}]; Noreen's Kitchen: 07/01/2011 - 08/01/2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Preserving Our Heritage


First let’s get some business out of the way. I AM SORRY. Regretfully I hadn’t realized that the year had gone by so quickly and that I had not posted a blog entry here since January. I will do my best to not let this happen again. I will commit to at least once a month, but my preference is to post at least once a week, however, life likes to get in the way and let me know that I am not the one in control here. So, that being said, I have been very busy making videos, working on a website called Noreenskitchen and working in my garden and working on a cookbook, so perhaps you might be able to forgive me for my tardiness. I really appreciate all of you who come on over and join me here to see what is going on in my life, in my kitchen and so on and so forth. So let’s get on with it shall we?
Every year, I plant a garden. I love growing things, fruits, veggies, flowers, you name it. I love to see a plant develop and produce beauty. Whether it be a ripe and delicious tomato or an amazing fragile and fragrant bloom. I love nurturing a garden. I get great satisfaction from turning the soil and tending the seeds, feeding, watering and protecting what I have worked hard to raise. The garden is where I find solace. It is where I find joy and peace away from a wicked and hurried world. There is no wickedness nor hurrying in a garden. It all happens in it’s own time and not a moment sooner. The garden is where I find God.
The beauty of the garden is not the only thing to bring me satisfaction though. The inevitable harvest is the end result and the desired outcome for me as well as many other gardeners. We plant with the anticipation of harvesting baskets full of red tomatoes, zucchini, string beans, cucmbers, berries, herbs and a myriad of peppers. I cannot refuse a pepper. I currently have 4 raised beds dedicated to peppers alone, sweet lady bells, liberty bells, giant chili, cayenne, sweet cherry peppers, jalapenos, giant Marconi, sweet and hot Hungarian banana peppers and one dangerous Habenero. The latter I plant simply for the beauty. I love the way the peppers brighten to a beautiful orange and the fruit hangs off of the plant like little Chinese lanterns. I do pick them and dry them. I have never dared to eat one, for fear of frying my tongue out of my head. Perhaps someday I will be brave and add one to the chili pot. But I doubt that will be anytime soon.
Preserving all of the garden’s bounty can be quite the quandary for the gardener. Many people, including myself become generous givers, gifting baskets full of our home grown produce to the neighbors, and while that is a lovely thing to do, you can only do it so many times before they start to pretend they are not home when you come a-knockin’ for fear that you will give them even more vegetables to deal with. However there is a myriad of ways to preserve your harvest for later use. Some produce is more conducive to certain ways of preservation than others. For instance, you can’t freeze cucumbers. You can freeze zucchini, squash, tomatoes, beans, even peppers. You can dehydrate almost anything, I even know one lady who dehydrates lettuce! I love dehydrating and freezing but I most love canning! Pickling, preserving, water bath or pressure canning, I love it all.
Canning is something that used to be a matter of course. something that everyone did in the summer or whenever the harvest was done. Canning tomatoes, peppers, pickles, jams, jellies, etc. was simply a way of life. People have been canning for years. But with the need for mom’s to leave the home, go back to work and the advent of the microwave and the frozen dinner and a plethora of other convenience foods that are merely add water and stir, we have become a nation that thinks all of it’s food comes from the store, and not from the garden, field or orchard. But I digress down from my soap box. Canning is an important skill to possess. Canning can actually give you freedom from processed foods and big agricultural corporate farming as well as peace of mind knowing that you have your own supply in the event of a personal disaster, natural disaster or emergency.
On the surface, to the untrained eye, canning can look daunting, scary and just plain hard, but in reality canning is approachable, enjoyable and simple. As long as you take all the necessary steps and precautions to assure you get a good end product. I did not grow up in a home where canning was done. I never watched either one of my grandmothers do their canning. I only remember consuming the results of the work. My love affair with canning and preserving started when I was 23 years old living in the small mountain community of Williams, Arizona. I had recently moved there to be closer to my parents who had moved two years before. When you live in a small town, you get used to attending lots of gatherings, especially during holiday time. At one such gathering for my mother’s philanthropic sorority, which I later became a member of, I was enamored with a jar of pickles the likes of which I had never tasted before in my life. They were bread and butter pickles. Sweet and tangy, the cucumbers had been pickled along with, onions, carrots and the most delightful addition of cauliflower. I believe, had I not been in the presence of other ladies, many years my senior, I would have dove right in and eaten that whole jar, and perhaps even drank the juice like a sweet cocktail. Really, they were that good!
So, me being my sassy, 23 year old self, asks the lady who made the pickles, one Jeanne Weise, owner of the local “Country Grocery” if she would be willing to share the recipe. Now for anyone of you who has never had the privilege of living in a small town, asking for a recipe can be a frightening proposition. Either you will be embraced for asking or you will be shot down on the spot and humiliated in a very certain way that will cause you to reel with emotion at what may have just happened to you. There is another way though, the way when they will actually be very happy to share the recipe and leave out an important ingredient so that when you make the recipe it won’t be quite right. However, none of the above happened when I asked for the recipe. Mrs. Weise asked me If I had ever canned anything before, I had to reply no, but figured how hard could it be? Right? I was young and stupid. I didn’t even have a pot big enough to cook the pickles in! So Mrs. Weise told me that she would like me to come to her house on a Friday afternoon and she would have all the supplies necessary and she would teach me how to make the pickles. I felt honored. Once I spent the afternoon with her, making the pickles and learning all about what to do from the salting, to the brining, to the sterilizing to the water bathing. I was hooked. It was the beginning of a life long love affair with putting up my own home canned goodness.
At the time I first was introduced to the ways of making bread and butter pickles, I was unstoppable. On my own, I acquired the necessary equipment, albeit second hand, and went to town, in my tiny one bedroom apartment, making strawberry jam, orange marmalade, apple butter and yes, even more pickles. I made peach conserve and apricot syrup because it didn’t jell right. I learned many lessons along the way through my own mistakes. Canning is a constant lesson on how not to do something, but when it comes out right it is simply divine! Today I can everything that comes out of my garden as well as things that are locally grown that I do not grow either at all or enough of to produce the quantity I need to make canning worthwhile. In the last month I have canned 50lbs of peaches, strawberry rhubarb jam, plum jam, dill pickle spears, chicken breast, ground beef, spaghetti sauce and what I am about to share with you, bread and butter pickles.
Canning is a part of our heritage as Americans. Ever since John Mason designed the Mason jar and we were able to put up our own foods for later use, Americans have been putting everything in a can or jar. Preserving this Art and skill is as important to me as preserving our way of life. We must never forget where we came from. Making sure that we can do things for ourselves is something that we must all do. We have to be able to attain the skills necessary should we really need to use them. The best way of doing this is making those skills a basic part of our every day life.
The seasons will come and go and with them the bounty that each one brings, but when you can open up a jar of strawberry jam in the dead of winter you will understand what canning does. It affords you the opportunity to have something that grows in April in December. Yes, yes, I know, you can buy frozen fruits and you can most likely buy fresh berries in the dead of winter at your local mega mart, but do you know how far they traveled to be there? Where they came from? The answer is no. When you can, you know where the foods are from, when they were ripe and exactly what you put into the jar. Fresh, ripe fruit, wholesome goodness and love are ingredients that cannot be beat. There is not a simple quick substitute for that. There is no substitute for preserving our heritage. The American heritage and way of life that we sometimes forget about is something that must be passed on and preserved for future generations.
So, with all of that in mind, I will now share with you how to make bread and butter pickles, just the way I learned. Once you watch, you can go out and get the ingredients and make some for yourself. Once you try canning, I promise, you will love it. Yes, it is hard work, yes it is hot work and yes it is a lengthy process, but it is all worth it in the end, when you can reach in your pantry with pride and retrieve a jar of something you put up yourself and serve it to your family any time of year. Keep the tradition alive, learn to can and in turn preserve our heritage.

What you will need:
20 cups of sliced cucumbers either pickling or slicing
6 large sweet onions sliced
1 pound baby carrots
2 bags frozen cauliflower or 2 large heads of fresh, cut in florets
1 cup of pickling salt (not table salt, sea salt or kosher salt)
Place the above in a large steel or glass container and toss evenly with the salt and allow them to sit covered, in a cool spot for at least 2 hours.
If using frozen cauliflower, do not add in until later. If using fresh cauliflower, please add the cut cauliflower to the vegetables for the salting process.
After 2 hours, place vegetables in a colander in the sink and rinse well to remove a good portion of the salt. The vegetables should be slumped and no longer crispy.
6 cups vinegar
4 cups granulated sugar
¼ cup Pickling spice
2 Tablespoons Whole mustard seed
2 Tablespoons Celery Seed
2 Tablespoons Turmeric
6 Dried Bay Leaves
6 Cayenne peppers, to add to each jar, if desired (I added 1 to each of 6 jars it really makes them spicy)
Add all ingredients to large stock pot and bring to a simmer. Add in veggies and if you are using frozen cauliflower, add at this time as well. Stir well to mix and bring back to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes.
Ladle pickles into sterilized jars (I use pints) leaving ½ inch of head space, and making sure that all the vegetables are covered with brine.
Wipe the rims of each jar with a damp paper towel to assure that it is free from any dirt or pickle matter that would make your seal fail.
Place a hot lid on each jar and tighten down with a ring. Place in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water reaches a boil is when to start the timer.
Process jars for 10 minutes per batch. Remove from canner and set in a non drafty area on a bath towel and leave untouched for 12 hours. You should be able to hear each jar ping as it pulls a vacuum and seals.
Once the jars are cooled you can remove the rings, wash the jars, check for a good seal, label with the month and year they were canned as well as a description of what is in the jar and place in a dark cool place.
While the pickles are delicious right away, they get better with age. For optimum flavor, allow to sit on the shelf for at least 3 weeks prior to opening.
Your pickles should remain good for at least 2 years. I have never had them last that long, because we eat them so quickly. As long as your jar is well sealed, you should not worry. If your jar is bowed at the top, leaking or has an unpleasant or “off” odor, you should discard its contents and wash out the jar for later use.
With regard to the lids, the rings can be used over and over again. If you see that some have rusted, put them to a different use or discard them. The lid portion is only good for one use. Once the product in the jar is consumed, do not re use the lid for canning. You can however used the lid should you wish to use it to store some dehydrated food in some jars that you can vacuum seal, but that is another story altogether.
I hope that you try this and I hope that after watching you are less intimidated to try canning. Pickles are a great way to start, as is jam or jelly. Give this a try and as always: