Fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables always taste the best, especially when served at the peak of perfection, often right from garden to table with not much needed but a little cooking and complementary seasoning.
But what to do when a garden’s production turns from super to superfluous? When the sharing of a co-worker’s bounty is no longer “Oh yeah!” but “Oh, no!”
Preserving food has been a necessary tradition for thousands of years. It has touched every culture throughout time. The main reasons are to prevent bacteria and oxidation from deteriorating the quality of the food and allowing spoilage. Drying, pasteurization, refrigeration, freezing, smoking, salt and sugar cures are all ways to preserve food to use later. Canning and pickling are some of the easiest and most rewarding methods for home cooks.
Garden vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, radishes, carrots and onions are just a few of the vegetables that are abundant in the summer and are perfect candidates for canning and pickling.
Water-bath canning and pickling procedures are pretty straightforward: sterilization, fill, seal and process. Another way to enjoy vegetables is quick pickling, also called refrigerator pickles. This method doesn’t involve processing in boiling water, and the delicious product only lasts for about a month.
All quick pickles need is a simple brine of vinegar, water, salt, sugar and spices. You can use almost any vegetable, such as cucumbers, baby carrots, cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, radishes or even okra, and after one day’s pickling time, they’re ready to go. Feel free to experiment with the brine by using different spices such as coriander, dill seeds or chile flakes.
Spices can be varied between recipes. Peppercorns, mustard seeds and coriander are common, but others can be substituted. In pickling, all salt is not the same. It is very important to always use kosher salt, or pickling salt, because it has no iodine, added minerals, or anti-caking agents that can make the pickles bitter and the brine cloudy.
Although sea salt is far better than table salt, sea salt should be avoided as well. Sea salt has a lot of naturally occurring minerals that are desirable for regular cooking, but not for pickling.
Acid is what helps to preserve the vegetables and kill off harmful bacteria. Vinegar is the acid in pickling and preserving. Substituting vinegars is like substituting anything — it will change the flavor. Distilled white vinegar does not have the same flavor as rice-wine vinegar or apple-cider vinegar. Experiment with different flavors and see what you like, but remember, this is only for quick pickling — canning is different, as the pH and acidity are much more important for good results.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the basic steps for water-bath canning are as follows:
Step 1: Sterilize
Bring a canner half full of water to a boil; simmer. Place jars in a large stockpot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, and simmer 10 minutes. Sterilize bands and new lids with hot water from canner.
Step 2: Prepare recipe
Prepare desired recipe. Using a jar lifter, remove hot jars from stockpot. Fill as directed in recipe.
Step 3: Seal and process
Wipe rims of filled jars. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands (snug but not too tight). Place jars in canning rack, and place in simmering water in canner. Add more boiling water as needed to cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring water to a rolling boil, and boil 10 minutes.
Turn off heat and let stand 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner, and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Test seals of jars by pressing centers of lids. If lids do not pop, jars are properly sealed. Jars can be stored in a cool, dark place at room temperature for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.
BASIC QUICK PICKLE RECIPE
Ingredients for the brine:
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 bay leaf
Note: For each recipe of the brine, peel, trim and/or slice enough vegetables to fill a quart glass jar: Baby carrots, medium kirby cucumbers, medium zucchini, cauliflower florets, green beans or okra.
Pack your vegetable of choice tightly in a 1-quart glass jar, leaving about ½ inch of room at the top. Set aside.
To make the brine: Toast the mustard seeds and peppercorns in a small saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Bring to a boil.
Immediately pour the brine into the jar, making sure to cover the vegetables completely. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid, and agitate to evenly distribute the brine and spices. Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving, shaking or rotating the jar occasionally while the mixture completes its brining. The pickles can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Recipe adapted from the Jarden Company, makers of both Kerr and Ball mason jars — www.freshpreserving.com
7 whole black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 ¾ cups white vinegar
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
6 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
3 bell peppers, seeded and chopped (combination of red, yellow and green can be used)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
6 (8-ounce) half-pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands
Tie peppercorns and bay leaves in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.
Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, garlic, oregano and spice bag in a large stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Stir in tomatoes, peppers, carrots, celery and onion. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, for 1 hour, until thickened to the consistency of a thin relish. Discard spice bag.
Prepare boiling-water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
Ladle hot relish into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
Process jars in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
1 teaspoon vegetable/peanut oil
1 cup shelled peas, rinsed and well drained
½ teaspoon salt, kosher or sea salt preferred
½ teaspoon dried mint
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1 to 2 red chilies, chopped and deseeded (for heat, if desired)
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add peas and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes till the peas change to bright green. Turn off heat. Add the dried mint and salt to taste, followed by the vinegars, sugar, garlic and chopped red chilies. Stir until all ingredients are well mixed and seasonings are well distributed. Pour into a clean jar and leave overnight for the flavors to blend. Add to salads or sandwiches, or serve on an antipasto platter.