Maryland's farms are just about ready to start cranking out good fresh food this spring, and very quickly we're going to be washed away in a food avalanche. Since we can't possibly eat everything we'd like to buy, we have to have a plan B. There's no better expert than Chef JP of Schola Cooking School, and he says it's never to early to start thinking about preserving the bounty.
The reason we preserve food by canning is first, to take advantage of the bounty of the harvest and store up the surplus food from a given season; and secondly to follow steps that will prevent the growth of a very nasty bacteria called Clostridium botulinum that can make you very sick indeed. As it happens, this killer bacteria cannot exist in a high acid environment. So many foods, such as tomatoes have a low enough pH to kill off the buggers. But many alkaline or low acid foods don't have this advantage.
We traditionally have used hot water to kill off unwanted contaminants. This particular bacteria can be killed off at a temperature of 240°, but since water boils at 212°, how can you accomplish that sterilization? The answer is to boil the water under pressure. This bit of chemistry is accomplished with the pressure cooker, or its near relative the pressure canner. It enables us to put food in glass jars, seal them up and immerse them in very hot 240° water for long enough to kill the bacteria.
Foods that are naturally high in acid need only to be put in a canning jar, sealed up, and immersed in a boiling 212° water bath. [Note: there is a lot more to these procedures than we are relating here. Be sure to read up on canning protocols before you try it at home.] You can also help the pH situation by introducing an acidic pickling brine to the process. This not only lowers the pH to a safe level, but it opens an entire spice rack of ingredients that can flavor the vinegars and the pickled food.
Here are some pickling and canning ideas that Jerry came up with.
1. Don’t use jars larger than a quart. Home canning technology cannot guarantee that larger quantities will be sufficiently heated through for enough time. Rather, the food on the outside will overcook, while that on the inside won’t get hot enough for food safety.
2. A water-bath canner may only be used for high acid foods such as tomatoes, fruits, rhubarb, sauerkraut, pickles, and jams/jellies. A pressure canner MUST be used for low acid foods including vegetables, meats, and stews.
3. Use only modern canning recipes from reliable sources (especially when first starting out).
4. Never reuse jar lids. Used lids aren’t reliable for sealing correctly. If a screw-on band is rusty or bent, it won’t work right and should be discarded and replaced. 5. Don’t use antique or ‘French’ -type canning jars. They aren’t as safe as the modern, regular ‘Ball, Kerr’ type.
6. Check the jar rims carefully every year by running your finger over the top of the rim and checking for nicks. Even the tiniest nick makes the jar unusable for canning. A nicked jar rim won’t seal reliably.
7. Raw pack is not safe for certain foods: all kinds of greens (spinach, etc.), white potatoes, squash, okra, a tomato/okra combination, and stewed tomatoes.
8. You must allow the correct amount of space (head-space) between your food, together with the liquid that covers it, and the jar lid (follow the recipe instructions).
9. Do not begin counting the processing time until after the water in the canner comes to a rolling boil (if using the water-bath method), or until after steam has vented for 10 minutes AND until the pressure gauge has risen to the recommended pressure after placing the weight on the vent pipe (if using a pressure canner).
10. Process the full recommended time (and at the recommended pressure if using pressure canner).
11. Lift out each jar individually using a jar lifter; keep it upright and not tipped.
12. If a jar did not seal, discard the lid, check to see if the jar rim is chipped (discard jar), check for food residue on the rim (clean), put on a new lid, and reprocess. Or consume the food and/or put in the refrigerator as you would any other leftover food for later consumption.
Asparagus with Tarragon & Red Onion
1 ½ cups champagne vinegar
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
5 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 red onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring, until solids are dissolved. Remove from heat and add tarragon and shallot. Let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, arrange asparagus in a tall 24oz. Ball wide mouth canning jar. Pour brine on top. It should be enough to cover the asparagus. If not make up a small amount of 1:1 water to champagne vinegar and add just enough to submerge the asparagus. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Ramps with Juniper & Black Peppercorns
1 ½ cups champagne vinegar
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
5 juniper berries
1 tablespoon black peppercorns.
1 pound ramps, green leaves cut off (quickly blanche the leaves and use them in place of basil in your favorite pesto recipe)
In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring, until solids are dissolved. Add the juniper and black pepper and boil for an additional 2 minutes. Add the ramps and boil for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand 5 minutes. Place the ramps and brine in a canning jar and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Spicy Pickled Radishes
1 large bunch radishes, about 1 lb. without tops
1 cup white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon whole mustard seeds
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
Slice off the tops and bottoms of the radishes, then use a sharp chef's knife or mandoline to slice the radishes into very thin rounds. Pack the rounds into a pint-sized canning jar. In a small saucepan, combine all the remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, then pour the mixture over the radishes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The pickles will keep well in the refrigerator for several weeks, although they are in their most fresh and crisp state for about 5 days after pickling.
Pickled Baby Beets
1 lb. baby beets, peeled and sliced in half
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon whole coriander seed
1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
1 tablespoon whole black pepper corn
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ cup yellow onion sliced
½ cup sugar
2 cups champagne vinegar (or similar)
Combine the vinegar with 2 cups water in a sauce pan. Add all of the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Pack the beets into a container with a lid large enough to hold them.
Pour the pickling liquid over the beets, cover and place in the refrigerator.
Allow to pickle for at least two days. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Bread & Butter Pickles
3 pounds crisp cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic sliced in half
2 cups white vinegar
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you’d like!)
Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric in a large saucepan set over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Fill your sterilized canning jars with the cucumbers and onions, leaving about ½ inch space from the top of the jars. Pour the vinegar mixture over the cucumbers and onions to fill the jars. Seal the jars according to manufacturer's instructions. Store in the refrigerator and allow to sit for several days before opening to allow the flavors to fully develop. Best served chilled.
2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled
4 cups white sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
In a wide bowl, crush strawberries in batches until you have 4 cups of mashed berry. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, mix together the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to high, and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees F (105 degrees C). Transfer to hot sterile jars, leaving ¼ to ½ inch headspace, and seal. Process in a water bath. If the jam is going to be eaten right away, don't bother with processing, and just refrigerate.
MAKES 1 PINT
8 ounces ramps
2 dried red chiles
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup white wine vinegar ½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Trim greens from ramps; reserve for another use—like pesto! Pack bulbs into a heatproof 1-pint jar along with dried red chiles, bay leaves, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns. Bring white wine vinegar, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve. Pour over ramps to cover. Seal jar. Let cool, then chill.
Pickled Asparagus – it is worth seeking out the Ball 1.5 pint canning jars for asparagus. They allow you to leave the asparagus long but not can large numbers of them!
About 5 pounds asparagus, thin to medium-thick
2 ¼ cups white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons salt
6 garlic cloves, slivered
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 bay leaf (preferably fresh but dry will work) per jar
¼ teaspoon coriander seed
Cut bottoms off asparagus to make them fit upright in a 1.5 pint jar. Asparagus tips should be at least ½ inch below lid. (Reserve bottoms for another use.)
Pour about 2 inches water into a skillet large enough to hold asparagus lying down; bring to a boil. In batches, blanch asparagus: place in skillet, bring water back to a boil, and then immediately remove and run under very cold water or dunk in ice water. Set aside to drain.
Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan with 2 ¼ cups water and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally and cook just until salt dissolves; turn off heat. Prepare 4 clean, hot 1.5 pint jars and bands, and new lids. (Dip in boiling water, or run through dishwasher.) When jars are dry but still hot, pack asparagus into them, wedging spears in tightly. There should be enough for 3 or 4 full jars: do not half-fill jars. Pour in vinegar solution, just to barely cover tips of asparagus. Make sure to leave ½ inch air space above vinegar solution. Distribute garlic slivers and spices evenly among jars. Wipe rims with a clean paper towel dipped in hot water, place lids on top and screw on bands. (Not too tight, just firmly closed.)
Prepare a boiling-water bath in a deep pot with a rack. Place jars on rack and pour water over them, making sure water covers jars by 2 to 3 inches. Bring water back to a rolling boil over high heat, start a timer for 10 minutes, then reduce heat and gently boil. When timer goes off, turn off heat and wait 5 minutes before removing jars with jar lifter or tongs. Let cool on counter, untouched, 4 to 6 hours. After 12 to 24 hours, check seals: lift each jar up by the lid, and press the lid to make sure the center is sucked down tightly.
Store in a cool, dark, dry place (not refrigerator) for 4 weeks before using, or up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening. To serve, drain off pickling liquid and arrange asparagus on plates.
Pickled Vegetable Condiment
Vegetables – these can be whatever you like. Below are some suggestions. This recipe is for pickling 5 cups of vegetables, so as long as you start with a total of 5 cups, the mix is up to you.
Green peas, fresh
Radish, sliced into thin disks
Green chillies, cut into thin discs
Lime & Lemon – cut into thin discs
Ginger, shaved thin on a mandolin
Garlic, sliced thin
1 medium spring onion, cut into ½ inch dice
2 Tablespoons Turmeric powder
1 Tablespoon Fenugreek
1 Tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon ground
Whole red chillies – the number used depends on the level of heat you want. We use between 3 and 6 small medium hot chillies.
1 Tablespoon Fennel seeds
1 Tablespoon Cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon Coriander seeds
Whole Spice Mix:
5 whole cloves
3 whole green cardamom pods
10 whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, lightly crushed
1 Tablespoon nigella seeds
½ cup salt
1 cup Mustard oil (or any bland oil such as canola will work)
½ cup White vinegar
Wash and cut all the vegetables (except onion) in desired size as mentioned. If you want you can keep the size of vegetables bigger, provided you have large jars to store the pickles. Dry the vegetables thoroughly with kitchen towels. In a big bowl, add all the vegetables (except onion), salt and turmeric. Mix it very well and allow to sit for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
Once the vegetables have shed their water, drain the salted liquid by placing the vegetables in a large colander. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and spread the vegetables out in an even layer. Place them in an oven set on the lowest temperature possible and allow to dry for one hour.
Dry roast the red chillies, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and fennel seeds in a pan set over low heat until they become aromatic, about ten minutes.
Grind them to a fine powder
Heat 1 tbsp of oil, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and nigella seeds and let it splutter. Then add the onions and lightly sauté them till the onions become translucent. Switch off the heat and to this add further the ground spice mix Let it stand for two -three minutes. Separately heat the remaining oil and add this to the oil-onion-spice mix. Place all the vegetables in a large mixing bowl, add the whole spices (cloves, cardamom, peppercorns and cinnamon, then add the warm oil and spice mix.
Combine well then stir in the vinegar. Once it is cooled enough, store the pickle in air tight jars. The pickle should be immersed in oil, if not then heat some more oil, cool it and then pour directly in the jar. Oil acts as a barrier between pickles and air. It inhibits the fungal growth. This pickle will last for months in the refrigerator and the flavor improves with age.
Radish in Chili Oil
2 lbs radishes, washed and cut into ¼ inch julienne
½ cup chopped ramps or spring onion
4 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Sambal
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of sugar
Mix the radishes and salt together in a large bowl and allow to stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Drain the radishes, rinse briefly in cold water and dry on paper towels. In a sauce pan set over medium heat, bring the soy sauce and sugar to a boil. Add the ramps and cook for one minute.
Remove from the heat and stir in the Sambal and sesame oil. Stir the oil and onion mixture over the radishes and pack the radishes with all of the liquid into a jar with an airtight lid. Seal the jar and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 24 hours. Refrigerate for three days before using. This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.