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August, 2011:

Pickle Problems

Earlier in the week, I had a post that was intended to be my simplified recipe for wild, lacto-fermented dill pickles. It went a little long and still I feel like there are questions to answer so this post is intended as a sort of troubleshooting guide for that recipe. Unless you’re familiar with the process, that I adapted from Sandor Katz’s recipe in Wild Fermentation it’s best to read the original post before this one.

That seems like a lot of cucumbers. Well, yes, half a bushel, or a couple ounces shy of twenty-four pounds is a lot of cucumbers. I’ll update this post later in the year if this turns out to be more than we can eat but this is really where the volume discounts kick in. Two years ago when I bought the cucumbers from the same market vendor by the basket I paid roughly $4/kg ($10 for 2,670 g) but the pre-ordered half bushel worked out to more like $2/kg ($20 for 10,858 g). A full bushel is an even better deal at $35.

I’ll leave the commentary on how this difference illustrates a big hole in the economic model of farmers’ markets for another post.

Cukes like hot weather but also benefit flavour-wise from cooler nights so if you have the choice, like we do in Toronto, between warmer sources (Niagara) or cooler ones (north of the city) go with the latter. I’ve had very good luck with Willowtree Farms from Port Perry, ON and all the prices here are from them. (more…)

Wild Dill Pickles Recipe

Pickles at the one-week mark

Other than bacon, dill pickles may be my most frequent topic for posts. I’ve veered from strictly mainstream with posts about deep-frying pickles and making Jello shooters from the brine (seriously) but in 2009 I also did a background post on my second batch of homemade pickles and then a comparison between mine and similar store-bought pickles. With my fifth batch (in four years) of lacto-fermented, kosher dill pickles fermenting in the crock I think I’ve gained enough experience to offer some guidance to others.

I’m going to do a couple posts this week on these pickles. Today’s will be a straight-up recipe and the second will be a more in-depth troubleshooting post.

What distinguishes this recipe from other dill pickle recipes is that no vinegar is added to the brine. Cucumbers and flavourful ingredients are left in a salty brine for a few weeks at room temperature. “Wild” lactobacilli that are either already present in the container, on one of the ingredients, or land in the brine digest the sugars in the cucumbers and produce lactic acid which flavours the brine and keeps other micro-organisms from taking over.

This recipe is adapted from Sandor Katz’s Sour Pickles in his excellent book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Lve-Culture Foods. Especially since the recipes trick comes from him credit is definitely due in this case. Wild Fermentation is a very useful book that is full of rare gems.

Update: After three weeks in the crock we have pickle success. For the fermenting period (July 30 to August 20) we had daytime temperatures that were roughly average (high 20′s in Celsius) for this time of year in southern Ontario. By the last of the three weeks it had started to get cooler at night (down to about 15C) on a more reliable basis.

By the time I was ready to transfer the pickles to jars the scum on the top of the brine was a slightly darker off-white shade. The pickles were sour, not too salty, had lots of garlic punch, and had a good, if not perfect, crunch.

In jars they’ll last in the refrigerator for about two to three months–some sources even say as long as six.


Pizza Oven Toolbox

Pizza oven tools (l to r): hook, bellows, brass brush, turning peel, and loading peel.

Pizza oven tools (l to r): hook, bellows, brass brush, turning peel, and loading peel.

There are lots of reason to build a pizza oven. The opportunity to “gear up” to use it over the many years that it will last for is one of the biggest ancillary benefits. Here are a few of the essential tools for cooking pizza and a variety of other food in our wood oven.

Loading Peel: This peel is used to load pizzas into the oven. Most build their pies right on this peel, while some pros manage to go from counter to peel, to oven. The most important characteristics of a good loading peel are that its handle is long enough to reach into the hot oven, that the paddle is wide enough to accommodate the largest pizza you want to make (but, obviously, not larger than your oven’s opening), and that the surface of the paddle is really smooth.

Some buy peels made from fancy wood and others go with perforated metal paddles that reduce friction and drop excess flour but both options seem over-the-top to me. Ours came from Tap Phong but Nella also carries ones with long enough handles. (more…)

La Carnita, La Lineup

The Taco Signal

Ninety seconds is how long it took me to inhale the three tacos from yesterday’s La Carnita event. This was the third pop-up event for them where customers buy a piece of art and get three tacos. For this installment they moved from their usual spot at 445 King Street West to the Wellington Avenue front yard of media agency Bensimon Byrne.

Rolling at least as fast as Kramer's Cubans.

Rolling at least as fast as Kramer's Cubans.

La Carnita’s fantastic lime-heavy yucatan pork and Voltron fish tacos (fried Pacific cod and accompaniments), went very well with the spicy braised short rib offering from El Gastronomo Vagabundo. Each taco had two or three complementary, bright, clean flavours that alternated time in the spotlight. At ten bucks and with a groovy piece of art from Gentlemen of Canada thrown in this is a pretty great deal for lunch. (more…)

Zucchini Blossoms

Tempura zucchini blossoms with kimchi dipping sauce

Some food, like asparagus, peaches, and tomatoes we wait all year for and are then treated to several weeks of excess. Deep-fried zucchini blossoms are good enough (and enough trouble to make) that I’m satisfied by a single meal.

Last year I used flowers from my own garden but I feel like this cut into the yield of actual zucchini so I bought a pint of them from the North York Farmers’ Market. One of the girls from Thames River Melons stand was nice enough to put together a container of still closed flowers for me so that they would stay fresh until I was ready for them three days later. They’ll also pick out one of their excellent watermelons for you timed to be ready when you want it.

I forgot to repeat one of the most successful tricks of last year’s version. If you’re not going to the trouble of stuffing the flowers (and I never have) it really is best to cut them in half along the vertical (longest) axis. This way the petals tend to splay randomly outwards and give the light batter an even more interesting texture. (more…)