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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Small Batch Pickled Okra Recipe

Earlier tonight, I did a live pickle making demonstration over on the Food in Jars Facebook page (you can watch it any time you want right here). In it, I made a small batch of one of my favorite pickles – pickled okra.

Now, before you wrinkle your nose and announce that you don’t like okra, know that pickling it reduces its slime factor quite radically. I find that people who normally dislike okra find much to appreciate about the pickled version. Even my mother, who is disinterested in okra on a good day, can really dig into a jar of the pickled version. I highly recommend that you try it.

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Facebook Livestream Summer Schedule

For that few months, I’ve done a series of Facebook Live broadcasts in something of a haphazard fashion. I’ve been promising that I would get more organized with these and release a schedule. And look! Here it is. I’ll be doing livestreaming demonstrations and question & answer sessions on the following days from 9-10 pm eastern time on the Food in Jars Facebook page.

The bulk of these dates are Monday nights (any later in the week, and 9 pm seems impossibly late). If you can’t watch live, you can always tune in after the fact and watch the saved broadcast. And if you’ve got a burning question that you want me to answer but can’t join in live, just shoot me an email and I’ll make sure to get to it.

Finally, you may notice that the first of these scheduled live broadcasts is tomorrow night. I’ll be making cold packed pickled okra and answering questions. Join in then!

May 22
June 5
June 19
July 3
July 17
August 7
August 21
September 5 (note that this is a Tuesday rather than a Monday)
September 18

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Sprouted Wheat Berries in Excalibur 5-Tray Dehydrator

Some months back now, my friend Audra spread the word that she was ordering bulk grains and other dry goods from her favorite organic suppler. Her hope was to spread the word about this very good way to get high quality food and to get the total weight of the order high enough to qualify for discounted shipping.

I took her up on the call and ordered 25 pounds of hard winter wheat berries. My goal was to improve my bread baking habit with the addition of sprouted and freshly ground flour. Of course, when I committed to 25 pounds of wheat berries, I’d never sprouted or ground my own flour before. But I had enthusiasm, a vast array of cookbooks, and all the internet at my disposal. What could go wrong?

The truthful answer is that actually, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong, but as is the case with many new things, I did have a few missteps. The first time I tried to sprout a batch of wheat berries, I left them in the soaking water too long and they developed a funky smell, akin to stinky feet.

And I’ve also learned that I really need to get a few of these non-stick sheets to prevent the wheat berries from falling off the dehydrator trays as they dry and shrink a little. Both are relatively low prices to pay in pursuit of greater knowledge and understanding!

I’ve been using my new, fancy 5-tray Excalibur to dehydrate the berries once they’ve been soaked and sprouted and that part couldn’t be easier. I love that I can set both the time and temperature so precisely. I run it at 112F to preserve the enzymatic activity of the wheat (a useful thing if you’re working with a sourdough starter), so appreciate how easy it is to dial in that exact temperature.

Now, you might be wondering why I’d take the time to soak, sprout, and dehydrate my wheat before grinding it into flour. The primary reason is that it helps make it easier to digest. Secondarily, I find that it grinds more readily (which is good, since I’m using the KitchenAid Grain Mill, and the unsprouted grain made the motor work really hard).

If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of homemade sprouted wheat flour, here’s how you do it.

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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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Giveaway: Will It Skillet by Daniel Shumski

My grandma Bunny was devoted to her cast iron skillets. They sat in a graduated stack on her stovetop, always ready to be pressed into service. She kept them seasoned through regular use and claimed that nothing was better for restoring their glossy black finish than cooking up a batch of bacon.

Bunny’s collection of cast iron remains in her hillside California home, where my aunt, uncle, and cousins now live. I’ve had to amass my own heap of skillets, and have done so through thrifting, eBay (my beloved square skillet, used almost exclusively for eggs), Kickstarter, and inheritance.

Despite having a hearty collection, I confess that I rarely do anything truly exciting with my skillets. However, thanks to Dan Shumski’s new book, Will It Skillet, that all changes now. He’s got me seeing my cast iron skillet as the ideal vessel for so much more than just eggs, bacon, burgers, flat broiled chicken, and the world’s most perfectly burnished roasted potato cubes.

There is so much in this book that speaks to me, but here are a few that are on my immediate wish list. Giant Cinnamon Bun (page 37). Spinach and Feta Dip (page 64). Mac and Cheese – you make the whole thing in the skillet! (page 106). Giant Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie (page 153). Are you hungry yet?

I have one copy of this tasty book to give away this week and we’re doing it the old fashioned way (I know that there are those among you who hate Rafflecopter, so this is for you!).

The winner of the giveaway is #196/Barb. Many thanks to all who took the time to enter! 

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me about your favorite thing to make in a cast iron skillet.
  2. Comments will close at 12 noon eastern time on Sunday, May 21, 2017. A winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog later that day.
  3. Giveaway open to all. Void where prohibited.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

Disclosure: Workman Press sent me two copies of this book at no cost to me. One was for review and photography purposes and the other was to give away.