Well, we've got more well-needed wet weather here in Southern California ... hopefully it won't ruin too many Super Bowl parties. You are breaking out the pressure-canned chili for the party, right? Did I mention that home canned chili is a wonderful thing to keep in the cupboard for a rainy day ... or any sporting event? I'll have to talk about chili in another post ... too many subjects, not enough
As if you hadn't already figured it out from the subject line, today's topic will be pickled winter vegetables. But first, a couple of announcements.
My friend Kevin West of www.savingtheseason.com has entered Pepsi's Refresh Project with the "Open Kitchen" - a proposed local food program for a new local school. If Kevin's project gets enough votes, the project will get $250,000 to make it a reality. You can learn more and vote for the Open Kitchen here:
Delilah Snell and I will be giving a free canning demo at the Hollywood Farmers' Market on Sunday, March 7th. Time and item to be canned TBD.
My final announcement is that PreserveNation is moving onto the web. You can become a fan of PreserveNation on Facebook:
I've also started a blog, if my emails are too few and far between for your taste. The blog will be updated several times a week with plenty of links and some original content here and there. Next week look forward to a post on Michael Pollan's new book, Food Rules, and how some of the rules apply to food preservation:
Neither page is pretty (yet), but there is a lot of information available. Suggestions, feedback and offers of assistance welcome.
Back to this week's topic - pickled winter vegetables.
Right now the farmers' markets are full of some of the most beautiful root and winter vegetables I've seen. Carrots (in a rainbow of colors), beets (also in a rainbow of colors) rutabagas, turnips, radishes, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, parsley root, brussel sprouts (some of those stems are gorgeous) and mushrooms (to name just the most common). Cooked or eaten fresh, they're fantastic (mmmm ... breakfast radish with some butter and salt ....). Yet pickling them will not only preserve them, but transform their flavor into something new and different ... fantastic stuff. Sour, crunchy, spicy, tart, sweet, and aromatic, pickles bring exciting flavors, piquancy, nutrition and interest to our meals. They are a flavor counterpoint; harmonically interdependent with the aroma and taste of the main elements of a dish. Eating would be much less interesting without pickles, chutneys, relishes, salsas and other such condiments.
Not only should pickles be a part of nearly all meals, but a variety plate of pickles makes an excellent, healthy, and classy alternative (or addition to), cheese platters, charcuterie (the French serve cornichons with pate for a reason), and crudités. Which brings us back to the Super Bowl (or any party) ... yeah, you still need the seven-layer dip, guacamole and California dip, but a good selection of pickles (sweet, spicy, sweet & spicy) is something that will cut down on the unhealthy stuff.
Although some of these winter vegetables can be fermented, most of them are best as quick pickles made with a combination of vinegar, salt and spices. A few guidelines:
1) These vegetables are not naturally acidic, thus, if you don't add enough acid and can them, you risk botulism. So, use a tested and trusted recipe (you can vary spices, but don't vary the amount of vinegar and other liquids - unless it is too add more acid). Of course, this is only an issue if you are canning. Not all pickles need to be canned; sometimes you can keep them in the refrigerator. See, for example, our own Nina Corbett's pickled golden beets with tangerine (http://www.putsup.com/2010/01/pickled-golden-beets.html).
2) Use 5% or higher acid vinegar. Most commercial vinegars (except for rice wine vinegar) are a minimum of 5% acidity; it will be on the label. Some specialty vinegars (champagne) have higher acidity: 6, 7 or even 8%. You can freely substitute these vinegars, but they can change color and flavor. I like using apple cider vinegar for its fruitiness. Be wary of Apple Cider flavored vinegar (which is common in some markets). And don't be afraid to try exotic stuff ... beet with blackberry vinegar, for example.
3) Pickling salt and popcorn salt (with no additives) are good choices for pickling. Kosher will work too, but be careful of the measurement since a teaspoon of pickling salt is the equivalent of a teaspoon and a half of kosher salt. Other salts can contain free-flow agents, iodine or other containments that can alter the flavor for the worse and make brines cloudy.
4) Whole or broken spices are best. Ground spices will cloud the brine.
5) Very hard water can cause cloudy brine. Distilled water or boiling your tap water and let it settle for 24 hours are good alternatives.
6) Some vegetable colors (particularly blues and reds) are water soluble (beets are famous for this) ... they will color the liquid and lose a little color themselves. This isn't a problem. Also, some vegetables have a special chemical reaction when pickled that will cause them to turn blue. Garlic is famous for this. This isn't a problem either.
7) Don't discard the brine when you've used the pickles. It is excellent in sauces (gastriques), making more pickles (just for the refrigerator) and vinaigrettes.
Good stuff! And the possibilities are endless. There are so many different recipes out there, I'll just leave you with a basic pickled carrot recipe for the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Why carrots? Because February's Can Jam ingredient is carrots:
Check it out, the can jam is a nation-wide challenge for canning a monthly, seasonal ingredient.
2¾ pounds peeled carrots (about 3½ pounds as purchased)
5½ cups white distilled vinegar (5%)
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons canning salt
8 teaspoons mustard seed
4 teaspoons celery seed
Yield: About 4 pint jars
Wash and rinse pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids and bands according to manufacturer's directions.
Wash and peel carrots well. Wash again after peeling and cut into rounds that are approximately ½-inch thick.
Combine vinegar, water, sugar and canning salt in an 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot. Bring to a boil and boil gently 3 minutes. Add carrots and bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat to a simmer and heat until the carrots are half-cooked (about 10 minutes).
Meanwhile, place 2 teaspoons mustard seed and 1 teaspoon celery seed in the bottom of each clean, hot pint jar.
Fill hot jars with the hot carrots, leaving 1-inch headspace. Cover with hot pickling liquid, leaving ½-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids.
Process pint jars in a boiling water canner for fifteen minutes at 0-1,000 ft altitude. Let cool, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours and check for seals.
Allow carrots to sit in processed jars for 3 to 5 days before consuming for best flavor development.
That's it for this week. Good luck with the can jam ... I'd be happy to share your results on the PreserveNation blog (or link to it if you already blog). If you have any questions or would like a recipe for pickling those sunchokes (or any other ingredient) you bought at the farmers market, feel free to email me anytime at:
email@example.com. I won't be at the Hollywood Farmers' Market this week, but Delilah Snell will be there. I'll next be at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market Wednesday, March 17th.
I know that a lot of you have been interested in classes. I've been having a hard time finding a place for a class, especially during the week (on my day off). But if you are interested in doing something in yours or a friends kitchen, I'm more than willing to teach small classes on any topic that you are interested in. Just email and we can discuss details.
Until next week, thanks,