Pickling and Canning Workshop
This week gardeners gathered at the end of a brisk, almost-autumn day to learn a new technique to preserve the harvest: pickling and canning! This is a great way to make use of the surplus that gardeners often experience at this time of the year, as well as putting away some fresh produce so that it can be enjoyed in the cold winter months, when daydreams of gardens seem so distant. Canning can be done with most produce, in the savory forms of relishes, pickles, chutneys, salsas and sauces, as well as sweet forms, such as fruit jams, compotes, and preserves. The concept of canning refers to the process of putting the prepares foods into jars, and boiling them so that the jars become airtight, denying the possibility of rot, so that the foods can stay good on a shelf for a year or longer.
Pickling is the process of preserving food by means of an acidic brine, usually a combination of vinegar, water and salt, with other spices and herbs for flavor. In class we learned two techniques of pickling: refrigerator pickles, which does not go through the canning process, and must be refrigerated, and will last for a month or several months in the fridges, and dilly beans, which are a pickled green bean that we canned.
Beginning with a huge box of green beans that we purchased from New Farms for New Americans (who are currently selling green bands for $1/lb, cheaper than Costco- find them at the Tuesday Old North End farmers market) the class prepared to make pickled green beans. We trimmed off the tips of the beans and washed them. Meanwhile, we sterilized the mason jars by bringing water to a boil and submerging the jars in the water.
Next, we filled the jars with green beans, a stem of dill, about a teaspoon of pickling salt (kosher salt works too, but avoid using iodized salt), some peppercorn, chili flakes, chopped onion, and crushed garlic. Another tip is to add a grape leaf, whose tanins will keep the vegetables that you are canning more crunchy.
Then, we filled the jars with a brine, which was 50:50 water to vinegar ratio that we brought to a boil. The last step is the canning process where we bring a huge pot of water to a boil and submerge the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. There are some important tools that will aid in the process such as canning tongs, and a wire bracket that allows you to set the jars in the water, which you can buy at a hardware or garden supply store. While it is possible to do it without these tools, you may suffer from some burns and spilled brine (writing from experience).
Allow these canned beans to sit in a cool dark space for two weeks before eating them. They should be able to store for a year or more.
For recipes, more information, and better more specific guidelines, here are some great resources:
The Ball Blue Book for Preserving
The Art of Fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz)