It can be a little overwhelming to open the fridge door and wonder if there’s room for a litre of milk.
It’s the produce from our garden, and our generous neighbours, that is taking most of the space: cucumbers; peppers; eggplant; zucchini and yellow beans. What a privilege it is to have such abundance, and what a challenge to find space in the refrigerator.
I made bread and butter pickles on the weekend, and I need to use the rest of the produce while it is still in good shape. We could either invite all of our neighbours and friends for a big feast, or do some preserving. With apologies to friends and neighbours, I’ve decided on preserving.
There are decisions to make. Buy the rest of the ingredients for mustard pickles or make a batch of dills with the cucumbers we have now and make mustard pickles later? Make and freeze ratatouille with the zucchini and eggplant or make some zucchini relish and try a batch of Indian-style eggplant pickle?
The beans? I’m going to make a batch of pickled dilled beans with some and freeze some. I know, most of us have problems with frozen beans. They’re watery. I learned, almost by accident, that they are better when sautéed. Blanch and freeze fresh beans, the same as usual and then reheat them in a little hot butter or oil instead of boiling them. You can dress them up by sautéing some sliced mushrooms or onions or slivered red pepper in the same pan, seasoning with some lower-sodium soy sauce or scattering toasted sliced almonds over them. I like them much better prepared that way.
The reasons for blanching — briefly cooking prepared vegetables in boiling water, and chilling immediately — before freezing are convincing. It stops the action of enzymes that can cause flavour, texture and colour to deteriorate, brightens colour and slows down vitamin loss during frozen storage.
When done improperly, blanching creates problems: underblanching stimulates enzyme activity and is worse than no blanching; overblanching causes loss of flavour, colour, vitamins and minerals.
Here is the recommended technique.
Heat 4 litres (1 gallon) of water per 500 g (1 lb) of prepared vegetables. Put the prepared vegetable — in this case, beans — in a basket that allows water to circulate freely and lower into water that is boiling vigourously. Cover the blancher and keep the heat turned high. The water should return to a boil within 1 minute; if it takes longer, use more boiling water or less vegetable for the next batch. Start counting blanching time — 3 minutes for green or wax beans — when water returns to the boil. Then cool vegetables immediately in a large amount of ice water or running cold water. Drain well, and freeze.
My mother used to make dilled beans, and I rediscovered them a few years ago.
Each a product of our times, my mother used the open kettle method when she made pickles, while I follow the updated method of processing them briefly in a boiling water bath, as described in the recipe that follows.
It is now recommended by academic, government and commercial sources and ensures a really tight vacuum seal.
Use either sweet or hot red peppers in this recipe. It is good served with meat and with a casual lunch of bread, cheese and salad.
Adapted from Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving, Bernardin Ltd., 2003.
1 kg (2.2 lb) green beans
1 kg (2.2 lb) yellow beans
3 small red peppers, sliced into thin strips
750 mL (3 cups) EACH: white vinegar and water
45 mL (3 tbsp) pickling salt
15 mL (1 tbsp) dill seed, or 6 sprigs fresh dill
6 cloves garlic
Place 6 clean 500 mL (pint) mason jars on a rack in a boiling water canner; cover jars with water and heat to a simmer (82 C/180 F).
Set screw bands aside; heat snap lids in hot water, not boiling (82 C/180 F).
Keep jars and snap lids hot until ready to use.
Wash and trim beans. Cut into jar-length pieces.
In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water and pickling salt. Bring to a boil.
Add beans and pepper strips; return mixture to a boil. Remove from heat.
Place 3 peppercorns, 2 mL (½ tsp) dill seed or 1 sprig of fresh dill and 1 clove garlic in each jar. Fill jar with beans.
Pack prepared vegetables into a hot jar to within 2 cm (¾ inch) of top rim.
Add hot liquid to cover vegetables to within 1 cm (½ inch) of top rim (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles.
Wipe jar rim removing any stickiness.
Centre snap lid on jar; apply screw band securely and firmly until resistance is met — fingertip tight. Do not over tighten. Place jar in canner; repeat for remaining vegetables and hot liquid.
Cover canner; bring water to a boil. At altitudes up to 305 m (1000 ft), process boil filled jars 10 minutes. Remove jars without tilting.
Cool upright, undisturbed, 24 hours; Do not retighten screw bands.
After cooling, check jar seals. Sealed lids curve downward.
Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place.
Makes about 6 x 500 mL (pint) jars.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, writes this column for The Guardian every Wednesday. She can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at email@example.com.