My food-preservation skills have definitely increased since I first tackled marmalade in January with only the vague suspicion that marmalade had something to do with citrus. Similarly, I wasn’t sure what cold pack preserving was, but I knew it had something to do with preserving food that was… umm… cold? Yes, definitely cold.
“Why would you pickle a perfectly good strawberry?” My mother asked me.
Moments earlier, she’d been telling me that I had become a better cook than her (which I protest—adamantly so), and I had texted her a picture of my latest project: pickled strawberries. In the jars, the strawberries looked like rubies against darkness of the balsamic vinegar. I had been rather enamored with their appearance, which is what prompted me to send her the picture. Without knowing what was in the jars, she suggested that the picture was proof I was a better cook. (Again, proposition rejected!)
Once I told her what I had done to those 2½ pound of perfectly good strawberries though, I lost all credibility and comments about my cooking prowess ceased.
The entire month of April seems to have flown by, and I’m staring at today’s date wondering where each of those the days has slipped away to. Maybe they’re hiding with all the months that have already disappeared into 2017. What hasn’t vanished is my interest in expanding my canning repertoire. The skill for the April Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is quick pickles.
I know that pickling vegetables was a way that homesteaders historically preserved many vegetables and other miscellanies (pickled pigs feet anyone?) through the winter, but I have never much cared for pickles. As a child, I hated them, and as an adult, I have come to occasionally nosh on a pickle or two if they are served on the side of my sandwich. I’ve just never much cared for them. Heck, I still have a jar of pickled zucchini and yellow squash from two summers ago in my stash of canned goods. If pickles were people, they would be the acquaintances to whom I’m polite and friendly but rarely seek out to chat about where all those sneaky April days had vanished to.
One of my foster kiddos, however, loves pickles. She was as interested at the idea of making her own batch of pickles as she was disappointed that we weren’t growing cucumbers in the garden. So, we walked to the grocery store, picked out some cucumbers and other ingredients for the refrigerator dill pickles, and had at it. Let me tell you, making two pints of quick pickles was as snappy as this month has already been. The cucumbers were swimming in their pickling brine and into the fridge before we knew it. We left them to stew for a few days, and we busted them out for our black-bean burgers this weekend. Even I enjoyed them enough to have two, and that admission has to be saying something for any pickling fiends out there. Maybe I’ll have to try out a few more quick pickle recipes.
One of the homey skills I’ve always wanted to learn is how to make cheese. I may have too much of an affinity for cheese (never mind cake), but this desire has been as deeply rooted as it has been unsuccessful. Sure, I only tried to make cheese once, or twice if you count my attempt to fix said failure. In those attempts, I never made anything close to resembling cheese. Instead, I made a somewhat goopy milk and cream mixture. The unsuccessful cheese has lingered away in the back of my mind as something to be overcome… at some point in the future. Well, the future has arrived, my friends! And it’s a cheesy as I am!
The Food in Jars Mastery Challenge is well under way, and I finished out the month by making a batch of roasted garlic jelly and Herbes de Provence wine jelly on my day off on Wednesday. I desperately needed the time to myself to be crafty and do my own thing, and I wanted to add just a few more jellies to my mastery challenge. I already made the sour cherry jelly and lavender wine jelly earlier this month for the challenge.
I’m participating in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, and the March skill is jelly or shrubs. I’ve never made jelly (I typically prefer jams), and I had to google what a shrub is (a sugary fruit-vinegar combination used in cocktails or tonic water). I have a tendency to go a little overboard when it comes to challenges; for example, I made three marmalades in January over the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. With the chaos of foundation repairs, new flooring, a wood stove, seven yards of dirt in the driveway, and taking in a new foster kiddo, I managed to carve out time on Sunday to make two jellies and a shrub. Yep, I’m a touch crazy and surprisingly not too tired.
In addition to making the soup base for the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, I also made a herb-lemon-zest salt based on this recipe. I like the idea of creating an herb salt with whatever sad leftover herbs I have in the fridge, so it seemed a useful recipe to try out for the salt-preserving element of the challenge. In addition, I frequently (though I shouldn’t) have extra herbs in the garden that I could utilize for this type of preservation.
The recipe was as easy and forgiving as described. The most difficult part of the recipe was the endless dicing of the herbs to get them to the uniform size I wanted. This type of slicing and dicing sometimes causes a flare in the pain in my hand, and it did this time. This pain is probably why the herbs tend to wither in the fridge or in the garden. At the same time, the rewards can be so great! A day of a stiff hand is worth it. Besides, the vibrant yellow and green against the white was such a lovely visual experience.
The ingredients took significantly longer to dry out than 48 hours. I should have popped them in the oven, but I was getting ready for a trip to Atlanta, so I just left them out to dry. When I returned, they were as crispy and crunchy as the recipe promised they would be. Half of the batch is for my friend who is doing the challenge with me, and the other half is for me to experiment with at will. I think it’d be quite tasty on some steamed or roasted veggies.
I’m not sure whether I’m done with the salt-preserving challenge. I hadn’t realized how versatile salt preserving could be, and I have a hankering to try out salt-preserved lemons for use in hummus and possibly soups. At the same time though, February has been a busy month, and March doesn’t look much kinder.
I hope your February experiments and adventures have gone as well as mine!