Posts Tagged pickles

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.

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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.

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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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Relishing radishes

I think the veggies I picked at the community garden were radishes rather than turnips — they had that radish bite. But they prove that you can ferment just about anything, and that it has to be my favorite foolproof preservation method of the moment. It was one of those serendipity moments. I thought I was picking greens for soup and salads. But I tugged a whole plant up by mistake, and there was this fat pink-white bulb at the end of it. Two meals from one plant! Awesome.

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But I digress. How was I going to handle a basket of radishes (or possibly turnips), in the knowledge that only one of the two of us is eating proper food right now (the spouse is relegated to munching mush after a long-awaited hospital adventure)?

Continuing the fermentation theme of the last couple of weeks, I tried two experiments — grated and chunked — with beets for color and ginger for an extra bite. The recipe? Well, there isn’t one really. Weigh the grated veggies and add about salt to make up 1.5 percent of their weight, and make up a 3 percent salt brine to pour over the chunks. Squish the veggies well down into the jar, adding brine to the jar with the chunks, weight the vegetables beneath the liquid with a smaller jar filled with water (or brine), cover with cheesecloth and wait. I threw a few slices of ginger in with the chunked veggies, and grated a very large chunk of ginger with the grated ones. The recipes say use filtered/bottled water, but I used regular Toronto tap water. It seemed to work last time.

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The two jars bubbled away happily on the countertop for about five warmish days, and the brine spilled over into the pie plate several times, forcing me to remove bulk or pour off brine. The taste? It’s a vinegary pickle with a radish/ginger bite, especially for the grated veggies. It’s almost Middle Eastern, and I’m rather proud of how well it worked. And both pickles are a beautiful, beautiful dark beet red.

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The bonus: the greens are delicious, like Asian salad greens with a spicy crunch. I ate them in salads, steamed with butter or olive oil, with omelet or scrambled eggs for an instant low-cal supper, and then in a spinach soup without the spinach.

This community garden stuff really is quite fun.

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Saving the sunchoke

choke2Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are my latest offering from the Community Garden, partly because my fellow gardeners complain they give them gas. I’m welcome to as many as I can dig, although they are seriously fiddly to scrub and clean. I roasted the first batch with olive oil and lemons, which was yummy, and I can’t say I noticed any major stomach issues. But I feel I’ve been neglecting the pickle world in the last few months, so I took to the internets for thoughts on how to preserve these (very) little babies.

There were a number of regular pickles and then there were recipes for lacto-fermenting, both with grated sunchokes (sauerkraut without the kraut) and with ‘chokes that were diced or sliced. Fermenting is a new part of my preserving repertoire, and I’ve done small batches only so far. Perfect chance to branch out into something new.

choke3As I scrolled through the recipes, I rejected anything that told me to peel the veggies, as well as things that called for ingredients I didn’t have in the kitchen. Then I found perfection, with including turmeric (for color and taste), plus ginger, garlic and cumin (three things I really like). I chopped my ‘chokes into chunky rings rather than dice because they were so small, added brine and spices and waited for the fermenting magic to do its stuff.

Fermented Jerusalem artichokes (adapted slightly from Linda Ziedrich’s Mellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle)

750 g Jerusalem artichokes, washed, then scrubbed and trimmed and sliced fairly thickly
1 tsp turmeric
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 oz fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 cups water

Make a brine with the salt, sugar and water and set aside. Mix the ‘chokes with the spices (and wonder how the hell you’ll ever get the yellow off your fingers) and then pack the veggies tightly into a clean jar. Pour the brine over the top, and weight the veggies down (I used a smaller jar filled with water, but you can also use a ziploc full of water or brine). Leave your cheesecloth-covered jar on the countertop for a few days to let the fermentation alchemy to do its stuff — it took five days before mine tasted “right” — a sort of tanginess that will go well with cheese or hummus — so I put the lid on and moved it to the fridge.


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Tip: I’ve learned from bitter experience to always put my jar of fermenting veggies on top of a deep saucer or a pie plate because the liquid tends to bubble out of the jar. You really don’t want yellow turmeric brine staining everything in the kitchen.

Maybe next time I’ll make the slices thinner so I can use my veggies in a sandwich rather than as on-the-side chunks.

A bonus: Linda says her Internet research shows that pickling/fermenting the ‘chokes removes whatever it is that causes large amounts of gas in the first place. I can’t confirm this one, but it does mean I’ll offer a taste to my gardening partners without worrying that their spouses won’t talk to them for days.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I liked this one so much that I made it again a week later, omitting the sugar, which was perhaps a mistake because it tasted better the first time. It loses a point because you really have to be careful to keep your veggies under the liquid even after you finish fermenting them. I put the newer batch in the back of the fridge and forgot about it, and the top layer of ‘chokes went blue-brown distressingly fast. I ate them anyway, but the first batch was definitely the winner.

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Creative with carrots

I’ve been on a fermentation kick for the last few months, focusing on small batch stuff, so I can ring the changes with spices and seasonings and never get fed up of what I’ve made.

It’s easy. I grate vegetables in the food processor (mostly carrots, but I’m open to other suggestions), squeeze them together with salt and spice, squish down in a jar and wait.  I liked carrots with cumin and fennel, but fermented carrot with dill seed was sort of blah.

After a few versions where the brine bubbled out  the jar, I have concluded that 400-450 grams of veggies just pack down into a 500g Mason jar.

Fermented carrots

450 grams carrots
7 grams of salt
1/2 tsp of spice

Grate the carrots finely and use your hands to mix them with the salt and spice, squishing the veggies together until brine starts to come out. Push down into a wide-mouthed jar, trying to get rid of any air spaces, and then push a clean, narrow jar down on top of it. I sometimes fill that jar with water to weight it down, or I get lazy and I use an unopened jar of jam or chutney.

Cover with a cloth to stop dust getting in, and leave on the countertop until it bubbles its way to your preferred degree of tanginess. I start tasting my carrots after 2-3 days, and they are usually done after 4-5 days. But some recipes say it takes a week or even two. It depends on how warm your kitchen is, and on the mood of the carrots.

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A few tips:

  • You want 1-2 percent salt to vegetables by weight, so it’s easier using a digital scale (set to metric) than using measuring cups and spoons. But there are recipes that use cup measurements if that’s your thing.
  • Don’t overdo the spices.
  • The amount of liquid you end up with is totally unpredictable. After about two days, the brine rises to the top of the jar, and sometimes bubbles over (store your jar on a plate or a bowl). But after 4-5 days that liquid seems to soak back into the carrots.
  • If you have leftovers that won’t squish into your jar, just eat it as a (slightly salty) salad.
  • You can add extra brine if the carrots dry up, but they are usually tangy enough for my taste by the time that happens, so I move them to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
  • The books say the fermented veggies will keep for weeks or even months. My small batches never last that long — I add a forkful to my lunchtime sandwiches (they taste awesome with home-made hummus), or throw them into a salad for extra taste and crunch.
  • This is probably total coincidence, but I’ve lost a little weight since I started eating my fermented veggies on a regular basis. All those good fermenting bugs seem to do very nice things to my digestive system.

Next up: Friends over at http://www.wellpreserved.ca point me to this recipe, which I am going to do as soon as I’ve started eating the carrot batch that’s bubbling away right now. I mean how can you go wrong with carrots and ginger?

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Bubbling away

Canning buddy and I signed up for a pickling class last week, on the logic that we needed to broaden out beyond our jams and chutney comfort zone and try something new. We’ve done a few pickles — cukes and beets in particular — but there’s always stuff to learn.

We didn’t realize quite how new it was until we actually sat down for the start of the two hour lesson. Our pickles wouldn’t be regular vinegar pickles at all. We were using veggies, salt and air to ferment our food, in what teacher lady assured us was by far the safest method of preserving anything because the good bacteria slaughtered the bad.

I admit the whole thing was a bit of a shock to a system that’s been focusing frantically on sterilization, water baths and making sure no bugs come anywhere near our food, as my fellow classmates and I happily shredded a dozen cabbages and reshaped random veggies (beets, carrots, onions, garlic, turnips, ginger) into discs and wedges. You add salt (for cabbage) or brine (for veggies) and wait for the bubbles, the fermentation smell and the miraculous transformation.

If you look very, very carefully, you’ll see the little bubbles at the top, which shows the bacteria are happily doing their stuff as my jar of weighted down veggies sit on the kitchen counter.

The kraut was less happy, and (following another set of guidelines) I added a little brine today, which seemed to get it bubbling nicely as well. It smells pretty evil right now. I am told the good smell follows the bad one, so I am prepared to wait a bit, provided it doesn’t stink the kitchen out too much.

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I’ll report back in a couple of weeks, but would welcome feedback from anyone who has actually succeeded in this particular sort of alchemy.

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Now what did I do?

I wish I could remember what went into this latest batch of bread and butter pickles.

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I started, as always, with my yellowing copy of the NY Times food section from last July, which offers an easy, but oversweet recipe from a “make-em-don’t-buy-em” section on things to go with burgers. It’s one of those “tweak now” recipes that makes enough pickles to store in the fridge for a week or so. I love it.

There have been many experiments with this one, but I almost always add more vinegar than the recipe says, some sliced up garlic and a lot less sugar (probably only half the amount the recipe says). And I throw in herbs and spices according to mood or based on what’s in the pantry or the garden.

But the latest iteration is quite possibly the best I’ve ever made, with a chilli kick, the coolness of mint and a pink glow that came because I used the pickling brine I had left over from a couple of batches of pickled beets rather than mixing sugar, vinegar and spice anew. I know I added chilli, mint and mustard seeds, but can I ever make it work again?

My mother never followed recipes either. I guess I inherited the just-be-clueless gene.
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Bits for burgers

I have almost all the trimmings to turn a burger into something well beyond the store bought stuff, thanks to bitingly spicy mustard greens in the garden, our first home-grown tomatos, and the latest of the bread and butter pickles as a substitute for the sliver of sourness that a commercial burger offers.

And now, thanks to the canning buddy’s niece’s insistence that we repeat a recipe I didn’t even like that much last year, we have the corn relish to slather on the top.

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We made that relish before the apricot jam last week, zipping the kernels off a dozen ears of corn and boiling them up with sugar, vinegar and spice, as well as some chopped up red peppers that we burned black on the stove, then peeled and chopped. I didn’t much like the taste that the basil offered last year, so we substituted dill, and we also cut the sugar and amped up the onion and the spice.

The recipe goes something like this.

Corn pepper relish (adapted, yet again) from The Complete Book of Pickling)
4 chopped, roasted red peppers, skin removed
1-1-2 cups sugar
2 tbsp salt (it was supposed to be kosher salt, but wasn’t)
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 cups cider vinegar
8 cups cooked corn kernels
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped dill

Roast the peppers by putting them directly on a gas burner and turning them round as they sizzle and char. Dunk in cold water, peel off most of the skin, and then chop them and set aside.

Put all the ingredients except the red pepper and dill in a pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for 30 minutes or so until it thickens. Add the peppers and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in dill and ladle into clean, hot jars. Water bath for 15 minutes.

And to my surprise, it’s actually rather good. Last year I rated this a mere 2-1/2 out of five, because it was too sweet and because the basil went sort of brown and yucky on us. The dill adds a nice pickle tang, and the fact that it has less sugar makes it far more palatable to me. If there’s a next time I will add more turmeric, to add to the yellow hue.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). It’s far better than the gelatinous stuff you buy in the store, but I can’t see myself using it in the way I use pickles or chutneys. 

As for the mustard greens, I reckon this is the perfect thing to grow in a tiny square foot garden like ours. It grows fast, produces over several weeks, adds a serious bite to lunchtime sandwiches and you can’t buy it in the stores. We had five different types this year, one of which bolted already, and one of which didn’t seem to like its container in front of the sunroom door. But these frilly numbers, the most biting of the lot, are doing fine.

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Cook the books: spoiled for choice

So after a hiccup in the last couple of months, I bonded with the Mile End Cookbook after a marathon session with canning supremo over at Eat locally, Blog globally. We’ve both been playing with the Cook The Books challenge this year, so we thought we might as well play this round together. We were going to make the challah, perhaps with a side order of cinnamon buns (my last two attempts at those were good but not perfection), but we just kept going.

We ended up with two beautiful challah, a slightly sweet, plaited egg bread with poppyseed coating, and perhaps the best cinammon buns in the world (could that be the 2 sticks of butter that went into the filling?), as well as a raft of pickles that might take months to get through.

The list went like this:

Challah: Light, chewy, slightly sweet, but perfect with a sharp goat cheese or even the pickles (see below). I wish they were a little darker, but maybe my oven doesn’t heat as hot as it ought to heat. So you get a before shot not an after one.

Cinnamon buns: The real deal. Sticky, sweet, slightly nutty, with two sorts of sugar, pecans, maple syrup as well as all that butter in the filling. Eat locally took half the batch, and the rest was gone before lunchtime the next day.

Beets: Cooked in the brine rather cooked and then brined. A little much allspice/clove, but I think they will mellow down nicely.

Red onions: Crunchy, sweet, acid, salty and almost not tasting of onions at all, in a very, very good way. Amazingly pretty pink half rings

Mushrooms: Similar recipe to last time, but I used all olive oil for the post brining oil bath. I suspect they will last even less time than the last batch, which was gone within a week, stirred into salads and enjoyed.

And then I made two batches of horseradish, one with beets and one without. Both already seem good at clearing the sinuses, and the taste is far better than the store bought stuff.

Anyone got recipes that use lots of horseradish, or stuff to eat it with?

As for the book, I liked the stuff we did, with clear, easy to follow instructions. But there’s a lot of stuff (smoked meat, brisket, pickled tongues, sauerkraut) that just take a lot of time, so I won’t prioritize those. But hey, it was fun.

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Mushrooms: salty, slippery, spicy, and really nice

Marinaded mushrooms were one of the few things in the market in winter when I lived in Moscow a few million years ago. They were salty, slippery and very acidic, but I enjoyed them, even if I never did figure out how to make them. So when this month’s Cook the Books challenge focused on Jewish comfort food, it seemed sensible to give the pickled mushrooms recipe a try.

But then Grow and Resist complained bitterly about the over-salty the pickles she made from the Mile End Cookbook, so I got a little frightened and cut the salt from a third of a cup to a quarter, as well as throwing in the spices I had rather than the ones I was supposed to add. The result? They are actually rather nice, with that salty, acid taste I remember from Moscow. Mushrooms do tend to be bland. Adding spices for taste can’t be a bad thing.

I used cider vinegar rather than white vinegar, and juniper rather than thyme and rosemary. Nice taste, and very, very easy, especially after I remembered to add a ziploc of water on top to stop the ‘shrooms floating to the surface.

I also bought chicken livers with the aim of making the chopped liver recipe, but ended up frying them with onion, Savoy cabbage and lots of garlic instead. It was surprisingly, yummily good.

But while I would like to try the lox (if I can find the patience to spend five days brining a fish), the jury’s still out on whether really like this book. I’m not a huge meat eater, so the idea of creating the perfect corned beef doesn’t really appeal, although I was tempted to try the tongue, just because I’m one of about three people I know who actually eat tongue.

Maybe you need to know the New York deli to love the book.

But hey, if I lived within reach of the deli, I wouldn’t need the book. I’d just go straight in and eat the food.

I have another recipe-following session planned before month end with fellow blogger Eat locally, blog globally, so watch this space for an update.

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Creative capering


The wild and wonderful nasturtium plants have been one of the unexpected highlights of our pocket handkerchief back garden, with a serious splash of color among the herbs and other stuff. At their peak, before I started tearing out handfuls of plants and putting them in the compost, they were drowning out two of our three Japanese quince bushes, and both fennel and chives were buries in a sea of nasturtium orange and green. I could use the flowers in a salad, for their color and their peppery bite, but I wanted to try to be braver this year. I’m told that pickled nasturtium seeds taste like capers. It was time to try this out.

The internet recipes I found suggested brining the seeds for 3-5 days first, to remove some of the bitterness, and then draining them and replacing the brine with a vinegar/sugar/spice mix. I guess I’ll give things a week or so, and then report back.

I mean how bad can it be?

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