Depending on which family member you spoke to and when, Saturday was about finding suitable trees to use as posts in our fencing and zipline projects, cutting wood, playing in the woods, or harvesting potatoes and carrots. In the kitchen experimenting with different pickling methods was where I could be found for much of the day, after spending a good chunk of time with a garden fork unearthing one 20-foot row of potatoes and some carrots (I imagine that folks with good loam could just pull their carrots out of the ground, but not us. We have to wrestle them gingerly out of the clay.)
An early morning visit to the local farmers’ market with my youngest resulted in the basket of cucumbers and some lovely zucchini. I’d been wanting to try some of the different preservation methods found in a book that I mentioned here recently, Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning, and settled on two recipes to try in short batches.
Both recipes are for preserving food in oil. The method doesn’t require any of the processing associated with traditional canning: vegetables sliced, diced or otherwise cut into smaller pieces, briefly poached in vinegar, layered in jars with just herbs (in the case of the zucchini, which I paired with red basil from my garden) or with a combination of salt and herbs (in the case of the vegetable medley, which I’ll come to shortly), and covered in oil.
The vegetable medley had a little more to it, being a combination of what I had to hand from a recommended list (in my case zucchini, cucumber, green pepper and new carrots), along with a mix of fresh herbs (basil and parlsey from my garden), dried ones (dill seed and coriander seed) and sea salt. The veggies are alternately layered with the herb/salt mixture and then oil is poured to about a half inch above the veggies.
Evidently, much larger vessels are normally used in this method, as with a full inch or more of headroom above the oil being required, I didn’t fit a whole lot into my little preserving jars. This was all in the spirit of experimentation, however. And here’s what I think, without having sampled these recipes yet (the vegetable medley won’t be ‘ready’ for another two months):
The method is wonderfully easy, and I loved being able to ditch the steamy kitchen and get some canning done in mere minutes. Clean, chopped veggies, a quick poach in vinegar, spooning into sterile jars, covering in oil, and hey presto, you’re done. And these veggies will last up to a year in a dark, cool place, which is pretty good for such a simple method. Along with other traditional recipes in the book, the nutritional content of the vegetables should also remain very high. All good.
What really doesn’t make sense for me, however, is that I have no ability to produce the vast quantities of olive oil that I’d need to rely on to preserve using this method. I’m already considering how I can re-use the oil that I’ve locked up in these jars when we eat the vegetables later on (I figure I could heat the oil and cook with it safely), but it’s not even the current cost that I’m considering. Everything that we’re doing here now is about finding methods that we can continue to use even when (I do say when, not ‘if’) cheap foreign foodstuffs become too expensive, etc., to ship around the globe. On the plus side, our summers are getting hotter, so maybe growing olives is in our future…
Anyway, after trying out the above method, I also had a go at some quick refrigerator pickles, found on A Beautiful Mess. These were an appealing way of dealing with a bunch of the fresh cukes on my counter, and I was intrigued to see what the results were like.
I made a point of preparing several tiny jars so that my husband could take a batch on a two-night camping trip with our youngest that started yesterday. I opened a jar this morning to taste, and for such a gloriously simple treatment, they aren’t half bad. Not for the pickle connoisseur perhaps, but a very acceptable treatment in my view, and a nice way to have pickles to hand for lunches over the next few weeks (they will be good for about a month).
What I was really after, in terms of a method and the result, however, I found late that day after I was done, at The Museum of Forgotten Pickles. Kate’s extremely simple method for brining sour pickles is genius: it’s fast and simple, it relies on water, salt, cucumbers and dill, all of which I can produce or, in the case of the salt, store in large quantities without financial ruin or the prospect of spoilage. The resulting pickles sound absolutely delicious, so my next task is to find and buy some large apothecary jars or pickling crocks.