Here we are, October in New Hampshire, almost ready for the snow to arrive. The summer and fall gardens are coming to an abrupt end and you have all this food you don’t know what to do with. Back in the day (which was a Wednesday, by the way) the best thing to do was to save some of it to get through the tough long winter. Back before there were grocery stores and refrigerators, Granny used to preserve what she could to keep her family from starving to death.
As a chef, I have a lot of respect for “old fashioned” preservation techniques like smoking, canning and pickling. Not only is preservation of our food a great way to keep from wasting our garden bounty, but it imparts its own group of flavors in and of itself.
The wood smoke imparts an amazing fruitiness and char that you just can’t get in any other setting. The brine in pickles is not only amazing stuff for the vegetables, but the left over brine is great for dressings and marinades. Let’s not forget the canning process alone imparts a slow-cooking depth of flavor that would be missed.
Below are three of my favorite recipes using different preservation techniques; smoking, pickling and canning.
Simple Quick Refrigerator Pickle
This quick pickle can be used on just about every vegetable. Just make the below listed brine and pour it over them (works on mushrooms too!). Wait a couple days and enjoy. The longer it sits in your fridge the better it gets. Play around with it, use different spices and vinegars, chuck in different herbs, and try some chilies for a kick, it’s all up to you. Just start with this:
1 cup of vinegar (I use white in this picture, but try cider, champagne or sherry vinegars for a twist)
1 cup of water (Sub the water with apple juice for a sweeter pickle, maybe some booze, play with it, you may come up with something amazing!)
½ cup white sugars (again play around; try brown sugar, turbinado sugar or honey)
¼ cup of kosher salt (if you prefer a more or less salty pickle, play with the ratio, it’s up to you!)
You could stop here and your pickles would be pretty great. Why not add a few fresh herbs (dill, oregano, chives) maybe a couple hot chilies or even some basic pickling spice you find in the spice aisle.
Heat everything up just enough to dissolve the salt and sugar. No need to boil it. Once dissolved, just pour it over your veggies and make sure they are covered by a half inch or so. Store in a plastic container with a snap tight lid, wait 3 days and enjoy! Of course, if you wait a week or longer they are even better. If you can’t wait that long, just sit it on your counter a couple hours and try it then, still yummy.
Take that same pickle brine and bring it to a boil. Pack sterile canning jars with green tomato wedges, chilies, sliced garlic, etc. and pour your hot liquid over to cover. Screw on the lids and process in a canner setup in accordance with your canning instructions. For me, I went about 20 minutes with these 8 ounce jars. Pull them out of the water and let them sit overnight. Make sure the lids are sunken in and don’t make a popping sound when you press them. These will last a year in a cool dark pantry closet.
I decided to can all my leftover tomatoes into sauce. I took a basic tomato sauce recipe like this one and smoked the tomatoes over apple wood for about 10 minutes before peeling and seeding them. I let it simmer for about 8 hours before I canned them into pints. I processed them in sterile jars for 45 minutes. I’ll be able to munch on this sauce for a year (if it lasts that long!)
Canning and pickling sounds like it might be scary and complicated. Play around with basic recipes as a guide and have fun with it. You may have to make a mistake to discover something great!