Mustard

I made my first mustard this month, and even sneaked the tiniest jar back home from New Jersey, given that it fell well under the 100ml gels and liquids airport restrictions. A fun and easy adventure, to be honest, and a huge money saver, given the cost of good bought mustard. Couldn’t be much easier either.

Dijon style mustard

1/4 cup black mustard seeds
1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp honey

Pour the wine and vinegar over the seeds and soak for two days to let the seeds swell up a little. Add the salt and honey and food process until it’s as smooth as you want it to be. Transfer mustard into a clean jar and seal.

Wait another two days.

Store in the fridge. And if you store it in a Dijon Mustard jar, nobody will ever know the difference.

A word of warning, and you can’t really tell what this is going to taste right after the food processing because all you get is mustard fire — the flavours need time to mellow and meld together , hence the post-processing waiting period. We ate our little bottle on burgers after a week. It was still plenty hot, and plenty tasty.

And of course given the negligible cost of mustard seeds (available in bulk from any Indian store) compared to the non-negligible cost of ready-made mustard, you can experiment with the acid and the sweetening and you can add extra ingredients at will. Agave syrup rather than honey? Lemon juice instead of wine? Throw in some (pitted) olives? Horseradish? Preserved lemons? Small quantities at the start, until you know whether you are going to like the finished product

How easy is that?

 

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Tomatoes, take two

While Toronto canning buddy and I slaved over a hot stove earlier this year to peel, crush and can tomatoes, New Jersey friend is taking a far less intensive route, squishing bits of tomatoes into jars, and leaving any cooking for further down the road. A visit to her part of the world gave me a chance to see the method in action, although I was too busy slicing and squishing to take any meaningful pictures. We had two boxes of lush field tomatoes to get into a large number of jars. Pictures would only have slowed things up.

And having seen the processing in action, I will concede that this cold pack method is simplicity itself. Wash tomatoes, cut out the woody core (and any dubious bits) and cut them in quarters or eighths, depending on the size of the tomatoes. Put a generous slosh of lemon juice into your nice, clean jars (one tablespoon for one-pint jars, two tablespoons for the quart jars), and then force as many pieces of tomato into the jars as possible, adding a sprig of basil if you have basil to hand. Seal, and waterbath, for 30-45 minutes, and allow the jars to sit in the waterbath as the water cools down a little. And then you’re done. No peeling, no heating (the waterbath does that), no pre-bottling-processing at all.

I will admit it’s far, far easier than what we’ve been doing up to now, although you have to be careful not to put cold jars into boiling water (in case they crack), and to let the jars sit as the water cools down to avoid that evil siphoning away of liquid that ruined one of our jars. So that adds time to the processing. And you do seem to end up with slightly orange tomatoes floating at the top of the jar, and a thin, orange liquid at the bottom, so it’s less beautiful than the lush, red jars we got. Will I do this one at home? I’m not quite sure. I like the fact that I can open a jar of (home-canned) tomatoes that’s almost ready to use because some of the liquid has already bubbled away. And with 64 jars from our latest tomato canning adventure, it’s not anything I’m going to have to decide right now. But it’s always good to learn new tricks.

One note. Don’t forget the lemon juice, and use a bottled variety rather than anything you squeeze yourself. Tomatoes are (perhaps surprisingly) a low-acid fruit, so you need the extra acidity that lemon juice brings to be sure that your jars won’t start growing nasty bugs that will make you ill. And there’s a consistency to the acidity levels of bottled lemon juice that you won’t get from the stuff you squeeze at home.

Besides, who has the time and patience to squeeze that many lemons.

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Learning about fire

imageIndian pickles come in a jar, right? They are oily, usually spicier than I can handle and there’s a lot of salt. But making them? Not anything I’ve really thought about trying until today, when New Jersey canning aficionado invited her neighbour’s mother round to show us what to do. Shovhana showed up early in the afternoon, and within an hour we were sitting on two jars of red-brown tomato pickle, using cherry tomatoes straight from the back yard. Do I know what she did? No, not really. But I have a vague idea.

Main item was a tomato pickle, using a big bowl of cherry tomatoes from canning friend’s backyard. But it’s an art, not a science, and I’m not even going to guess at the quantities of everything we used.

To start, Shovhana washed the little tomatoes, then we dried them with paper towels, before blitzing them to pulp in the food processor. Tradition dictates days of sun drying at this stage, with salt I think. But to speed things up S cooked them down to mush, with a generous handful of salt and a large gob of pickle masala, an Indian spice mix that includes chilli, fenugreek and other stuff. She heated oil – about an inch of oil – in a frypan and then sizzled in 3 dried chillies, some brown mustard seeds, a handful of chana dal (chickpea halves),  a couple of pinches of asafoetida and a big spoon of tamarind. Hot oil went into tomato mush and she simmered the mess again until the oil separated out.

image Then we spooned the mix into a clean jar, which we covered with cheesecloth and left to dry for a few more days on a sunny windowsill.

Shovhana, who clearly usually cooks in much bigger quantities than we were offering, conceded that that big handful of salt she added may been excessive, so at her suggestion we blitzed some more tomatoes, and added them to the leftovers from the first jar to make a second, milder jar of pickles that doesn’t burn my lips the way the first batch does. I’m not a great fan of spicy food, and once it mellows, this could be rather nice.

Second item was similar to the first, except that it used salted, sun-cured lemons that canning buddy had prepared a while ago. No chana dal and a little less of the masala spice for a hot, spicy pickle with a lovely lemon tang. I’m sure Toronto’s Little India sells pickle masala. I can try this one at home.

And of course the whole house smelled of oil and curry spices. It probably still does.

 

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Tomato marathon

Two years ago, which was the last time canning buddy and ran the Tomato Marathon, I did a fact-filled blog entry laying down the what-we-did as we transformed a bushel of delicious San Marzano tomatoes into 43 jars of crushed tomatoes. It was good reference material for this year, serving as a reminder of things like the importance of the fast-moving production line to keep things manageable and the advantage of putting (bottled) lemon juice into a jug and doling it out from there. For future reference, one bottle of lemon juice is enough for one bushel of tomatoes.

This year, after a minor miscalculation about how much we wanted to spend and make, we ended up with 1-1/2 bushels of tomatoes, which meant the Marathon was going to be even longer. We started at 10, and by 3:30, we had 64 glorious jars of crushed summer waiting for their moment in the stew. Fitbit doesn’t show that I took that many steps, but trust me, canning 1-1/2 bushels of tomatoes is pretty damn tiring.

IMG_20160903_155841All the points I made last year remain valid for this exercise. But there were a few additional lessons:

  • You know you will need bowls, knives and chopping boards, but you will actually need more than you think you need. Serrated knives (even a bread knife) cut tomatoes much better than straight ones do, and a single (long) nick on the side of each tomato before you scald it in hot water to get the skin off is ample. It’s also faster than cutting a cross somewhere, which of course doubles the risk of slicing off a finger. It would have been very nice to have two serrated knives, and we only had one.
  • Keep some newspapers back from the recycling so you have something to line the place where you are going to line up your hot jars.
  • Boiling water boils, which means the volume goes down. This is basic physics. Even a journalist can figure this one out. Add an electric kettle to  your list of equipment (if possible) so you can keep topping up the pots when needed without wasting precious space on the stovetop.
  • Talking stovetop, there’s only one way to fit tomatoes, waterbath, kettle and saucepan of boiling water to get tomatoes ready on my stove, where the low-power simmer ring is back right. See picture.IMG_20160903_105455
  • Surgical gloves help protect hands of whoever ends up with the messy task of skinning and squishing the tomatoes.
  • Keep things moving, and start the waterbathing as soon as you can. Each batch takes 35 minutes to waterbath, and that’s what holds things up.
  • You need a lot of jars. They will not all fit into the dishwasher at one time, so keep adding as you take jars out. We ended up with two surplus jars. That’s a pretty small error rate.
  • Almond croissants make a beautiful mid-canning snack.
  • As I have said before. It helps to wear a red shirtIMG_20160903_151530

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Baking along

I’m a sucker for internet challenges, so when a friend told me about King Arthur Flour’s bakealong, I decided to give things a go, for this month anyway. They promise a recipe a month, and encourage bakers to Facebook, pin or tweet the results. I don’t use Pinterest, my Facebook account is as private as I can make it and I save Twitter for work and bikes. But I can always blog.

And besides the August recipe, for a cheese-tomato pane bianco, called for slow roasted tomatoes in the filling to a yummy sounding twisted yeast loaf. What better use for my first effort to rein in that magnificent heirloom tomato glut?

bread

The good news first, and it was an easy recipe, although my dough seemed to take longer to rise than the people over at King Arthur said it would, and it didn’t really double in size, either in the first rise or in the second one, after the slicing and twisting that the recipe told me to do. But the bread is far denser than I thought it ought to be, probably because I didn’t have enough bread flour in the pantry, so used a mix of bread flour, all-purpose flour and wholewheat. The dough just wasn’t light enough — I felt as though it needed far more liquid — and that made the bread heavy.

But it tastes so good that I might just have to try it again, just to see how it works when I do use the right flour.

King Arthur Flour promises something with pumpkin for next month. I’m not a great fan of pumpkin, so no promises on that one. Let’s see how it all goes.

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What is to be done?

We’ve had a serious tomato glut this year, despite the best efforts of spouse and self to gorge on tomato sandwiches, tomato salad and various types of gazpacho. A sandwich of home made bread, home made pesto, home grown tomato and artisan cheese has been my perfect lunch. But it only uses a couple of slices of our heirloom giants.

tomatoes

So this morning I turned the oven on very low — still a bold undertaking given Toronto’s prolonged heatwave — halved some of our cherry tomatoes, added salt, pepper and olive oil, put the tomatoes in the oven and retreated to my air conditioned office until mid afternoon.

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And the result is pretty damn good, like essence of heirloom tomato. It’s so simple that it hardly seems worth posting the recipe, but here it is anyway.

Slow roasted tomatoes

Slice or halve the tomatoes (depending on size), put on a baking sheet and brush generously with good quality olive oil. Grind on a little salt and pepper, and add a few garlic cloves, unpeeled.

Roast for 4-8 hours, depending on your mood and how chewy you think the tomatoes ought to be. Mine are still pretty moist. Store in the fridge.

You can cover them with olive oil for a longer shelf life, but I don’t think they are going to last that long.

tomatoes2

Next up. Using some of the spoils in King Arthur Flour’s #bakealong challenge, which this month offers a yummy sounding bread that I might eat in a single sitting.

Something that combines gardening, preserving (of sorts) and baking bread? How can I go wrong.

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Pickle power

CukesI spent many years experimenting with things in jars before I actually pickled cukes. True, I’ve played with bread and butter pickles for the last few years, halving the sugar and varying the herbs and spices from a super-simple New York Times recipe. But somehow until last year I never pickled cucumbers to keep. Big mistake

The recipe came a slim volume from Australian Woman’s Weekly, and makes cucumber spears with a good crunch and some serious attitude from the large quantities of pepper, mustard seeds (both brown and yellow) and chilli pepper. One batch of brine seems to do two batches of pickles, and it’s quick. The most time-consuming bit is cramming the pickle spears into sterilized jars. I eat them in a sandwich, or with a large block of cheddar cheese.

But either we squished too many cukes into the jars, or the brine levels sank overnight, and while there’s a good seal on the jars, the top layer of cucumbers is no longer covered in brine. From all my pickling reading, this is not a good thing, because the air will soften (or even rot) the pickles. We will store these jars in the fridge rather than in the cold room, and eat them fast. It may not be too difficult.

Pickled cucumbers

3-4 kg pickling cucumbers (ours were mostly about 5 inches long)
1/3 cup kosher salt
5 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
3 Thai chillies
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp dill seeds
8 cloves

Wash the cucumbers and slice off both ends and discard the ends (I read somewhere that the enzymes in the blossom end is one reason pickles go soft, and life is too short to figure out which end is the blossom end as you chop your way through a few dozen cucumbers). Slice them in quarters lengthwise, put in a large container with the salt and let them sit overnight in the fridge.

cukes3

The next day sterilize your jars (we used the dishwasher) and rinse the cucumbers under cold water and let them drain. Put all the other ingredients in a large saucepan, bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes to bring out the flavour. Add a couple of pounds of the cucumbers and bring the liquid back to the boil.

cukes2

Now pack the cucumbers into the jars, squeezing in as many as you can, while still leaving at least half an inch of headroom. Add enough of the hot vinegar mix to cover the cucumbers completely, and seal the jars while they are still hot. Repeat, as needed, until the cucumbers are gone. Store the jars in a cool, dark place, and refrigerate them after you open them.

The recipe, like most of those from this particular book, makes no mention of waterbathing the pickles, and I suspect this much vinegar doesn’t leave much chance for bacteria to grow. But I’m also sure USDA recommends 10-15 minutes of waterbathing, depending on the size of the jars. It’s up to you.

 

 

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