Today I harvested some green chiles off our little Thai bird pepper plant that I nursed through the winter inside. Wow, has it really taken off this year! I have just been throwing extras into a Ziploc baggie in the freezer or drying some of the red ones (by accident sometimes, leaving them sitting out :), but that smallish single plant is producing enough that I thought I would go ahead and brine pickle some to make hot sauce later. This wasn’t even all the green ones on there; I left some on there to ripen, and probably try to make some red sauce out of it.
That process will wait for another post, since what I intended as a little intro has turned into its own post about pickling.
Now, I used to help (often more like “help”) my Nana pickle and can things a lot, when I was a kid, and those experiences made the idea of doing it myself a little intimidating. They had a small farm, where I loved to spend a lot of the summer, and my Nana always kept a huge garden. She would also go out and pick wild strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, pears, crabapples, and grapes in particular for jellies, preserves, and juices. It was always bushels of vegetables or fruits at a time, all summer long. Even after she got older and scaled back a little, she would still grow, can, jelly/jam up, and pickle enough for the kind of big extended family farm she grew up on, and give most of it away.
The pickling was the worst for me, with huge pots of boiling vinegar brine and hot water baths in the hottest part of the summer. It may not get as breathless sweltering in the mountains, but that was still in a Virginia summer before anybody we knew had air conditioning at home! Sometimes she would set up a wash tub outside over a fire for the water bath, but the whole house was still full of vinegar steam; between the heat and the fumes, I kept a pounding headache whenever pickling was going on. That was about the last thing I ever wanted to do on my own. The food may have been wonderful to have later on, but the whole process was just miserable–and Nana didn’t handle the heat any better than I do!
But, then I moved to the UK, and couldn’t find the kinds of pickles I wanted–that’s hard enough in the stores back home, though I saw that more are stocking regional favorites the last time I was back, but there is also nobody sending you away with homemade jars here. So, I got desperate enough to try making smaller batches of some things, starting off with Rick McDaniels’ Crisp Bread and Butter Pickles. (From before the site went to a blog format, and I could have sworn my first try at cabbage-pepper-onion chow-chow–basically nothing like the Pennsylvania Dutch version–came from his site too. But, maybe not.)
I say “smaller”, where a smaller batch meant one big head of cabbage and a couple each of sweet peppers and onions. That will still fill a lot of jars for two people to eat, and needs a pot of seething, fuming vinegar and another big pot for the water bath. At least it very rarely gets so hot here, though we’re in a heat wave right now. It’s harder to find canning supplies here, so I didn’t even have any jar tongs to lift them up out of the boiling pot, the first few times! O_o Had to dump some of the water into the sink, then carefully try to grab them out with an oven mitt… I think we may still have a small jar or two of the first batch of chow-chow left in the back of a cabinet, from 2004! Giving people jars of stuff, or bags of fresh veggies/fruits, just isn’t a thing here, either; talk about your culture shock. I know maybe two people to give pickles, jams, etc. who wouldn’t just look at me like I had three heads.
Mr. Sweden was the one who tried his hand at brine pickling first, here. He was used to being able to get briny dill cucumber pickles in Sweden, and you just couldn’t find them here then. Maybe some specialty shop somewhere in Greater London was carrying them, but what’s now Totally Swedish didn’t even have them. Since Poland joined the EU, there has been enough immigration that within the past few years all the supermarkets have gotten Polish sections with cheap and good briny dills and jars of sauerkraut. Before that, we were both thrilled to find some Israeli export pickles in a can, in the tiny kosher section of one store! (Those are not bad at all; I was afraid they’d taste like the can, but not at all.) But, at any rate, he decided to try making some brine pickles.
It’s really hard to find pickling varieties of cucumbers here to buy, but the big English cucumbers work pretty well cut up. (This year, I’m growing my own cute little pickling ones, in patio containers since that’s the space we have.) The texture is not the same, but it’s pretty good. He used a recipe out of the classic Prinsessornas Kokbok (“Princesses’ Cookbook”, apparently with an English translation), and they must have really wanted to make sure the pickles kept well before refrigeration was common; the brine was so strong we had to soak some of the salt out before eating them! But, otherwise, that experiment worked out well, and it gave me more confidence in trying brine pickling.
Where I’m from, brine pickling and drying used to be the main ways of preserving vegetables for the winter, and people still make and serve quite a variety of pickles. My mom had wondered why so many people made sauerkraut, when there were few enough German settlers in the area that some of their surnames got totally mangled (like “Linkhorst” turning into “Linkous”, or “Stambach” into “Stumbo”!), but that would be from cabbage getting introduced into an area where people had already been making pickled green beans like sauerkraut for a very, very long time. (Along with the pickled corn, summer squash, etc.) I figure it partly took over because, besides being tasty, it’s also a lot less work to shred or chop the cabbage than to snap all those beans to fill enough crocks to get you through the winter! A lot of people still make pickled beans, but they’ve mostly switched over to smaller quantities of vinegar-based dilly beans rather than the huge crocks to eat cooked like sauerkraut.
Nigohilv tsunatsosdi sgewi tsigisgo’i.
I always eat sour kraut.#
I like the stuff, but not that much!
An excellent post: How To Make Kraut – The Old Timey Way.
My Nana had some kind of by-hand cabbage chopper, but I like the texture better shredded. I used to use a knife, but a mandoline is easier. With this one, you can kind of see how the cabbage-onion-pepper style of chow-chow may have gotten started, with the peppers they’re putting in the kraut there. I have made some brine-pickled chow-chow (add sugar, if you want, to balance the sour when you serve it), and it was really good with my beans :), but I have yet to try one variation of the brine pickled kind my mom saw when she was a kid: once it’s pickled, you hang it up to dry some in cloth bags, I would guess for an effect more like the Tianjin preserved vegetable. It would probably keep longer without refrigeration, half-dried like that. Sounds intriguing, but I’m not sure where I could even hang it to dry where we’re living.
My Nana was one of the ones who switched over mostly to quick-pack, heat-processed vinegar pickles, which were pushed as all modern and sanitary. She still made and canned crocks of sauerkraut and briny dill cucumbers every year, but I didn’t help as much with that, and just was not as comfortable with the idea of trying it on my own before Mr. Sweden’s experiment turned out well.
Boy, am I glad I started.
Though I’m still skeptical about some of the wider health claims in there, Nourishing Traditions helped get me started making by-the-jar batches of salt pickled veggies. I started out half-afraid that I would screw things up, get proportions wrong, and kill everyone in the house, but that turns out not to be much of a problem at all. It’s not so easy to poison yourself if you show some sense and don’t eat mushy, moldy, and/or foul-smelling vegetables. For the cautious, I ran across a good post: Tips on mitigating risks for fermented dill pickles (most of which would seem to apply to other vegetables). I have stopped worrying about it much, as long as I don’t eat it if it looks or smells weird, and take normal sanitary precautions–for someone raised with OCD-influenced ideas about being clean in the kitchen, at least! (Not exaggerating.) *wry smile* But, I wouldn’t want to influence anybody else to get food poisoning.
But, indeed, it hadn’t even occurred to me before that, that I could do things like use half a head of cabbage and half a green pepper for slaw, and just turn the rest into a jar of sauerkraut. Making smaller quantities and eating them before they would sit around long enough to maybe need heat processing to keep has been working out a lot better for me. (And that leaves whatever probiotic value alive, besides being easier.) So far, I haven’t turned out as many pickles as I have wanted to, thanks to not always having the energy from the celiac-related deficiency problems, but it is much easier than I ever would have thought based on the “bushels of veggies and vats of boiling vinegar” experience.
Another good kraut post, also from Blind Pig & the Acorn: How Granny Makes Kraut. In jars, with a method I hadn’t seen before. I’m not sure about adding the sugar, but just putting the salt in the top of the jar looks well worth trying!
One book I would definitely recommend: Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. I didn’t know he had a newer (and apparently more comprehensive) one out, but I will definitely be picking The Art of Fermentation up, too. It did kind of bug me the way, as an incomer living in East Tennessee, he referred more than once to what Native people used to do (with not nearly as much info on local pickling traditions as he could have found out by talking to some people living there now), but most people have been explicitly taught that we’re not even around anymore. It still gets on my nerves sometimes, but the book is excellent, other than that. I like the emphasis on using your imagination to come up with mixtures of vegetables and seasonings that you like, to your taste, working off some very basic proportions. I am still not sure about some of the things he has tried pickling, like cooked potatoes, but you can pickle basically any kind of vegetable.
I may not have much room here to grow my own food, but I also having a handy way to use up gluts of things from the weekly vegbox we’ve been getting delivered. (Just about the best decision ever! Super-fresh stuff, and I don’t have to lug it home with the osteomalacia bad back.) Get more carrots and zucchini than you can use, make a jar or two of carrot and zucchini pickles. (Carrots are one of my favorites, either on their own or thrown in with other things.)
Or, indeed, the bunch of Thai peppers I started off writing about. I had been thinking of trying my hand at making some hot sauce–the “matured” peppers on all the labels are actually brine pickled–but had put it off because we don’t have a working food processor right now, and I keep forgetting to buy another one. A lot of people apparently grind the fresh peppers up into a mash and then salt that and let it do its pickly magic. But, I saw a good piece from April McGreger, Home pickles made easy–and delicious, when I was looking for a quick brine proportion reference. She suggested putting the peppers through the food processor after they’re pickled. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work, so decided to go ahead and give it a try!
But, I set that up this evening, and will do a separate post with the process there.