Monday, September 7, 2009

what a crock of pickles

sorry, but I relish the pun. oh dear...

I've wanted to make proper lacto-fermented pickles for a couple of years now but hadn't made the leap until this past week. Partially this is because I am lucky enough to have Real Pickles local and available at my Co-op. Also, though it took me a while to realize this, I was held back by the lack of a proper fermenting crock. Now, I know you can make pickles in a jar or even a food-grade plastic bucket but I have this, some might say endearing, need to have projects look a certain way. Cooking should be done with the right apron, oatmeal should be stirred with the right spoon, picnics should be on the right blanket. It's not a need to buy things - truly the things that are right are often hand-made - it's a need to have the tools that have the right soul to do the job, if that makes any sense. It's as if the children will sleep better if they are under a blanket I knit, the water will taste colder if it is poured from a pitcher I bought from a potter at a local fair, and the pickles will ferment best if in the right crock. I think part of what held me back from trying to make them was the lack of the right vessel. Like it or not, silly or wise, I just could not get excited about a plastic bucket of pickles. The ceramic crocks are expensive and heavy so the shipping is beastly. So I continued to buy pickles.

This last week two wonderful things coincided; my pickling cukes started to flourish in the garden and I was gifted my dream pickling crock. This clay pot belong to a friend who Andy and I used to live with. I always loved it and when she asked if I wanted it because she was trying to clear out the house a bit I was so pleased. I did, however, have a moment of remorse while driving home wondering if I was was taking clutter from someone else's house into my own. Would this just be a "pretty" collecting dust or could I make use of it? I put it on the shelf and then went out to survey the garden.

The pieces clicked mentally into place. It was a crock. A big crock. With a wide mouth and a lid. Hello pickles!

I used the method outlined in Wild Fermentation and they came out so well. I weighed a plate down with a boiled rock (which Miryam loved "um...mama...are you cooking a stone?") to keep the pickles under the surface of the brine and in a week we started eating them. Made my own cukes, with local garlic and dill - they are so tasty and I am so proud. Andy had some friends over to play cards and they ate them along with their beer. I knew that pickle making was simple but I was actually quite amazed at such stellar results from something so dead easy. If you haven't given it a try, get some pickling cucumbers while you can and make some pickles.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

green tomato relish

This is one of those "making lemonade out of lemmons" sort of situations, though specifically we were "making relish out of green tomatoes".

We are a tomato family. At one point in our courtship Andy and I came to the consensus that winter tomatoes were just. not. worth. it. and we never really bought them after that. Canned tomatoes are lovely and in a pinch I can find some cherry tomatoes worth eating in december but, truly, we eat fresh tomatoes locally and in season. The Connecticut River Valley has wonderfully fertile soil and we grow very yummy vegetables (and apparently top of the line tobacco for cigars, but that's another story). Tomatoes, in season, around here are amazing. There are so many heirloom varieties to choose from and one local CSA farm even has a festival in their honor each August with tastings and canning demonstrations.

Really spectacular tomatoes, however, are not cheap. They start out the season at around $5.50 a pound and slowly go down from there. We eat so many that we try to grow a few plants each year to help offset the tomato fund. In the past, other than the year we had a community garden plot, these have been mild successes grown in containers. This year, with plenty of garden space, we planted an ambitious 23 plants. Visions of capri salads, tomato sandwiches and a pantry with row upon row of sauce-filled jars danced in our heads...

Nope. We got tomato blight (think potato blight. think irish famine. same fungus) just like most of the tomato growers around here. It was so sad ripping out all the plants but we were determined to make the most of it so I looked through my files and found this recipe from Farmgirl Fare I had wanted to try. I made it, it was delicious. We thanked the Gods of Abundance that we would have something tomato in the pantry and we canned 10 half pints of it. There was a bit left over which we enjoyed on some burritos. Highly recommended.

It's still a disappointment to look out the kitchen window and see the big whole in the garden landscape. I am proud, however that we were able to make do and make something we might now have made otherwise but really enjoyed.