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Archive for August, 2009

I have a passion for both spicy food and comfort food, so I’ve come to love chile rellenos.  What I don’t like about them is how fatty they can be.  I decided to try a variation on chile rellenos with Southern favorite filling:  shrimp and grits.  Instead of a stuffing the chile with cheese and deep-frying it, I made a somewhat lighter, healthier version.  Okay, I admit it, “somewhat” is a key word here. Anyway, you get the corn you might find in tamales, a bit of the traditional chile rellenos cheese, and lots of shrimp!

Pictures and details posted in the future.


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I’ll be posting more pickle recipes in 2010.  Come back to visit in July and August!

In just 3 days, Sunday through Tuesday, I picked 16 pounds of cucumbers from my garden.  Then I picked 7 more pounds from Friday through today (Sunday again). DSCN1957 It all started when I went out of town last week and neglected to tell my husband that he needed to be picking cucumbers.  Some had gotten pretty big by the time I went through on Sunday.  I made 7 pints of dill relish:  mmmmmmm.  I saved some of the smaller cucumbers and then made sure I stayed on top of picking for a few days.  Voila!  Perfectly sized dills–7 quarts, to be precise.  My next cucumbers are destined to be sweet relish (for the big ones I missed) and bread-and-butter pickles, for the medium-sized ones.

Home canning is easy and inexpensive, as long as you focus on canning things you’ll actually like eating.  I like pickles, so I grow cucumbers.  Having tried a lot of different varieties like “homemade pickles,” “little tyke,” and “pickalot,” over the years, I have to say that this year’s crop of “endeavor” has been the best ever.  I suspect it may be a combination of good rain and variety.  You just can’t beat a Kirby like “endeavor” for the traditional warty look.  The overwhelming majority of my more-than twenty pounds of  cucumbers I’ve picked this week are “endeavor,” from a single seed packet I purchased from Renee’s Garden:  http://www.reneesgarden.com/seeds/packpg/veg/cucumber-endeavor.htm Yep, from a single $2.69 seed packet plus shipping, I’ve already picked in the vicinity of 25 pounds of cucumbers in just a few weeks.

I’ll leave relish for a future posting.  Here I want to talk about how easy making dill pickles can be.  Start by gathering your equipment:

canner or other very large stockpot

glass jars that will accept canning lids

Note:  mayonnaise jars work well and are free–after you buy and eat the mayo!  Since we are using the boiling water method, not pressure canning, any sturdy jars will do.  Use only real Mason jars, though, in pressure canners.

new canning lids, with rubber softened in hot but not boiling water.

Do not use old lids.  They’ll fail to seal, and you’ll waste money.

canning screw rims

cucumbers

garlic

dill seed

vinegar

canning salt

Begin by washing your jars well.  When you think you’ve washed them well, wash them again.  Do you think I’m kidding?  My neighbor delivered what appeared to be a beautiful jar of home-canned pears last fall.  A month later, I noticed a green glob growing inside the jar.  She had definitely not followed good hygiene. Now put your well-washed jars, open side up, in your well-washed canner or stockpot, with about an inch of water in the bottom.  Turn on the heat, put on the lid, and let the jars steam to clean them some more.

Now wash your cucumbers really well.  I recommend giving them a quick rinse and then plopping them in a clean sink full of water, so you can scrub them one by one.  You’ll be amazed at how much dirt comes off!  Then rinse again.  Now trim off a tiny slice at both the stem and blossom ends.

Coarsely chop enough garlic to have at least one big clove per pint or two per quart.

Get out your dill seed.  We’ll need a tablespoon per pint, two per quart.

In  large pot, mix together equal quantities of good-quality apple cider vinegar and water to start your brine.  You’ll need about 0.625 cups of each (water and vinegar) + 1 tablespoon canning salt per pint, or about 1 1/4 cups of each liquid plus 2 tablespoons salt per quart.  Heat up the brine to boiling.

While it heats, take your hot, sterilized jars and put them on a clean surface.  Start stuffing in your cucumbers, beginning with the largest.  If you need to quarter a few to make them fit better, feel free!  Then add in your dill seed and garlic.  Make sure you’ve left at least 3/4 inch space at the top of each jar.  Finally, pour in the hot brine, leaving a half inch of space at the top of the jar.

Wipe the jar rims clean and set on your canning lids.  Now screw on the rims.  Go back and check your screwing job again.  I can usually tighten the rims a bit more.  Finally, place the jars in the canner, cover them with at least an inch or two over the top, and turn your burner on high.  When the water starts boiling, start timing ten minutes.  When the ten minutes is up, turn off the burner and carefully lift out the jars and set them on towels or a rack to cool.  Do not disturb them, and especially don’t touch the lid!

Pop! That’s the sound you should hear for each jar you’ve canned.  That’s the lid sealing.  Be patient.  The jars that are on the edges of your cooling area will most likely seal much sooner than those on the interior.  Okay, now walk away for about 24 hours.  Then remove the screw rims and store your pickles.

Remove the rims?!?  Why? Here’s a great tip I learned from my grandmother and Alton Brown:  If the screw rim is on and your canned product goes bad, how will you know?  If the screw rim is off, the bad product will pop the lid.

Last year, we put up several dozen jars (half pint, pints, and quarts) of cucumber pickles, specifically sweet and dill relish, bread-and-butter pickles, and dill pickles.  We like pickles, so for us it’s a really good deal!

Quick tip for locavores wanting to eat falafel with tzatziki in the winter:  instead of using fresh cucumber with added dill and lemon with your yogurt, instead use well-drained dill relish or finely chopped dill cucumber.  After all, it’s still cucumber, dill, and an acid;  it’s just not lemon!

Have a question about pickling or canning?  Post here, and I’ll try to answer it!

Here are a few answers to search questions that may have led you here.

*Pickles should be processed in boiling water canners, not pressure canners.  Pressure canners are overkill.

*You need enough hot vinegar or vinegar brine to cover the cucumbers completely in the jar and leave just a little head space.

*If your lids did not seal, you have two options.  Let’s talk first about why the lids didn’t seal, so you can avoid the same problems in the future.  Two–maybe three–things could have happened.

1.  Did you make sure to wipe and wipe again the jar rims before you put on the lids?

2.  Were your lids old?  Make sure to use those that are only a year or at most two years old.

3.  Did you re-use lids?  Bad, bad, bad.  Don’t do that again!

Okay, so I now count four problems.

4.  Did you warm (but not boil) the lids in water before you put them on?

Next thing you should do is figure out what to do with your unsealed lids.  First, do give them at least 12 hours to seal.  Sealing time can vary widely based on temperatures.  If your jars are showing total sealing failure, with pickles you would probably be safe to try again with new lids, but remember that you’ll be boiling your cucumbers twice and may not like the results.  Instead, I recommend putting the poorly sealed jars in the fridge and, for pickles, using within a month.  (I’d use other home-canned products much more quickly.)

What about cloudy liquid in the pickle jars?

If the cloudy liquid appeared almost immediately, it is probably a mineral/metallic reaction.  Aluminum bowls and spoons or pots can react with the brine and cause this problem.  Using regular salt instead of canning salt can cause it too.  Hard water can also cause a cloudy reaction Neither of the three is serious.  They affect appearance not quality.

If, however, you have any questions about your process and the cloudiness developed over a longer period of time, you should consider whether the pickles are going bad.  First, make sure that you have removed the screw rims.  Bad product will usually pop the lid open eventually.  Smell the finished product.  Does it smell bad?  Don’t eat it.  Is the skin portion of the cucumber slimy?  Don’t eat it.

Should you use store-bought cucumbers to make pickles?

Generally, you should not use store-bought cucumbers for pickles.  First, most store cucumbers are not pickling cucumbers.  They are designed for fresh eating.  Second, because store-bought cucumbers take a long time to go from farm to distributor to store to your kitchen, they are generally coated with wax.  This wax will prevent the pickling mixture from penetrating.  You can try to scrub it off, but chances are you’ll still end up with an inferior product.  If you can get locally grown cucumbers from your farmer’s market, I would consider using those.  Just check the variety to make sure they are good for pickling.

For more on this question, see the “comments” section and my correspondence with Barbara in Canada.

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Hiatus Explained

Well, dear readers, you may have noticed that I hit the blog ground running pretty well and then disappeared.  Like many historic homesteaders, I make most of my cash off the homestead, in my case as an educator.  Long story short, this blog fell by the wayside when I found myself teaching an overload while fighting the flu.  All of my spare energy went into keeping the garden going.  Yes, we were still living and eating as sustainably as possible, but I couldn’t sustain the blog too.

I’m pleased to report:  I’m back!

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