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Thursday, October 29, 2009

pickled green tomatoes (or, first foray into canning...)

i'm sure this will come as a complete surprise, but it's raining in seattle. i knew it was coming, of course, and i felt like i was in a race against the weather to get my tomatoes harvested before the rains came and changed everything. my plants had been sluggish all summer, then suddenly in late august bloomed and set a ton of fruit. i knew only a few would have the chance to color up before the cold and wet made them unhappy. i was able to bring in a table full, but at least that many more were small, solid green, and no where near ready to color. i pulled them inside with the expectation that most of the big guys will ripen (i've got 6 bright red brandywines awaiting my attention right now!) or be fried, but was puzzled by the still green sungolds, a cherry variety. what do you do with green cherry tomatoes? i started looking online, wondering if they could be fried like the big ones, but learned that the breading won't stick to whole tomatoes, and that the little buggers might get too hot inside and explode. exploded tomatoes aren't useful. then i found my answer-- they can be pickled! terrific idea! i wasn't sure what one ultimately does with pickled green tomatoes, but also figured i had little to lose in finding out.

there was one problem-- i had never canned anything, and was unwilling to strike out on my own considering one of the possible consequences of getting it wrong is death. so i turned once again to the trusty interweb and searched for canning classes in seattle, fully expecting that the big canning-lesson season was over. however, i actually found a class meeting 3 days later, on a saturday, in my very neighborhood! registration was over, and the write-up said the 16 spots would fill up fast, but i emailed anyway on the off-chance that one was still open. that friday i received my answer-- there had been a cancellation, and i could take that spot.

i'm not historically one to get all sappy about "community" and that sort of thing, but oh my god, we had SO MUCH FUN. it was educational, for sure, and spending time in the kitchen with experienced canners was invaluable. but even aside from everything i learned, just bustling about with 15 other women representing about a 40-year range in ages was absolutely delightful. we were processing 4 different recipes, some for us to take home and the rest for the soup kitchen. there were a dozen huge pots of water boiling at any given time, a dishwasher sterilizing jars, ladels and hot syrupy mixtures and a bunch of women rushing around through the steam to get recipes made and jars processed ("lids! i need LIDS!"). had there not been so many people there who knew what they were doing, it could have been complete pandemonium. it was a great time, with great people, and i left all aglow with a feeling of accomplishment on a number of levels.

first thing i did after was buy some basic canning supplies (jar lifter, wide-mouth funnel, and extra lids) and then start looking up recipes for pickled green cherry tomatoes. one thing i learned in my class is that you can trust anything that ball tells you, but until you are really experienced it's best to avoid other sources. thankfully, ball had a recipe for me.

dilled green tomatoes
yield 6 pints

5 lbs small, firm green tomatoes
1/4 cup canning salt (or kosher-- not iodized)
3 1/2 cups vinegar
3 1/2 cups water
6 or 7 cloves garlic
6 or 7 heads fresh dill
6 or 7 bay leaves

wash tomaotes, drain. core tomatoes and cut into halves or quarters. (i left mine whole as i was using cherries.) combine salt, vinegar, and water in a large saucepot. bring to a boil.

pack tomatoes into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. add 1 clove garlic, 1 head of dill (2 tsp dill seeds) and 1 bayleaf to each jar. (i also added a sliver of jimmy nardello pepper from our garden, for color.)

ladle hot liquid over tomatoes, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. remove air bubbles. adjust 2-piece caps. process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

i adjusted the recipe according to how many tomatoes i had, and packed in 1/2 pint jars. i'm in the mood to can everything i see, but have found that my pot is too shallow to easily maintain 1-2" of water over the tops of the jar lids. i'll have to buy a bigger pot. meanwhile, how very liberating to know that i'm able to can high-acid foods!

here are the recipes we made in the class. i worked on the fennel relish and it tasted amazing! our instructor said it is particularly good on fish. i haven't tasted the others yet, but can't wait to open up some bright early fall flavors one dark winter day.

apple cider jelly

3 cups apple cider
2 sticks cinnamon, broken in half
4 cloves
3 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin (or dry pectin made liquid by following the directions on the box-- 3/4 cup water per packet, i think...)

bring apple cider, cloves and cinnamon to a boil, covered. reduce by a third, about 5-10 minutes. remove cinnamon and cloves, reserving cinnamon sticks. add sugar and bring to a boil. stir in pectin and return to a full boil. boil one minute, stirring constantly.

place reserved cinnamon sticks in jars. ladle hot jelly into jars and process 10 minutes.

fennel relish (she said this is really good on fish!)

2 bulbs fennel, bulbs and stems chopped, fronds removed for another use
1 lb sweet onion, chopped
2 Tbsp pickling salt
1 c sugar
1/2 tsp cracked pepper
2 c vinegar
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp basil (optional) or 2 Tbsp citrus zest (optional)

combine fennel, onion, and salt in non-reactive bowl. in large pot combine vinegar, sugar, and cracked pepper. bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. add fennel-onion mixture and cook until softened. the mixture should thicken slightly. stir in garlic and optional spices. fill jars leaving 1/2 inch headroom. process 10 minutes. makes 4 cups.

pickled beets

10-15 small beets
2 c vinegar
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water
1 c sliced onions
2 tsp pickling salt
1 tsp mustard seeds

wash and trim beets. boil 25-40 minutes, or roast until tender, 45-60 minutes. peel and cut into bite-sized pieces.

combine sugar, vinegar, and water in pan and bring to a boil. dissolve sugar, then reduce to a simmer.

place beets and onions in alternating layers in jars. distribute the mustard seeds between jars and pour vinegar mixture over beets leaving 1/2" headroom. process 30 minutes in pint jars. (look up processing time for beets in quart jars-- it will be longer!)

pickled artichoke hearts

1 lemon
8 cups water
16 small/baby artichokes
3 c vinegar
1 c water
2 tsp pickling salt
2 Tbsp sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cracked pepper
1 bay leaf

fill non-reactive bowl with water. slice lemon and squeeze into water. rinse artichokes. starting at the base, bend tough outer leaves back and snap off where they break naturally, leaving tender inner leaves. using small sharp knife, trim outside of base until no dark green areas remain. cut artichoke in half or quarters depending on size. place in lemon water.

combine remaining ingredients in sauce pan. bring to boil.

place artichokes in jars. pour vinegar mixture into jars, making sure to distribute spices evenly. process 15 minutes in pint jars.

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