Pickling your garden produce not only extends the life of your garden, it’s fairly easy to do and rewards you with increased health benefits.
Sue Mosbacher, master food preserver program coordinator for the UC Cooperative Extension in Placerville, Calif., says fermented foods help with the digestive system. Some caution is needed, Mosbacher says, but if you follow the recipes and the rules, you’ll be fine.
Here are some of Mosbacher’s tips:
THINGS TO KNOW
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– When working to preserve foods, wear an apron to protect the food from anything you might have on your clothes, tie your hair back or wear a hat, and wear gloves.
– Before using, inspect your jars for cracks, chips or imperfections that might lead to breakage.
– Use canning salt, also known as pickling salt, in your fermenting recipes. Canning salt is the purest type of salt available.
– If you want to use other salts, check the ingredient list. Most salts, including kosher salt, contains an anti-caking agent that can affect taste and measurements.
– The key to successful and safe canning is processing the food long enough to kill pathogens. That’s why it’s important to follow the instructions to the letter.
– Don’t use your grandmother’s recipes. Generations ago the acidity of vinegar was much higher than it is now (up to 15 percent).
– As the spices are usually what makes the recipe special, Mosbacher recommends using a current, standard recipe that uses our standard 5 percent vinegar, and then use the old recipe for the flavors.
– Preserved foods can be kept for a long time but Mosbacher recommends eating them within a year for the best flavors and nutritional benefits.
For best results use firm heads of fresh cabbage and start the process 24 to 48 hours after harvest. You can use store bought cabbage or cabbage that has been picked earlier.
Work with about 5 pounds of cabbage at a time. Remove and save outer leaves. Rinse heads under cold running water and drain. Cut heads in quarters and remove cores; shred or slice cabbage to the thickness of a quarter.
Put cabbage in a suitable fermentation container and add 3 tablespoons of canning salt. Mix thoroughly with clean hands and pack firmly until the salt draws juices from the cabbage.
Repeat shredding, salting and packing until all cabbage is in the container. Be sure it is deep enough so that the rim of the container is at least 4 to 5 inches above the cabbage.
If the juice does not cover the cabbage, add boiled and cooled brine made with 1 1 / 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water.
After the cabbage is packed down, cover it with leaves from the cabbage head, then weight it down with marbles, a heavy plate or whatever works for you. Cover with a clean bath towel and place it in a dry and dark place.
The first week, Mosbacher says, the fermenting cabbage will smell like dirty gym socks, but the smell will dissipate by the next week.
Watch for the formation and movement of bubbles, indicating the fermenting process is occurring. When the bubbles stop moving, after about three weeks, the process is complete.
Sauerkraut can safely be kept in the refrigerator for several months. For longer storage, process it in a boiling water or steam canner, using either the hot pack or raw pack method.
For hot pack, bring sauerkraut and liquid slowly to a boil in a large kettle, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and fill jars rather firmly, leaving a half-inch of head space. In the raw pack method, fill jars firmly with sauerkraut and cover with juices, leaving a half inch of head space.
Process hot pack pints for 10 minutes and quarts for 15; for raw pack, process pints for 20 minutes and quarters for 25.
You’ll need 7 pounds of 2- to 2 1 / 2-inch diameter beets, 4 cups of vinegar (5 percent), 1 1 / 2 teaspoons of canning salt, 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water, 2 cinnamon sticks, 12 whole cloves and four to six onions.
Trim off beet tops, leaving an inch of stem and roots to prevent bleeding of color. Wash thoroughly and sort for size.
Cover similar sizes together with boiling water and cook until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and discard liquid and cool beets.
Trim off roots and stems and slip off skins.
Slice into quarter-inch slices; peel and thinly slice onions.
Combine vinegar, salt, sugar and fresh water. Put spices in cheesecloth ban and add to vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil.
Add beets and onions; simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove spice bag.
Fill jars with beets and onions, leaving a half-inch of head space. Add hot vinegar solution, allowing half-inch of head space. Adjust lids.
Process in boiling water or steam canner for 30 minutes.