Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The 3 Gallon Crock of Escabiche and a New Crew

The latest pickle was another success! Thanks and welcome to our newest host, Seth, and the new pickleers who stayed all night, Rebecca, Sorcha, and Carol!
I've been invited to sell some pickles in a few different venues lately, so we've been working on ramping up production. This latest pickle party aimed to prototype a commercial Escabiche recipe in our smaller crock while teaching a new crew the basics of our growing art. We did that and had energy left over to put together over six gallons of goodies to ferment in a crock and glass jars.
The Escabiche is still a work in progress, in terms of finalizing a commercial recipe towards producing a standardized product (as standardized as a fickle pickle gets) but we all enjoyed sampling the stuff! In a three gallon crock, we assembled:
a cup of salt,
3 cups unpasteurized vinegar,
a pound each of peeled garlic and pearl onions (the purple ones came out pretty and sized just right),
two pounds each of sweet peppers, yellow and white onions, and cauliflower (the purple cauli is overkill in the eyes),
half a pound of jalapenos,
not enough oregano,
and seven pounds of carrots.
All of this stuff was chopped or sliced into bite-sized pieces. I layered each ingredient initially, to eyeball the proportions, and then dove in with clean hands and arms to mix it all up. A 1.5 liter wine bottle was perfect for mashing and compressing everything, while adding enough water to cover stuff by a few inches. Then we covered stuff with a plate measured to fit the crock and worked it around to burp the air bubble trapped in the concavity underneath. A clean jug of water was added to the top of the plate, as a weight. This all holds the fermenting veggies down under the brine, away from oxygen. We draped a towel over all this, as a final cover.
As things were getting washed, peeled, chopped, and sliced, we worked through the steps in setting up a ferment. First, I set up the whey station to separate the inoculant from the cheese.
A gallon of yogurt almost fits in our standard nylon napkin setup. But not well enough to properly drain, so we won't try to filter more than a quart or so of yogurt at a time. After I explained the role played by the whey and vinegar, I measured a tablespoon of salt and a quarter cup of whey into a jar and we worked our way through a a baggie-sealed pickle. Once the crock was filled and sealed, we turned to on the rest of our ingredients.
We also put up a hot mix of seeded jalapenos and serranos, some with carrots added to fill (and heat up!). Seth later reported that it wasn't very hot, at least not until the accumulation of three or four spoonfuls of it hit him! We'll leave the seeds in and add a few habaneros for him next time.
We put up lots of okra, which came out pretty well. Next time, we'll use vinegar instead of whey as the inoculant. We'll definitely add more spices! We'll leave the tops on and look for smaller pods next time, to keep some of the Alien-esque slime at bay and help with packing securely- they like to float. And we'll add more brine, too. The batch that Carol put together came out with the favored flavor profile, with peppers, garlic, and a little beet. The plain ones proved that fermenting okra works but are too bland. Seth is now experimenting with okra-based tapenades. Once his okra plants start producing, I proposed that he sweats them in a plastic baggie with salt in the fridge until enough are harvested for a batch.
We had one jar of beets and carrots, using the oil seal method. A few floaters were poking above the oil, as we're now used to seeing with this method, but not enough to spoil the batch.
We put up one half gallon of mixed sweet peppers. It fermented fast, burped some fluid, and much of it rose above the waterline, where white mold set up shop. We scooped the top 15% out and discarded it but the rest was fine.
Mold is funky but as long as it's removed before stuff goes into the fridge, everything is fine. Mold can't get past the waterline, so everything under that is okay. This batch of sweet peppers and two other jars had white or grey mold trying to grow but it only could do so in the jars with airspace beneath the baggies. So controlling movement of the fermenting veggies seems to be the way to minimize this airspace. The crock had a thin layer of mold on some of the surface but nothing bothersome. We scooped and wiped the tops of each jar that had any mold before moving on and this was the lightest batch yet in terms of such cleanup.
When we got down to discussing the costs of raw materials and labor, we came to the realization that if everyone brings their own veggies and glass, we can work and barter together and money doesn't have to change hands! The ways that this supports local and seasonal permaculture opened an eye or two.
Seth deserves a special mention- he put in extra work to pull this pickle off! His house isn't cooled all day, just when he's home. So he had to not only commandeer the server-room's AC unit and set it up in such a way as to keep our pickles between 69 and 75 F, he had to go through daily acrobatics to empty the bucket of water it was condensing from the air as it worked! This points once again to the seasonal side of working more closely with nature instead of fighting it. Seth's decided that he wants to pickle on the equinoxes, when his room temperatures are in line with what we pickle. We'll see if he's down for a winter batch of kraut...

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