Fermenting and Storing Kraut in Small Jars, without Pasteurization or Refrigeration

cabbage-heads-2-croppedI’ve more than once seen Extension home-ec agents roll their eyes when asked if it’s possible to store sauerkraut in the same jar in which it has fermented, with no heating or chilling. Where do such ideas come from? the agents ask.

From Extension’s mother agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of course! Randal Oulton recently sent me a 1936 USDA press release, intended for radio broadcast, about how USDA researchers had made and stored sauerrüben—fermented shredded turnip—in just this way:

Shredded [and salted] turnips were packed in 2-quart glass jars, which held approximately 4 pounds of turnips each when packed firmly. Because of the pressure produced by the gas released during the initial fermentation, the lids of the jars had to be left loose. By this means the gas was allowed to escape, yet at the same time a sufficient concentration of carbon dioxide to prevent aerobic spoilage was maintained over the fermenting material. As the evolution of the gas lifted considerable quantities of the juice to the top of the jar, causing it to overflow, the jars were placed in enameled pans until the period of gas formation was over. Once each 24 hours the lids were removed, the shreds were pushed down into the jars by means of a wooden spoon or blunt wooden stick, the lost juice was returned to the jars, and the lids were replaced.

I wonder if the researchers strained out the fruit flies before returning the juice to the jars. Anyway, the report continues:

As soon as the gas ceased to be given off, which required about 4 days, the jars were sealed tight and stored at room temperature. The fermentation was generally completed in 12 to 14 days, and the product was then ready for use. The product put up in this manner has been kept for 3 years and is still in excellent condition, although heat has not been applied.

Presumably the jars were stored in a cool place such as a cellar and not in a really cold place like a refrigerator. We aren’t told what kind of lids the researchers used and whether the lids formed a vacuum seal. In any case, the method worked, and the writer suggests trying it with 1-quart as well as 2-quart jars. The article makes no mention of exploding jars, which the home-ec agents always warn about.

I would certainly prefer to try this method over another recommended in the same piece: After fermenting the shredded turnip in open stone jars, you cover the surface with mineral oil.

Have you tried making and storing sauerkraut or sauerrüben in small jars without heating or chilling? How well did your method work? I’d love to hear your stories.

Finally, Stainless-Steel Mason Jar Bands

“See this rust?” asked a county-fair judge of a young 4-Her, pointing at a little spot inside the band the judge had just removed from the child’s jam jar. “This can keep your lid from sealing.”

I’d never known even the rustiest band to keep a mason jar lid from sealing, and I was startled to learn that a fair judge might withhold a blue ribbon because of a tiny spot of rust on the inside of a band. But I do think that rusty bands are ugly. If you want to make a good impression when you display or sell or give away your preserves, you’ve got to use brand-new bands.

But why must the bands go rusty by the second or third use? After one of my readers and I recently shared our annoyance at this, he started googling. To our mutual delight, he discovered a source for stainless-steel mason jar bands.

Maggie and Ryan Helseth, owners of Mason Jar Lifestyle, say that their rings are stain-resistant, not stain-proof; they may start to rust if they’re left soaking in water for days. But they won’t rust with normal use, including passes through at dishwasher. I’ve tested some of the stainless bands by using them in a boiling-water bath and by immersing them in water for a full day. So far they show no sign of rust.

As you might expect, the stainless-steel bands cost more than regular ones: You get five narrow-mouth stainless bands for $11.99 or five wide-mouth bands for $13.99. Because of their higher cost, and because the stainless-steel bands are identical in appearance and weight to regular bands, you’ll want to take care to keep the two types separate, so you don’t give away the good bands accidentally. If you do mix up your bands, though, you can tell the stainless from the soon-to-be-stained with the help of a magnet. The stainless bands, unlike the others, are not magnetic.

stainless band & silicone lid linerMaggie and Ryan sent me some of their other products to try. I am much taken with their silicone lid liners and sealing rings. Made of material that is stable and nonreactive—that won’t leach chemicals and won’t be damaged in a dishwasher—the liners can be used under plastic mason-jar caps or two-piece lids to keep food from touching metal or plastic and to keep plastic caps from leaking, a problem especially during transport to potlucks and picnics. Though flexible, the liners are sturdy enough, at 2.2 millimeters thick, that you can use them with rings alone. The sealing rings, like the lid liners, can be used with plastic Ball caps to prevent leakage and to provide an airtight seal—not for canning, of course, but for storage of unpasteurized foods in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry. Ten silicone lid liners cost $13.99 in narrow-mouth size and $14.99 in wide-mouth. Ten silicone sealing rings cost $6.99 in narrow-mouth size and $8.99 in wide-mouth.

silcone sealing ringMaggie and Ryan also sell stainless-steel mason-jar caps, which come with their own removable silicone sealing rings (since the rings are removable they are also replaceable, although I don’t imagine they wear out fast). Without logos or other decoration, these lids are plainly attractive, especially if you dislike plastic. Like plastic mason-jar caps, the metal ones are not intended for canning. Five stainless caps with silicone sealing rings cost $16.99 for in narrow-mouth size, $18.99 in wide-mouth.

Self-described “mason jar geeks,” Maggie and Ryan have other products, too, such as a stainless lid with a hole for inserting a drinking straw. See all their stuff at masonjarlifestyle.com.

Update: August 24, 2016
A few of Maggie and Ryan’s customers have complained that the stainless-steel bands have come off in during processing, usually in a pressure canner, Ryan tells me. Because stainless steel is harder than tin, the threads on the Mason Jar Lifestyle bands are less well defined than those on ordinary mason-jar bands. Ryan is working with the factory to fix this problem. If you plan to use the stainless-steel bands for canning, I suggest waiting at least a few weeks before ordering them.

Update: July 25, 2017
I have yet no news from Maggie and Ryan, but another company, Kraut Source, is now offering stainless-steel mason-jar bands, at http://www.krautsource.com/new-products/stainless-steel-lid-ring-3-sets.

From the New Joy of Pickling: Pickled Sliced Peaches

IMG_9609The Washington State Fruit Commission made my day again early this month, when a big box of fragrant, juicy peaches and nectarines was delivered to my front porch. The fruit was so tasty that I made small batches of plain peach jam and raspberry-peach jam and then, with my husband’s help, simply devoured the rest.

But I had promised the Fruit Commission a blog post, so I bought some locally grown, almost equally delicious peaches to make Spicy Pickled Peach Slices, one of the fifty-some new pickles in the third edition of The Joy of Pickling.

Whole pickled peaches are a treat at holiday meals, but most commercially grown peaches are too big to fit into mason jars. Even if I could buy extra-wide-mouthed jars, I wouldn’t want to serve whole fruits as big as a newborn’s head. Sliced peaches are not only easier to pack into jars; they are also easier to eat with a fork than are whole peaches.

With the sweetness, spice, and tang of a good barbecue sauce or chutney, and striking good looks to boot, this pickle is an excellent accompaniment to smoked and grilled meats. Try it over ice cream, too.

Spicy Pickled Peach Slices

2 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken
2 teaspoons mace or chopped nutmeg
1 ½ teaspoons whole cloves
1 ½ inch gingerroot, sliced into quarter-size rounds and slivered
2 cups distilled white vinegar (5 percent)
2 ¼ cups sugar
24 coriander seeds
8 allspice berries
2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes
4 quarter-size slices of gingerroot
1 teaspoon pickling salt
About 4 pounds freestone peaches

Put the cinnamon, mace or nutmeg, cloves, slivered gingerroot, vinegar, and sugar into a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the syrup for 10 minutes.

Divide the coriander, allspice, pepper flakes ginger slices, and salt among four pint mason jars.

In a pot of boiling water, blanch the peaches a few at a time until the skins loosen, about 30 to 60 seconds. Plunge the peaches into a bowl of cold water.

When all the peaches are blanched, slide off their skins. Slice each peach into wedges about 1 inch wide at the widest point.

IMG_9602Strain the syrup into a wide pan. Bring the syrup back to a simmer, and add the peach slices. Bring the mixture to a boil, and remove the pan from the heat.

Ladle the peaches and syrup into the mason jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add two-piece lids, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 20 minutes.    

Makes 4 pints

News Bites

JoP 3rd ed cover

In recent weeks I’ve been busy with the very tedious but so-important work of producing the index for the third edition of The Joy of Pickling. Yes, the third edition will be out soon, on July 1! Online retailers in both the USA and UK are taking orders now.

In this edition I’ve included fifty-some new recipes, such as for cured olives and brined whole watermelons and cabbages, and new technical information, including sources for fermenting containers, weights, and airlocks. Have a look at the blurb on the publisher’s website here.

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 If you followed the link in the foregoing paragraph, you already know that I have a new publisher: Quarto Publishing Group has acquired the Harvard Common Press. Quarto will also be the publisher of my next book, Savory Jams, to be released sometime next year.

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Recently, the folks at Fillmore Container asked me, along with several other writers on home food preservation, three questions: What does preserving mean to you? How has your own approach to preserving changed? And how has home food preservation in general changed? Our responses have just been posted here.

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 Happy spring!

 

Fun to Watch, Fun to Eat: Mixed Vegetables Brined in Glass

mixed-pickle-4I love to ferment vegetables in gallon glass jars, which I leave on the kitchen counter so I can watch the colors mellow. I especially like to do this with mixed vegetables. A mixed vegetable pickle is not only a thing of beauty and an adventure to eat; it’s also a practical use for homegrown produce–in spring or fall, when your garden may provide you only a handful of this and a handful of that, or at any time of the year if your garden is small. What could be easier than combining these handfuls in a jar, adding some herbs and garlic, and pouring over some brine?

You can put what you like in your mixed pickle. In spring, replace the beans in my recipe with asparagus tips. In summer you might use whole tiny cucumbers or larger cucumbers, cut into chunks. Turnips, kohlrabi, cabbage, and radish are all good additions in the cooler months. If you want your pickles to stand out at a party, add a piece of raw beet to color them a shocking pink.

You don’t really need to weigh your vegetables. Just gather enough to fill your jar about three-quarters of the way to the top. This allows room for the brine to bubble and for a brine bag or other weight on top of the vegetables. For a gallon jar, you need about three quarts of prepared vegetables.

You can be creative with the aromatic ingredients as well with the main ones. I usually use licorice-like tarragon—except in the depths of winter, when my tarragon plant has died to the ground. Thyme and winter savory are always available in the pot on my deck, and they always go well in a mixed pickle. Sweet bay is a good addition, too. When I made a mixed fermented pickle last week, however, I passed over all of these for young dill that had grown from seeds I’d scattered in late summer, intending for them to sprout in spring. Dillweed has a fresher, less bitter flavor than fully or partially dried dill seed, so I was happy to find a use for the little plants before they froze.

Once fermentation gets under way, expect your brine to get cloudy. The cloudiness doesn’t mean your pickles are spoiling. Even the appearance of yeast or mold on top of the brine is little cause for concern, provided you keep the vegetables well immersed and skim off any scum promptly. If you use a brine bag as described in the recipe, no yeast or mold will be able to grow. (An airlock provides similar protection; it allows the bacteria in the pickle to release carbon dioxide while preventing airborne microbes from contaminating the brine. In the third edition of The Joy of Pickling you’ll find a list of companies that sell lids and jars with airlocks of various kinds.)

Mixed Fermented Pickle

What I call pickling salt (it’s usually labeled “canning and pickling salt”) is fine, pure sodium chloride. If you would prefer to substitute a coarser kind of salt, such as kosher, measure it by weight instead of by volume. But don’t substitute table salt, which has additives that could discolor your pickles.

1 pound cauliflower or broccoli florets
2 sweet green or red peppers, cut into squares or strips
1/2 pound whole young snap beans
1/2 pound shallots or pickling onions, peeled, or larger onions, cut into chunks or rings
1/4 pound tiny carrots, or larger carrots cut into rounds or thin sticks
3 garlic cloves, slivered
2 to 3 tarragon sprigs
2 to 3 thyme sprigs
1⁄2 cup (4.7 ounces) pickling salt
3 quarts water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Toss all the vegetables together, and pack them into a gallon jar, distributing the garlic and herbs among them. Dissolve the salt in the water, and pour enough brine over the vegetables to cover them. Add the vinegar. Push a gallon-size freezer bag into the top of the jar, pour the remaining brine into the bag, and seal the bag. Make sure the bag presses against the glass all the way around. Set the jar in a bowl, to protect your counter and cabinets in case of a spillover. Store the jar at room temperature.

Within three days, if you look close, you should see tiny bubbles in the brine. After a week you might start tasting the vegetables. They should be fully fermented in two to three weeks, when the bubbling has stopped and they taste quite sour. At this point you should remove the brine bag, cap the jar, and store it in the refrigerator. The pickled vegetables should keep in the refrigerator for several months.

Makes about 3 quarts

The New Fruit Cellar

 

I took this picture through a basement window.
I took this picture through a basement window.

In case you’ve been wondering why I haven’t written in so long, I’ll explain: We’ve been moving. This has involved renovating a little old bungalow, cleaning out a big house, a two-story garage, and a large barn, selling or giving away half of what was left after burglars took a good share, and fitting everything we couldn’t part with into our new, cozy digs. The 2015 vintage alone, in carboys, filled the trailer. The canned goods from the garage barely fit into the bed of a large pickup; we moved the hundreds of jars from the pantry in separate trips. Happily, the basement of the bungalow came with an old preserving cupboard. It’s taken me months, but I finally have all the shelves filled, organized, and labeled.

What you don’t see in the picture are the dozens of older jars of jams, jellies, and syrups that wouldn’t fit in the cupboard. I’ll probably make them into wine–but we have plenty of that. Maybe I’ll just feed them to the ever-ravenous soldier fly larvae in my compost.

The Bambi Wars Continue

My latest weapon in the war against the deer is kimchi. The dryer sheets repelled them only briefly last summer, and the creatures are apparently starting to savor the scent of rotten egg. Rotten egg presents other problems, too: It clogs the sprayer, and it ruins my appetite for fruits and vegetables sprayed with the stuff. So this year I thought I’d try a variant on the sulfurous theme, with chile to burn the tongue in case the odor of garlic isn’t offensive enough.

I threw whole heads of garlic—little ones that were too much trouble to peel—into the Vitamix along with handfuls of dried chiles (I have mountains of them, thanks to last year’s long, warm summer). I added water, blended the mixture thoroughly, and left it to sit on the kitchen counter through several days of rain. The mixture fermented, of course, and soon we were smelling . . . kimchi! By the time the sun came out the stink was strong enough to drive my husband out of the house. So I strained the juice through muslin, poured the liquid into the backpack sprayer, added more water, and went to work spraying the orchard.

The deer seemed to lose their appetite for a week or two. Then more rain fell, and the deer found my peas. Fortunately I’d left the sprayer partially filled in the barn, which no stray cat (or husband) would subsequently go near. I went spraying again—and also rigged up some wires in hopes of garroting a pea-eating deer. (I caught a lawn-mowing husband instead. He howled, but he left the wires alone. He likes peas.)

kimchi juiceI ran out of the juice before spraying some of the roses and blueberries, and last night the midnight marauders gave those bushes an unwelcome pruning. But when I’d made cabbage kimchi a week previously, I’d reserved some excess liquid. We should have had a meal of kimchi soup—I love kimchi soup– but we hadn’t yet, and so two quarts of cloudy, smelly red juice still sat on the kitchen counter today. I poured the liquid through muslin and scooped the chile-ginger-garlic mash that remained into the jars of kimchi.

I’m off to fill the sprayer again, this time with real kimchi juice. Wish me luck!

Olive-Oil Pickles: Q&A

Before the routine use of mason jars or even paraffin in the home kitchen, olive oil was often used, in America as well as Europe, to seal air out of jars of vinegar-pickled vegetables. When you’re canning pickles in the modern way today, oil might seem a superfluous addition—if it didn’t make the vegetables look and taste so good after they’re drawn, unctuously gleaming, from the jar.

Once you’ve pried off the lid and stored the jar in the fridge, though, the oil can partially or totally solidify. That doesn’t make for such a pretty pickle. Here’s how Matt, one reader of The Joy of Pickling, encountered this problem: 

I’m a beginner to this experience, and have made a few pickle recipes from your Joy book. I have a question relating to a recipe I did of the olive oil pickles (page 98). I did as instructed, and opened around 4 weeks after pantry storage. They tasted amazing! After about a week in the fridge, however, the opened jar formed small, white beads at the top. They vary in diameter, but all quite smaller than the mustard seeds.  

The unopened ones do not exhibit this, and I am concerned that there is something wrong. Perhaps this is some congealing of ingredients, but I wanted to see if you’ve encountered similar results. I haven’t eaten them since they’ve been in the fridge (e.g., formed the beads), so am only hoping that the refrigeration is the factor here, and that they are safe to eat.

And here are two photos that Matt sent me:

congealed olive oilcongealed olive oil 2

Sometimes chilled olive oil forms a solid whitish mass; other times it solidifies only partially. The “beads” Matt saw are solidified oil droplets.

The solution to this problem is simple: Take the jar out of the refrigerator a little before serving time, and let the oil melt in the warmer air outside the fridge. In Matt’s case the oil had only slightly solidified, so the melting probably took only ten minutes or so.

There’s something else to remember about oiled pickles: Oil on the rim of the jar or on the lid’s sealing compound can prevent a good seal. So be sure to leave adequate headspace in the jar, wipe any oil off the rim with a paper towel or clean cloth dampened with vinegar before placing the lid on top, and avoid tipping the jars or boiling the water hard during processing.

Last-Chance Pickles from Last Summer’s Citron Melon

pickled citron melonI feel ridiculous giving so much attention this time of year to a fruit of hot summer days, Citrullus lanatus—that is, the species that includes both watermelons and citron melons. After all, for nearly half a year I ignored the citron melons I’d harvested late last summer, though they lay in plain view on the tiled floor of our entry hall. But yesterday I noticed a brown area on one, like a bruise, and when I lifted the melon it spilled its guts and fell to pieces. Looking at the mushy melon chunks lying in a spreading puddle of clear liquid spotted with red seeds, I figured it was time to get cooking the remaining melons.

So I cut one in half, sliced it into slabs, cut off the rind, poked out the many seeds, and diced the flesh. This was a time-consuming job, believe me, but when I was done it was easy to pickle the melon. Here’s how I did it.

Sweet Pickled Citron Melon

I’ve based this recipe on one published in the New York Tribune in 1918, but I’ve omitted a treatment with pickling lime. Citron melon keeps its shape without liming, and, besides, I like the natural soft, chewy texture of the unlimed melon. 

This pickle has a clear, lovely look and a pleasant bit of bitterness from the lime—and here, of course, I mean not the white powder but the round, green citrus fruit. Lemon, as called for by the Tribune recipe, is a perfectly good alternative to lime. 

6 cups water
6 tablespoons salt
3 pounds peeled and seeded citron melon, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1 small lime, sliced very thin
2 quarter-size pieces fresh ginger
1 2½-inch cinnamon stick, broken
½ teaspoon cloves

Combine the water and salt in a pot, and bring the brine to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the citron melon, and simmer it for 15 minutes. Drain the citron melon, and drop it into a large bowl of ice water. When the melon has cooled, drain it again.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, honey, and lime slices. Put the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves into a spice bag, and put the spice bag into the pot. Heat the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved, and then add the drained citron melon. Simmer the mixture for about an hour, until the melon is completely translucent and the syrup has thickened somewhat. 

Ladle the melon and its liquid into pint or half-pint mason jars, including a lime slice in each jar. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. 

Makes 3 pints

Another Red Watermelon Pickle

Gwen's watermelon pickleI was pleased to find outside the front door yesterday a package from Gwen Schock Cowherd, my cherished advisor on all foods German-from-Russia. Gwen had sent a jar of her prize-winning unfermented watermelon pickles, made in the tradition of Midwestern prairie dwellers whose German ancestors once lived beside the Black Sea in Russia.

Gwen's watermelon pickle 2Gwen’s fresh-pickled watermelon tastes much like mine, but with a strong, fresh dilliness and a striking, appealing saltiness. I especially like the bit of crunch provided by the sliver of white rind showing on one edge of each watermelon piece. And notice how pretty Gwen’s pickle jar looks, with the dill heads and the sliced green pepper.

Gwen kindly sent me her recipe to share with you:

Gwen’s Watermelon Pickles

BRINE:
12 cups water
2½ cups sugar
2½ cups white vinegar
¾ cup salt
1 ounce Schilling pickling spice mix

Bring all ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a couple of hours, covered. Stir occasionally to distribute the flavor of the spices. 

1 large seedless watermelon, any variety (better underripe than overripe)
2 small heads fresh dill per jar
1 slivered garlic cove per jar
1 small dried red pepper per jar (optional)
1 or 2 thin green pepper slices per jar 

Peel the watermelon, leaving a thin amount of white rind. Cut the watermelon into 1-by-1/2-inch chunks. Try to leave some white rind on each chunk; this will help to keep it from disintegrating. Drain the chunks in colanders for several hours—overnight is best. 

Pour off the watermelon juice. If you want to use the juice in your brine, that is OK. 

Into each sterilized quart jar, put a dill head, and add watermelon to fill half the jar. Shake the jar so the pieces settle. Then add one small dried red pepper (if you like your pickles hot) and half the garlic slivers. Distribute the garlic among the watermelon chunks. Add more watermelon chunks, again shaking the jar so they settle. Add the strip(s) of green pepper and the rest of the garlic slivers, distributing them in the jar. Put another dill head at the top of the jar. 

Pour the brine, boiling and strained, into the jars. (Save the extra brine for another batch. It will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.) Add lids and rings, and put the jars in a hot water bath. Bring the water to a boil, and boil it for 5 minutes, no longer. 

Remove the jars from the bath and let them cool undisturbed for several hours. Check to see that they are sealed. Store them in a cool place. 

Makes 7 quarts

Gwen says her pickles improve with age. As you can see in the picture, the ones she sent me were made in 2012. Keep in mind, though, that she stores her sealed jars in an especially cool place: a refrigerator reserved just for pickles.

As the fermentation fad spreads, some people are saying that pickles aren’t true pickles unless the solids as well as the liquid components have been fermented. Gwen’s unfermented watermelon pickles, and my slightly sweeter ones, are very different from brine-pickled watermelon, and if you try all three recipes you may well prefer one over another. But I can’t predict which you’ll like best. All of them are real pickles, and all of them are really good.