Monday, December 31, 2012

Pickling with Sherrie

This past summer (yes, it has taken a while to get to this post...) I spent a fabulous couple of days pickling with my friend Sherrie.

In truth, it was supposed to be a one day project, but circumstances and our exuberance made it into two. I rarely get to spend a whole day with Sherrie, and since we are both experienced canners, 45 pounds of carrots and 75 of cucumbers seemed like a manageable task.

I went over to Sherrie's after work to prep the cucumbers since they would have to be salted overnight to wick away the excess moisture. We were making bread and butter pickles, lemongrass ginger pickles, and dills, so we sorted out the smaller ones for dills and then sliced the others into wedges. We also prepped the dills by placing them, a sprig of dill, a clove of garlic and a chile pepper into a jar and covering them with a dish towel.

The next morning we rinsed the wedges and started making brines. For some reason my calculations were way off and we needed to make a few trips to the store for supplies - a good lesson (that I seem to relearn with at least one project a year!) to plan for your pickling session ahead of time.

Check and recheck your calculations. Nothing is more irritating than having to stop midway through a project for a run to the store. Also, there are stores where you can buy things in bulk which helps cut costs IF you plan accordingly ahead of time...Anyway, back to the brines. One of the great things about canning with Sherrie is she has a double camp stove setup outside, so the amount of stove space is effectively doubled. This meant that we could make brines on one stove and process pickles on another. Brilliant!

The second day also involved peeling 45 pounds of carrots and cutting them into sticks. In all reality this proved a bit much in addition to creating three varieties of brine and processing cucumbers, and really should have been a separate project for another day of canning. But, since we were in the midst of it we soldiered on. Sherrie's daughter Ila even lent a hand for a bit.

One thing that made the peeling go faster was having an ergonomic peeler that was actually sharp! If you are still working the cheapy metal one from the grocery store go out and get yourself one that actually works! You will thank me, I promise!

Now, months later I am getting calls from friends and loved ones who have already cracked open and are enjoying their holiday gifts! And, as the year comes to a close, I am starting to think about next year's canning adventures.

Garlic and other new friends

Last fall I planted garlic, shallots, leeks and a couple onions.

I had planted garlic and leeks before to limited success. But, this summer I harvested a good amount of beautiful garlic and shallots. What a boon!

You buy a few bulbs in the fall, plunk them in the ground, ward off the frenetic squirrels for a few weeks and then wait till late spring or early summer to harvest.

Awesome. It was almost too easy.

So, this year (2012) I plan to go bigger with my allium (onion family) fall planting. In July I started leeks from seed. In late October and early November planted the leek starts in the troughs. I set aside about a foot on the side of the trough for the leeks and then created a barrier to the sections with bricks.

The reason for this is that leeks need to have soil added to them so that a larger part of their stems remain white. In order to do this I am starting the leeks in soil that is lower than the rest of the trough's soil. I am using bricks to create a barrier between the area I am planting the leeks and where I am planting other stuff. That way I can start them off lower than the other items and then add soil to create larger white areas in the leek stems. This is definitely an experiment since this is the second time I've ever attempted leeks.

I also planted several types of garlic and shallots. I am excited to see which ones we prefer next summer!

And, in between it all I inter-planted lettuce, pak choy and arugula in one trough and beets in a section of the other. My hope is that they will be done long before the garlic, shallots and leeks really get going and need more room. But, as I said this is a working experiment.

Today as wrap up this blog entry that I mostly wrote earlier this fall, the lettuce and pak choy seem to be coming along best. Both troughs are covered with a shade cloth to help protect their contents and soil from the rain, and lately frost.

Now comes the tough part. Waiting.