“Such a beautifully smelly task should be fun, I thought.” -M.F.K. Fisher on her early memories of preserving, The Measure of My Powers 1912, from The Gastronomical Me.
Preserving can be a year-round activity even here in Canada. Last winter I pickled jalapenos, preserved ginger and limes (separately), and made marmalade. Truthfully though, the preserving adventures reach their peak intensity through August and September so this seems like a good time to catalogue the summer’s successes and quietly note the failures.
Serviceberry jam: This early creation that used fruit gleaned from my parents’ front yard has been popular–both with friends and family and with Google searchers. The overnight soak with lemon juice succeeded in rendering powdered pectin redundant. The texture is jam-like though not as perfectly consistent as store-bought but I’ll live. The freezer has worked out as a preserving aid because it means less cooking (no need for heat-processing to kill bacteria) and so far no significant taste degradation. Next year: Larger batch.
Beans and Pearls: I haven’t opened any of the jars I kept of this one but friends report that it is very good. Sort of a catchy name at one point but I don’t think I’ll do this again. If I come across some relatively inexpensive (or even wild mushrooms) and a good recipe I might try marinating or drying mushrooms. Next year: Probably won’t repeat.
Pickled Daikon: Early in the summer a lot of daikon was ready to come out of the garden at one time. Matching the sliced daikon with carrots was a good idea and this pickle tastes pretty good. The only problem is that it smells horribly. Even after only about a week in the fridge and when served on the screened porch (i.e. a fairly breezy environment) at the cottage this pickle had many people asking “what stinks?” I was thinking maybe kimchi would be a better use for the daikon but recipes only seem to call for one or two daikons (I had seven or eight, at least) per head of cabbage. Maybe I’ll just not plant this in the garden next year. Next year: Definitely won’t repeat.
Dill Pickles: Two batches with two slightly different results. Counter-intuitively, I think I had better results from the batch started at the beginning of August–when the cucumbers are just barely in season and the weather is still a bit warmer than desirable for lacto-fermentation–with a lower brine strength (closer to 4% than 5%) than I did with the batch started Labour Day weekend. The September batch produced much more surface scum in the crock and because of weekend scheduling I had to finish the second batch for a week in the jars at cool room temperature. I guess the best solution for next year would be to make a larger batch in between the two dates. Next year: Expanded batch (if logistics allow).
Spiced Apples: The taste of this apple preserve is great but so far I haven’t used very much of it. Maybe that is because we haven’t reached oatmeal-for-breakfast weather so I’ll reserve judgment on this preserve’s utility. Much of this batch’s cachet comes from its use of foraged apples and as I’m finding more apple trees at the cottage that go unharvested I continue to look for good apple recipes. Next year: Uncertain.
Cottage Garden Pickle: This pickle continues to taste excellent especially when it shares a plate (or the space between two pieces of bread) with assertively flavoured foods like sharp cheddar cheese. I don’t know whether I cut the vegetables too coarsely or didn’t cook it for long enough but this has not developed the brown colour or sauce-like texture that Branston Pickle is supposed to have. I don’t care in the slightest. It was only this last weekend that the garden at the cottage was covered in frost for the first time but I am already savouring memories of it and starting plans for next year. This preserve entails a relatively large, callous-inducing amount of work but it so perfectly captures the sweet flavours of summer produce (accented excellently with its spices) that I consider it pretty indispensable already. Next year: Expanded batch and attempt to grow more of the ingredients.
Spicy Nectarine Chutney: This tastes amazing. The whole spices and unpeeled fruit give it a pleasant homemade touch. When I made it I thought it would be good for curries but other miscellaneous uses have blown through the half-jar left over from canning that was in the fridge. Next year: Will repeat in some form possibly with the apricots that the original recipe calls for.
Pink Applesauce: Haven’t tasted this one yet (post-canning) but it is very popular with the Google searchers. And no, sorry guys, I don’t know how to get the burned taste out of applesauce and I hope that mine doesn’t need this magical treatment–if it does exist. Next year: Will repeat.
Tomato Conserva: This stuff is food gold. Just a tiny bit adds a remarkable tomato richness to dishes. The recipe did use a large part of our tomato harvest (10 lbs to make three small jars) but I don’t think we felt deprived of tomatoes. I’ll have to see how I feel about the olive oil on top as a preservative because if it doesn’t work or makes it so difficult to extract conserva that I end up throwing out more than the last bit I’ll be quite disappointed. Next year: Will repeat.
Fermented Hot Sauce: A real success. The sauce has a hot kick but the fermentation really adds something else that helps brighten and enhance the flavours of other foods. Most recently this sauce worked wonders with strips of thick-cut bacon slow-cooked on the bbq. And yes I did eat a couple straight-up just with a bit of sauce and folded over on themselves. I’m glad that unlike dill pickles which need in-season cucumbers I’ll be able to repeat this recipe whenever we run out. Next year: Expanded batch and will try to grow the hot peppers needed. Will repeat with out-of-season hot peppers through the winter.
Pickled Carrots: Another one that I haven’t tasted yet but they look great in the jar. The nice side benefit of preserving whole or large pieces of vegetables is that because the spices and extraneous flavourings can be dropped into the bottom of each jar separately, slightly (or vastly) different versions can be tested with only one batch of vegetables. In this case one of the jars got a healthy pinch of hot pepper flakes. In a classic nod to the best reason for preserving these were the result of a surprise garden bounty. Carrots did much better than I expected them to so next year I’ll experiment with growing a couple different colours and shapes of carrots. Next year: Expanded batch.
Future preserving projects that I want to tackle include preserving meat with its own fat (duck confit and pork rillettes to start), preserving fruit juice using alcohol (hard apple cider), drying fruit (more apples), canning whole fruit in syrup, and pickled eggs. While the season lasted I thought about making a strawberry jam and am a little disappointed that I didn’t get the chance though in this case I’m consoled by the knowledge that the store-bought (or even better market-bought) options are nearly as good and probably less expensive.
Also, I think our behaviour and choices during the “off season” is an over-looked aspect of the ethics of supporting local, healthful food production. Many of the farmers’ markets that we patronise during the summer do shut down for the winter but some, like the St. Lawrence North Market operate all year and the vendors that don’t sell meat tend to emphasise their prepared offerings, like preserves and baked goods, when there aren’t local fruits and vegetables to be harvested. The best apple butter I have tasted came from a vendor in the North Market in January or February.