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Submit your May Mastery Challenge Projects!

We’re well past the midway point of May, which means it’s time to get serious about completing this month’s cold pack preservation challenge! If you’ve already finished up your project for this month’s Mastery Challenge, please use the form below to record your information and be counted in the final tally. If the embedded form isn’t working for you, click here.

If you’ve not yet tackled the cold pack skill, consider whipping up a batch of spicy pickled green beans, pickled rhubarb, or some pickled okra. If you need to see the skill exercised in person, head over to Facebook and watch my recent livestream on the topic (toward the end, you’ll even see how I keep my cool when a jar breaks in the canner).

To be counted in the final tally, please submit your projects no later than Monday, May 29 (Memorial Day).

Oh, and if you do post to social media, make sure to use the #fijchallenge tag to help spread the word of our preserving activities!

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Spicy Pickled Green Beans

Flex your cold pack preserving skills with a batch of Spicy Pickled Green Beans. They’re good along side a sandwich and even better pressed into stirring service in a Bloody Mary.

We’re focusing on cold pack preserving this month in the Mastery Challenge and one of my favorite examples of the form is the pickled green bean. I make a lot of these during the summer months when beans are abundant, both because I love them and because they make a really good thing to give to pickle loving friends and family. They also retain their crunch beautifully, which is not something I can say for most processed cucumber pickles.

Pickled green beans are also something of an affordably luxury to my mind. When you make them yourself they’re quite cheap, but they can be outrageously expensive at farmers markets and small grocery stores (you don’t often see them in larger supermarkets). I love when a little time and effort can yield something that feels special.

Green beans are not quite in season yet, so don’t judge the quality of the beans you see before you. I’m sure that the finished pickles will still taste good, but they can be downright sublime when you use those perfect, downy beans available only in high summer.

I typically make them assembly line style, doling out spices and garlic cloves (the more you slice, the more garlic flavor you get) to the jars and then going down the line with beans. Holding the jar at an angle as you pack makes quick work of the initial fill and a wooden chopstick helps ease the way for the last few beans. It’s also an excellent tool for wiggling out air bubbles that get trapped deep in the jar.

Once the jars have spices and green beans, it’s time to fill them up with brine. Apple cider is my vinegar of choice for most things, though some prefer white or red wine vinegar in its place. Any vinegar is fine as long as it has 5% acidity. The spices can also be adjusted to suit. For this batch, I called on brown mustard seeds, dill seed, black peppercorns, red chili flakes for heat, and slivered garlic. Sometimes I make them with cayenne, which tints the brine a pleasing red and makes for bracing eating.

These pickles need just a quick trip through the canner (10 minutes for pints and 15 minutes for anything larger). They often lose a little brine during their bath, but it’s not typically enough to cause distress.

Oh, and just a note on the jars. I used the new pint-sized spiral jars that Ball Canning released this year. I thought they would be awesome for pickles because they’re slightly taller than your average pint. However, I found that their narrow middle was absolutely incensing when it came to thoroughly packing the jars. If you have some of these, use them for your jams, sauces and chutneys and save yourself the annoyance.

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Mastery Challenge: Rhubarb Pickles

When I see the first harvests of rhubarb hitting farmers’ market tables among still-puny bunches of kale and last season’s root crops, I feel a surge of hope: spring is really, actually happening.

I also think of my maternal grandmother, an almost-nun turned feminist firebrand and mother of 11 who kept a huge vegetable garden — including a big patch of rhubarb — at her house in Quebec when I was a kid. Granny is the reason I turn my nose up at strawberry-rhubarb anything: her lip-puckering, sweet-tart treatment of the ingredient served straight up in pie, cobbler, and roly-poly became my standard and favorite for fruity baked goods.

As an adult, I’ve tried to do more with rhubarb than dessert, but no recipe I’ve come across that didn’t involve sweet, buttery dough has ever really seemed like it would be worth the trouble to try. So when this month’s Mastery Challenge came around during rhubarb season, I decided to give it the cold-pack pickle treatment.

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Cold Pack Canning for the May Mastery Challenge

It is the start of May, and that means it’s time to tackle a new food preservation skill. This month, we’re turning our focus to cold pack preserving.

What is a cold pack?

Also known as raw pack, to cold pack something simply means something that it put into jars while cold and uncooked. If you’ve made dilly beans or garlic dill pickle spears, you’ve already tried your hand at a cold pack. Other things that get cold packed a lot are peaches, pears, and tomatoes that are peeled but uncooked, pickled vegetables where you’re trying to retain their crunch, and much of what goes into a pressure canner.

Why cold pack?

  1. The primary reason to choose this style of preservation is to retain texture. When fruits and vegetables go into the jars raw, they don’t spend as much time in contact with heat, which means that they don’t cook as much. That leads to a crisper, firmer texture.
  2. The secondary appeal of the cold pack is speed. Food gets peeled, pared, packed into the jars, topped with either water, brine, fruit juice, syrup, and goes into the canning pot.

What are the downsides?

    1. There is often some likelihood of liquid loss. Raw produce often contains tiny pockets of air. As the produce cooks while undergoing the canning process, some of that air is released into the jar. That air then heads for top of the jar in order to escape the container (physics at work!). But because it often has to travel the length of the jar, it often pushes liquid out with it in its rush to escape the vessel. It’s frustrating but entirely normal.
    2. Product shrinkage. You worked so hard to squeeze as many peach halves into the jar as possible, but now having taken the jars out of the canner, you see that what had been a tightly packed jar now has two inches of liquid at the bottom. The fruit has reduced in mass and is floating up towards the lid. It’s not dangerous and as long as the lids are tightly sealed, the fruit is safe to eat. They’re just not as pretty for displaying on your kitchen shelves.

  1. Surface discoloration. When you have some liquid loss and product shrinkage, you will often also see some surface discoloration occur over time. This typically manifests as a generalized darkening of the product that is un-submerged or that is in contact with the empty portion of the jar. It’s not dangerous, but that darkened portion does lose flavor more rapidly than the balance of the jar. If I find a jar in this state, I scrape, trim or otherwise discard the darkened portion before tucking in.

The goal for this month is…

Simply to get to know the cold pack technique and figure out where it functions best. We’ll be exploring hot packing in July (which I think of as the other side of the jar packing coin), so hopefully you’ll start to see how the two styles work together and can serve in equal measure.

Recipes

Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.

And here are some options from elsewhere.

Finally, use this challenge as a chance to read through a preserving cookbook or two. You’ll find cold pack preservation at play in any number of different recipes, so do a little exploring!

The deadline for this challenge is Tuesday, May 30. Submission link coming soon!

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April Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Quick Pickles

A post shared by Christina (@icewerks) on

April is over and so it’s a wrap for our quick pickle challenge! This month, 202 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was so much fun for me to see everyone trying new recipes and finding ways to create interesting flavor combinations.

As is so often the case in these monthly challenges, there was a huge amount of space to move and explore within the confines of the topic. And while it appears that the most popular things to quick pickle were cucumber, cauliflower, eggs, and red onions, you guys managed to pickle more than 30 different fruits, vegetables, and protein (primarily chicken and quail eggs).

As you can see in the image above, a little less than half of you made just one batch of pickles. The remainder of you let the challenge inspire you throughout the month and you made many more batches. It’s a lot of quick pickles and I couldn’t be more pleased!

This pair of images tells us that while many of you were already feeling quite friendly towards quick pickling, even more participants are happy with the way their projects turned out.

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Submit your April Mastery Challenge Projects!

Hello Mastery Challenge participants! We’re a little over halfway through April and the internet tells me that many of you have been busy making all manner of quick pickles!

In order to be counted in the final tally for the April challenge, please use the form below to submit your projects. Remember, you don’t have to provide a URL to be counted as a participant, but if you want me to link out to your project in the round-up, you do need to include the direct link to a blog or social media post.

Please get your projects submitted by April 28, so that I can get the round-up posted on April 30.

If the form below (it’s after the jump, if you’re reading this on the main page of the blog) isn’t working for you, you can also access the form by clicking this link.

Oh, and if you do post to social media, make sure to use the #fijchallenge tag to help spread the word of our preserving activities!

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