Two, Four, Six…

Traveled to Brookings, SD today to help present a Farm Beginnings marketing workshop.  Got into town a little early, so I stopped in Threads of Memories antiques to check out their extensive crock selection.

What a Crock!

I bought the six gallon crock a couple of years ago, and today I picked up a two and a four for about the same (total) price as the #6 was then.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not trying to be anal about matching my Red Wings, it’s just that the other designs (like the birch leaf) and the crocks from lesser-known companies seem to be more in favor by collectors right now, and are thus more expensive.

Threads of Memories tends to have the fanciest crocks up front, with the less expensive ones hidden throughout the back regions of the store in the various consignment areas.

Back there, you can find cheaper ones that have cosmetic issues (rim chips, finish flaws, or small, non-integrity-threatening cracks)–there is no need to have a “perfect” crock for fermenting–let the collectors pay the high prices and get something that you can use and not feel bad about setting in a back corner of the basement to ferment whatever deliciousness you want to brew up.

The one thing you really want to watch out for is a hairline crack that goes all the way around the base.  That’s bad news if you want to move a crock full of veggies and brine.

You can use a plastic bucket instead of a crock, but I don’t trust even supposedly food grade plastics with storing a fermenting, acidic brew.  I have soured vegetables in gallon glass jars with good results.

The #6 crock has been in a cold corner of my basement since I moved here, patiently holding just a couple of gallons of garlicky dill pickles–what I was able to harvest by the end of last August, when I moved away from my cuke patch.

Because the brine had evaporated and some of the top layer of cukes was exposed to the air (though there was no mold or objectionable material), I tossed the surface fruits, plus some of the big ones that looked a little shriveled.

Then I transferred the rest into this gallon glass jar–a gift from my now-deceased boss Marj Robertson when I worked in her cafe a decade ago.  She used jars like these to make sun tea out front of her restaurant and jalapeno-spiked refrigerator pickles, too.

Due to the brine’s reduction, 2010’s batch of pickles is really salty, but still very tasty.  They might be best used chopped in salads or as an occasional pick-me-up.

The past couple of years I have canned my fermented dills, but I’m just going to keep this jar in the fridge and slowly eat my way through them instead of killing off the live cultures in the boiling water bath just so I can store them on the shelf.

For the 2011 season, I think I’ll use the #4 size crock for pickles and save the #6 for something more exciting (to me, anyway)–like sauerkraut or kimchi.  Number two can be my experimental crock for small batches of something new I want to try.

My guide in this experimentation is a new book bought with a Christmas gift card.  It’s not really a cookbook per se (especially since a lot of things aren’t actually cooked), nor does it give super-specific instructions throughout, but it’s a guide made with a sense of adventure and love.

Wild Fermentation is part revolutionary food manifesto, part ode to microbes, and part life celebration.  It’s great fun to read, and there are all kind of ideas for fermenting grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products (meat is not included).

However, I do suggest looking over the reviews before you decide to purchase it.  If your sensibilities will be offended by discussions of GLBT communities and/or you prefer to live in a pasteurized, homogenized, sterilized world, this book is not for you…

…and neither are sauerkraut, beer, chocolate, coffee, cheese, or any of the other fermented foods that have long been part of humanity’s diet.  What a loss!

Chutney-Pickle-Relish Things

I have a pickle forming in my brain.  Not a pickle as in, “I’m in a pickle” (which I could very well be), but as in, what am I gonna do with all these lunker yellow squashes?

Papaya Pear Overload

Add to that the late blight in the gardens, which is fast taking down all the tomato plants, and well, I’ve got to do something to fill those quart jars and save some of those tomatoes and deal with all those squashes–preferably all at the same time.

So, the pickle starts to form in my brain.  Or the chutney.  Or relish.  Or whatever you want to call it.  It started with green tomatoes and yellow squash.  I thought maybe ginger and brown sugar and cider vinegar would be good with those things–that starts sounding like chutney, doesn’t it?

Then I went to Jones’ and I saw they had those little mesh bags of organic lemons at a decent price.  I love lemon slices with the peel intact simmered in a sweet/sour syrup!

And then I thought of some of those onions in my basement.  There are some jalapeños starting to size up again in the gardens–that could add a nice heat element.

What about cinnamon sticks?  Whole allspice?  Can I get away with cumin in all that?  By golly, I think I can!

Of course, the first item on the agenda is to get the half pints of “special sauce” in and out of the canner–just noticed I’m low on small lids, so H offered (OK, I sweet-talked the poor guy) to go back out in the heat to pick some up.

The chutney-pickle-relish will have to wait until tomorrow to take its final shape.  Who knows–I might find something else out in the garden that seems a good addition–bronze fennel seems like it could be interesting….

Crock-Fermented Dill Pickles

Crock Pickles 2009 4This is my second year making crock dills in cooperation with my friend Cathy, who lends me the crocks her grandmother used.  The cukes come out of my gardens, as well as the peppers.  This year’s dill came from my friend Amy’s garden, and the garlic is Patti’s from Evergreen Farms (certified organic).

The recipe comes from Putting Food By–the little cucumber crock pickle recipe.  Because I started later this year (not thinking I was going to make them, and having a friend who had a little crock to fill with the early season cukes), I used the smaller 3 gallon crock this time.  The 5-gallon crock was devoted to the Concord grape wine project.

Crock Pickles 2009 2You can actually leave the pickles in the crock and eat them out of it over the winter.  But because I split the pickles between Cathy and me, and because it’s just easier to have the jars of pickles on hand, I can them.  I sterilize the quart jars and pack them with pickles, then strain the brine and heat it just to boiling before pouring it over the cukes.

I’m generally a bit short of enough fermenting liquid to can all of the pickles, so I add a brine of 3 cups water, 3 cups vinegar, and a third cup of pickling salt to that brine to make sure there’s enough.  The vinegar I added this year was 1 1/2 cups each of white and cider vinegar.

Crock Pickles 2009 3Because of the late start this year, and because I was picking those cukes very small like I like them, I only ended up with 9 quarts of pickles this year.  But they are gorgeous, and they are tasty.  Luckily, I have one quart of last year’s pickles left to eat, and a few leftovers from this batch too before I break into my share of this year’s dilly goodness.

By Dribs and Drabs…

…I’ll get my canning done.

I decided to take the ripe box of tomatoes pictured in yesterday’s post and run them through the strainer, cook them down, and at some point today, can tomato sauce.  It’ll likely only make one canner-load once the sauce is cooked down to a reasonably thick consistency, but that’s something, and it gets the household produce overload partially dealt with.

On the one hand, I hate to heat up the house to do just one batch, but on the other hand, the boiling water from the canner can be used for weed control on the border between my property and the neighbor’s.

And I’ll be a little closer to having enough tomatoes put up for the winter.  Which is to say–still very far from the goal of many cases of tomatoes (four? five?), but there’ll be at least a half a case done.

As I go through yet another season, I can look through my pantry and figure out what it is we actually eat (by what’s missing), and what’s left over.  I won’t be doing many pickles this year–the corn relish was one pickled thing I think I’ll use (I used a little in stuffing zucchini for dinner last night), but the pickling cukes are going to a friend this year–I’m just not that big a fan of pickled cucumbers.

I may make a batch of dilly beans, as I do eat those, but other than that, pickles aren’t really on the agenda except for perhaps a mixed pickle like I did last year–an antipasto in quart jars that uses up all kinds of little things–tiny carrots, little onions, green cherry tomatoes, okra, and the like.

Other canning projects on the agenda include ratatouille in the pressure canner–something I most definitely use, plus some quarts of tomato soup.  I may also can some chicken this year if we get a lot of them from our friend who is raising chickens on H’s place.

One more new thing I’d like to try in the pressure canner this year is some pints of fresh shell beans.  Those Bingo borlotto beans from Territorial are starting to get their lovely mottled cream-and-red coloration, so I’d like to make at least one or two canner-loads for convenience’s sake.

Bingo shell beans 2I’m not sure, though, if you can really call it convenience to shell, wash, pack, and process that many shellers–it’s a lot of work to deal with beans.  But I’ve got ’em, and I’d like to have some ready-to-use, so why not?  I can spend an afternoon shelling beans and listening to the radio or chatting with a friend over tea, and it’ll make the project go faster.

But no matter how fast each project goes, it’s still a long slog to the end of the food preservation season. It helps that the produce is so lovely, and that I have good tools to work with: a sure-gripping jar lifter, a multi-purpose funnel, a fantastic tomato and veggie strainer, a BIG aluminum pressure canner, sharp knives, sturdy cutting board, LOTS of kitchen towels, etc., etc., etc.

I just hope I don’t burn out my stove….

Deep Sea Potato Diving and a Special Summer Pickle

It was so hot today, I don’t know what I was thinking digging out a thirty-foot row of fingerling potatoes. But they needed to come out, and I needed to put in some fall beets. So I went at it, and got one of the rows of Australian Crescent Fingerlings out.

At one point, I was so sweaty (and looking down at where I was digging–bending and picking out the potatoes), that my glasses filled entirely with the sweat that was pouring off me. It was like salt-water diving for potatoes–kind of blurry and slow-moving with the humidity and heat.

When I got them all out, I considered for a moment my options: I could leave the row open for a day or two to let it “mellow,” which is really a fancy word for not wanting to keep working in the heat. But the soil would have dried out, and the baby toads were already moving in.

I would assume that toads have a well-developed sense of smell, or some other sensory apparatus for detecting freshly-turned soil (or moisture), because as soon as I got down the row aways, they started gathering in the moist loam. I realized that if I didn’t finish working the soil and re-plant right away, I’d be cultivating on top of a bunch of toads.

I have skewered a toad or two before with my hand cultivator, and it’s awful. So, not wanting to re-create the experience, and wanting to get another crop in, I finished the job and planted a double row of yellow and striped beets, with a little chard to finish out the second row (that keeps the planting all in one genus and species for rotation purposes).

I don’t know that beets are the best crop to follow potatoes, but that’s what needed to go in, and in my experience, beets are a bit more forgiving than carrots, which I also need to get in–the next row over is carrots as well, so I didn’t want to double up a crop so close together. The fact that broccoli is still producing side-shoots on the other side made it a bad place for any brassica.

I was laughing as I was putting in the rows in order to seed the beets–the toads kept on coming–bouncing into my furrows and glorying in the fresh, moist soil. Then I set about the work I’d originally come to do: harvest for a special summer pickle.

My friend Amy brought this pint of incredibly good pickled mixed vegetables to a brunch at my house last summer, and I called her to get a recipe. I had everything I remembered eating out of that jar in my garden, and then some.

Special Summer Pickle

Special Summer Pickle

Here’s what went into the jars:

Spices: dill seed, powdered ginger, peppercorns, dried lemon peel, mustard seed, a bay leaf and a few dried hot red peppers, plus a clove of elephant garlic.

Veggies: Purple Dragon carrots, green cherry tomatoes, red onions, sweet peppers, summer squash, chunks of young cucumbers, hungarian hot peppers, yellow beans, cauliflower, reconstituted dried tomatoes from last year’s garden, small okra pods.

The Brine: 9 cups water, 9 cups vinegar (a third of which was cider vinegar), one cup pickling salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar.

All the veggies yielded a canner full (7 quarts) of pickled product, plus I made a couple pints of just spiced green cherry tomatoes, onions, green beans, and squash chunks to use up the excess produce.

I don’t know how it’ll taste (and won’t for at least two months and maybe longer), but it looks gorgeous! I’m exhausted now from all the heat and work, but I thought I’d better post this. If this pickle tastes as good as it looks, I don’t want to forget how I crafted it!

[P.S.–a little more info on the process. Pack the jars with the clean, prepared spices & veggies. Heat the brine to boiling. Fill veggie-packed quart jars with the hot brine, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Use a knife blade pushed down along the inside edges of the jar to release trapped air bubbles.

Afix warmed-in-a-saucepan caps to jars, and tighten bands 1/4 turn past where it starts to catch. Put jars in water bath canner and process at about 185 degrees (a simmer, not a full boil) for 15 minutes. Remove jars, cool overnight–you should hear that little satisfying “ping” when each jar seals. Remove bands the next morning–with a good, strong seal you should be able to pick up the jar by its non-banded cap and not have it open. Refrigerate any jars with bad seals.]