Belt and Suspenders

“Do you cook?,” the seller’s agent asked me. “You are just going to love having two stoves, especially if you do any preserving.” She really didn’t need to sell me on the kitchen in our now-house; it’s huge and filled with the light. Yes, it was a little odd to have an electric stove top at one end of the counters and an entire electric stove and oven on the other end, but I just went with it.

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(Rich would like to assure everyone that we replaced the electric stove and oven with an electric induction unit. It was pricey but about equal to getting a gas line and a mid-range gas stove. Induction uses electromagnetic fields to heat up the pot itself instead of the cooktop. Your pots need to have some magnetic material in them, but we made sure almost all ours would work before we pulled the trigger. It really is magical – safer than regular electric, with the heat control of gas. And it boils a whole pot of water in like 3 minutes.)

In the past year I have used both stove tops exactly twice. First it was to fry piles of latkes at Chanukah, when it really did cut down on time to have four frying pans going at once. The second time was at Pesach, where there are never enough burners or countertop space for all the cooking that needs to get done. Now it’s summer time, so prime pickling and preserving season. And just as the realtor foresaw, the two stove tops really have come in handy.

I did pause for a moment considering if I should be sharing pickling recipes with you, because chances are you don’t have a second stove top to set an enormous pot of water on to boil and continue making dinner on another stove top. But I saw a very old, very dear friend on Sunday who is preserving nonstop right now in a not-huge New York kitchen. Perhaps some of you feel the same, or would with a little nudge.

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The driving force behind all the pickling and preserving is the book Ball Canning Back to Basics: A Foolproof Guide to Canning, James, Jellies, Pickles & More, an absolutely terrific book that breaks the recipes down into clear, step-by-step directions. Honestly, the recipes are so clearly written and easy to follow that I’m constantly opening the book up to search for something new to make. It’s become rather addictive. As the cover touts, “If you can boil water, you can make your own delectable jams and jellies, try your hand at fresh-pack pickling, and jar savory sauces.”

Now, I must admit it helps if you have a little hardware at your disposal, including jars, a massive stock pot to process the jars, heat proof gloves, and a canning set. But you buy those things once and then you have them for years.

First thing I pickled were the pickling cukes from the CSA, but those took a little work. I had to brine the gherkins overnight, then make the pickling brine, sterilize jars, add the pickles, dill, brine and process. It took some doing, I’m not going to lie. But the pickles were great, and I highly recommend the recipe.

What I am going to share with you is the pickled hot peppers, or pepperoncini, because it’s prime hot pepper season. I love having a jar of there on the door of the fridge. I add them to sandwiches for a little kick, or chop them into a salad with roasted beets, chickpeas, feta, cucumber and sunflower seeds. Or I just pop one into my mouth as I walk by the fridge.

 

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The directions are to make 5 (1-pint) jars, but if you only want to make 1 or 2 jars you have my permission to do so. You can buy several gallons of white vinegar for about $3, so don’t worry about saving leftover brine and not enough peppers.

To prep the jars, wash them in very hot soapy water. Do not dry the washed bottles or jars, but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven for 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Wear protective oven mitts when handling hot bottles and jars.

Pepperoncini – Pickled Hot Peppers from Ball Canning Back to Basics

Ingredients

3 pounds hot peppers (such as banana, jalapeno, or serrano peppers)

1 quart plus 2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)

2 cups water

3 garlic cloves, crushed

Ball Pickle Crisp Granules (optional – I just used kosher salt I had in the house)

Directions

Rinse the hot peppers under cold running water; drain. Remove the stems and blossom ends from the peppers. Cut the peppers into 1-inch pieces. Place the peppers in a large bowl.

Combine the vinegar, water, and garlic in a large stainless-steel or enameled saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Remove heat to a simmer; simmer 5 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic.

Pack the hot peppers into a hot jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Ladle the hot liquid over the peppers, leaving ½-inch headspace. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt to jar, if desired. Remove air bubbles. Wipe the jar rim. Center the lid on the jar. Apply the band, and adjust to finger-tip tight. Place the jar in the boiling water. Repeat until all the jars are filled.

Process the jars 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Turn off heat; remove the lid, and let the jars stand 5 minutes. Remove the jars and cool.

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Long Trip, Quick Pickle

I had so many plans for the Fourth of July: pickling things, making jams, eating hot dogs. Lots of hot dogs. But my case of Bell jars and package of pectin were left unopened on the dining room table when we zipped out that morning to visit Brian.

When I finally did return home that Friday, the jars were waiting for me, and most of the veggies I had purchased for my pickling party were still salvageable. And I had company. Through the magic of Facebook I connected with my second cousin, once removed. I think I saw David last at his bar mitzvah, when I was in college. I don’t remember too much about that day, except that his chanting was flawless, there was cholent at the kiddush, and even though I wasn’t quite 21, I was allowed to drink a Sam Adams.

Due to my concern about my not-so-fresh veggies, I asked David if it would be OK if I took a little time to do some cooking during our visit. “Molly,” Rich began, “it’s not very polite to drag your cousin all the way to Boston and make him hang out while you’re in the kitchen.” But much to my surprise and delight, David not only didn’t mind, but asked if he could help me cook.

And it was then that we made the most wonderful discovery: David was the best assistant I have ever had in the kitchen. It made sense: He grew up standing next to his mom in her kitchen, helping clean and chop things, just as I did the same with my mom. And his mom grew up helping her mom in her kitchen… you get the picture. Although we had not grown up with each other, we grew up doing the same things within our own families.

It was so late by the time we got back to Boston that the thought of sterilizing all the jars seemed too daunting a task that night. So we quick-pickled the sugar snap peas and cucumbers for the BBQ the next night we’d planned in cousin David’s honor. Good news: The pickles were fabulous; bad news, since I hadn’t been around that week to remind people, we had more food than people. It was OK, though. The people who could make it were terrific, and the food was pretty darn tasty. But really, these pickled sugar snap peas stole the show.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas

I adapted this recipe from the amazing Deb, who adapted hers from The Joy of Pickling via Epicurious.

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups white distilled vinegar

1 ¼ cups cold water

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed and strings removed

4 garlic cloves, sliced

4 small dried chile peppers

4 sprigs fresh dill

Directions

In a nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar with the salt and sugar until they are dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the cold water. (This gives you a leg up on getting the liquid to cooling the liquid.)

When the vinegar mixture is cool, pack the sugar snaps, garlic, chile peppers and dill into a 1-quart jar or bowl, and pour the brine over it. Cover with a non-reactive cap or plastic wrap.

The original recipe suggests to wait two weeks before enjoying, but they were pickled ever so slightly by the next evening. I’m not sure how long they’ll be good; these were devoured in less than a week.