Preserving by the Pint: A Preserving Guide for All of Urbanity

Like many of us who spend our nights dreaming of microbes, I started my food preservation journey by canning up all the fruits and veggies I could get my hands on. In the early-mid 2000s, it seemed to be all people were talking about! You can eat locally all year round if you preserve, the food press would say, and I was sold.  The end products were fantastic and I loved getting to know my farmers by buying giant quantities of their seconds. What unsold me were a couple of summers with many weekends spent in a kitchen sauna, over a very hot and humid stovetop for hours and hours, making a sweat-salted brine out of the boiling water bath before me.

A ferment in this canning guide!

A ferment in this canning guide!

While I have great respect for the practice, steamy indoor summer days and large kitchen equipment are just not my style. So after not too many seasons of wonderful, local, year-round goods, the giant stovetop canner moved into the basement, where it continues to take up way too much space, and a few of the basic canning books I had accumulated began to live the lives all books must fear: spending their days and nights propping things up and collecting dust at the back of the bookshelf.

Enter canning guru Marisa McClellan’s Preserving by the Pint, a book tailor-made for city dwellers who believe in eating locally all year round. It’s a fantastic book for those of us who love a project but maybe don’t have an entire pantry’s worth of space for just tomato sauce. These recipes make gorgeous food, not just visually gorgeous, but appealing in every way. They are creative, yet approachable. They cover a lot of ground, from figs to turnips and salt preserving to canning. These recipes have been carefully tested; it shows in the flavors that are so well-balanced, they could be walking a tightrope at helicopter altitude. It shows in the smile that appears on the faces of everyone who is lucky enough to get a bite or two.

This list of fall recipes makes me want to smell leaves falling and bonfires.

This list of fall recipes makes me want to smell leaves falling and bonfires.

The recipes are divided by season, fitting for a book that’s all about making the best things about the harvest taste wonderful all year round. They range in difficulty from five minutes of kitchen work all the way up to project territory.  And as the title suggests, they mostly give you a pint of final product which suits me extremely well. No standing over a giant pot after hours of washing and prepping fruit and veggies, little need for special equipment (and NO need for large equipment) or special ingredients. This is my kind of preservation book.

This is an intimate book.  Marisa shares tales of family life, seasonal rituals and the joys of bi-coastal produce access. I love that each beautifully written recipe gives me a piece of Marisa’s history and pushes me to connect with that particular fruit or vegetable in my own way.

A stunning book, from cover to cover.

A stunning book, from cover to cover.

What’s more, not all recipes require a boiling water bath. Some are intended for the fridge (or more aptly in my experience with this book, to be gobbled up immediately by hungry friends). There are even some fermented vegetable recipes here! If you’re a canner looking to broaden your skill set, or if you think you may want to dip your toe into food preservation of all kinds without investing in any equipment, this book should be the number one tool in your kit. I’ve already made quite a few of the recipes from Preserving by the Pint because it’s no trouble at all and the payoff is SO worth it.

Chop your herbs with a  sharp knife to avoid bruising them.

Chop your herbs with a sharp knife to avoid bruising them.

Preserved Herbs Recipe from Preserving by the Pint

yields 1/2 pint of preserved herbs

Adapted from Marisa McClellan’s Preserving by the Pint

This finished product falls into my favorite category of foods to make: the secret ingredient. This is something you can sprinkle into any suitable dish at the last minute and have everyone eating it say, “Yum! What’s in this!?” Try it with a wide variety of herb combinations so you can use it in almost any dish. I used shiso, sorrel and huacatay for a citrusy blend. Marisa recommends common garden herbs like parsley, thyme, basil and chervil and I can see a Mediterranean version of this being an amazing addition to my cooking arsenal.

This is what the mixture will look like when it's ready to be jarred and fridged.

This is what the mixture will look like when it’s ready to be jarred and fridged.

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. garden herbs, washed and allowed to dry
  • 2 oz. coarse sea salt

How-To

  1. Finely chop your herbs with a very sharp knife. Skip your food processor or dull blade since they will bruise the herbs.
  2. Place herbs in a bowl and mix in salt. Toss with your (clean) hands to make sure the salt is well-distributed.
  3. Place contents of bowl into pint jar. Place jar in the fridge.
  4. Once a day for a week, shake the jar well and then scrape down the sides. Place back in fridge.
  5. When the herb level in the jar is reduced by half, you’ve got your seasoning! Sprinkle it on any dish that would benefit from your particular choice of herbs.

Jar of preserved herbs

Note: Marisa is a friend and a mentor. She also happens to be one of the most talented writers and recipe developers working right now.  All opinions are here based on the quality of the work and the latter fact and not at all on the former.

We Can Phickle That! Pickled Dilly Lemon Celeriac

cheese on celery root

A dab of blue cheese on my celery pickle crackers

Have I mentioned that fall is far and away my favorite time to hit the farmers’ market? Abundance is at a peak, prices fall, and the things there are to eat in the fall are my favorite things to eat.  I adore all root vegetables, lettuces and greens are my very favorite friends and apples, oh apples.  I could eat you all day long.  I will eat you all day long.

One of the aforementioned root vegetables that I think does NOT get enough love is celeriac.  The part of celeriac we eat is actually a hypocotyl, but we don’t stand on ceremony around here.  I’ll stay with the non-technical and totally incorrect name for the sake of actually communicating what I intend to communicate: celery root. Celeriac is rich in lots of wonderful vitamins and minerals, relatively low in sugars compared to other root vegetables, and compared to it’s stalked counterpart, it ferments remarkably well.  It is not a beautiful vegetable, unless you go in for wabi-sabi stuff (I do, personally), but its round little body and tuft of celery hair make it lovable all the same.

Celery root pickles

Pre-cut pickles. The texture is pretty unique. Sturdy, but a bit chewy.

I’ve tried fermenting celery stalks a few times and I haven’t loved those pickles a ton.  It’s not surprising: celery stalks are all water and fibrous threads.  Water is shed during osmosis and the threads can just be unpleasant without that celery crunch to back them up.  Celeriac does well, though, and it gives you some of that lovely celery taste as well.

I was lucky enough to have my dill come back after an attack by swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.  I was not pleased.  I mean, they’re pretty and everything, but UGH!  Stop eating my herbs, guy. I’m actually pretty pleased that the herbs came back because that means gorgeous butterflies and herbunandance.  Anyway, since I had dill, and it’s pretty much time to dismantle my summer garden, I thought I’d use the last of it.  Thanks, butterflies.  You made my pickles delicious.

swallowtail caterpillars

Beautiful jerks who ate my parsley and dill down to the nubs before cocooning.

Since I was able to find organic lemons again after a long and disturbing hiatus (sorry, locavores, I need my lemons)

CELERIAC PICKLES

Yields approximate one quart of  pickles

The texture of this pickle is kind of special.  Definitely not crispy and  a little chewy.  If you’re a texture person, it can be a bit of a disconnect when you first taste it. However, I think the complexity of the celeriac flavor more than compensates for the lack of chewiness.  I’ve personally grown to enjoy the texture.  I also think it would make an excellent appetizer base. Pro-tip: I think they’re absolute stunners without the addition of lemon and basil, so if you want to try for the pure flavor of the celeriac, feel free to omit everything but the vegetable and the brine.

New to fermented pickling? Start with my pickle FAQ.

Ingredients

  • 1 large (~2 pound) celery root, scrubbed thoroughly, rough, rooty parts removed
  • The zest of one, large lemon, preferably cut into large, pith-free strips
  • 1/2 bunch fresh dill
  • ~1 1/2 cups of brine (1 tablespoon of salt, dissolved into 2 cups of room temperature water)

How-To

  1. Halve your celeriac and slice it into quarter inch pieces.
  2. Place lemon peel in the bottom of your jar, place celeriac slices on top.
  3. Pack dill into the top of your jar in whole fronds.  You’re going to remove it in a few days, so you’ll want to make that easy for yourself.*
  4. Pour brine over the mix and submerge using your preferred weight.  I used these pickle weights this time.
  5. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 3 days.  Remove the dill fronds and continue fermenting.
  6. It’s getting colder, and you’ll probably remove the vast majority of the peel, so give these several weeks to ferment.  I let mine go for just over three weeks and I thought they were perfect.

*I usually add my herbs in at the end of fermentation, but given the changing weather, I thought it best to harvest them and use them fresh.  They infuse just fine in a couple days on either end.  You can also leave them in, but they may get a tad slimy after weeks of fermentation.  I find that unpleasant, so I remove them.

A little bit of blue, an apple matchstick and a walnut make for a delightful amuse.

A little bit of blue, an apple matchstick and a walnut make for a delightful amuse.

Pesto-chi, or What To Do with the Last of Your Basil Crop

 

Using the last of the garden basil is delicious.

Using the last of the garden basil is delicious.

Perhaps this isn’t an issue most of my urban readers face, but I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of you urbanites who are as fresh-obsessed as I am and who’ve found a way to make some space for a garden, somewhere.  I’m willing to guess that if you took the time and effort to find some space for a garden, that it is a garden that contains basil.  Because you’re a person and people like basil.  It’s part of the package.  So as people, you know that there comes a time in the year when things are going to get so cold you’ll have to harvest all your basil or cry your eyes out while you watch it wilt on its stalks.  This day, for me, was last weekend.  I adeptly avoided tears by going nuts all over my roof and removing my tender friends from their container.  Then I had the classic problem.  I had to get my basil used up, stat.  As a friend recently told me while standing on my roof, “You have too many plants!”  I totally disagreed with him until it was time to harvest, and therefore find a use for, all my basil.

Basil flowers and kimchi

Don’t use the flowers for this, unless you want some amped up anise flavor and a swampy color.

I have about 30 basil plants of many varieties.  I co-plant them with tomatoes, tomatillos, anything else I happen to be growing, so I planned on having a lot.  This year, though, some of them sprung up from the depths of my containers with no coaching from me, which was cool.  Many of them area as tall as I am, and some are short but insanely productive (those are mostly the fino verde variety).  That makes for a lot of pesto over the course of a few months, and though I do love a nice batch of ice cube tray pesto when the winter sets in , this kimchi adaptation is a nice departure for those who have had their fill of basil* or just want a different flavor with their ferments every so often.

In case you forget what you're making.

In case you forget what you’re making.

So it is that pesto-chi was born.  Yes, Korean food snobs, I recognize that this doesn’t fall on the list of the 187 officially recognized kimchi varieties.  But that just makes me feel sorry for that list.  Also, it’s daikon and napa cabbage packed into a container to ferment with seasonings, so I’m pretty comfortable calling it a kimchi (although normally I fall in the camp of those who don’t understand why any pickled vegetable gets called kimchi rather than a pickle).

Making this is as simple as making  your average baechu, kimchi. simpler actually, since I cut out the rice paste or gochujang step for this version.  The type of basil you use will greatly impact the flavor of the final product.  Thai basil lends an anise profile, while cinnamon basil makes this almost desserty.  I used a mix for this one (though I left out the cinnamon basil so as to not confuse my taste buds too much). One thing: don’t mix red or purple varieties with green ones unless you enjoy a swampy color in your food.

Napa cabbage

The beauty of buying local

So my farmer told me this was a daikon.  I've never seen a pink one before, but he was spot on from a taste perspective, so we'll just go with it.

So my farmer told me this was a daikon. I’ve never seen a pink one before, but he was spot on from a taste perspective, so we’ll just go with it.  Also, it’s radish pants.  I just couldn’t leave it at the farmstand.

PESTO-CHI

Equipment

  • 1 half-gallon or 2, wide-mouth quart jars
  • 2 jam jars or another weight
  • 2 kitchen clothes and rubber bands suitable for covering your jars if using the ghetto jar method.
  • Food processor
  • Very large bowl

Ingredients

  • 8 pound head of napa cabbage
  • Big ol’ daikon radish, about 2 cups when sliced into 1/2 inch sticks
  • 3 cups of tightly packed basil leaves
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes (I have particularly spicy, homemade pepper flakes.  If you like it hot and use a normal brand, you may want to use more)
  • The zest of two lemons
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup  of salt for salting or 5 tablespoons of salt for brining (see number 4 below for more information).
chopped radish

I used a mandolin to slice my daikon, but feel free to do it by hand!

How-to

  1. Thoroughly wash your cabbage in room temperature water and emove any skanky outer leaves.  Reserve them.
  2. Core your cabbage.  Quarter it lengthwise and then cut the quarters into 1.5-inch wide strips.  You can leave the strips as is for fermentation or chop them crosswise into 1.5 inch squares. I prefer the smaller bites, so I chop mine smaller.
  3. I use a mandolin to slice my daikon because I have one and it’s quick.  Feel free to chop yours by hand.
  4. Combine chopped cabbage and daikon in a large bowl (use 2 if you need to) and salt or brine.  If brining, I use about 10 cups of  filtered water and 5 tablespoons of salt.  Mix them until combine, pour over veggies and weight them down.  If salting, I use about 2 tablespoons of salt per pound of cabbage.  With salting, I rinse my cabbage thoroughly before fermentation.  With brining, I do not rinse.
  5. If brining, pour brine over your veggies and submerge them.  I leave them overnight, or up to two days.
  6. If salting, I layer the salt into the veggies and toss well with gloved hands.  Leave it for an hour, come back toss it again and leave it for another half hour.  In the Korean parlance, you want your cabbage to look like the wind has been sucked out of it.
  7. If brining, thoroughly drain your cabbage.  If salting, thoroughly rinse your cabbage.  In both cases, taste to ensure you’re happy with the salt level.  Salt isn’t destroyed during fermentation, so what you start with is what you’ll have at the end.  However, other flavors will change and develop, so a slightly saltier taste may be desirable to some for a good, final balance.  If it’s too salty, you can add more cabbage or daikon.  If it’s not salty enough, toss with more salt.
  8. Put basil, garlic, brown sugar and red pepper flakes in a food processor and mix until it has the consistency of pesto.   Mix in the lemon zest.
  9. Toss basil mixture with drained veg until thoroughly combined.  I use kitchen gloves for this process.
  10. Pack the mixture very tightly into 2 quart jars or 1 half-gallon jar.  There should be something resembling a thin, liquid layer on top.  Use the ghetto jar method or another form of weight to keep the chi submerged.
  11. Ferment at room temperature from 5 days to 1 month.  I like mine young, as it will continue to age in the fridge, but you should age it until it is as acidic as you like.

*There is no such thing as having your fill of basil.

We Can Phickle That! Hot Pepper Sauce

Hot peppers

SO many hot peppers: Ghost peppers, Trindad scorpion peppers, cherry bombs, habaneros. It was amazing.

Last night I taught a super fun class for my favorite local crusaders for fair food, the appropriately named Fair Food Farmstand.  We made pickles fit for a bahn mi, and tasty, spicy pepper sauce.  The bounty of peppers made available by Fair Food was absolutely incredible!  In fact, I know they didn’t put them all out, so if you’re in the neighborhood of Reading Terminal Market, you should stop by and get you some.  We’re talking everything from jalapeños and cherry bombs to Trinadad Scorpions and Ghost peppers.  No joke!

I may have to sojourn that way again this weekend despite the fact that my garden (and trips to Fair Food) have yielded about about 2 gallons of hot sauce now, this homemade, aged stuff is so good, I basically chug it.

hot sauce fermenting

If you want to puree first, you’re going to need one of these.

Now, there is some debate in the fermentation community about the best way to make hot sauce.  I have tried all the ways I’ve heard of, and then I developed my own process, because I didn’t really love any of them.  The most common way I’ve seen is to make a puree of peppers, stir regularly for a week or so, then put into an airlock jar and let it age/continue to ferment.  When it’s done, strain it and you’ve got sauce!  If you’d like to do it that way (which to me is too labor intensive and, generally a phickle faux pas, requires special (if super cheap) equipment, check out these instructions on making an aged hot sauce.  It works well (I skipped the vinegar at the end a couple times and stored in the fridge), but I think my way is easier, and the results are mindblowingly good.

hot peppers fermenting

Packed pickled peppers and garlic

As I’ve mentioned for other foods before (ginger and garlic, for instance), hot peppers are an ingredient that you probably want to buy either organic or from a trusted, local source.  I bought some imported peppers, in search of variety, and they didn’t ferment.  This happened three times, with three varieties of peppers, until I finally realized it wasn’t user error, and that the peppers, too, could be irradiated.  Lesson learned, though, from now on, I’m fully a farmer’s market or garden lady when it comes to peppers!

Cracked packed pickled peppers

Cracked packed pickled peppers

You can use any kind of hot peppers to make this recipe, but I prefer to either use peppers hotter than I can normally eat, or to mix in a couple super hots to whatever I’m making.  I also tend to ferment different peppers separately (I don’t mix my fresnos and my habaneros), because I can always do mixed, test batches later, and if I’m not crazy about the way one tastes when done, or if it’s hotter or not as hot as expected, it won’t blow the whole batch.  That’s totally personal preference, though.  Feel free to mix away.

hot pepper sauces

The final products and one just getting started. Clockwise from back left: serrano, habanero, ring of fire cayenne, cherry bomb and fresno, a mix of goodies.

FERMENTED, AGED HOT PEPPER SAUCE

Yield will depend on how much brine you include in the final product, but generally, 1 pint-3/4 of a quart

If you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts of fermented pickling, please read my pickles FAQ before getting started.

Equipment

  • Quart Jar
  • Food processor or high power blender (Vitamix would be ideal, but, sadly, I don’t have one so I use my Cuisinart which does a great job!)
  • Vinyl or rubber gloves

Ingredients

  • 3.5 packed cups whole hot peppers of your choosing (fresnos, cayenne, habanero and jalapeños work particularly well, but you can use anything), stems and green caps removed
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • (optional) additional seasonings, cloves, star anise, mustard seeds, brown sugar, etc
  • Brine (1 T salt dissolved in 2 cups room temp water)

Process

  1. If using seasonings, place in bottom of jar.
  2. Pack peppers and garlic into jar, as tightly as possible.
  3. Pour brine over and ensure that pepper are submerged under brine, using your preferred method to submerge vegetables and cover the jar. You want to use as little brine as possible here, so be sure that your peppers are well packed in.  It’s okay if they crack here and there while you’re packing them in.
  4. Allow to ferment for at least two weeks and up to 8 (or really, a year if you’d like).  If you want to stop there are just eat this hot peppers as pickles, go for it!  At 3 months, my serranos where still perfectly crispy.
  5. Once fermentation is complete, drain and reserve brine and place peppers and garlic in a food processor, removing any whole spices first. Process for 2-3 minutes, or until very liquidy.
  6. Add brine a tablespoon at a time until it reaches desired consistency. For a liquid, tabasco-style sauce, add it all. I like a sriracha consistency, so I usually add back between a quarter and a half cup of brine.
  7. Run the puree through a food mill or fine mesh strainer.  I work with a pretty awesome OXO fine mesh strainer (you can use metal here) and a spatula, stirring and pressing until my pepper dregs are quite dry.
  8. This is one ferment that keeps almost indefinitely.  I have sauces that are over a year old in my fridge, and they still taste great!

Like spicy things? How about some Hot Pepper Flakes or Kimchi?