Some recent pickling projects

pickled ramps

I have a secret for you. Sometimes, making pickles is so easy that it doesn’t even require a recipe. I have two recent examples, that I hope, when shared, will inspire you to leap up from your computer and rush to the kitchen in order to toss something (anything) with a bit of brine and seasoning.

Back in May, a friend gave me a small jar of ramps (very pungent wild onions) for my birthday. I knew that the way to best appreciate the gift was to pickle them. I did a bit of recipe searching, but found that the dominant pickled ramp recipe available online was a sweet one (if this story is sounding familiar to you, it’s because I briefly blogged about my search for a good pickled ramp recipe back in May). I didn’t want to go that way, so I forged a different path.

Knowing that a standard brine calls for half vinegar, half water and whichever spices make your taste buds sing, I mixed up a concoction of apple cider vinegar, water and some pickling spices (I used my standard Penzeys pickling mix, but added a pinch of cayenne to it for a hint of heat). After a month and a half in the fridge (you don’t have to keep them in the fridge that long before eating, 3-4 days would do it, I’ve just got many pickles on my plate), they hit all the right pickly notes and make this girl quite happy indeed.

pickled mexican sour gherkins

Last Saturday, while strolling the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market, I happened upon a stand selling pints of tiny cucumbers that looked like miniature watermelons. I asked the farmer about them (a very nice guy named Don) and he said that they were Mexican Sour Gherkins and encouraged me to taste one. They were bright, tangy and fresh tasting and so I bought two pints for $6 (which was more than I’d ever paid for such a small quantity of something destined for a brine).

When I got them home, I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by kitchen projects. My plan to devise a special brine for these little guys was quickly abandoned. Instead I just rinsed them off and poured them all into the quart jar of leftover brine I had in the fridge. The brine was from my end of season pickled asparagus that I did a few weeks ago (you can find that recipe here). Over the last week in the fridge, their natural tartness has married in a highly delicious way with the brine and I munched a small bowl this afternoon just because I could.

So, next time you find yourself with an unusual ingredient, don’t fret over what to do with it. Pickle it! I’ve got a whole bag of garlic scapes in the fridge right now, awaiting a briny fate.

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Foods in jars at the Fancy Food Show

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I took the day off from work on Monday in order to head up to New York for a day of the Fancy Food Show. Last summer, I went for two and a half days, but this year, since I’m not writing for a general interest food site at the moment, I decided to just spend a single day wandering the show floor. I had a good time, tasting and chatting, but the whole time I was there, I kept feeling like I didn’t quite belong.

As I looked at all the available products, I realized how little I’m interested in promoting things for people to buy (despite all the wonderful things available out there in the world). I’m far more interested in encouraging people to shop their farmers market, plant a garden and make their jams, spread, pickles and condiments on their own. However, the show was great in that it planted many seeds in my canning brain, that are now germinating and growing into recipes. Here are some of the best examples of foods in jars that I saw, maybe they’ll help inspire some of you as well!

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This Black Olive with Ginger Jam was amazing – sweet, sharp and poignant in the very same bite.

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These were some of the best pickled veggies I’ve ever tasted, they manage to be crisp, bright and shelf stable. As some of you might know, when you can pickled vegetables, it can be a challenge to keep them crunchy and safe for storage at the same time. This company has figured out a magic solution (when I pressed them about their process, they clammed up).

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Carrot jam? Carrot jam! As far as I could tell, this was shredded carrots, cooked with sugar, spices and a bit of vinegar. It’s going on my list of things I’d like to do someday.

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These port wine and fruit jams were just lovely. Sweet and rich, the port wasn’t overpowered, but was definitely there. They’d be excellent with cheese (and wouldn’t be hard to make at home).

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Actually, here’s one product that I do love, that you can’t really make at home. Organic peanut butter from the folks who bring you Cream Nut (the most delicious and expensive peanut butter around). This one might be worth buying (probably only as a special treat though, it is quite pricey).

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A few canning links

I spent yesterday at the Fancy Food Show up in New York, and I’m still catching up on life after just one day away. I took a bunch of pictures of various foods in jars while there, and I hope to have a post up for you guys about what I saw there (as well as a recipe for sour cherry jam) up in the next day or so. In the meantime, to tide you all over, here are some links to good canning stuff elsewhere.

There are a couple of interesting conversations going on about canning over on MetaFilter right now, including one that mentions this here blog (thanks for the nod sararah!). The Oregonian has a terrific article on preserving cherries and the recipe for gooseberry jam on Doris and Jilly Cooks (made out of gleaned berries) looks wonderful.

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Quick-drying fresh herbs

drying oregano

The house I was born into was a tiny little thing. Built in the early 1900s, it was just shy of 1,000 square feet. However, what it lacked in indoor space, it made up for in an amazing yard. The backyard was particularly roomy, starting with the brick back patio and rising in several tiers up to a two-story garage and back alley. We had several plums trees, as well as a vegetable garden and a long planter overgrown with Italian oregano.

The yard was often more than my parents could handle, especially with two little kids, a dog and a music production/distribution business rapidly expanding in the basement (offices) and garage (shipping department). However, they did what they could to keep nature from totally reclaiming the space, focusing the bulk of their efforts on the garden spaces closest to the house. The oregano was a particularly enthusiastic grower and had to be regularly trimmed (otherwise it would tumble out of it’s planter and take over).

destemmed oregano

Instead of tossing the oregano trimmings onto the compost pile (which was an action that could have been forgiven, given how much oregano was back there), my mom would spread it out on cookie sheets and put them in the oven to dry. The kitchen in that house had an big old white enamel gas stove, with a pancake griddle in between the burners. Left overnight, the heat from the pilot light was enough to gently dry out the oregano. The next day, she’d carefully pull the leaves from the stems and store the dried oregano in airtight containers.

These days, I don’t have a highly productive oregano patch at my disposal. However, I do have a membership in a CSA which includes at least one bundle of fresh herbs each week. And when a recent box contained a rubber-banded bunch of oregano (the scent of which took me flying straight back to childhood) I knew I was destined to dry it.

oregano in canister

In the past, I’ve hung herbs to slowly dry in my kitchen, but often found that in my tiny galley, they get bumped and banged, leaving crunchy bits all over the floor. I also worry that in the course of their hang, they get dusty and splattered with the scents and particles of daily cooking. For all those reasons, I much prefer the quick oven dry.

To do it, you simply spread a bunch of fresh herbs out on a cookie sheet (no need to destem at this point). I put them in the oven, set to the very lowest temperature and leave them for one hour. After the first hour is up, I turn the oven off, but leave the herbs in overnight. The next day, I destem them and pack the now-dried herbs away in jars. If you have a gas stove, you could follow my mom’s method and just use the heat of the pilot light. Sadly, my electric oven precludes that practice.

This method works wonderfully for leafy herbs like oregano, thyme, mint and even basil. Rosemary doesn’t fair as well and dill gets crispy too fast (that’s one that I still hang to dry, I just do it in a closet instead of my kitchen).

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Canning is cool & a class update

Red radishes

Canning has been popping up in media outlets all over in recent days and yesterday morning, I added my two cents to the hubbub by appearing on the Fox29 morning show for five minutes. I brought a collection of canning books, half a dozen jars of pickles and jams, two enormous pots and an assortment of canning tools to dress the table and just casually chatted with Michelle Buckman, the consumer reporter. The time flew by and I had a great time. If you weren’t able to catch the segment yesterday, you can see it online here.

Thanks to the Fox29 segment and the piece that appeared in Daily Candy last week, my canning classes at Foster’s are rapidly filling up. I’ve been told that there are just two spots left in the July peach class and classes on pickles and tomatoes are also nearing capacity. If you want to take one of those classes, the time to sign up is now. We’re also considering adding another class or two, if you’re intrigued by that (maybe blackberry jam?), leave a comment so that I can gauge interest.

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Asian-Inspired Refrigerator Pickles

finished fridge pickles

I had the first incarnation of these pickles at a potluck I hosted nearly two years ago. My friend Wendy brought them to the party, and by the end of the night, the once overflowing bowl was reduced to a puddle of brine and with three little spears bobbling amidst the hot peppers and onion slivers. Crisp, fragrant and flavorful, they seemed to pair perfectly with every other dish on the table.

When the evening wrapped up, Wendy gave me permission to pour the leftover brine into a jar to save and reuse. The next day I added a fresh batch of cucumber spears and let the sweet/sour liquid work its magic. These days, I make these quick fridge pickles regularly during the spring, summer and fall, when kirby cucumbers are readily available (these do okay when made with English cucumbers, but not so well when made with waxed cukes). The brine can be reused several times (trash it when it gets cloudy).

Feel free to alter this recipe to your liking. Wendy’s original recipe calls for shallots and cilantro. I used scallions and mint because that’s what I had. If you don’t want your pickles to be too spicy, use half a hot pepper (or none at all if you can stand the heat). The recipe is after the jump.

ingredients for fridge pickles

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