Putting Up the Pickles

Though I've been a terrible blogger, lately, I've been doing pretty well on the green front. Today being Earth Day, I thought I'd drop off a few notes about pickling.
My first foray into food preservation has been a series of trial and error, with a few edible creations along the way. I began with Smitten Kitchen's brilliant pickled carrot sticks. Delightful in every way! Not only were they beautiful to look at, but they tasted just sweet and tart enough to curl our toes and tickle our tummies. And they were remarkably easy to make!
Step 1: heat vinegar and spices in a pot
Step 2: pour over cut carrots
Step 3: let the carrot-vinegar mixture cool before sticking in a jar and stuffing them into the fridge
Step 4: duh, eat! (with better taste after a few days)

I used a combination of regular orange and some pretty blue carrots and that resulted in... pink pickles! They were so pretty and we shared them with coworkers and with TheBoy's parents and sister in San Francisco.
My next pickling adventure didn't go so swimmingly. I found a simple recipe for refrigerator pickles online, but it called for what I thought would be too little vinegar, so I used about the same amount for the cucumbers as I used for Smitten Kitchen's carrots... not thinking that, duh!, carrots absorb way less vinegar than cucumbers. The outcome was an unpleasantly vinegary mess of squishy pickles. Again, they came out a funny color, but this time from using red onions.. pinkish cucumber pickles are less cute than pink carrot pickles. Result: total, abject failure.

Next, I winged it. I picked up some pickling spices from the bulk bin at a local store (NatureMart Bulk Bin near the intersection of Los Feliz and Hillhurst). I poured in some vinegar, some water, and threw in a few teaspoons of spices and, when that mixture was good and hot, I tossed it over some "choice" Kirby cucumbers. Kirbies are generally great for pickling, but I didn't get around to the vinegar until almost a week after buying the cukes.. needless to say, they were a little soggy by that point. And the resulting pickles reflected that. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem with these pickles that ultimately went in the garbage (even the worms wouldn't eat them!)... they were really gross! Apparently, the spices I picked up were for bread-and-butter pickles, not the Kosher dills we crave. They looked so pretty! And while it was such a shame to throw them out, we just couldn't stomach them.. something about the pungent smell of vinegar combined with the flavor of cloves and cinnamon? I wonder if maybe I got mulling spices and not pickling spices!

With all these failed pickled experiments behind me, I'm thinking I'll maybe cave and buy some pickling mix from the grocery store, or follow another recipe online. After doing some research, though, I've found that it seems like all pickle recipes call for clove and cinnamon... why is this? The New York Times, Chow, and even David Lebovitz want my pickles to be yucky. Is there a gross-pickle-conspiracy growing among the interwebs.. or am I missing some vital pickle mystery?