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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.
- Pickled Pearl Onions
- Garlic Dill Cucumber Pickles
- Dilly Beans
- Pickled Asparagus Spears
- Unfancy Pickled Jalapeno Peppers
- Pickled Green Tomatoes
- Plums in Honey
- Whole Peeled Tomatoes
And here are some options from elsewhere.
- Orange and Grapefruit Sections
- Raw Pack Whole Berries
- Pickled Okra (one of the best ways to eat okra, as far as I’m concerned)
- Pickled Garlic Scapes
- Pickled Brussels Sprout Halves
- Pickled Seckel Pears (you could also use this same technique with asian pear quarters)
- Pickled Chinese Long Beans
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!