It’s July and the bounty is here, friends! I was going to title this post something like “Prepping for Preserving,” but then I realized I’ve probably pickled and dried and otherwise preserved more than most sane people do in a year. Kinda like this commercial from my youth:
But with a little less tanks and guns, and a little more cukes and jams. And just the same amount of sweetass early 80s mustaches!
Anyway, July and August and September here in the Pacific Northwest bring strawberries, cherries, raspberries (We’re just eating the first off our bushes this year!), blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers (mine are doing great so far!), peppers, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and apples. And I’ve got plans for all of them! So, before the truly busy(er) fruit and veggie months of August and September roll around, wanna see what I’ve been up to in May and June, preservation wise?
But first, see, I have a sort of game plan. I evaluated what I did last year. I canned and pickled and fermented and otherwise preserved many things last year and blogged about most of them. Duh doy if you were following along here on ohbriggsy! So I evaluated my larder and freezer and shelves to see what was hot and what was not over the last year, to see what I want to try again and what I want to chalk up to a learning experience.
I checked my larder of canned items. Wow, I canned a lot last year! And a lot of it was a success and will be repeated. Like my canned peaches. They are a great snack, and also pretty sweet with greek yogurt. And my pizza sauce. My pizza sauce is the bomb, yos! I also liked my dill pickle slices and dill relish. More please! And my asparagus! Great in a Saturday morning bloody mary! And my pickled jalapenos and carrots! These really grew on me. Around here we toss a jar into our black beans for beans and rice, or top our nachos with them. I can’t get enough of jalapenos in any of their forms. So there will be more of them. Oh and my concord grape jam (great on PB&Js!) and tomato soup (Wow. I’ve gotta tell you about that tomato soup and jam!) that I didn’t blog about! And my raspberry lemonade concentrate. What still sits on the shelves collecting dust is my Salsa Criolla, rhubarb jam, strawberry jam, apricot jam. Get the pattern? The jam was good, but we don’t eat a lot of jam. It was a great item to gift during the holidays, but that took a lot of work when my ass could just go get a gift card. So this year, no more jams. Well except maybe a sour cherry jam, because I’m intrigued by cherries this year, as I did nothing with them last year and cherries are truly awesome. And, well, I do bake much more bread now, so maybe some freezer jams? See, I need professional help.
I wanna can new stuff too! Like aforementioned sour cherry jam! And cherry and apple pie fillings! And more!
Anyway, all of that to say, here’s what I’ve been up to, preservation wise in the late spring/early summer.
First, I thought about what I like to do in the summer. And, well, we like to sit on our deck and get our drink on around here. So when rhubarb finally got red, I made it boozy.
I made the Tigress’s rhubeena, and rhubodka (Cheap vodka infused with rhubarb, with a complicated sounding yet whimsical name!) from here.
Rhubodka basically involved obtaining rhubarb, cleaning a large jar, and going to the liquor store to buy vodka. Then combine all three and let it sit in your basement for a month. Easy peezy!
I got a lot of rhubarb at the farmer’s market this year, but wasn’t much of a fan of anything I did with it last year. I made a low sugar rhubarb jam last year that was pretty meh and decidedly not a hit here at the homestead, so this year I just experimented with rhubarb and alcohol. Infusions are easy and quick, and you can infuse many of your favorite alcohols with many of your favorite fruits. This year, I also made a traditionally Polish rhubarb cordial that I found here.
From left, Polish rhubarb cordial, rhubodka, and rhubeena.
I’m intrigued by the Polish cordial because first you let the rhubarb steep in vodka for a week. After a week, separate the rhubarb from the vodka. Let the newly infused rhubarb vodka sit in it’s own jar. In a second jar, add sugar to the rhubarb chunks you just strained and let that marinate for a month. After a month, combine both and strain out the rhubarb, and let that age for several months. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
But that wasn’t all! I also made David Lebovitz’s strawberry vodka. You can’t go wrong with David Lebovitz.
I spent a lot of the holiday weekend rinsing, hulling, and slicing strawberries.
But making the vodka was a snap!
Pour a 750 ml bottle of vodka onto your cleaned, hulled and quartered pound and a quarter or so of berries...
Yep! Before the shake...
And after. Now let it sit for a week or so, strain and you're done!
Alcohol infusions are easy and fun. I’ve also read about whiskey infused with cherries, and tequila infused with strawberries. I still have plans to buy these. Man, the friendly folks at the Washington Liquor Control Board stores are gonna think I have a problem. But, I’m making infusions, I’ll say! Sure you are, they’ll say! All of that to say, take a fruit you like and infuse its essence into the booze you like. It’s just that easy!
Did I mention that Double S and I went strawberry picking again this year? Yep!
We got Shuksans! But just for Double S's strawberry shortcake and for snacking...
Then we hit Remlinger Farms for some good ol’fashioned 3rd of July strawberry picking!
The field was crowded with camera and iphone toting strawberry pickers!
The berries were ripe and delicious. And according to the 15 year old weighing the berries, they were Rainiers. They were of really varying sizes and shapes due to the erratic weather of the NW spring of 2011.
4osomeodd pounds worth! See I told you, I can't help it!
You need to move with a quickness if you pick strawberries. They are fragile and pretty much need to be processed within 24 hours.
Besides making strawberry libations, I also froze and dried strawberries. Which reminds me of my game plan. When planning for this summer, I inspected our dried fruit collection from last year, which was easy because that shit was gone long ago, minus a few stray leftover dried peaches. All that to say, dried fruit was a big success at the homestead, and I plan to dry even more of it. Last year, I dried so many apricots I thought we’d never run out, but we did by late winter. Dried fruit proved to be an awesome snack, or “Nature’s Candy!” as I liked to wholesomely refer to it. Plus, Double S discovered that it worked swimmingly in her incredible homemade granola. Last year we dried apricots and peaches, a few cherries and made some strawberry fruit leather. This year, I plan to drythe majority of apricots I can get my hands on, instead of the apricot jam that still sits on the shelf, and dry sliced strawberries to skip the hassle of fruit leather. Nectarines are surprisingly good dried, but dried peaches I found to be a failure. I think it was the peaches. Drying fruit, just like canning it or eating it fresh, must be done with the best quality fruit you can find. Bland fresh peaches will be even blander dried peaches. But dang! It’s hard to put an exceedingly juicy fresh peach in a dehydrator. But this year, I will make the leap! Drying is easy. We have several driers we scored at thrift stores. Or you can dry fruit in a sunny window if you don’t live in Seattle, or in a 145 degree oven. I’ve read that some people dry it on cookie sheets covered with wax paper in their cars on hot days! No energy used at all, and you can dry a lot of fruit at once. Color me intrigued. When I finally fully accept my late 30s hippiedom, I’m gonna try this method. You’ll be the first to know. Well, my neighbors will be the first, watching me checking my car incessantly in my undies all August. But you’ll be second. Promise.
When drying the fruit, make sure it’s dry when you put it into the oven/dehydrator, and that the fruit pieces are not touching one another. Dipping the fruit in a solution of one juiced lemon to a few cups water will help preserve the color. Store bought dried fruit often contains sulfur dioxide to preserve color. That shit is nasty, and it makes me wheeze. Lemons are all you need! The fruit is done when its chewy, not crispy or squishy.
With my excess of strawberries, I decided to dry some. I sliced them in either halves or thirds, depending on the berry.
I arranged them on the trays of my dehydrator.
And the next day I had a bowl full of dried strawberries! These will have to be coveted, because, wow, a lot of berries turned into a medium-sized bowl of dried delicious orbs.
I also made jam. But I decided it was too hot to can. I guess I’m a true Seattleite. 80 degrees and I can’t bear the thought of my canning pot and it’s inherent steam. So I made freezer jam. Why didn’t I know how easy freezer jam is?
I tossed this together after work in mere minutes!
First, I whirled enough berries in my food processor to makes 4 cups of puree. Then I mixed one and a half cups of sugar with a package of freezer jam pectin. You can also use Pomona’s pectin to avoid the preservatives. I stirred that with the berries for several minutes to avoid clumps, then into those cute lil’ Ball plastic containers for freezer jam. Easy and much lower in sugar.
Besides my canning and drying, I also pickled just about everything I could get my hands on. And I got my hands on a lot! Backstory: Refrigerator pickles were a great success here at the homestead over the last year. My ferments are long gone and I just finished the fridge pickles. I made a big mistake with my refrigerator cucumber pickles though. I made a shit ton of them, ended up loving them and all the while had a sense of dread because I didn’t write down my recipe. By the time I made them, I was hella sick of preserving. It was September and I was using all the cukes from my garden before they went bad. Whatever I came up with was epic, but now I’ve gotta do that annoying thing where I try to recreate them but of course can’t recreate them perfectly so I’ll always compare them to last year’s. All of that to say, write down your recipes or how you alternate from recipes! You may think this is just some quick pickle you’re tossing together, but what if you love it? What the eff will you do then? Answer: Cry. But keep trying! This year, I keep a small notebook in the kitchen to memorialize my creations.
So a’pickling I went over the last few weeks. I pickled anything I could find in my garden. This is the first year I’ve grown garlic, and the most awesome surprise was the beautiful scape that grew at the top of each plant. I saw them and marveled at their swirly beauty. But I thought nothing of it. I walked by perfect bunches of them at the farmer’s market. But I was just like…
Finally I realized that I can, nay, should pickle these bad boys. I read a beautiful blog post about canning scapes, but I wanted that crisp crunch that only a ferment can provide, but I was scared (as I always am with fermenting) that I’d eff them up, so I made some scape fridge pickles as well.
Our garlic grew beautiful curly scapes!
And I supplemented them with bundles of scapes from the farmer's market, cuz I wanted to get creative!
If you grow garlic, and you plant it in the fall, May and June are the perfect months to harvest your scapes while they’re nice and tender. Cutting the scapes also helps the plant focus it’s energy on making the bulb as big as possible. Win, win.
I made garlic scape refrigerator pickles three ways. I used the basic brine recipe of one cup vinegar to one cup water to one tablespoon kosher salt. I made an Italian style garlic scape pickle, with red wine vinegar, and fresh basil and oregano from my garden. Then I made more of an Asian inspired scape, with rice wine vinegar, a dash of soy sauce, toasted sesame seeds, chili flakes and a dash of sesame oil. Finally, I made more of a traditional pickle scape with white wine vinegar and cider vinegar, fresh dill, and mustard and coriander seeds.
Scapes, ready for their brines!
From left, traditional pickle, Italian style pickle, Asian style pickle.
Also, I tried fermenting them! I used the larger jar seen in the above picture, and I used a combo of spices that yielded much success with my fermented pickles last year. My secret: I threw in some kombucha to get the fermentation process rolling. It works! Just add about a fourth of a cup or so to your ferments. You can also add whey or store bought cultures to do this, but kombucha is perfect and semi-vinagery for this purpose. For this ferment, I used enough scapes to fill a one quart jar, 1/4 cup kombucha, 8 cups water and 4 Tablespoons kosher salt. I then added pickling spices: juniper berries, fresh dill, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, and pink peppercorns. I just checked them yesterday, after they have been fermenting one week. They smell like garlic and they are delicious! Check out the brine after one week!
That's the cloudy brine of success, pickle-wise!
Ferments are working well in the NW right now, because we’re actually having some summer weather, and warm (not hot) weather speeds up the fermentation process. After you make your brine, sit the jar on your counter out of the sun for about a week. Taste the brine and when you like it, put the jar in the fridge for additional aging. Don’t be afraid of a little mold that you might find on top when you first check it. Just skim it off.
The other major harvest so far in my garden have been sugar snap peas. We planted ours late, but our harvest has been just as great. We have grown these for the last 3 years and pretty much just snack on them. This year, I needed something new. After googling, I found this and they are AWESOME.
A new taste sensation. Speaking of... music break!
Gratuitous Arsenio Hall action. Long live the dog pound!
Anyway, I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, but I added more garlic and a bit more tarragon fresh from my garden. I made these Friday and as I write this they were already pretty near close to awesome and truly a new pickle taste sensation for yours truly. If you perchance can still get snap peas, do try this!
But wait, there’s more! Asparagus! I didn’t grow it but I saw it everywhere, so you know I gotsta pickle it! Asparagus is probably a distant memory for my more easterly friends now that it’s July , but here in the NW it’s still available. Last year I canned pickled asparagus and it was a hit. I made a basic brine, but in some jars I put a chipotle pepper with adobo. In others, a few lemon slices. And in others, fresh homemade horeseradish. This year, again, I decided just to make refrigerator asparagus pickles. They’re crunchier and just snappier, and they last a long time in the fridge. As I said, my fridge pickles and ferments flew off the shelves, while many of my canned pickles still sit gathering dust.
So I pickled asparagus last week, which I adapted from here, minus the allspice cuz that’s just nasty, and with the addition of some new things like celery seeds, cumin, fennel seeds, and sumac. As my dad used to say when we asked him for stuff, we’ll see!
I blanched them then dunked them in an ice bath. The resulting color was amazing.
Whadda green! Speaking of... next music break!
Finally, I even got a taste of my favorite kind of pickling of all. Cucumbers! Squeal! I found my first of the season cukes at the Yakima Farmer’s Market two weekends ago whilst on a camping trip, and they were organic Japanese cukes to boot!
I gasped when I saw and tasted these gems!
Japanese cukes brought from Yakima to the homestead.
I made a quick pickle, and used ponzu for the first time. I used 1.5 pounds of Japanese cukes, 1 1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar, 3/4 cup ponzu, 4 garlic cloves, juice of 4 limes, cilantro sprigs, scallions, salt, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce. Wowee zowee these are the shit a week and a half later!
The chili garlic sauce was a last minute addition, but again, how can you go wrong?
All pickled and ready to rest!
Finally, I scrounged for whatever is on sale and pickle that too. I know jalapenos aren’t in season yet, but I found a stash in the dollar bin at my local fruit stand, and I made my favorite pickled jalapeno. David Lebovitz…is there anything he can’t do?
Ok, now that I’ve got my spring training done, I’m ready for the majors. Let’s go! What have you pickled so far this year? And if you haven’t, get ye to the vinegar aisle of your favorite store and go to town!