Sunday, August 17, 2008

Alaska Sweet Sea Pickles; Pickled Kelp, That Is

I'm a fan of almost anything pickled or preserved (I draw the line at pickled fish products -- I may have Icelandic blood in me, but I can't get behind the pickled fish...). My maternal grandfather (the handsome devil in the picture here) had an incredible garden, and my paternal grandmother had next to no room for a garden but still managed to grow cucumbers and dill sufficient enough to keep the family in pickles for years and years. Pickling is frugal and sensible -- put away tasty, healthy fruits and veg to be used when there's nothing fresh to be had. No surprise, then, to find pickle recipes in Alaska "Sourdough" Cookin'.
Alaska Sweet Sea Pickles

4 lbs. bulb kelp
1 cup salt
2 gallons water
1/2 tsp. alum
3 1/2 cup sugar
1 pint white vinegar
1/2 tsp. oil of cloves*
1/2 tsp. oil of cinnamon*
2 quarts water

Cut kelp in 12-in. lengths and split bulbs. Remove dark surface layer with a vegetable parer. Soak kelp in a brine solution (1 cup salt to 2 gallons water) for 2 hours. Care must be taken to keep kelp covered with brine. Remove kelp from brine and wash thoroughly with cold water. Cut kelp into 1-in. cubes and soak in alum solution (1/2 tsp. alum to 2 qts. cold water) for 15 minutes. Drain and wash in cold water: drain again. Place kelp in enamel kettle and cover with boiling water. Cook only until kelp can be pierced with a fork. Drain.

Combine sugar, vinegar, and oils; boil 2 minutes; pour over cooked kelp. Let stand overnight in the enamel kettle or a crock. In the morning, drain off and save the syrup; reheat kelp to boiling point. Pour syrup back over the kelp and allow to stand 24 hours. The third morning, heat both kelp and syrup to the boiling point; seal immediately in hot sterilized jars. Makes 3 pints.

* When oil of cinnamon or cloves are used, kelp cubes remain clear and almost transparent. A small amount of green food coloring may be used to make a brighter product. If whole spices are used, tie them in a small bag.

This sounds interesting, and, yes, even tasty. I don't think I'd use it for my favorite pickle dish (peanut butter and pickle sandwiches ... yum!), but can see having it with grilled fish or chicken. Methow Valley Herbs has more direct experience with using kelp pickles, and also has tips on how to harvest it.

Chefly Husband expressed some surprise over pickled kelp; I told him it was the bulbs, and then I remembered that I'm an Oregon Coast transplant, whereas he's a Lake Michigan transplant -- his childhood didn't involve kelp washed up on shore.

Most pickle recipes these days won't include alum; it was used to crisp up less-than-perfect vegetables. In my household, growing up, alum served an entirely different purpose: Momma put it in our homemade play dough to make sure we wouldn't eat it. Generally speaking, I'd say "skip the alum, if you like;" however, I think of kelp as not-exactly-crisp, so if you have access to alum, I'd use it. The folks at Methow Valley Herbs suggest that you can use grape leaves instead, which sounds like a worthy substitute.


  1. Just this week, I overheard trained food preservation specialists at the Extension office talking about alum. They said that there's been studies done and there's no proof that using alum makes for a criper pickle (but that if you want to use it, go ahead).

    The marine biology geek in me got curious - is the kelp in this recipe the kind we have off Oregon or some other variety. A quick search of the internt shows that bulb kelp is another name for bull kelp, the kind we remember from our beachcombing days.

  2. I love that my sister works at Extension.

    Yes, I'd assume that bulb kelp and bull kelp are the same thing -- same coast, same bulby bladdery floats....

  3. ever hear of a chow chow recipe using bull kelp? If so do you have a recipe?