different way, in hopes that I'll discover a configuration to help her move past this decades-long distaste. Happily, I think this orange-spiked pickle has finally done the job.
It's a quick pickle, meaning it isn't processed in a boiling water bath for shelf stability. The fennel is sliced thinly, tossed with some salt and allowed to sit for an hour or so. This salting step draws out some of the liquid and makes space for the vinegar to enter the fennel. The finished product is half salad, half pickle and all flavorful crunch.
Before You Get Started
Make sure to give your fennel plenty of time to rest with the salt. It improves the final crunch and flavor dramatically.
These pickles improve over time. Let them rest at least 24 hours before you break into them, 48 hours is even better.
When it comes time to serve these pickles, try heaping them on a sandwich in place of a traditional cucumber pickle. For fancier dinners, drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and serve them as a palate cleansing salad. They also work really nicely with sausage and are my favorite thing to eat with a length of turkey kielbasa.
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