Friday, September 30, 2011

Pickle mania!

Saturday, September 17th,  I stopped by the Big Red Barn on the way back from volunteering at an event and went a little crazy with my canning purchases. 

(The Barn is located on 148th and Airport Way in Portland, OR and I have found that it is a good place to purchase things in bulk.)

Anyway, I got there just before 3 p.m. and decided that it was a good idea to purchase 15 lbs of green beans and 25 lbs each of carrots, cucumbers and beets. All told, it was less than $75 - how could I go wrong?

Saturday evening I sliced and salted just over half of the cucumbers - I had a little help from our neighbor Leah who was over for dinner.

 Sunday, I prepared three types of cucumber pickles:
  1. Lemongrass cucumber pickle - We made these last year, and while they were good, Mark and I both felt that they were a little lacking in the lemongrass department. This year, I steeped the bruised lemongrass a bit longer in the brine and made sure that the stalks that went into the jars were a bit more substantial.

    I consulted several similar pickle recipes and decided to forego cooking the cucumbers in brine and then packing them hot into the jars. My hope is that they will hold their crispy-ness better, and I think that packing them while cool is so much easier.

    We also opted to experiment a little be by adding one segment of a kaffir lime leaf and a chili pepper to half of the jars. I had also made homemade ginger syrup for ginger ale that morning, so I added a couple of table spoons to two jars too. We are excited to see how our tinkering worked in a couple of weeks.

  2. Spicy bread and butter - I love bread and butter pickles. For me, they are not your every day pickle, but when the mood strikes I can sit down and eat a whole jar. Mark is not so into sweet flavors, so I opted for the spicy variety which seem to fit his needs too.

  3. Quick dills - I chose this recipe because I wanted a quick recipe to use up all my remaining dills. I chose to do this recipe last and knew an easy, no-fuss recipe would be what I needed at that point in the day.

    I had separated out all of the small cucumbers on Saturday, so I was able to fit quite a few into each quart-sized jar.
I thought that the whole process would take an ungodly amount of time, and had visions of me pickling into the wee hours Sunday night.

Interestingly enough, the whole pickling adventure lasted from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. including about a half hour for lunch. I attribute this to good planning, especially having all of the ingredients and jars on-hand.

Zydeco Beans!
I started pickling the beans on Wednesday evening the following week.

While I was excited by the outcome, it was a bit overwhelming to do it after working all day.. Two evenings later I was done.

We canned the carrots and beets this past weekend and week (more after work time I will not let my eyes be bigger than what I can actually accomplish without canning till 10 ish on a work night - lesson definitely learned!)

More on beets and carrots later!

Friday, September 16, 2011


I have a confession -  I am terrible at growing zucchini.

Yep, the one plant that takes over everyone else's garden and is so prolific that they are practically begging friends, neighbors and co-workers to take off their hands.

Not ours. Our plants have been known to shrivel up, rot or put out a measly one or two fruits.

How frustrating! I successfully grow more finicky plants from seed year after year. Aren't zucchini supposed to be the plant that practically grows itself? 

And, to make matters worse, despite their being prolifically available during the summer, they are often relatively expensive to purchase.
The one that got away...
This year we've had moderate success with our bush baby variety from Territorial Seed Company - about 10 zucchini thus far with a few more coming on as I write this. Hummm...Maybe we boldly try two plants next year.

For the most part, we have harvested the fruit when fairly small - about 4-8 inches long. But, there was one that did get away from us while we were on vacation (see above).

Rather than despair at its girth or create a squishy stuffed squash recipe, we decided to shred it for zucchini bread.That way we will have a refreshing little bit of summer later on this fall or winter.

Fresh herbs when we want them
On a similar note, we had a crazy amount of oregano and basil in the garden this summer. Since we like to use both for salad dressings and marinades throughout the year, we froze bags of both for use this winter and next spring.

To do this, I washed the herbs and then separated the leaves from the stems. Then I  whizzed them up in the Cuisinart, adding a tiny bit of olive oil so that each had a paste-like consistency. Next I placed each herb in its own freezer Ziploc bag, flattened the contents, labeled and dated the bags and placed them in the freezer.

The whole process took less than a half hour, and now we have fresh herbs from the garden to use throughout the winter!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fairfax Pickles, Spiced Blueberry Relish and Cornichons

Last weekend was a marathon canning session yielding about 140 half pint jars - 107 of Fairfax pickles, 20 of spiced blueberry relish and 12 of cornichons.

I spent the better part of both Saturday and Sunday with Michael Madigan working in his commercial kitchen space called KitchenCru - this is where Mark's business Tails & Trotters creates a lot of their products like bacon, pate and marinades.

Fairfax Pickles
These pickles have been in my mom's family for three generations and according to family lore my grandmother's neighbor received the recipe directly from Lord Fairfax. I remember enjoying them as a child and first made them with my grandmother while visiting her in Maryland.

Each year, while everyone else complains at the sight of green tomatoes at the close of summer I look at them with excitement - it will be a Fairfax pickle year!

Day 1
Michael and I chopped and salted 40 pounds of green tomatoes, about 10 pounds of yellow onions and around 24 red peppers.

The purpose of the salt is to pull juices from the veggies - you do this by drizzling it on each layer of vegetables and then leave it overnight covered at room temperature.

Day 2

Michael creating the brine.
On Sunday we drained the liquid from the vegetables and set them aside while we made the brine.

We made the brine in two VERY large pots. Once it came to a boil we added the vegetables and let the whole mixture come almost to a boil.

Then we poured the whole concoction into the largest pot I have ever seen (see first photo above). The purpose of this was to make sure that the pickles and brine were consistent throughout the batch.

Next came the jarring of the pickles.

While the prep time on Saturday was the same as it would be in a residential kitchen, the actual canning process was amazingly quick thanks to the the gear in the commercial kitchen - all 107 half pint jars into the bath at the same time!

Spiced Blueberry Relish

The thing that I like best about this recipe is its versatility -  it goes great with vanilla ice cream and with roasted meat. Most notably, it is fabulous with ham as we discovered on Easter. We got this recipe from Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Pickling book (she also has an interesting blog - A Gardener's Table.


These are our experiment of the weekend since we have not yet tried this recipe. The brine consisted mostly of vinegar, so I presume that the flavors of the bay leaf, peppercorns, shallot and tarragon sprig will imbue the pickles with their flavors over time.
The cucumbers took forever to wash - about an hour for three pounds. I think that the next time we make them we will get a less spiny variety of pickling cucumbers