Archive for May, 2012
Slowly but surely, the gardens are being planted. As I planned, foremost in my mind was what I want to eat later, when the fresh produce from the garden is but a memory. That includes, of course, my love of making pickles.
Like many who begin pickling, I started with cucumbers. Really, there is very little better than homemade garlic dills. I started with the vinegar pickling, but then I discovered lacto-fermentation, and well, those are pretty good too. As my sauerkraut ferments in my mondo crock, I imagine it filled with cucumbers.
Unsatisfied with sticking with cucumbers, though, I ventured on to other vegetables. I mean, if cucumbers were good as pickles, other things had to be as well. Last year I made dilly beans, and they were great. I basically used this recipe, but without the pepper. I’d hate to admit how quickly I went through my stash.
When I started fermenting food, I had to do dilly carrots; Really Dilly, Really Garlicky, Really Green Beans; and a veggie blend that includes radishes (a terribly underused vegetable to my way of thinking). You can see pictures of those in this post.
Several weeks ago, I read several Tweets about something called “Cowboy Candy.” I admit I had never heard of it. So I did what most people do these days: I turned to Google. I soon learned that they are called by other names, including pickled jalapenos and candied jalapenos. There also seems to be myriad recipes. After looking over several, as well as reading numerous blog posts, I decided to use this recipe from Tasty Kitchen. I did not, however, use the ground cayenne pepper.
Two words: good choice. They are really good. They’re great on their own, topping burgers and hotdogs, mixed into your favorite meatloaf recipe, topping pizza, or even mixed in with omelet ingredients. If you look at the ingredients, you’ll see they are the same ones many people use in making bread and butter pickles. In a way, these can be called bread and butter jalapenos. The heat of the jalapenos helps counteract what some people consider the “too sweet” taste of the traditional bread and butter pickles.
When I mentioned on Twitter I was going to make them, someone told me I’d want to have a steady supply. She’s right. Next time, I think I might seed some of the jalapenos, so the finished product isn’t quite so hot. Most people won’t consider these too hot, but I tend not to like things really hot.
My latest pickling experiment was pickled asparagus. There was a sale at the store, so I bought enough for eating steamed (with butter, of course) and have some to pickle.
When tasting the results, my first question was, “Why did I wait so long.” I think I went through the first jar in just over a day. I had to force myself to put the jar away, or I would have likely eaten the entire thing in one sitting. Seriously. No really, seriously.
There are many recipes available on the Internet for pickled asparagus. I’ve put mine in the recipe section of this blog. It’s incredibly easy. The hardest thing is finding a jar. You can always use a quart jar. Or if you don’t mind small pieces, a pint jar works as well. Ball makes 12 ounce jars, but they can be difficult to find. They can be ordered, of course. I didn’t care about pretty, so I went with the pint-sized jars because I had them available.
Did you know that your asparagus spear will tell you where to break the steam? Hold the spear and give it a bend backward. It will snap where the spear becomes too hard to eat.
I hope you’ll expand your repertoire of pickle making beyond the cucumber. If the idea of canning them deters you, don’t let it. They can be stored in the refrigerator. And the results are definitely worth the effort.
Mother Nature and I are in the midst of our yearly battle of the garden. The new hardiness zone map and my itchiness to get into the garden battle Mother Nature’s sense of humor. When I have time to work in the garden, she decides to cut forth with rain. Lots of it. And we even had three nights of hard freeze a couple of weeks ago. Sorry, Mother Nature, I fail to find the humor in that. I have got some things planted, and today I hope to finish planting my garden here at home. Fingers crossed.
When I planned this year’s garden, I thought about things I would want to eat right away, of course. But more than last year, I also considered things I wanted to can, ferment, dehydrate, or freeze. Many people ask me why I bother, since it’s only me (well, and the cats, but they don’t eat much of my food). Just because I live sans another human, that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve good food. And while some others of the same mind-set prefer to buy their food from the supermarket, I prefer to grow my own or buy it from the farmers’ market. I want to know what’s in my food and where it came from. On top of that, the seemingly increasing number of food-related warnings and recalls doesn’t make me feel really confident about the food safety system. And then there’s that whole self-sufficient thing.
Despite that, I’m not sure I’d do as much food preservation if I didn’t enjoy it. I love canning, for example. It’s flat-out fun! I love taking fresh food in the middle of growing season and preserving it so I can enjoy it in the dead of winter. It also allows me to take advantage of sales, and that’s definitely a good thing. It also brings me back to memories of my mother and paternal grandmother; both women understood the importance of the process they called, “puttin’ up” the vegetables they grew in their gardens.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’re going to can for the first time this year. Either that, or they’re going to start canning again after not doing so for a long time. That makes me very happy. One of the first questions I’m usually asked is where to find recipes. If you’re new to canning, it is important to use recipes developed by people who really know about canning. Like the instructor of the food preservation class I took last year said, “Canning is not the place to experiment.” And though Grandma, Great-Grandma, and perhaps even Mom might have been great canners, food today is not the food they used “back then.” Tomatoes, for example, have been bred to contain less acid, which is an important thing to know when it comes to canning. You need to use up-to-date recipes. The bible of food preservation is, of course, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Food Preservation. It provides the hows and whys of the preservation process, and the recipes included are tried and true.
There’s a new book on the canning scene that deserves your consideration.
Marisa McClellan’s Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round (Running Press, 2011) takes the novice as well as the experienced canner through, among other things, jams, jellies (some even using high-quality, prepressed juice), curds, conserves, fruit butters, tomatoes, and, of course, pickles. Besides “straight-up,” single-ingredient items, canners will also find interesting flavor combinations. There is also a section on fruit syrups, which I love to use with my SodaStream as well as in my own version of Sonic’s limeaid line. And I can’t wait to try the blood orange marmalade.
The canning recipes use the waterbath canning method. This is probably the easiest method and does not require a large outlay of money for equipment.
The book is not just about canning. There are also recipes for other items that can be served in or stored in jars. Granola, bread mixes, and flavored salts are among some of those items.
When it comes to canning, Marisa McClellan and her Food in Jars blog are well respected and reliable sources for food preservation information. The recipes and methods contained in this book can be used with confidence, regardless of your experience level. There are clearly written how-tos, so if you’re uncertain, the answer is likely included in the book. The only negative I found is that she relies on liquid pectin for most of the canning recipes. In my area, it’s hard to find liquid pectin. You can find just about every kind of powdered pectin there is, but no liquid pectin. It can, however, be easily ordered.
If you like to can–or want to learn to can–Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round deserves to be in your food library.
Yesterday I finally got around to initiating my new fermenting crock. And once again, I was reminded how big this thing actually is. I’m about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, so I’m not short by any means. I think my arms about about normal length for my height, but they seem to be on the short side when it comes to making sauerkraut in this crock. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring over the step stool so I can see inside. This is a small batch, and I’m thinking I should have a smaller one for smaller batches. We’ll see.
Since this was my first time using this technique, I did some searching to see if there were things I should do differently when preparing the cabbage or loading the crock. What did I learn? Well, people do things differently. Some people salt and “pound” their cabbage in a bowl or other container and then add to the crock. Others put the cabbage and salt directly into the crock and let time bring out the water or “pound” it inside the crock. It quickly became apparent that the latter wouldn’t work for me. So I prepped my cabbage in a Rubbermaid container.
An aside: I really want a food lug with a lid. Preferably one that will fit in the refrigerator. Of course I can’t find a local source, so I went searching online. Since I get free shipping on Amazon, I checked there first. No luck. As I widened my search, I quickly discovered that the shipping is, shall we say, stupid high on these things. I refuse to pay almost as much for shipping as the price of the object being shipped. So I made a quick trip to the store and picked up a 40-cup Rubbermaid container. Still want the lug, though.
It’s now in the crock, and since it’s been warm, I think I hear the beginning of fermentation already. Yay!
Back to my technique search. For a long time, I thought of YouTube as the “go-to” place for music videos–especially to post on social media sites after a musician’s death. Over the past few months, I’ve discovered it’s potentially a great site to learn new techniques. As I searched for information about using my new crock, I came across this video.
It is highly unlikely I’ll be using this method. I’d have to use the bathtub so my feet would fit. But to each his or her own, and as she said, it’s the way they used to do it.