What Not To Do This Season: Food Preservation Edition

Reaching the last of my canned and dehydrated goods from last season, I’ve been reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and a few things that worked technically but should not be repeated.
First off are the ‘what didn’t work’s:

1) ALWAYS peel your tomatoes. Otherwise your sauce and paste will be full of awful slivers of tomato skin that have somehow hardened during the cooking/canning process. You will end up like me, pureeing each batch of tomato sauce and then running it through a sieve in a last ditch effort to save over a dozen jars.

2) When pickling cucumbers and you can’t tell which end is the blossom end, cut off both. Don’t assume you have the right one or else you’ll end up with a good number of jars filled with septic pond water instead of crunchy pickles. You’ll get the pond water if you’re lucky enough to not have the entire lid of your jar blow off first.

3) Don’t do a big batch of an experimental recipe. This may be a no brainer to a lot of other folks, but I trusted the chef and believed he could do no wrong. Well, that recipe was wrong and my compost pile gained about 20lbs of inedible pickled goods.

‘What Did Work, But Shouldn’t Be Repeated’s:

1) As cool as the idea of having a bunch of homemade instant soup was/is/continues to make me believe it will be, it is not. When I’m stuck for what to eat for lunch, the nondescript jars of usually unappealingly colored powders and flakes don’t scream EAT ME. They just sit and gather dust and make me feel bad about wasting all of that green bean or tomato soup.

2) Dehydrating cantaloupe. It tastes good, really sweet and has a nice chewy texture almost similar to bubble gum. But you can eat about one 1/2″ cube and be satisfied for at least a day. Haven’t even touched the 2 gallons that are hibernating in the chest freezer. Cantaloupe, I’ll eat you fresh.

3) Making jam with wild raspberries. It is delicious and will be repeated, but with a very important extra step: strain the hell out of that jam. Wild raspberries are full of tiny tiny seeds that are endlessly unpleasant when you’re trying to enjoy a nice slice of toast. And, if you’re particularly industrious, you can clean and save those seeds for scrubby additions to homemade soap.

‘What Did Work’s:

1) All of the jars of pickles that I successfully removed the blossom end from. As it is starting to heat up, oh man, your crunchy, salty, vinegary selves are ideal to combat all of my sweating.

2) Taking careful notes of what we ate, how long before it took before we were sick of it, how the taste held up to shelf life, which jars started to make me nervous (even if they didn’t show any signs of spoilage) and were chunked, which foods were best received as gifts and sharing. I was able to much better plan my garden and know what I’m going to be on the look out for this season after looking at what we actually ate compared to what I thought we would.

3) Setting aside enough food for myself and to share with my partner and roommates for a whole winter. We definitely bought groceries but having the well stocked pantry and freezer made some of the less pleasant financial stretches easier and really helped whenever I have my dietary issues to consider.

Apples to apples

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As much as I miss prairies and prickly pear, I’m pleased to live in a place where I can pick these beauties from a tree right around the corner. From horse apples to pink ladies, my relationship to my home perennially revolves around what’s growing.

 

 

What I want to be when I grow up

TopMy dad sent me this list my mom and I made of the things we want(ed) to be when we grow up. I believe that I’ve done right by my 8 year old self. Also question why I thought ‘tree planter’ probably wasn’t a job but had no doubts about book mark maker and ‘calinder’ maker.

Bootsday

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Happy Bootsday to me.

Apple Vinegar – Started So Well, Ended So Badly

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This bubbling jar of fruit, sugar, bacteria, and yeast was my first experimental batch of homemade vinegar. It turned out beautifully. Slightly alcoholic, but beautiful. I learned from a friend that if I let the vinegar sit past its alcoholic stage it would become a full fledged vinegar and not just a vinegary beverage that gives you a buzz.

2010-01-01 00.00.00-33The process was simple enough, I added slices of apple to a jar of water with a little bit of extra sugar, covered it with a coffee filter and rubber band, and ignored it. Well, I checked on it almost obsessively to see if it had grown a SCOBY yet. After about a month of anxious peeking and occasional mold skimming, my SCOBY was there! It had grown! I had ‘made’ it happen!

2010-01-01 00.00.00-15Delighted with this success, I scaled up. Mistake #1 – a ceramic crock that wasn’t meant for fermentation. This mistake went unnoticed for a good while, but was the real cause of this experiments demise. I started this batch with a little of the original vinegar, a peeled off layer of the original SCOBY, sliced apples, and sugar. It quickly grew a 1/4″ thick SCOBY and smelled fantastic. The jar had a snuggly fitting lid (Mistake #2 – nothing except saran wrap or a coffee filter is snug enough to keep fruit flies out) so I covered it, and really did ignore it this time.

After a month, I noticed that the area around the crock was smelling a little mildewy. Mistake #3 – never ignore a weird smell around anything, ANYTHING, you’re fermenting. No excuses.

Another month – I pulled the lid off the crock and out flew a thick mass of fruit flies. The apple slices were mostly white with maggots, and the walls and underside of the lid were crusted with pupae. Another thing – the level of the vinegar had dropped by a few inches in the jar. Flies, leakage, and mold-from-leakage meant that I dumped this whole mess into the compost and will start again. I’m not at all discouraged by this failure because it is clear that every mistake made was due to my own ignorance/laziness and not at all to the actual difficulty of making vinegar. I was just a little too confident a little too fast and lost what could have been 3 gallons of delicious apple vinegar to my vinegar-hubris.

Basil Marinated Cauliflower

2010-01-01 00.00.00-30The clearance rack at the grocery store is one of my favorite places. I know I’ve talked about this .49/lb rack-of-glory, but it never ceases to amaze me.  Sure, I could go dumpster dive most of this produce later that night for free, but honestly, I don’t have time. .49/lb is a good enough bargain for me. This head of cauliflower was chilling there the other day so I thought it would be a great opportunity to test out a  basil marinated recipe before the big heads were ready in the fields (although I have since learned that we won’t be planting any because they ‘are a pain in the ass’). Canning and drying are the main way I justify buying my produce in nearly-rotten-bulk. It gets eaten that night and what isn’t eaten is pickled, dehydrated, and frozen. This means that I when I decide to check out the clearance section I am committing the rest of my evening to being in the kitchen – not a bad thing at all.

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Basil Marinated Cauliflower
One head makes about 4 16 oz jars, give or take (I reuse jars and tend to be inconsistent with the jar sizes I use per batch so the measurements are more of an estimate)

1 Head Cauliflower – cut into florets, washed and drained thoroughly
1/4 c White Wine Vinegar
1/4 c Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 c Water
1/2 T Pickling Salt
1 t Dijon Mustard
1 Red Shallot – finely minced. (I used 3 scallions, because they were readily available from the farm)
1 Garlic Clove – finely minced
1/2 c Basil leaves – rinsed and cut into strips
1 T Whole Black Peppercorns

Lightly blanch the florets and then let sit in a cold water bath while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Whisk together the vinegars, water, salt, and mustard in a small cook pot. Bring to a low simmer and add the shallots and garlic for about 5 minutes. Remove the brine from the heat and add in the basil.

Drain the cauliflower well and pack the florets into jars, leaving 1″ of head space per jar. Divide the peppercorns evenly among the jars and toss in. I like to do this after I’ve added the veggies to my jars just in case I come up short on veggies and have prepped too many jars.

Pour the brine into each jar until it covers the cauliflower. At this point you can screw on the lids and set the jars in fridge overnight and serve as a salad the next day or you can process the cauliflower in a hot water bath for 10 minutes and enjoy as a pickled cauliflower later on in the season.

Ol’ Reliable Pickled Radishes

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What would a spring harvest be without a surplus of radishes? Actually, I imagine there are very mixed responses, depending on who you’re talking to (the ones harvesting vs. the ones eating). Despite developing a good litany of curses every time I kneeled into wet grass to bundle another 96 bunches of radishes, I do still love them. Whether sliced thinly on toast with olive oil, salt, and dill, or roasted with last fall’s beets and carrots, this little root is definitely something I rely on. As many cooks before me already know, they make damn fine pickles.

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This recipe is definitely one of the most reliable. It has many close relatives in the cooking world and is certainly nothing new or innovative. The only thing I like to do is carve a few whole radishes to look like jack-o-lanterns and have a jar of spooky radish heads once October rolls around.

Ol’ Reliable Pickled Radishes
Makes about 3 quarts.

12 Radishes
1/2 t Yellow Mustard Seeds
1/4 t Coriander Seeds
1 T Black Peppercorns
1 Garlic Clove – finely minced
1/2 c Cider Vinegar
1/4 c Brown Sugar
1 c Water
1 T Kosher Salt (The ratio here, if you run short of brine, is 1 heaping T of salt to 1 c of Water)

Wash the radishes thoroughly and slice into 1/4″ – 1/8″ slices, depending on your preference. Set slices in a bowl with ice to keep them crisp while prepping the spices and brine.

Mix the spices and garlic together in a bowl, distribute evenly among the jars you have prepared (hot water bath for sterilizing, ya’ know). In a sauce pan, mix brown sugar, water, vinegar, and salt together. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved. It is important to not let this boil too rapidly or for too long because you will loose a lot of your liquid to evaporation and your brine will be thrown out of whack.

Pack the jars with the sliced radishes, leaving an inch of head space at the top of each jar. Top off each jar with the just-boiled brine, raising the content level to about 1/2″ of headspace.

Clean the mouths of the jars, screw on the lids, and process in a hot water bath for about 10 minutes. The pickles can be stored in the fridge or in a dark place while they ferment and should be ready to snack on in 1-2 weeks.

The pickles are good eaten on their own, they are also good on toast with olive oil and dill (no salt this time!), and are great in stir fries.