Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Plethora of Pretty Pickles

I am a vinegar addict. Thinking about the mass amount of the stuff I consume not only in it's natural, liquidy state but also in foods and condiments, I could probably keep the industry in business. Or not. I assume it's a pretty big business, given the French fry / potato chip popularity out there. Usually I'm getting my "sour fix" via one of two items - mustard (any kind - we have 4!) or pickles. As a kid, I would regularly ask for my hot dogs or burgers with "just mustard", extra pickles and tomato. Maybe lettuce and onion, if it was on offer, but always mustard and pickles! Clearly, both have been dear loves of mine forever (you may recall my earlier pickle (and pepper)-obsession post), but it was only last year that I branched out into actually making my own pickles.

Good thing, too... because I also planted dill and cucumbers that year, and though neither crop actually took hold, the delicious, super-ripe cukes I scored from the Brick Works farmers market downtown were more than sufficient. Either way, it was an opportunity to dip my toes into the world of preserving the harvest without resorting to mass freezing, and the copius amounts of another favourite - garlic - didn't hurt matters at all!

I did go a tad bit overboard this year, although in a sense I had to (yes, the excuses reign supreme). I replanted the cucumbers and dill this year, not really knowing if I'd face the same climate-related issues as last year. As always, I dug in my heirloom tomatoes, purple carrots and candy-cane beets, as well as picking up a new veggie to try: watermelon radishes! Well, lo and behold, every freaking thing I planted (excepting my groundcherries... *sob*) took hold like nothing else. All of a sudden, the radish greens were the size of lettuces, the beets were crowding and the dill was as high as my shoulder. And can we talk about the cucumbers?? Holy moley, in just my 4 plants (the stepdad has 4 of "his" ones that he can let over-ripen to his heart's content), in one harvest session, I scored just under 11 pounds of them. All ready at once. What would you have done? I wasn't about to let them get the "zucchini treatment" where you can allow them to balloon as big as your leg and drop the flavourless log on a neighbour's porch. I wanted to taste my cukes. Enjoy them. In the best way I knew how, which also happens to be the best keeping way I knew how. Yup, you guessed it - it was pickle time again!

I decided to do two different styles of cucumber pickle this year, both because I lacked the resources and the energy to take care of everything at once, and I wanted to be mindful of the storage space I'd have to allocate to whatever I made. So I started with the easier, faster ones first - refrigerator cured, deliciously garlicky and definitely dilly (you can shoot me for the corny alliterations later). Those beauties took up four litres or so, and have found suitable "aging" space in the back of our basement's fridge. But really - the fridge is full enough as it is down there (especially after a shopping trip) and since I had both jars and equipment for canning (finally got a jar lifter!) I figured I would do the rest of the batch as canned dills and store them in our cantina. For the canned ones, I added a good deal more garlic, like vampire-repellent amounts, and also spiked the jars with chili peppers, mustard seed and turmeric. I'm not sure where I read it, but I knew that grape leaves helped keep canned pickles crunchy (and possibly it's a memory of my grandma's ones that had that element). Problem is, grape leaves aren't exactly in the produce aisle at the Superstore, nor are they usually on hand at the farmer's market. So if you really wanted to source them, you'd have to find a vineyard willing to part with a few.

Oh wait - we have a vinyard! If nothing else, thank goodness for my stepdad's green thumb - he can make pretty much anything grow, even lemons and killer eggplant, and apart from having "fruiting" zucchini so far this year I have to give him credit - his success rate is pretty good. So boo-yeah for grape leaves! Did I ask? Are you nuts? No way, these were pilfered. Unabashedly. And it's not like he's going to be eating tany of them anyway, so who needs to know?

That left my harvest basket with a small handful of baby beets I thinned out, a few carrots and a good haul of (very) large radishes. The radish greens, a request by Mr. Foodie411 himself, I blanched and froze in a Ziploc, and while pondering the fate of the bulbs (and staring at the jars of cooling dills) it hit me. Pickled radishes are delicious in their own right - think takuan at sushi restaurants, while the beets and carrots added a gorgeous colour and a pop of earthy sweetness. I opted to go the sweet/sour route this time, with Asian rice vinegar, and layered in thin-sliced fresh ginger too - another of my favourite sushi noshes (I always ask for extra).

So now I've eliminated the glut of pickle-able goodness for another week or so. Good thing I a) have so many great friends willing to take jars off my hands and b) I can eat through a jar myself every few weeks!

Garlic-Spiked Fridge Pickles - 2010
Makes approximately 4L
6 1/2 cups filtered water
3 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup coarse sea salt
2 tbsp dried dill weed
2 tbsp "pickling spice"
2 tbsp whole mixed peppercorns
1 huge (or 2-3 grocery-store sized) bunch fresh dill, chopped
3 lbs cucumbers, scrubbed and sliced into coins
27 garlic cloves, minced
  1. Scrub 4 (1-L) jars and their lids well in very hot, soapy water and air-dry upside down on a clean tea towel.
  2. Combine the water, vinegar, salt, dried dill weed, pickling spice and peppercorns. Bring to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, pack dill into the bottom of each jar, then layer with garlic and cucumbers, completely filling each jar.
  4. Pour the hot brine into each jar over the cucumbers, covering them completely.
  5. Screw the lids on tightly and place in the the refrigerator, undisturbed, for a minimum of 14 days. The longer you leave them in the refrigerator the better they will be!
Amount Per Litre
Calories: 44.3
Total Fat 0.4 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Sodium 878.9 mg
Potassium 490.3 mg
Total Carbohydrate 9.4 g
Dietary Fiber 2.7 g
Protein 2.3 g

Zippy Garlic Pickled Cukes
Makes about 7 1/2 L
10 cups filtered water
7 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tbsp whole mustard seed
1 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp mixed pickling spice
1 cup kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
15 fresh grape leaves, washed well (helps keep the pickles' crisp texture)
3 large bunches dillweed, torn
22 dried chili peppers
7 1/2 tbsp mixed whole peppercorns
38 garlic cloves, minced
9.6 lbs (4.3 kg) thin-skinned cucumbers, scrubbed and sliced into coins or lengthwise
  1. In a large saucepan, combine water, vinegar, mustard seed, turmeric, pickling spice, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pack 2 grape leaves into the bottom of each 1-L jar, and place one into the bottom of a 500mL jar.
  3. Layer with a handful of dill, 3 dried chilis (1 in the 500 mL), 1 tbsp peppercorns (1/2 tbsp in the 500mL), 5 garlic cloves (3 in the 500mL) and pack the jars tightly with cucumbers.
  4. Fill the jars with the hot brine, seal and process 25 minutes in a water canner.
  5. Allow to brine for 1 week minimum before tasting.
Amount Per Litre
Calories 78.5
Total Fat 0.7 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Sodium 1755.6 mg
Potassium 825.6 mg
Total Carbohydrate 16.8 g
Dietary Fiber 4.6 g
Protein 4.0 g

"Pretty in Pink" Pickles
Makes 1 L
1 oz whole baby beets (about 4 tiny ones)
5 oz small or baby carrots
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 cups rice vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
2" fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced thinly
10.5 oz radishes, sliced thinly
  1. Place beets into a steamer basket and cook 8 minutes. Add carrots, steam a further 5 minutes.
  2. Pour into a bowl, cut the taproot portion of the beet off and set aside.
  3. In a saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, the reduce to a simmer and cook 2 minutes.
  4. Layer in jars (I used two 2-cup ones): ginger slices, radishes, beets, carrots, more ginger and remaining radishes.
  5. Pour hot brine into the jars over the vegetbales.
  6. Seal jars and process 20 minutes in a water-bath canner (optional, for dry storage - otherwise keep in the fridge up to 1 month).
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 13.4
Total Fat: 0.0 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 16.1 mg
Total Carbs: 3.2 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g
Protein: 0.1 g

1 comment :

David T. Macknet said...

I do so envy you the gardening space and room to put up canned goods. You've done well, and I'll bet those pickles won't last through to the middle of winter!