Exciting New Pickles!

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After years of gardening and putting food up, things start to get a little predictable. There are certain things you require for the larder, and they get made every year. It’s usually basic stuff: your tomatoes, the pickles you like, your favorite jams. But the harvest gives you a goose every year to keep you from falling into a rut: more green tomatoes, some starchy peas you don’t really like, or you just get a hankering for something new. Here are a few of my more interesting pickles of this summer, to add along with last week’s pickled figs.

Quick Green Tomato Pickle: I made this super easy recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling. I must have a simpatico tastebud with the Mennonites because I like these strong-tasting pickles. They remind me of a similar tasting Mennonite recipe for Dutch Spears that I like from the same book. I like the super sour and sweet aspect of it, along with the onions which add a savory component. These do need to sit for the flavors to meld—a friend asked for the recipe on Instagram, and I needed to think about it before recommending the recipe. Now I’m all thumbs up.

Dill Pickle Kraut: Oh my goodness, this is so good. One day I had a lightening bolt idea of adding cucumbers and dill to my sauerkraut. Of course, many folks had already had the same brilliant idea. And brilliant it is, if not original. Basically, you are thinly slicing a cucumber into your kraut, and adding dill. It’s killer on a sandwich! Try this recipe.

A funny thing happened to this batch of sauerkraut: the brine ended up being thick, and a little viscous. I wasn’t terribly concerned because the vegetables were crisp and not soft or slimy which is an indication your ferment is off, but to make sure I googled it and found this post about this sauerkraut condition. Have you ever had a thick brine? Gosh, I love the internet.

Pickled Peas: So, I have been growing these purple podded peas. They are very pretty, easy to grow and prolific. But, actually? They don’t taste great. I find them a bit starchy and not very sweet. I wondered if pickling might help. I made them according to a pickled nasturtium pod recipe (try this one) and they are actually quite good! Maybe I’ll grow them again. I got the seeds initially from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, but they don’t have them anymore. Maybe they didn’t like the taste either?

Cold Fermented Pickled Tomatoes: I saw this posted on a Facebook group I’m in that Ken Albala leads (The Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation) and I knew right away I had to make them. I wasn’t the only one. They are very good, slightly fizzy. I wonder if mine are firm enough? I’ve never had the real deal in Russia, so I will have to feel satisfied with it.

I must say, in conclusion, that I’m a bit pickled out. Our joke these days is this:

Q: What’s for dinner?

A: Well, we have tomatoes or pickles…

What were your exciting pickles this year?

Pickled Figs

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Hello! I am back from the deep with renewed energy. Today is the first day of school in our parts, and it is a lucky thing because my porch is groaning with fruits and vegetables. Canning with a six-year old only goes so far. It’s much easier doing it solo. Unless I want to can some Legos in a light syrup.

I have lots of experiments to bring to the table, but this one stands out. It felt important to share right away because for some people, it is fig season. If, like me, all of your fig trees tragically died last winter, maybe you need to buy some figs. Lots of New York fig growers had problems last winter, says this article from the NY Times. So sad!

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I was lucky enough to find these organic figs for sale at my local grocery store. I riffed off of a recipe from Linda Ziedrich for spiced cherries (see link for one of my favorite books). I think these figs are wonderful with a soft, creamy, nutty cheese–like Kunik from Nettle Meadow. These are also incredible in a salad, all you need is a drizzle of olive oil. The syrup the figs make an amazing drink added to some seltzer.

Pickled Figs

Yield: One Pint

This is a refrigerator pickle–no canning required.

Black Mission Figs (I think any fig will do, but the color they made the syrup is gorgeous)

About 1 cup of white wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup rosé wine (or white or red)

a goodly slice of lemon peel

half a bay leaf, crumbled a little

a good pinch of fennel seeds, about 1/4 teaspoon or less

Stuff your figs in a jar, whole. Cover them with the vinegar–you may have to use more or less than specified above. Screw on a lid, and let sit at room temperature overnight (8 to 12 hours).

The next day, drain the vinegar from the figs into a pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup simmer for fifteen minutes so the flavors meld. Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool.

When cool, pour the syrup over the figs (still in the jar) and screw on the lid. Let them stand at room temperature, in a cool dark spot, for 2 to 3 days. Then return to the fridge to sit, for a few weeks, up to a month before eating.

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Summer Loving

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We are in deep summer over here, and I find it’s somewhat like deep winter. There is a lull, a quietness, as if all the wheels that were grinding have come to a halt. It’s like being underwater. The days are hot and long, the constant rattle of the cicadas is only interrupted by the shrill meow of the catbird. We take car rides to find fruit to make into jam, out winding roads called Butterville, alongside mountain ridges, passing wide fields of green lined with tall, old trees.

The summer is dotted with bursts of fun in the quiet, like butter on a fruit crisp these bits of fat are savored greedily. Like the fair, driving out on Libertyville Road, past the corn fields, high and waving. I am forever enamored of the iconic beauty of a country fair–the lights, the dusky sunset, the wildness seeping through as night falls. And then there’s the days at the river beach, the sand, the slow river with barges chugging by, the white clouds rising above. It’s summer, and I’m letting myself sink into it.

Despite all this slow motion, there’s a frenetic note too: the preserver’s frenzy. I’m a little more paced about it this year as I’ve gotten out of control in years past with my need to stick everything in a jar. There’s been a lot of jam-making, as usual, and lots of fermenting. The cucumbers are prodigiously producing fruit, and each ten pounds gets pickled: sandwich stuffers, Dutch spears, half-sours. The tomatoes aren’t so good this year, looks like there’s some fusarium wilt unfortunately. But no matter, there’s lots of good tomatoes to buy for canning. The kitchen, dining, and porch tables are constantly groaning with revolving loads of produce.

There is a side table in my dining room that I have found is perfect for fermentation, and it’s been bubbling with activity all summer. There’s a red wine vinegar that forms a strong mother when I feed it some red wine, a fruit vinegar that is young and vibrant, and a newly started apple vinegar.  The fermenting padron peppers smell smoky and spicy. Their promise is palpable in the room’s air.

I think I’m going to sink a little deeper into this summer soup. I’ll be back in another week or two, ready and revived to share more recipes. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you are preserving this summer. Won’t you tell me what you’re up to?

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Fruit Tarts with Olive Oil Crust

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These fruit tarts have been my go-to dessert this summer. The crust is a breeze to put together, and the fresh fruit is what stands out. The tarts are based loosely on my mom’s simple summer fruit pies, which we would eat all summer long, for breakfast lunch and dinner. She would fill a large cookie tray with a pie for a family of five. My family are just three, so a tart pan is enough for us. The premise is fruit in a single layer, which is then only sprinkled with a small amount of sugar. The thin layer of fruit cooks quickly, and the juices evaporate out and concentrate the fruit flavor.

The possibilities are many, and wilting fruit no longer good for eating out of hand is welcome. One was a mix of blueberries and black currants, tumbled out on to the pastry which I had spread with crushed lemon cookies. I added a quarter of a cup of sugar sprinkled on top, and some lemon zest. That is it. The idea here is to focus on the fruit, of course. I am always tempted to put whipped cream on something like this, but it’s often better on its own. Another good one was made with leftovers: a half jar of red currant jam and two cups of lingering blueberries. Only a tablespoon of sugar on top with this one, just for some gloss and crunch. The jam and blueberries were sweet enough.

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I adapted the pastry from this oil pie crust from King Arthur, only I used olive oil. I often use oil in baking and have made many olive oil crusts, and this is my new favorite. What I love about this particular oil crust was that it added a smidge of baking powder, which gave it just the lightness it needed. (I also like this one from the NY Times, tailored for more savory pies.)

You can play around with what fruit you put on–berries or stone fruit are both good candidates. Also, experiment with ground cookies or jam spread either under or over the fruit. Or both!

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Black Currant Jam

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Today I will be making this jam at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a gorgeous jam from your local produce. If you see some black currants at your local market, I hope you try them out. They are an unassuming berry, that when allowed to shine reveal how very special they are. They’re like a good book–complex, deep, thoughtful. Don’t judge them by their cover!

Black Currant Jam

yield: A little over a half-pint

1.5 cups black currants (8 oz./220 g.)

1/4 cup water (1.7 oz./47 g.)

3/4 cup sugar (5 oz./150 g.)

1/4 of a medium-sized lemon, juice of

Basically, you want to buy one of those little green half-pint containers you see at the farmer’s markets and stands. Locally, Tousey’s sells them at the Kingston Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and the Rhinebeck Farmers Market on Sundays. Their season is not long, so go out and buy some!

Clean the currants: Submerge them in a bowl of cold water so that all the leaves and loose sticks float to the top–remove this stuff. Then, drain them and spread them out on a cookie tray (with edges so they don’t roll away!) and remove as much of the stems as possible. The blossom ends are bumpy and still have some blossom on them. If they are big, I pick them off. Generally, I feel it all adds to the texture of the final product. Some folks like to put the currants through a food mill to have a smoother jam.

Cook the currants: Put them in a good jam pot, and add the water. Bring them to a simmer, and let them cook about five minutes to soften them. They will look glossy and beautiful. (This would be where you would want to pass them through a food mill, if preferred.)

Add the sugar and the lemon. Mix it all together; the sugar should dissolve quickly. Bring it back to a fast boil–don’t leave the pot! It will reach the gel stage quite quickly. It will bubble up high, then low, and the bubbles will be thick and glossy. A dip of a cold spoon will reveal thick drops that will slowly fall off the edges when done*.

Turn off the heat, let the jam settle for a moment until the bubbles subside. Then, ladle the hot jam into a jar using a funnel, and seal with a lid. It will keep in the fridge  for at least a few months, provided you use a clean spoon when you use it!

*Note: This is the mystery of making jam–when is it done? If you make enough jam, you will know. In the meantime, if it’s underdone you will have a soft jam that will go great with yogurt. An over done jam will be stiff, maybe burnt, so an under done jam is preferable. If you are interested in learning more about jamming (and canning!), I will be teaching three classes starting in early September at Ulster BOCES in Port Ewen. You can email me at halfpintpreserves AT gmail DOT com so I can keep you informed of the details, or you can navigate to my canning classes  page which will soon be updated.

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Jam-making demo, July 13, Rhinebeck Farmers Market

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This post is sadly a little late, and a little shorter than I hoped due to some internet bamboozling this week. That, and I’m adjusting to returning to full-time momming now that the school year is over. But here it is: tomorrow at noon, I will be at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market making some black currant jam. Come see how easy it is to make jam, chat about preserving & canning, buy some local fruits and vegetables, and enjoy my favorite market!

Review: Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book by Sherri Brooks Vinton

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Future pub pickles.

I’ve had this book,  Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book by Sherri Brooks Vinton, sitting next to my left elbow on my desk for quite a while now. It’s an in-depth Q&A book on preserving in all it’s forms: canning, freezing, drying, fermenting and infusing. It seems fitting to review this book now, at the beginning of my canning season. Brooks Vinton, author of two previous Put ‘em Up books (Put ‘em Up! and Put ‘em Up! Fruit) is a tireless advocate for preserving local foods. She’s a long time believer, and it seems evident to me that she is on a mission to educate people about preserving.

This might sound obvious, but spend some time with the table of contents when you start this book. I’m a jump to the middle kind of reader and with this book you might get confused by an overload of (good) information. The contents really nicely organizes all the parts and chapters, so that it’s all very clear and easy to follow. Then you can jump to the fun stuff like recipes for Pub Pickles made with malt vinegar, and Avalanche Sauce, for when you have a ton of tomatoes to process, both earmarked in my copy for August.

I really like that this book tackles questions–there are so many questions with preserving, and canning in general. It’s great to have all those answers in one place, pleasantly addressed in a conversational tone.  It’s a book that provides a real service, and if you don’t have access to classes in your area, this is a great place to begin a preserving journey that usually starts with lots of questions.

I also feel it has a lot to offer the seasoned preserver. Sometimes you know things, but can’t quite articulate them. Although I have been doing jam-making demonstrations for years now (I will be jamming at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market this July 13), I am beginning to teach canning classes this year at Ulster BOCES, and it will be nice to review all of the questions I might have to field before I teach my classes!

Do you have any preserving questions?

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Back in March!

 

Staying Hungry

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