Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I guess it must be... Salsa & Pickle-Time!

Long has my quilting languished... summertime is just not the right time I guess - although I miss it and think of it all the time and scheme and plan - but somehow it just is not happening. Instead, other projects - like a bathroom remodel, long-delayed and learning how to can stuff from the garden!

Large jar of fresh salsa & one of six pint jars of escabeche
(obviously neither of these are going to make it to storage)

I searched for canning jars - on the 3rd or 4th try I finally found some - at an Ace Hardware. I picked them up on Saturday. Sunday was going to be the day to can. It makes me smile now to think I thought I was going to get it all done on Sunday. All I got done on Sunday was 6 pint jars of escabeche. I made salsa on Monday. And today I made 3 jars of bread and butter pickles. That pace is not to be admired - but it's all I could manage. Now I feel like I'm getting somewhere though - gaining confidence... but I gotta say, I was completely intimidated and bewildered by the whole thing a couple days ago. I guess since I'm now posting some pictures it's a sign that I conquered my fear... but a couple days ago I was absolutely freaked.

My nephew turned me on to the USDA site where they (as is customary for a government agency) produced a huge manual detailing the science of safe food preservation - who knew there were seven major categories of food preservation. well, actually - that manual was specific to canning -- it didn't even include things like salt-curing and smoking and whatever else there is (freezing, I guess). But as is also customary for all types of instructions - it was heavy on the useless, impractical technical details, and too light on the really practical details which would actually be a huge help to have broken down. For example, what do you do if you put your jars in to the hot bath and the water doesn't cover the lids? Or what happens if your rack breaks as you're lowering your jars into the boiling water?! Honestly, my main pickling virgin observation was that it was way more of a "vinegar-y" experience than I had anticipated. Have you inhaled vinegar steam lately? It will do a number on your lungs, let me tell ya.

In the end I guess I figured out that (in a nutshell) you have to:
1) prep your raw ingredients (pick, clean, trim, cut, etc. and only pick as much as you can reasonably process in one day)
2) get the processing pot going (the big pot of water for the hot water bath or whatever it's called)
3) prep the "sauce" or whatever the fluid is that you're going to cook and/or can your veggies in, and   have a system for getting everything clean and hot right before assembly.
4) have enough conventional burners (I only have two)  with which to cook the vast array of large pots you're gonna need.

On the first day, god created escabeche. (And I haylped!) No, actually what I did was follow a recipe which called for vinegar only (no water) and it was waaaay strong. After I opened the first jar, i diluted it with some water and it's quite delightful today. I think I just might be able to do this.

On the second day, god made fresh garden salsa. This, I know how to do... I follow this recipe and then add a bunch of other shit to it. It is delicious.

salsa in the blend.
my old stand-by salsa recipe - not at all how I remembered it actually.

On day 3, God said, "Now... on to the pickles!"

Not-so-very elegant row of ingredientses.
I did not break the bank on fancy brand spices. I have not yet decided if that's something I should or should not do. I did buy sugar in the raw though. $4 a box is a little steep.

the sugar, vinegar & spice blend cookin' on the stove top.

Topped off a jar of bread and butter pickle spears with the remaining onions...
Upon seeing this I had the thought: I don't see why I shouldn't just pickle
a whole jar of onions. These look delightful.

Ginormous pot of boiling water for "processing" the jarred pickles.

Honestly, this was a pain. It didn't really fit on my stove and displaced everything else I was trying to cook on the stove, and never had quite enough water and always came to a boil too early, and then too late... and THEN i found blogs where people more experienced than I were saying "I never hot water bathe my pickles because they are sitting in a frickin' brine and (cause they're pickles), and if you hot water bathe them they turn mushy!" And then I was like, "oh great. I wish I would have read that sooner." but it's all good. Now I know how to do it and I guess it's not THAT big of a deal.

the finished product: a quite beautiful jar of bread and butter pickles.
And the finished product is very rewarding. We will see how they hold up in storage for a few months -
if they make it that long!

meanwhile, the garden keeps cranking it out...
today's modest haul. 5 bambino eggplant, 12 squash blossoms,
a kung-pao and a jalapeno pepper, a 'test' purple carrot
still not able to keep up with it at this point.

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