Summer Ritual

canning-tomatoes-small

I have – in previous posts – described in gory detail my propensity to “collect” items” of food. My shelves, refrigerator, freezer and such bear testimony to this character flaw. I have often thought about why this is – and I’ve determined that it has something to do with that part of my brain that gets immense pleasure at having a good idea – so much pleasure, in fact, that I am immediately able to forget about ever carrying through on the idea itself – just having the idea is utter and complete satisfaction! My whole life has been plagued by this trait, and I ain’t changing it now.

This leaves me as a “food collector”, where it is apparently more satisfying to have all the necessary ingredients for, say, making Chinese dishes, than it is to really make Chinese dishes! Yes, I do on occasion make the Chinese dishes, but no where as rapidly as I put together a collection of the needed ingredients. And so it is with preserving too.

Over the years, I have become – in my own modest opinion – a pretty good preserver. And at this late stage in my years, not only do I have a significant list of items which I fondly remember as personal triumphs of preserving, and therefore worthy of making again, but I also have amassed a significant collection of those same preserves. Well, I need to clarify that – the very, very best do not make it to this collection – they are always quickly used up, and must wait until the next seasonal opportunity. But the marginal items – those which are too good to pitch, but not quite good enough to rise to the top – these are the items which clog my preserve shelves. And without the room to store more jars, I’m reluctant to make more.

But, every year about this time, my inherent preserving instincts make me sensitive to the need to do some preserving. So, what to preserve? Well, I thought I’d start by making a short list of the “preserves” which were stars, and from that list pick those that deserve to be made again. Here’s what I remember most – I’ll be posting some of these as I make them this summer.

  • Crab Apple Jelly – Our neighbor across the street has an old crab apple tree on the corner of her property that is considered by all to be a junk tree – but I know that its tiny 1 inch apples make exquisite jelly. I have always thought jelly to be anything but exquisite, but those crab apples made me a disciple – I love the way its natural pectin makes, without any effort, a perfect jell. But its the taste that is near perfection! No matter how much I make, it always disappears before the year is out.

  • Salsa – Actually, two different kinds: a Texas tomato based salsa; and my own “deconstructed” pineapple/tomato salsa (done from the ingredient list on a Trader Joe’s jar!). It took a looong time to get any cooked salsa that was worthy of spending time in a jar – most cooked salsas are nasty. And to be perfectly honest, both of these in their fresh forms are superior to their jarred forms – but they both are still so much better than most cooked salsas.

  • Peach Jam – My personal favorite, and frankly, not to do something with Oregon’s fantastic peach crop each year is simply a crime – and I say this as a person whose life has been touched by some of the best peaches in America, having had access to peaches in New Jersey, Georgia, and now Oregon. (I’m doing this mid-week)

  • Chutney – Again, we often change the base ingredient, but almost always make a chutney every summer. My very best was done with unripe mangoes, but they are not available hereabouts, so we use alternate fruits, such as apples, plums, pears, whatever. This is amazing stuff – often the base for a wonderful, and easy, accent sauce, done at the last minute – a must-have item!

  • Rutt’s Relish – Another deconstructed adaption of mine, made from my own memory, and from various and sundry descriptions found on the internet, about as close -until now- as you’ll get to finding a recipe online for the relish. This unique, mustard, onion, cabbage, carrot based relish comes from an extraordinarily popular (Trust me!) restaurant in Clifton, New Jersey named Rutt’s Hut, whose hot dogs achieved cult status during the 60s and 70s – but actually, it was Rutt’s Relish that deserved the cult status, and I think I nailed the recipe, which I’ll happily share later this summer.

  • Blueberry-Cinnamon Jam – I have standing orders for this stuff! This is one of those that only lasts a few months, no matter how much you make – mostly, this is true because as folks come visiting, invariably we say, “Wow, you should taste this fantastic jam we just made!” – and of course, you must give them some. Oh well.

  • Roasted Tomatoes – After many years of doing up tomatoes every which way, I now limit my efforts to roasting them, actually, drying them in the oven, and then vacuum packing them for the freezer. Please believe me folks, this process guarantees more flavor than any other way of preserving tomatoes – and frankly, it’s not any more difficult than canning them.

  • Apple Sauce – We have many apple trees in our yard, and most would not get eaten if we didn’t make apple sauce – we make and use 12-15 pints each year, but almost never do we eat straight apple sauce. Most of it is used in baking – almost every muffin or quick bread can be improved by adding a cup of apple sauce – so, why not.

Those are my absolutes – of course, each year they’ll be a few new ones added – most of them I make once and that’s it. Notice I have no pickles – that’s because over the years, I’ve come to realize that I like fresh pickles much more than canned – so, no canned mushy, or chemically crisped pickles. What is a fresh pickle? Well, basically it’s any pickle that must be refrigerated – and because it has never been cooked or marinated in preservatives like vinegar, its fresh flavors come to the front, and are not lost in the process. My favorite is the Jewish Deli staple, the New Pickle. It’s called a New Pickle, because it’s just been made – they are also known as Half Sours, because you are cutting their fermentation (souring) short.

SmallNewPickles

I’ll leave you today with a quick recipe for the beautiful, emerald green New Pickle – I think once you make this, it’ll be a summer regular at your house annually.

Jewish Deli New Pickles (Half Sours)

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 good sized pickling cucumbers

  • about 2 quarts of water

  • 3 Tbs kosher salt

  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, whole, unpeeled, but crushed

  • 1 Tbs pickling spices

  • 3-4 whole bay leaves

  • a few fronds of dill (optional)

Procedure:

  • You’ll need 2 quart canning jars – try to get cucumbers that will fit tightly inside the jars, so that when you put the liquid over them, they won’t float. Run the jars through the dishwasher, or fill with boiling water for 5 minutes – empty and drain.

  • Heat the water to boiling, add the salt and dissolve in the water.

  • Divide the garlic, spices, bay leaves, and dill (if using – New Pickles don’t necessarily have to be “dill” pickles!) between the jars.

  • Put the cucumbers into the jars – try to pack them tightly – if you have trouble, cut one pickle down the middle and squeeze it in the jar.

  • Pour the hot water over the pickles – push the pickles down under the water – loosely cover the jars with their lids, but don’t tighten.

  • Put them in a cool, dark place for 3 days – this will give you “sour” pickles – but some like them after day one – try them each day, and as soon as you like the taste, put them in the refrigerator.

In the refrigerator the fermentation will slow down but not completely stop – the longer they stay there, the more fermented they will become – it’s a matter of taste, but generally, New Pickles are eaten long before fermentation becomes a problem.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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3 Responses to Summer Ritual

  1. Anet says:

    Such memories you evoked. I grew up on an orchard in Wisconsin and the crab apples were always made into jelly. I remember straining and smashing the cooked apple into that funny looking cheap metal strainer (like a conical sieve) that I’m sure my mother got from her mother-in-law when she was taught the recipe. The cotton cloth put inside to catch all the pulp was forever stained a pretty pink.
    A variety of applesauce was cooked up every season to check out the different apples but we rarely preserved the sauce because Dad would put apples down the well pit over the winter — our fancy root cellar. An apple a day . . .
    How about wild gooseberry jelly? That was my Grandmother’s favorite.
    And like you, today my favorite is freezing roasted tomatoes. No more cooking down sauce!

  2. drfugawe says:

    Hey Anet,
    Those funny looking cheap metal strainers are called, “China Hats” (for some strange reason!), and I’ve seen them in Restaurant Supply Stores for over $100 each! I just use a big cotton kitchen towel suspended over a big pot to drain my cooked crab apples – I never put a hand to ’em.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Mimi says:

    It sounds like you have no problem with pantry items to use in other recipes. :0)

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