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10 Things I Learned About Pickling

I am not an expert… yet… on pickling, but here are a few nuggets that I’ve learned over my pickling this season.

Rows of Pickles1.  Be aware of where you get your cucumbers from.  We practice organic gardening, so there are no pesticides or fertilizers in our soil to be concerned about.  If you buy your cucumbers from the store that is not the case.  It’s best that if you can’t grow your own (and don’t have any desperate friends, neighbors or coworkers who have grown too many cucumbers), then try to buy your pickling cucumbers from the farmers’ market or local farm stand. Be sure to ask about how the cukes are grown (specifically for pesticides, etc.), since anything that is one the skin of your cucumbers will end up on your pickles.  Even aside from the pesticide issue, most supermarket cucumbers are either slick with waxes or so expensive that it makes pickling seem like a waste of money.

2. If you want crisp pickles, whole or sliced, include a small, fresh grape leaf in the bottom of each jar.  I first read about this from Alice Waters, but have come across it multiple times.  Apparently grape leaves contain alum, which will help your pickles stay crisp when processed.

Grape leaves for keeping pickles crisp.

Grape leaves for keeping pickles crisp.

3.  Always trim off about 1/8 of an inch at each end of the cucumbers (whether for whole or sliced pickles).  The blossom end of the cucumbers contain an enzyme that keeps your pickles from staying crisp, so you definitely want to remove that.
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4.  Pickles are fun to make, and feel a bit more like potion brewing than preserving.  You can be creative with your blend of spices, since pickles can be pretty forgiving.  And if you’re not free to experiment, where’s the fun in pickling.

5. If you are experimenting with different spices in your pickles, use a light hand.  The first batch I made were so heavy in spice that it gave the pickles a slightly weird taste, and in effect wasted a ton of spice.  A little goes a long way.
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6.  Always wear latex gloves when packing the hot jars with vegetables for pickling.  They protect your hands a bit from the heat.

7.  When pickling (or doing other types of preserving) don’t answer the phone, the door, or a plaintive dog wanting to go in or out.  Choose a time when your kids won’t be needing your attention, or you can otherwise stay focused.  You’re dealing with hot substances and you want to be focused and uninterrupted.
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8. You can be creative with the spices you use in your pickles, but don’t vary from the water, sugar or vinegar levels in the recipe.  Those are tested to preserve your foods the best.

9.  Never ever tell someone that you are interested in trying pickling things (especially if they have a garden), unless you want to be inundated with enough fresh produce to feed a small army.

A big pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickles.

A big pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickles.

10.  Your own homemade pickles taste better than anything you’ve ever had in the stores.  But that may just be because of the energy you put into making them.  :)

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Rows of Pickles

The Tyranny of Cucumbers

“Did you ever think in your life that you would have made so many pickles?”

Dave recently asked me this at 1am in the morning as we were wrapping up a marathon pickling session.  I gave one of those chuckles that comes from pure exhaustion and set the timer for the processing of the last four jars of cured pickles.  The answer to Dave’s question was a resounding “no” not in a million years would I have ever thought that I’d have made any pickles, forget about the 40 some odd liters… yes liters… of pickles I’d made over the last few weeks.

When the lady farmer landlord asked if I’d be interested in making pickles, I’d jumped at the chance.  Almost literally.  Then I realized how many cucumbers one healthy plant can produce, forget about the fact that the cucumber bed at the farm has 7-8 hills of cucumbers, each hill housing 2-3 vines.  Oh my…

If you’ve ever seen cucumbers grow, you would know that they are ninja vegetables.  Their camouflage is so perfect they put invisibility cloaks to shame.  The lady farmer landlord and myself and Dave and Little Man would comb over a vine, plucking any cucumbers we would find.  Little Man’s contribution is a bit quesitonable here.  It mainly consists of him dropping an action figure into the plant accompanied by much “argh, I’m faaaaaalllllliiiing…” and then demands that his figure be saved.  We would pick it all, from the tiny pinky finge- sized cukes to the fat field cucumbers that are too big to be whole pickes, but would make good relish or pickle slices.  I state that all 3-4 of us were combing through each fine, picking everything, and 15 minutes later we’d see the vine from a different angle and find 3 more cukes hiding there.  Then the next morning when I’d be watering the garden I’d see more smirking at me from under the leaves.

We’ve now put a kaybash on picking cucumbers for pickling.  Anything else can be done with them, eat them raw with a little vinegar, make a delicious cold soup or dip (for a cold cucumber yogurt soup, check out my Turkish Cucumber and Yogurt Soup (aka Cacik) recipe), slice them with fresh tomatoes and drizzle them with a little olive oil and balsalmic vinegar for a sliced salad, and the list goes on.  You can make jewelry with them for all I care, just don’t ask me to make more pickles…  please…  :)

Grape leaves for keeping pickles crisp.

Grape leaves for keeping pickles crisp.

Kosher-Style Dill Pickles

One of the biggest hurdles to deal with in making pickles is how to keep something submerged in water crisp.  One way is to use a fresh grape leaf in each jar.  Grape leaves contain alum, which helps to keep the pickles crisp.  Also, the blossom end of the cucumbers contains and enzyme that softens pickles.  So trim off a little of both ends of the cucumbers to make sure that those enzymes are removed.  Now get pickling!

Ingredients
8 lbs. small pickling cucumbers (such as Kirby)
1 cup pickling or kosher salt
3 tbsp. pickling spice
9 cups water
7 ¾ cups white vinegar
7 small, fresh grape leaves
7 bay leaves
7 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
7 dill sprigs and heads, halved

Directions

  1. Wash and scrub the cucumbers under running water. Trim 1/8th of an inch off of both ends of every cucumber, and then poke them all over with a fork.
    A big pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickles.

    A big pile of cucumbers waiting to be pickles.

    Poking holes to aid in curing the cucumbers.

    Poking holes to aid in curing the cucumbers.

  2. In a large, non-reactive bowl create four layers of cucumbers each one topped with ¼ cup of the kosher salt. Once the layers are completed, fill the bowl with cold water to submerge the cucumbers by ¼ inch. Use a plate to weigh down the cucumbers, and let them sit for 12 to 24 hours.
    A first layer of cucumbers.

    A first layer of cucumbers.

    A layer of kosher salt.

    A layer of kosher salt.

    The final of four layers of cucumbers and salt.

    The final of four layers of cucumbers and salt.

    The cured cucumbers after soaking in the salted water for 24 hours.

    The cured cucumbers after soaking in the salted water for 24 hours.

  3. Prepare your canner (or large stock pot), jars and lids.
  4. Drain, rinse and drain the cucumbers again.
  5. Wrap the pickling spice in a double thickness of cheese cloth and tie it securely. In a large pot combine the packet of pickling spice, water and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue at a hard boil for one minute. Discard the packet of pickling spice, and keep the brine hot.
  6. Working with one jar at a time place one grape leaf, one bay leaf, one half of a garlic clove, and one half of a dill head at the bottom of the jar. Pack the jar tightly with cucumbers. Place one half of a garlic clove and one half of a dill head on top of the cucumbers. Pour in the hot pickling liquid leaving ½ inch head space. Remove air bubbles and add more pickling liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim and place a hot lid disk on the jar. Skrew down the band to fingertip-tight.
  7. Place jars in the canner and return to a boil. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars sit in the hot water for another 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the hot water and place them without tipping on a towel-lined counter top. Let the jars stand for 24 hours, then check the lids to be sure they are all sealed. Any jar that is not sealed can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Jars with good seals can be cleaned and stored. If any pickles protrude above the brine in their jars, simply turn the jars over weekly in storage to keep the different ends from drying out. Enjoy!
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Click here for a printable version of the Kosher Style Dill Pickles recipe.

 

Amuse Buche

Date Night

The semester began and I don’t think we’ve stopped running yet.  I can’t wait to carve out the time (and energy) to share some of the ideas and dishes that I’ve been working on,

Anniversary Date Night

Anniversary Date Night

To begin, I can’t believe that Dave and I just celebrated our 9th Wedding Anniversary!  Our actual anniversary fell in the middle of the week, so we did our big date night on the Friday night.  On the “real” night we had a great dinner at home of Chicken Taco Casserole, but to start I made an amuse buche that we’d had at our wedding.

Date Night Dates

Date Night Dates

These Date Night dates are a simple combination of a whole pitted date stuffed with walnuts and Parmesan cheese.  If you have it in your budget, these are superlative if done with mejdool dates.  Our budget didn’t quite run that deep, so instead I used whole pitted dates from the bulk bins at our local supermarket and they tasted fantastic.

Date Night Dates

Ingredients

8 whole pitted dates
8 whole or 16 halved walnuts, no shell
8 shards of Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. With a small, sharp knife cut an opening slit into the top of each date.
  2. Depending on the size of the dates, insert a whole or half walnut into each.
  3. Insert a shard of Parmesan into each date.
  4. Serve on a nice plate with fancy beverage of choice. Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Date Night Dates recipe.

Amuse Buche

Here’s to more amazing memories!  Love ya, Dave!

Cedar Plank Smoked Salmon

The Joys of Family and Salmon

Now that the dust is clearing from the end of summer madness (aka family visits, stay-cations, camping trips, summer colds, and an immense amount of food preserving) and the semester is about to begin, I can finally get back to this blog.  I’ve missed writing, but the backlog of recipes and preserving ideas that I want to share here is staggering.

As I sink my fingers into blogging again I wanted to share a photo of one of the most amazing meals I’ve had in a long, long time.  I know I’ve waxed poetic about salmon before, but please forgive me because this bears repetition.

Over the weekend we were able to spend some time with our family up in Campbell River.  While the big draw is getting to hang out with “the Cousins,” a close second is the amazing food we have every time we visit.  This visit was extra special since two cousins who live off island were here to visit and they’d brought their fantastic girlfriends as well.  I’ve been looking forward to getting to hang out with this family for weeks, but I got a bit side tracked when Marcel brought out this amazingly orange salmon to cedar plank smoke for dinner.  The color or the gorgeous fish caught my eye as I was pouring myself a refreshing beverage with the full intention of joining in a conversation with the two ladies that I’d just met.  Then Marcel put the fish on the planks and the perfume of cedar smoke captured my attention entirely.  The smoke pulled me in.

I happily spent the next bit of time chatting with Marcel about salmon, smoking meats, traditional salmon cooking methods, food catering, the bbq circuit, and all things food related.  Our conversation was periodically broken by little peeks at the salmon smoking away as he’d briefly lift the lid to look at how the cook was progressing.  The photo does not do this fish justice.  The smoke pervaded the fish, but didn’t overpower it’s flavor.  It had a citrusy tang with just the right amount of salt to tie it all together.  In the end I made the decision to forgo the dessert offerings for another serving of salmon.  Best dessert choice ever!

The Star of the Show

A full sheet of future zucchini hockey pucks.

Saving Your Harvest: The Zucchini Edition

A good friend of mine once described August in Maine as a time of “random acts of zucchini.”  In her small town where people did not necessarily lock the doors of their cars, people would come out of church or the bank or the local cafe to find anonymous bags of zucchini in their front seats.  I found myself envious of those hapless holders of bulging bags of squash.  When we first moved to Vancouver Island one of our neighbors had a bumper crop of zucchini and cucumber, and would offer us bulging bags of produce whenever Little Man and I came walking by.  I would cruse by her house as often as possible with the hopes of catching her eye.

Now that we have our garden of dreams I made sure to plant zucchini, as well as a variety of summer squash called Sunburst (aka Patty Pan).  I had been warned about the size that these plants could achieve, so I wasn’t as surprised by the size of the plant as I was about where the zucchini grew.  At first neither Dave nor I could find the actual zucchini, partly since I imagined zucchini growing like pumpkins stretched out along a long vine.  Instead, they grow like octopus arms, branching out from a central stalk-like structure.  Once we discovered where our squash actually grew, we were off to the races with trying to keep up with preserving and eating our crop.

Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini blossoms promising a good crop.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite zucchini recipes soon, but first I want to share a simple way to preserve your zucchini for those times when your garden or farmers’ market may not be producing.  I have been experimenting with (and loving!) pickling and preserving, but I have to say that my favorite method for saving my harvest is my freezer.  Zucchini freezes really well, particularly when it is shredded.

If you have a food processor with a shredding attachment this is going to be the easiest food storage ever.  If all you have is a handheld shredder, that works too.  It just takes a little more elbow grease.  The key to freezing the zucchini is to measure out the portions.  So here’s what I did…

I love my food processor!

I love my food processor!

Using my food processor with the shredding disk attachment, I shredded enough zucchini to fill my large mixing bowl.

The first, but definitely not the last, bowl of shredded zucchini.

The first, but definitely not the last, bowl of shredded zucchini.

I then used my 1 cup measuring cup to portion out mounds of shredded zucchini onto my parchment paper lined baking sheets.  The parchment paper keeps the zucchini from freezing/sticking to the baking sheet.  I was able to fit 6 1-cup mounds on each sheet.  As I unmolded each scoop I would gently press it down to slightly compact the zucchini and to make storing the frozen zucchini easier.  Then I covered the sheet with plastic wrap, gently pressing down between the mounds of zucchini to remove some of the air.  I then placed the entire baking sheet in the freezer overnight.

Measure your zucchini before freezing it so you know exactly how much you need for any recipe.

Measure your zucchini before freezing it so you know exactly how much you need for any recipe.

The unmolded zucchini.

The unmolded zucchini.

Press down on the zucchini to compact it and help it freeze better.

Press down on the zucchini to compact it and help it freeze better.

Filling the sheet pan.

Filling the sheet pan.

A full sheet of future zucchini hockey pucks.

A full sheet of future zucchini hockey pucks.

The next morning we took our little zucchini hockey pucks out of the freezer and put them into bags for their long sleep in the freezer.  Now that they are frozen in 1 cup increments, I can pull them out whenever I want and I’ll know exactly how much I need to thaw.

Lovely, frozen zucchini hockey pucks.

Lovely, frozen zucchini hockey pucks.

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Stay tuned for an amazing zucchini bread recipe… and an even better zucchini brownie recipe… where you can use these frozen zucchini in the dead of winter when nothing is stirring in your garden beyond the snow flakes.

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First Sunflower

There are many things that I’m learning through our first year of having a real garden, and the over arching bit of knowledge is that if there is a rookie mistake to make with a garden… I’ve made most of them. Making the plot too large, over planting, watering at the wrong time of day, watering the wrong parts of the plant, planting tall plants that block sun light and water from shorter ones, and the list goes on. But I’ve been lucky that the garden is amazing and I’m having a blast feeding ourselves and extended family from our garden, as well as trying to figure out how to save our harvest for the upcoming months when the garden will be but a dream for next season. It’s been eye opening to realize how much I care for that little plot of ground. A plant suffers and I’m obsessed with figuring out why. Is it wrong that I’ve already started dreaming about next year’s garden? Probably…
In the meantime, we are moving fast to keep up with the plants and trying to be creative to make our favorite greens delicious for our 3 year old. Oy! I welcome any ideas.

20140728_153514For today I want to share the pictures of our first blooming sunflower. This one was right at my eye level when it bloomed, and I’m 6′ tall. The rest are all well over my head, which means they are of dinosaur proportions for Little Man. That is part of my inspiration for the garden for next year… a dinosaur part of the garden for Little Man to play in… We’ll have to see how it works out next spring.

CenterI love these flowers.  Not only do they dwarf me, but it’s one of those things where I’ve seen pictures of them for as long as I can remember yet I’ve never had one of my own.  I’ve seen them in bouquets and in the distance, but not growing in my own yard.  I love the bumble bees that dance around centers, and the way that the petals glow when back lit by the sun.  Now I’m starting to wonder if the seeds of this variety can be eaten…  Hmm, now I know my homework for the evening…

Retro Sunflower

I've never planted scarlet runner beans before.  They have conquered their tripods and are now stringing along to other posts.  I can't wait to see what their beans look like.

A Garden in Bloom

My garden is not a flower garden.  It was designed as an experiment on growing food to feed myself and my family, and at the moment feels like it could feed a good portion of the island.  I did plant a few plants specifically for their flowers.  Sunflowers were there for the sheer joy of the huge plants, hoping that Little Man would revel in their dinosaur-like proportions.  I also planted Nasturtiums with the goal of eating their blossoms, and so far we’ve had them in salads as well as cocktails.  Beyond that, the only blossoms in my garden either signal the coming fruitfulness of certain plants or the fact that other plants have gone beyond their production.

I wanted to share images of my garden’s blooms here, both the ones promising future harvests and those that signaled it was time to retire the plant to the compost pile.

 

My thyme thinks its time to be done, but the blossoms keep ending up either in my salads or in my windowsills.  Pluck herb blossoms to try to keep the plants producing the delicious leaves you want.

My thyme thinks its time to be done, but the blossoms keep ending up either in my salads or in my windowsills. Pluck herb blossoms to try to keep the plants producing the delicious leaves you want.

We had some random tomato plants "volunteer" from the compost soil, so I planted them between my sunflowers.  They are now just blooming, so we might just have tomatoes in time.

We had some random tomato plants “volunteer” from the compost soil, so I planted them between my sunflowers. They are now just blooming, so we might just have tomatoes in time.

I remember seeing nasturtiums growing wild along the roadside in So. Cal., but here I grow them in my garden for their blossoms... to eat their blossoms I should say...

I remember seeing nasturtiums growing wild along the roadside in So. Cal., but here I grow them in my garden for their blossoms… to eat their blossoms I should say…

I ripped out most of my arugula since it went to flower.  This plant was able to hide behind the chard and I didn't find it until just the other day.

I ripped out most of my arugula since it went to flower. This plant was able to hide behind the chard and I didn’t find it until just the other day.

The most amazing (and intimidating) sight is to peek under the squash leaves (pumpkin, zuchinni and sunburst squash here) to see rows of blossoms.  Yikes!

The most amazing (and intimidating) sight is to peek under the squash leaves (pumpkin, zuchinni and sunburst squash here) to see rows of blossoms. Yikes!

This is one of my favorite blossoms, bush beans.  They are a soft lavender and are beautiful in the garden.

This is one of my favorite blossoms, bush beans. They are a soft lavender and are beautiful in the garden.

I've never planted scarlet runner beans before.  They have conquered their tripods and are now stringing along to other posts.  I can't wait to see what their beans look like.

I’ve never planted scarlet runner beans before. They have conquered their tripods and are now stringing along to other posts. I can’t wait to see what their beans look like.

For my last photo I wanted to share the opening sunflower blossom.  This one is right at my eye level, so it towers over Little Man.  Love it!

For my last photo I wanted to share the opening sunflower blossom. This one is right at my eye level, so it towers over Little Man. Love it!

I can’t wait to share with you some of our produce preservation we’re working on!  Even better I can’t wait to taste the fruit of our labor.