I am blessed. I live in a happy home with a prolific little vegetable garden in the yard, and I have a fridge full of food.
This is not something to take for granted. I appreciate it and feel responsible to use what we have. That is one reason that I have spent hours preserving garden produce this week. Another reason - and I have heard other people who do preserving say the same thing - is that I find it satisfying to transform fresh garden produce into a form that we will be able to use all year long. Homemade preserves also make nice little gifts.
There are many ways to preserve foods, including freezing, canning, pickling, dehydrating and root cellaring. I processed some beans in the pressure canner last week, and spent a lot of time pickling.
Pickling relies on the use of vinegar or, in the case of fermented pickles such as some dills, lactic acid, to transform low-acid vegetables into acidic mixtures that can be bottled and vacuum sealed, and kept safely at room temperature.
Mason jars can be used repeatedly for pickles or other preserves, as long as they are not chipped or cracked, and the screw bands are good for years. Only the snap lids must be replaced with every use.
Pickles don't do much to improve household food security, but they do improve mealtimes. They are little extras, pops of flavour that enhance the tastes of other foods. Most of the recipes that I use make small batches, making them both quicker to prepare and more suitable for small households.
Zucchini, a high-yielding garden vegetable, can be made into sliced bread-and-butter style pickles, relish or other mixed vegetable pickles. It can be a challenge to keep ahead of it, but picking it while it's relatively small helps. Small zucchini has tender skin, crisp flesh, and underdeveloped seeds, all of which makes it palatable to eat fresh or pickle.
I made a batch of sweet zucchini relish (and a zucchini cake) with our garden zucchini last week and have more in the fridge, all picked from just one plant. Young zucchini with tender skin can also be frozen: cut into 1.25 cm (½ inch) slices, and blanch for 3 minutes. Cool in ice water or running cold water, drain well, pack in moisture- and vapour-proof packaging leaving headspace for expansion, and freeze.
Since we have more eggplants than we can use fresh, I made an Indian-inspired eggplant pickle. It's a big departure from traditional P.E.I. mustard pickles, but a tasty one. I used 2 long green chile peppers, instead of the 2 hot red chiles or jalapeños mentioned in the recipe, and instead of the 2 large eggplants suggested, I weighed out a kilogram of the smaller slender eggplants from our garden to use. A kitchen scale is a handy tool to have when making pickles.
From Topp, Ellie and Margaret Howard: More Put a Lid on It!, Macmillan Canada, Toronto, 1999.
1 kg (2 lb) eggplant (2 large)
45 mL (3 tbsp) white vinegar
2 large cloves garlic, minced
25 mL (2 tbsp) chile powder
10 mL (2 tsp) each: ground ginger and turmeric
75 mL (1/3 cup) canola oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) each: cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds
300 mL (1 / cups) white vinegar
250 mL (1 cup) granulated sugar
2 to 4 finely chopped and seeded small hot red chiles or jalepeño peppers
50 mL ( / cup) finely chopped gingerroot
25 mL (2 tbsp) pickling salt
Partially fill a boiling water canner with hot water. Add clean mason jars (3 500 mL/pints or 6 250 mL/half-pints). Cover, and bring to a boil.
Cube unpeeled eggplant into bite-sized pieces and reserve.
Combine 45 mL (3 tbsp) vinegar, garlic, chile powder, ginger and turmeric in a small bowl to form a paste and reserve.
Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add cumin and fenugreek seeds and sauté for 1 minute. Add eggplant and sauté for about 10 minutes or until eggplant is just tender. Reduce heat and add reserved paste and 300 mL (1 / cups) vinegar, sugar, chile pepper, gingerroot and salt. Stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until boiling.
Prepare snap lids as directed on package.
Remove hot jars from canner and ladle pickles into jars to within 1 cm (½ inch) of rims (head space). Remove trapped air bubbles by sliding a clean small wooden or plastic spatula between glass and food; readjust the food level to 1 cm (½ inch) of the top. Wipe jar to remove any stickiness. Centre snap lid on jar; apply screw band just until fingertip tight.
Place jars in canner; add water to cover jars by 2.5 cm (1 inch). Cover canner and return water to a boil.
Begin timing when water returns to a boil. Process for 15 minutes for 250 mL (half-pint) jars and 20 minutes for 500 mL (pint) jars.
Makes 3 500 mL (pint) jars.
I'll be teaching a class on pressure canning that Rita Jackson is organizing, at Milton Community Hall on Saturday, Sept. 21. Anyone who is interested can learn more by visiting the Facebook event, Pressure Canning Event. People are asked to preregister by Sept. 19.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.