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February Can Jam: Pickled Carrots and Daikon

carrots and daikon

I don’t exactly know why I did it, but I waited until the very last minute to complete this February Can Jam challenge. Maybe it was indecision (I did have a hard time deciding what to make, and it didn’t help when other folks started posting all their lovely projects, tempting my attention in many directions). Maybe it was just a series of busy days (although, I’m not sure I can plead busy-ness, since there were multiple snow days this month, that slowed things down and left me with some long, lazy days).

Whatever the reason, I found myself staring down the deadline tonight and needed to make something that would meet the challenge criteria.

prepping the hot pack

I spent awhile skimming through cookbooks, looking to see if I could find a recipe that moved me. I found nothing that matched what I was craving (a slightly sweet, very puckery, mildly spicy garnishing pickle), so I took what I know about pickles and headed for the stove.

Here’s what I know about pickling vegetables. Always use a commercially produced vinegar that has the acidity printed on the label (5% is best). Vinegar can be diluted by half (but no more). Spices can be tweaked and added, depending on your tastebuds. However, the amounts of low-acid vegetables shouldn’t be altered, in order to keep the product safe. If you want to get a bit more product into the jar without compromising your seal, a hot pack (this is the packing method in which you add your vegetable to the brine and let it heat up a bit, instead of packing it raw or briefly blanched and then pouring the brine over top) is the way to go.

completed jars

So here’s what I did. I thinly sliced two daikon radishes and three carrots on a mandolin (I should have used one more carrot, that front jar isn’t as full as I’d like). Setting those aside, I brewed up a brine of white vinegar, water, sugar and a bunch of spices. I sipped the brine from a deep soup spoon three times in the process of making it, trying to find the right balance of sweet, tart and flavor. When I was satisfied with what was in the pot, I dropped in the slivered veg and stirred. Half a minute on the heat and then off. Using my trusty 1-cup measure, I scooped pickles and filled jars.

They taste pretty good now, but they’re fresh, young. Pickles such as these need a little time to mellow, so that the vinegar can smooth out and the sugar can lose its treacly edge. I’m looking forward to trying them again in a few weeks.

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Pear Butter Winner + Zucchini Pickles

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I’m a little later than I’d hoped in getting up the pear butter winner, but having one’s wedding just five days away tends to derail even the most heart-felt intentions. However, I do have a winner to announce and it’s none other than “Another Marisa,” the commenter who has renamed herself so as not to get confused with me. Yay Marisa! I’ll be emailing you shortly to get all your details so that I get you this butter sooner rather than later.

Now, I want to warn you all that posting is going to be sort of poky for the next couple of weeks or so. I’m getting married to my favorite guy this coming Saturday and so my brain is almost entirely filled with last-minute details, travel schedules and a concerted effort to shake the cold that’s been trying to gain foothold in my sinuses. I have a post on canning whole tomatoes that I’m going to try and get up before the big day, but I make no promises.

However, I do want to say, for those of you who are still battling the zucchini glut, that they make wonderful, if slightly less crisp pickles. I made a batch of seven pints recently, using the exact same brine that I use for my garlic dills and they are wonderful. They are particularly good in sandwiches, because they are a bit more yielding to the tooth than many cucumber pickles. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by squash, it’s a good way to conquer at least three or four good-sized zukes (yellow squash also works).

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Can You Reuse Pickle Brine?

half empty jar

At least once a week, someone asks me if they can reuse the brine that’s leftover in the jar when all the pickles have been eaten. I’m here to say, yes! You can absolutely reuse that brine as long as…

  1. You’re only using it to make refrigerator pickles. Once a brine has been used to can something, that’s it. You can’t do it again because you can’t guarantee the acidity level once it has been heated up, hot water processed, absorbed by vegetables and refrigerated for an unknown amount of time.
  2. It doesn’t look murky or cloudy. I typically find that the maximum number of times you can replenish the veggies in a jar is three. After that, you’ve lost too much brine volume and it’s developed an unhealthy scum.

refilled pickle jar

One tip when refilling your pickle jar is to take out the last of the pickles from the previous batch before popping the fresh veg in. I forgot to do it last time, and now all my wonderfully cured pickle slices are trapped at the bottom of the jar.

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Garlic Dill Pickles

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I grew up in a household that appreciated a good garlic dill. As a kid, one of my very favorite after school snacks was a chunky pickle. I would fish one out of the jar with a fork, stabbing until I could get get traction and then drop it into a plastic cereal bowl. I’d slowly nibble away at the pickle over my book of the moment, until all I had left was the stem end of the cucumber and wrinkly, vinegar-scented fingers.

We also believe that no good sandwich is complete without a pickle. My parents take sandwich construction very seriously, and often buy jars of pickles that have been pre-sliced lengthwise just for this purpose (prior to being stacked between the lettuce and the cheese, these pickles are blotted on papertowels, so that the sandwiches aren’t made soggy by too much additional liquid).

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However, up until recently, the idea that a homemade pickle was actually the best kind of pickle didn’t occur to any of us (even taking into account the fact that my father has spent the last 30 years hunting for a pickle to replicate his beloved Polski Wyrob that he hasn’t been able to find since they left Chicago in 1978). I began my pickle enlightenment sometime back in the early spring, when I first started combining asparagus with a vinegar-based brine. I’ve been spreading the pickle gospel out west to my parents in Oregon for sometime now, and it appears that the indoctrination is complete.

My mother and I just spent the last hour on the phone and more than half our conversation revolved around homemade pickles (she now keeps a jar of brine in the fridge, and consistently replenishes the cucumber supply). I can’t tell you how proud I was tonight when she said, “I don’t think I’ll ever buy another jar of pickles again, when making them at home is so easy and so much better.” She’s also got her sights set on making these zucchini pickles (I admit, I sent her the link with a note suggesting they’d be a good way to use up the stampede of garden squash that is coming her way).

And, while I don’t think that my dad will ever find a pickle to compare to the Polski Wyrobs of yore, these garlic dills may just give his taste memory something to get excited about.

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Dilly Beans

dilly beans

String beans are one of my favorite vegetables around. My idea of a perfect easy summer meal is a tangle of lightly steamed string beans, dressed with a bit of butter and salt, along side some scrambled eggs and a sliced tomato. A couple of summers ago, I ate that for dinner three or four times a week for at least a month. Of course, that was before I had to think of Scott’s likes and dislikes when making dinner and sadly, he is a string bean hater. So my perfect little meal has been relegated to a once-in-a-while, solo experience (however, it’s a trade-off I happily make for love).

Thing is, I still find myself buying string beans like they’re a four times a week vegetable, which becomes a problem when trying to keep the refrigerator eco-system balanced. That is where the dilly bean comes in. It’s a gentle, zippy little pickle that preserves my green beans for months to come (well, if they last that long) and maintains the dinnertime peace.

One thing to note about string beans. They are perfectly safe to can in a boiling water bath when you’re making pickles out of them. They are NOT safe to can without the brine unless you’re using a pressure canner. One of the few documented cases of botulism that occurred last year was because a family ate some poorly preserved green beans. So if you want to preserve your beans but you don’t want to pickle them, either get yourself a pressure canner or blanch and freeze them.

Enough safety warnings, on to the recipe…

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Rhubarb Chutney

rhubarb chutney

After going completely crazy for rhubarb back in the spring, I took a bit of a break from it in June (with all the other summer fruits and vegetables coming into ripeness, there was plenty to keep me occupied). However, during that fallow time, I still had rhubarb that needed to be used, tightly wrapped and tucked into the bottommost corner of my left-hand crisper drawer. When the 4th of July weekend rolled around, I decided to have a weekend of many canning projects. I made multiple batches of pickles (bread and butter & dilly beans) and jams (apricot), and finally did something with that neglected rhubarb.

Though the ends of the stalks were a bit worse for the storage time, the rhubarb was still in acceptable shape and more than good enough to be turned into something wonderful. Back when I made that batch of grape catchup (has anyone tried that recipe? It’s okay if you haven’t, it is sort of a weird one), I also noted two rhubarb recipes in close proximity. One was a recipe for rhubarb butter and the other was a rhubarb chutney. I headed into my canning extravaganza with every intention of making the butter, but on that Friday night, when I finally got around to dealing with the rhubarb, I had just finished making six pints of apricot jam, and I was weary of all those sweet notes.

My fingers flipped to the chutney recipe and wouldn’t you know, I had every single ingredient the recipe called for right there in my kitchen. It was fated (or I have a ridiculously overstocked kitchen. I think Scott would argue for the latter) and so I made chutney from my beloved New York Times Heritage Cook Book.

Thing is, I don’t really come from chutney people. We McClellans like our condiments just fine (I grew up dipping steamed broccoli in mayonnaise and roasted potatoes in mustard), but my mother has never been a sweet-and-savory-in-the-same-bite kind of person, so I grew up unaccustomed to the ways in which a good chutney can transform a dish. And I must say, this simple recipe is fairly transformational (at least for this chutney innocent).

It’s quite tasty (although I think if I make it again, I’ll make it just a bit spicier) and I have plans for it to encounter a nice slab of chevre sometime in the very near future (my latest party trick, when called upon to bring a contribution to a potluck or evening of in-home drinks with friends is to bring jam, goat cheese and crackers. It is so simple and people are completely impressed). If you’ve got some rhubarb to use up and you are tired of jams, cobblers, slumps and crisps, this is a good way to go.

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