Monday, June 29, 2015

More Ways to Save Summer Bounty

Last week I shared a recipe for pickled haricots verts, those thin green beans that are hard to preserve by regular freezing or canning. This week, I will offer some more ideas for saving summer's bright, fresh flavors for later use.

The first tool in your "saving summer" arsenal should be a good grasp of how to make "quick" pickles. Just about any fresh vegetable can be pickled this way, and the finished pickles will keep in the refrigerator for at least a month unopened. You should not use quick pickle recipes as a substitute for canned pickles. Canning recipes often have a stronger pickling brine, and the pickles require processing to give them shelf life. Processing times can vary depending upon the type of vegetable and amount of sugar in the recipe. If you want canned pickles, follow published recipes to the letter. Experimentation is not a great idea. In fact, it can be deadly if you make a serious mistake. Stick with published recipes, or keep pickles in the refrigerator.

Universal Pickling Solution

Having a recipe on hand that can be used to pickle any type of vegetable allows you to take advantage of seasonal abundance, or a special purchase from the farmer's market. Here is the recipe I always start with:

1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup distilled water
1 tablespoon pickling salt

If you want a sweet pickle, add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the mixture.

You can also add various spices and flavorings: mustard seed, celery seed, allspice, coriander seed, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, etc. Choose whatever seems to go well with the vegetable. Beets go well with cinnamon and cloves, beans seem to like dill, and mustard seed goes with cucumbers and just about everything else.

You can reduce the amount of salt or increase the amount of sugar, but it is important to keep the ratio of vinegar and water at 1:1. The acidity of the vinegar is doing the heavy lifting of preserving the pickles. You can substitute other vinegar, such as apple cider, wine or malt, but make sure the label says the vinegar contains at least 5 percent acidity. Do not use raw or homemade vinegars.

Using brown sugar will produce a "bread and butter" pickle flavor.

I use distilled water because our tap water contains a lot of minerals. These will tend to darken the color of the pickled vegetables, but are otherwise harmless. I like my pickles to retain the bright colors of the vegetables.

To make pickles, fill a clean pint jar with vegetables, trimmed to whatever size and shape you prefer. Combine the pickling solution ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, if used. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes, then pour the hot liquid over the vegetables in the jar. Flavorings can be added to the jar with the vegetables, or cooked with the pickling liquid. The latter procedure will tend to intensify the flavor, while the former will be milder and mellower.

Some vegetables will benefit from blanching, prior to placing them in the jar. Blanching not only tenderizes crisp vegetables (celery root, carrots) but also helps to preserve their bright colors (green beans, snap peas, asparagus). To blanch, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop in the prepped vegetables. When the water returns to a boil, set a timer. Blanching time is 1 to 3 minutes, depending upon how dense the vegetable is. Test a piece with the edge of a metal spoon, beginning after 1 minute. If it cuts with just a little resistance, it is done. Drain the vegetables in a colander and immediately plunge them into ice water. Allow to sit for 1 minute, then drain thoroughly again and place in the jar.

When the jar is cool, cover with a lid and place in the refrigerator. Allow at least a week for the flavor to develop. After opening, use the pickles within two weeks.

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