Thursday, May 21, 2009

What We're Learning So Far...[updated]

We don't get to pickle as often as we'd like but we're working out some more enduring guidepoints. In no particular order,
- Checklists are handy when you're packing for a pickling off-site. Conversely, each kitchen DOES need its own canning funnel and cheesecloth. Did I say cheesecloth? I mean a nylon napkin from a middling-level restaurant. Cheesecloth is a dodo as long as we've got restaurants!
- Keep ingredients separate through processing and measure as you mix. It's easier to work out recipes and ratios this way. And recipes get useful!
- A kitchen scale is a real easy way to keep tabs on the above. Find one with a tare function, for easy measuring on the fly!
- Basic staples (garlic, onion, peppers (separate hot from sweet, or any special harvests), beets, cabbage, carrots) pickle just fine in their own jars and can be easier to work with post-pickle. Different members of the household love to make their own custom mixes. Sea vegetables especially make this a good rule- we're not liking the way they change cabbage/root mixes. Pureeing is overkill in pickling, grating or shredding is all you need. After the pickle, you can further process stuff for specific needs. Leave some stuff whole, like sm. onions, garlic cloves, or baby beets- these are good for "cocktail," escabiche, or related mixes.
- Cabbage expands. Beet stains. Asparagus delights. Garlic is ALL POWERFUL but still really mellow when whey is used instead of vinegar.
- Whey makes for mellower pickles, an especially nice detail when pickling ginger or garlic. Vinegar works great for power relishes and stuff with a sweet side. Cabbage has its own inoculants, at least more noticeably so than other stuff fresh from the dirt.
- Iodized salt is bad but coarse salt is fine. Pickling needs salt, either way!! Dry veggies want to soak overnight (after chopping) in brine. Brine is saltwater. It's heavier than water, more useful than just keeping putrefaction at bay!
- CO2 production makes batches both float and expand, so you either have to weigh your veggies down or cut your ingredients into spears that you can wedge into place. Spears are a better idea when pickling in jars and sealing with oil, while plates work well weighing things down in a crock. Beet-stained cabbage functopus juice bubbling up out of your jars is quite alarming, especially when the batch is inoculating in someone else's kitchen! It's better to be prepared: Line baking sheets with lots of newspaper and let your jars ferment on this.
- Smaller batches work better in jars, while larger batches work better in a crock. Large (1/2 gallon) jars bridge the gap well. And crocks (fired ceramic, cylindrical pots) can be had in various sizes.
- Jars and crocks both are worth skimming through resale shops for. Reduce, reuse, recycle that picklejar!
- Label and date your batches. Pickled food can last well beyond seven months and many pickles want to age and mellow for a few months. We enjoyed some pickles recently that were over a year old. The space issue makes it easy to envy Koreans who can bury kimchee crocks while they age!

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