We had a cold summer here in Portland – the coldest in 17 years.  Tomatoes, cold weather and rain are not a very good combination.  Unless you had your tomato plants in a warm microclimate spot (or wrapped in Saran Wrap most of the summer like one of my wise neighbors) you, like me, are now faced with a bumper crop of green tomatoes. Now I hear that fried green tomatoes are tasty – but this is a preserving blog and fried green tomatoes don’t keep well in the pantry over the winter so I needed another solution.

Once again Darina Allen came to my rescue.  Ireland (Darina’s home base) has many of the same weather issues as Portland – so her Forgotten Skills of Cooking book had several recipes for preserving green tomatoes.  I selected the green tomato chutney recipe.  Our household has a serious homemade chutney addiction (to the point that we cannot eat store-bought anymore).  Our go-to (we really don’t feel like cooking) meal is to brown organic ground turkey, add in loads of chopped vegetables (cabbage, mushrooms and peppers being our choice) and once close to done throw in a 1/2 pint of chutney and heat through until everything is cooked.  Homemade chutney makes this 10 minute meal amazing.

This chutney recipe is fairly standard – lots of chopping followed by a long simmer with good smells.  I made a few changes given what I had in my pantry; substituting a combination of apple cider/white vinegar for the white wine vinegar and brown sugar for turbinado sugar.

Recipe – adapted from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking (made 5 1/2 pints)

2 1/4 pound chopped green tomatoes

2 1/4 pound peeled and chopped cooking apples

1 pound onions – chopped

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 3/4 cup brown sugar

1 pound golden raisins

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper

3 smashed garlic cloves

1 tablespoon salt

3 cups vinegar

Put all ingredients into a large non-reactive pot and bring to a boil over med heat.  Turn heat down and simmer for 45 minutes – stirring constantly.  Ladle into clean sterile jars.  Process in water-bath canner for 15 minutes.

Pickles are my new obsession.  It all started with Smitten Kitchen’s Bread and Butter Pickle post.  I wasn’t craving the pickles so much as the burgers they go on.  I was recovering from knee surgery and got  bored – I sought to entertain myself by trying something new.  I found some pickling cucumbers at the local market.  I made the pickles, I ate the pickles on my burger, I ate the pickles out of the jar and by the end of the meal – almost the entire batch of pickles was gone.  That moment I started down a pickling road from which I will not likely return.  

I decided to grow my own pickling cucumbers to feed this addiction.  At this point it was mid-June in Oregon.   I thought I was too late for planting but managed to find two starts at the local nursery.  I squeezed them in a bed with some onions (despite the protests of my husband – something about mixing metaphors or veggies) and waited.  The cool summer we had this year suited them (unlike my tomato plants – but I don’t want to talk about that).  The next thing I knew it was August and those two plants took over their box and high tailed it down the garden path.  In their wake they created pounds upon pounds of cucumbers. We are now into September and every couple of days I pick between 3-6 pounds and within 4 days I needed to harvest again.  

With this bounty I made more bread and butter pickles, I made traditional dill pickles… but now that I have made them, nothing (and I mean nothing) comes close to old school sour pickles.  Sour pickles are fermented in a brine with spices, dill and pepper.  As you reach your hand into the vat to retrieve the pickle – the brine’s aroma entices you, previewing the flavors that will soon be coming your way. 

Fermentation sounds mysterious – maybe even a little scary.  Things float and bubble – it gets a little murky – it is science in action.  If you start to get nervous keep in mind this little fact – fermentation as a food preservation technique has been used for thousands of years.  Practice good sanitation peppered with common sense and you will be fine. 

Here are a couple of recipe notes.  If you are not familiar with fermenting protocols – read the USDA guidelines.  Make sure that you use a food grade container for the fermentation process.  I used an extra-large glass canning jar which was just barely big enough for a halved recipe.  A traditional fermenting crock is now on my birthday/holiday wish list (hint hint).  Don’t alter the salt to water ratios of a trusted recipe.  Fermentation relies upon the salt to knock down the bad bacteria.  Do not use plastic if you can avoid it – bacteria likes to hide in plastic and it increases the risk of contamination.

Recipe (adapted from Joy of Pickling – Lower East Side Full-Sour Dills):

4 pounds pickling cucumbers

8 garlic cloves sliced

2 dill heads (original recipe called for 4)

2 dried peppers

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 tablespoons whole coriander

1 tablespoons whole allspice

Brine consisting of 1/2 cup pickling salt and 3 quarts water

Wash the cucumbers well and remove the blossom ends.*  Place cucumbers and remaining ingredients, except the brine, in a food safe container.  Combine salt and water to make your brine and pour into the container covering the pickles. Put excess brine in a food grade plastic bag and use that as a weight to seal the top.  Cover and leave in a cool dark space.  Fermentation should begin in 2-3 days.  Check daily and skim any white scum.  It should take about one to two weeks to complete the process (depending on temperature).  Pickles are done when they are an olive grey color throughout.  Once fermented, remove the brine bag and refrigerate.

*  I picked my cucumbers just before pickling so they did not need to be pre-chilled.  If yours are not fresh picked soak them in ice water to freshen them up.

While not an “official” participant in the Tigress’ Can Jam Challenge – I decided to play along for the rest of the year.  The selection for September is peaches and other forms of stone fruit.  Having already done two peach posts this summer – I chose plums.  Plums bring back fond memories of riding through the plum orchards as both the horse and I both consumed huge quantities of italian style plums straight off the trees.  Unlike peaches, plums don’t require peeling – an added benefit to working with them (and another reason for the choice).

A quick inventory of my pantry revealed lots of jars of jam – but not too many condiments. It was time to expand my horizons with a fruit based condiment so I decided to try my hand at Chinese Plum Sauce.  In asian culture the five petals of the flowers of the plum symbolize five blessings:  old age, wealth, health, love of virtue, and a natural death.  Plums are also used in Chinese medicine to promote a strong digestive system and heart.   The plum sauce seemed like the perfect path to a healthy plum nirvana.  Besides – making a sauce meant I got to use kitchen power tools. 

I researched a couple of recipe sources and eventually chose the Chinese Plum Sauce from Sheri Brooks Vinton’s fabulous book “Put ’em Up.”  Some of the internet recipes seemed to play a little loose and fast with the vinegar – making me nervous about acidity levels.  I made some minor spice adjustments as noted to tailor the sauce to my tastes.  Being new to canning I did not touch the fruit/vinegar/sugar ratios to ensure a good acidity level. Besides being very tasty – this recipe will have your entire house enriched with the scent of plums and ginger – and the color change that the sauce undergoes as it cooks down to a rich plum color is magical to watch.

Plum Sauced Ribs

Chinese Plum Sauce – adapted from the Chinese Plum Sauce recipe in Put ’em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton

2 pounds plums chopped (I used a combination of red and black plums)

3 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

2 garlic cloves (I smashed the cloves prior to putting in the pot)

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon fresh ground anise seed (original recipe called for star anise as the only spice)

1/2 tablespoon fresh ground cloves

ground ginger to taste

Put all ingredients except ground ginger in pot – stirring frequently heat on medium high until reaching a rolling boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until thick (about 20 minutes) – stirring occasionally.  Once thick use immersion blender to create a puree.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary (I added a little more ground ginger to up the spice quotient).  Ladle into prepared 1/2 pint jars leaving a 1/4 inch head space, remove air bubbles, wipe rims and cap.  Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

The basis for salsa verde

 

For the last two months I have been lurking on Tigress’s Can Jam.  The Can Jam is amazing and sometimes I think I should ask for a late entry option.  Each month an incredible group of bloggers selects a fruit or vegetable and they post preserving recipes for that selection.  The breadth of recipes is inspirational for newbie canners like me.  For August What Julia Ate selected tomatoes – and several of these fantastic cooks selected tomatillos, a member of the tomato family, as a base for salsa.  I was intrigued – I have eaten the green goodness that is salsa verde at many Mexican restaurants but never thought to make (and can) my own.  

You need to be careful canning tomatoes in a water bath canner – they are low on the acidity scale for water bath canning and the addition of extra vegetables – like onions and peppers may tip the recipe below the safe zone.  This means that unless you are an experienced canner or an adventuresome chemist with pH testing strips, you should follow a trusted recipe – varying only the spices (leaving the vegetable, vinegar and citrus juice ratios alone).  If the acidity is too low – you run the risk of an environment conducive to botulism in your final product.  If you are not familiar with canning protocols – the USDA home preserving site is a good place to start.  

  

My first preserving book, and one of the most trusted, is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  I chose their standard Tomatillo Salsa recipe.   I will say that husking tomatillos is much easier than peeling tomatoes.   The price for that simplicity – dead moths.  Moths seem to love to crawl up into the husks before meeting their maker.  The other word of warning depends on the type of peppers you choose.  I love a slow burn salsa (the type that doesn’t overwhelm you at first bite – but builds up heat slowly).  To create a slow burn salsa I chose a combination of mild and hot peppers (poblano, fresno and jalapeno).  If you choose hot peppers wear gloves while seeding and chopping.  If you forget and find your hands on fire afterwards – I learned that washing several times with Dawn, followed by a 30 minute Colgate toothpaste rub will take care of the burn.  I also learned that tomatoes and sour cream only offer temporary relief.  Finally – this recipe only makes two pints.  After reading a couple of the Can Jam posts (all of which regretted only making one batch) and given my husband’s love of salsa – I brought enough ingredients for a second batch.  

Huevos rancheros with tomatillo salsa

 

Recipe – adapted from Balls Blue Book (adjustments noted):  

5 1/2 cups of husked, chopped tomatillos (about 2 pounds)  

1 cup chopped onion  

1 cup chopped green peppers (I used jalapeno, fresno and  poblano which gave me a “slow burn” salsa)  

4 garlic cloves – minced  

2 tablespoons minced cilantro  

2 teaspoons cumin  

1/2 teaspoon salt  

1/2 teaspoon red pepper (I was out – so I ground up red pepper flakes)  

1/2 cup vinegar (they didn’t specify so I used white)  

1/4 cup lime juice  

Mix all ingredients in stock pot and bring to a boil using med-high heat.  Reduce temperature to low and simmer for 10 minutes – stirring from time to time.  Pack into sterile jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.  Process for 15 minutes in water bath canner.

   

   

I decided to take a break from the sweet stuff – making it time for a relish recipe.   My interest in relishes was peaked by the health benefits of vinegar.   While not all the benefits claimed by vinegar proponents are supported by scientific evidence, there is support for claims that vinegar aids in the absorption of calcium and in regulation of insulin – both of which are good things.    

We didn’t plant summer squash this year and everything is showing up a little later than planned in our garden courtesy of a chilly June (tomatoes still green, peppers and cukes still finger sized).  This meant that when the relish making craving hit – I didn’t have the goods in the garden yet to satisfy it.  Thankfully we don’t have the space to grow corn – so I didn’t feel like I was cheating on my vegetable garden by picking up multiple pounds of fresh sweet corn at the farmer’s market for a corn relish experiment.    

   

After a little research, I decided to try the corn relish recipe from the Joy of Pickling.  The recipe was pretty basic, letting the corn take center stage, and didn’t contain turmeric, which I don’t like in large doses.   

Corn carnage

 

While putting this relish together I learned a couple of things about myself.  First – early in the morning my counting skills are suspect.  I thought I had picked out 18 ears of corn – when I unloaded them at home there were 17.  Note to self – have at least two cups of strong coffee before heading to the farmers market.  Second – I am a messy cook, by the time the corn was removed from the cobs my entire kitchen was covered in corn, corn silk and corn juice.  Finally – I have no shame as I allowed my kitchen assistant to clean up the floor after me.   

Loki - the best kitchen assistant ever

 

I followed the recipe with a couple of exceptions.  I needed only 15 ears of corn.  My corn ears may have been larger than average because even though I shorted the recipe by three ears, I still ended up with almost 9 pints of relish (not 6 as claimed by the recipe – so have extra jars ready).  I also substituted brown mustard seed for yellow mustard seed and an orange pepper for one of the red ones because that is what I had on hand.   

The recipe was silent on whether to blanch the corn or not – I blanched the corn to make it easier to cut from its cob.  I used about 3 minutes in boiling water followed by a dunk in ice water.   

The final product - summer in a jar

 

Recipe – Joy of Pickling Corn Relish   

Fresh corn kernels from approximately 18 ears of corn (2 quarts)   

 2 cups chopped green peppers   

2 cups chopped red peppers   

2 cups chopped onions   

1/4 cup garlic   

1 tablespoon pickling salt   

2 tablespoon whole yellow mustard seeds   

1 quart cider vinegar   

1 cup water   

2/3 cup packed brown sugar   

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil using med-high heat.  Turn heat down and simmer for 20 minutes.  Pack into sterile jars leaving 1/2 inch head space – remove air bubbles.  Process in hot water canner for 15 minutes.  Store in cool, dry, dark place.