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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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Quick Pickled Balsamic Strawberries

Today’s guest post comes to us from Erin Urquhart, blogger at Putting Up With Erin. She’s stopped by to share her recipe for Quick Pickled Balsamic Strawberries. Welcome to Food in Jars, Erin! 

baskets of strawberries for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

Strawberries are like gold at my farmers market. I’ve been known to spend as much as twenty minutes in line, waiting to get my hands on some locally-grown strawberries (and I have my suspicions that many of you have done the same).

Like locally grown heirloom tomatoes, strawberries are at their peak for a limited amount of time. It takes time and dedication to wait out the other shoppers in order to get the best pick, particularly if you want to have enough to can. I like to put up at least a dozen jars of various strawberry preserves and pickles to get me through the year. They take time and energy, but they’re always worth it.

fresh thyme for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

In years past I’ve played with canned strawberries, pickled green strawberries, strawberry jam , and strawberry whole grain mustard. With only a week left to get my quick-pickled entry in for the Mastery Challenge, I decided to spice it up a bit and try quick pickled balsamic strawberries.

What I love the most about quick-fridge pickling is that it affords you a bit more adventure in your recipes due to modern refrigeration. Even better, because these berries never take a trip through a boiling water bath canner, they hold their texture and shape nicely.

slivered strawberries for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

A familiar combination for strawberry jam, the acid in the balsamic vinegar is a perfect compliment to the sweet berries. There’s no need to buy an uber fancy balsamic vinegar for this recipe. Get something that you’d buy for making quick vinaigrettes.

mustard, thyme and balsamic brine for quick pickled balsamic strawberries

I used a $7 commercially produced organic balsamic vinegar that I picked up from the local food co-op. And because I wanted the pickles to have even more flavor and interest, I decided to get funky by substituting soy sauce for salt, and adding fresh thyme leaves and whole mustard seed to the mix.

quick pickled balsamic strawberries in their jars

The result: a sweet and tangy pickled strawberry backed by the depth of the balsamic vinegar. Enjoy this balsamic strawberry pickle as a mid-day snack with ricotta cheese, cracked black pepper, and some citrus zest, OR simply add a spoonful of pickles to a light field greens salad.

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Mastery Challenge: Quick Pickled Mushrooms

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today with her contribution for the April Mastery Challenge. This month, she quick pickles some gorgeous local mushrooms from Primordia Farm! Take it away, Alex!

Just about every Saturday, I wake up early and walk a few blocks from my West Philly apartment to Clark Park, where I’ll meet a truck laden with cheese and mushrooms from Berks County. We’ll set up folding tables and tents on the sidewalk along with organic vegetable growers, kraut makers, fishermen, orchardists, urban farmers, and bakers who are there to vend at the farmers’ market.

On one side of our stand, I sell grass fed artisan cheese, yogurt, and cultured butter for Valley Milkhouse, a microdairy located less than 90 minutes from Philly that’s run by my friend Stefanie Angstadt. On the other side, my neighbor Bianca sells wild foraged and organically grown mushrooms for the other Berks-based business, Lenhartsville’s Primordia Farm. In addition to providing an efficient logistics partnership for the two farms, we and our farmers’ market customers find that our products go really well together.

The proximity to Primordia’s offerings has given me the chance to experiment with the kind of fungi that never used to cross my radar. I get to bring home feathery maitake mushrooms to roast up crisp and toasty, king trumpets to slice into planks and saute until golden brown, and—when they’re in season—black trumpets, chanterelles, and morels to flavor creamy pasta sauces and risottos or simply cook gently in a good amount of butter.

If you’ve got a good source for fresh, organically grown mushrooms in your area but haven’t tried cooking with them yet, I highly recommend it. Varieties like these and others, like furry-looking lion’s mane, delicate golden oyster, and tiny, compact enoki, are sometimes labeled “exotic” or “wild” and can come with eyebrow-raising price tags, ranging anywhere from $10 to $40 (for morels in season) per pound.

But mushrooms are very light, and the amount you need to make even a mushroom-centric dish or preserve is probably much less than you think. The mushrooms for this recipe cost around $8. By bringing some home from the farmers’ market, you’ll also be supporting a small, sustainable business like Primordia and adding something nutritious and delicious to your diet.

(The specimens in the top photo sat bagged in my crisper for nearly a week before I could process them, hence a few dings and broken pieces, but trust that Primordia’s and any good grower’s mushrooms will be immaculate at purchase.)

As much as I’ve come to love mushrooms, I’d never pickled them after a tendency to be disappointed by the marinated buttons on most antipasti platters. Quick-pickling some beautiful mushrooms would be perfect subject for April’s Mastery Challenge.

After a little Internet research, I decided on this Andrew Zimmern recipe, modeled on Russian pickled mushrooms, as a guide. Along with the garlic, red pepper, dill, and thyme that he recommends, I swapped in star anise for cloves and black pepper.

And while Zimmern makes the impossible (at least where I live) recommendation to combine spring morels and summertime chanterelles in his recipe, neither were available locally—so I grabbed a mix of shapely king trumpet, velvety pioppino, and gray oyster.

The pickling process is a simple one. Check mushrooms for soil or debris—Primordia’s are so clean that you don’t have to wash them—and trim off any substrate, typically a nutrient-rich mix of straw or sawdust, coffee grounds, and mycelium out of which the fruiting bodies emerge.

Separate mushrooms like pioppino and oyster into smaller pieces and cut large, fleshy king trumpets into manageable sticks or planks.

Next, measure out water, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and pickling salt and put it in a pot to boil. Since this is a quick pickle that will be refrigerated, and I’m not a fan of overly sweet pickles, I cut the sugar down from ⅓ cup to one tablespoon, the same as the amount of salt called for in the recipe.

While you’re waiting for the brine to boil, get your jars ready by dividing the herbs, spices, and garlic between two wide-mouth pint jars.

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Quick Pickled Radishes for the Mastery Challenge

We have a chain of stores in the Philadelphia called Produce Junction. Rarely more than a concrete box fitted out with some coolers and a couple of counters, the primary appeal of Produce Junction is that you can get large quantities of produce for very little money.

It’s not a store that’s on my regular shopping route, but I occasionally dash into one when I’m in the right neighborhood. And of course, end up going home with far more food that I actually need (which then sends me off into a fit of food preservation).

This last Monday, I found myself in the vicinity of a Produce Junction. I parked outside and made promises to myself that I wouldn’t overdo it. And while I was relatively restrained, I did bring home beets (both red and golden), snow peas, kale, cucumbers, bananas, oranges, lettuce, and a three pound bag of radishes.

Most of what I bought has been incorporated into our regular meals, but three pounds of radishes is a lot, even for this vegetable-loving household. Steps needed to be taken.

And thus, these quick pickles were born. I used the thin slicer blade on my food processor to break them down (having decided that washing the bowl was better than hand slicing the two pounds I used for this recipe).

Once they were sliced, I made a brine using rice wine vinegar, a little bit of agave, and salt. I tucked some sliced scallions and slivered ginger into the bottom of the jar and then packed the radishes on top.

Now, I made a giant portion of these quick pickles. I filled an entire half gallon jar. You can obviously reduce the recipe if you don’t want to have such a huge portion. However, this is a pickle that I can move through fast, as they go well with salads, grain bowls, tacos, and more.

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How to Use Salt Preserved Citrus

Looking for ways to use the preserved lemons, limes, or oranges you made this month? Here are more than 40 ways to use salt preserved citrus to delicious effect.

Lots of you have taken a leap of faith with me this month and have made a jar of preserved lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge without really knowing what to do when them when they’re ready. In order that I’ve not led you astray, here’s a list of things that you can make with your salt preserved citrus when it’s ready.

I will say that most of these recipes do call for preserved lemons, but take heart, most will work beautifully with any preserved citrus. I’ve made note down below when I think substitutions would be particularly tasty.

From New York Times Cooking

From Epicurious

From Food52

Finally, some thoughts on using preserved citrus without a recipe. So many dishes, from simple vinaigrettes to grain salads, soups, and casseroles, can typically benefit from the addition of salt and acid. Thing of preserved citrus as a single condiment that can deliver both.

Chop the rind into tiny bits and stir it into your chicken, lentil, or bean soup. Pour a bit of the liquid off into a stew that needs brightening. Whir some of your jar into a thick puree and spoon it into hummus. Once you get to know the flavor, you’ll find that preserved citrus is endlessly useful.

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Low Temperature Pasteurization + Crab Boil Pickles

cafe-du-monde

I have spent the last five years working as an independent, creative person. One of the things I’ve learned about myself in that time is that my path towards getting things done is shaped like a snail shell, with the product at the center and the track towards it running in a spiral shape.

grasshoppers-in-new-orleans

I orbit around the goal for days, weeks or even sometimes for months until I final land on the thing in the center. This is the process I take whether it’s a small project or a large one and people who know me understand that when they ask me how something is going, my response is often along the lines of, “I’m getting closer.”

zatarains-silo

The reason I’m sharing this with you today? This blog post is one I’ve been circling around for a very long time. I first started thinking about low temperature pasteurization for pickling six or seven years ago. A tool to accomplish it effectively (the Anova Precision Cooker) came into my life more than two years ago.

And the recipe I’m sharing at the bottom of this post was directly inspired by a press trip I took to New Orleans with the folks from Zatarain’s back in January (nine months).

zatarains-products

Finally, it’s all come together and I’ve landed on center of the circle.

The story starts with low temperature pasteurization. For many people, this approach is the answer to the question, “How can I make crunchy, shelf stable pickles?” It is preservation technique in which you simmer your filled jars in water that’s between 180 and 185 degrees F.

You do this for a longer period of time (typically 30 minutes) than you would normally process them in a boiling water bath canner. The longer, lower temperature allows you to kill off bacteria while retaining a firmer finished texture.

immersion-circulator-processing-set-up

Now, the trick to low temperature pasteurization is finding a way to maintain the proper temperature over an extended period of time. I have tried it on my ancient electric stove, but found that it was nearly impossible to consistently hit and sustain the target range.

Now, here’s where the Anova Precision Cooker comes in.

bushel-of-pickling-cucumbers

Several years ago, various companies started making immersion circulators for home use and the thought occurred to me that it would be the perfect tool for low temperature pasteurization. The reason being that immersion circulators are designed for sous vide cooking, a process in which you bring water to a certain temperature and then hold it at that temperature for an extended period of time to fully cook various kinds of food without overcooking them.

cucumbers-in-a-colander

Two years back, the folks from Anova got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in trying one of their immersion circulators. Thinking about low temperature pasteurization, I said yes. They sent me the unit, and then life got the better of me. I moved it from corner of the apartment to another for nearly a year, and then finally tucked it into my closet, forever promising myself that I would eventually use it for processing pickles.

washed-pickling-cucumbers

That brings us to 2016. Back in late January, I went on a press trip to New Orleans to learn more about Zatarain’s. Before that trip, all I knew about that iconic brand was the fact that they sold boxed rice mixes. While on the trip, I discovered that Zatarain’s is synonymous with New Orleans food. Never before had I encountered a brand that was so interwoven with the food culture of a place.

sliced-cucumbers-in-jars

It was a magical trip and I came away feeling moved by the welcome of the city and motivated to devise a cucumber pickle recipe that employed the Zatarain’s Concentrated Shrimp and Crab Boil flavoring. The reason for the recipe idea was this. They told us that originally, people would flavor their crab boil with packets of pickling spices. Over time, they’d created the concentrated liquid flavor out of a blend of extracted oils from those classic pickling spices.

zatarains-crab-boil

Always dreaming up preserving recipes, it seemed obvious that I should make a pickle using the liquid flavor, if for no other reason than it would create a classically flavored pickle without the mess of the whole spices.

finished-jars-of-crab-boil-pickles

So, that brings us up to mid-August. I was home between book events and was determined to finally make my crab boil pickles, and preserve them using the low temperature pasteurization process, facilitated by the Anova immersion circulator. I went to Reading Terminal Market, intending to buy 10 or 15 pounds of pickling cucumbers, and ended up coming home with a bushel (it weighed nearly 50 pounds).

so-many-pickles

I proceeded to make a lot of pickles. I made horseradish pickles. I make classic garlic dills. I cut them in spears, coins, and halves. All in all, I made nearly 30 quarts of pickles, thanks to an idea, a tool, a trip, and a little bottle of crab boil seasoning.

I realize that cucumber season is done for most of the country at this point, but since I finally managed to pull these things together experientially, I wanted to get this blog post written in this calendar year (and plant the seed that if you value crunchy pickles, perhaps an immersion circulator should be on your holiday list this year).

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