Friday, September 16, 2011

Good Vegetables Gone Bad, and other tales...

I've talked before about how some vegetables like to cross over with other ones. Different kinds of squash come to mind, along with cucumbers and melons. You might ask yourself, what happens, exactly, when this cross species breeding happens? Well, what happens is you get Good Vegetables Gone Bad. To the left, you can see what probably started out as a garden variety cucumber, and was cross-pollinated with some kind of spiky veg, perhaps a thistle (there are a lot on the property I took this picture on). Click on the image for a close up look at this bizarre fruit! I pulled one apart (with gloves on - those things are sharp!) and it has innards like a cucumber. The leaves are definitely cucumber or squash inspired. It's a vining plant. I wouldn't want to eat it, though.

Today, I took out all my co-op goodies from last night's raid, and I fondled them. Well... okay, maybe I didn't go that far, but I did size them up and decide what they were going to be used for. The green cherry tomatoes and the dill had a specific use in mind when I picked them, and that's what I'm going to share with you today! You can see a small bunch of the lovely baby dill here, just about to be chopped up and put into the brine for my pickled cherry tomatoes. The smell of it was heavenly (and still is... it clings to the fingertips!), and it was almost a shame to cut it up. However, it gives a much more pungent flavor if you cut it up, and so... it was cut.

Next came the cilantro, again chopped fine. When making brine, I like to smush things up a bit, as it releases the natural oils in the herbs. When I actually do the canning, I usually slip in a sprig or two of the various herbs, both for flavor and for beauty. It should be noted, half of the fun and joy of canning is the beauty of what you're making. If it doesn't look pretty, then it had better taste phenomenal, because it isn't worth the work otherwise! The brine itself was made of vinegar and water and salt (recipe below), and was very simple. These were destined to be "refrigerator pickles" because I don't have proper canning jars, lids, rings, or my canner at the moment. Everything is packed up in boxes and hidden away in the storage unit, hard to find at this point. What I did have on hand was a pack of jelly jars, the kind used for freezer jam. They have snap on lids, suitable for fridge jams and freezer jellies, and for refrigerator pickles (they never get a hot water bath, and are never sealed - they stay in the fridge the whole time).

The brine gets boiled for five minutes or so before being poured over the tomatoes, and it leaves a vinegary smell throughout the house. It's delicious, the scent of summer passing us by. It also has a nice side effect of leaving your pan very clean, because the vinegar is a natural cleanser! It should be noted that you do not want to make brine of any kind in aluminum pots, and you should also avoid cast iron (in my opinion). Our pots are a special steel with copper bottoms (which don't touch the food), and I use either stainless steel utensils, or plastic ones. Aluminum has a tendancy to break down under the acidic vinegar, especially if it's left to sit for a couple of hours. So be careful and use glass or stainless steel.

My four teeny jars are sitting here, one packed and lidded, the other three waiting for their brine. I do prefer to make these in proper canning jars, with a hot water bath to seal them up, because it means I can store them on a shelf without needing to keep them cold. However, we do as we must, and if I was going to get any canning done, it had to be done this way. You can see the salt there, in the background of the picture. That salt is NON IODIZED salt. While not technically necessary for refrigerator pickles, you should not use iodized salt for making regular canned goods that would be pressure treated or hot water bathed. Always use a non-iodized salt, and preferably a kosher sea salt if you can find and afford it. It's safest, and honestly the flavor is so much better that it's unbelievable.

The finished product is so skimpy that I almost wept, but on the other hand, I can now say I did canning this year. I feel better, even if the gesture is wholly symbolic. If you click on the image, you can see the garlic pieces in the bottom, and little sprigs of fresh dill, as well as some slices of green pepper. Now comes the hardest part of canning, though - waiting until they're ready! It will be six weeks before these can be opened and eaten, if I want the flavor to be right. And I do want the flavor to be right! So I will now set my timer so that it alerts me to go pop a lid on October 28th, to accompany whatever dinner we're eating that night. I will be looking forward to 10/28 with glassy eyes and a bit of drool dripping down the corner of my chin.

And now... the recipe!

GREEN TOMATO DILL PICKLES

Green tomatoes
Sweet green peppers
Garlic
2 qts. water
1 qt. vinegar
1 c. salt
Dill
Cilantro

Use small, firm green tomatoes. Pack into sterilized Kerr jars. Add to each jar a halved clove of garlic and several slices of green pepper. Make a brine of the water, vinegar and salt. Add the dill and cilantro and boil for 5 minutes. Pour the hot brine over the tomatoes to within 1/2 inch of top of the jar. Put on cap, screw band firmly tight. Process in boiling water bath 15 minutes. These will be ready for use in 4-6 weeks. This amount of liquid fills 6 quarts.

This recipe is based on the one from Cooks.com, which I totally love. The changes I made were to put them into tiny jam jars with plastic lids, and with the plan to keep them in the fridge you no longer need to process them in a water bath. If you process them, you can open them in 4-6 weeks, but if you make fridge pickles, wait the full six. I halved this recipe because I only had a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes suitable for pickling.
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