Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Bread and Butter Pickles – it may not be too late!

Bread and butter pickles - after 4 weeks of waiting.

Bread and butter pickles – after 4 weeks of waiting.

I was raised on dill pickles: sour, spicy, herby, and crisp, the kind that will wake up your taste buds. Not sweet. Sweetness has no place on a pickle. I’m not even that big on relish. So bread & butter pickles have never really been my thing. Plus, I find the bright yellow store pickles off putting.

These pickles start with cucumbers (obviously) and also onions and green peppers.

These pickles start with cucumbers (obviously) and also onions and green peppers. I wondered about the green peppers, but I don’t taste them in the finished pickle. They must add a subtle flavor.

Wait, wait, hear me out. I was uninitiated! It isn’t surprising that our parent’s tastes (like their politics, values, and styles) permeate our own. My parents never served us sweet pickles, so how was I to know that a sandwich with semi-sweet pickles was delicious?

All of the veg are sliced very thin - I used a mandoline and set it at 1/8"

Slicing the cucumbers with a mandoline.

My “transformation” started this spring, with the carrot relish you see in the banner photo. (I will remake that and write about it soon.) It was amazing on burgers and sandwiches. So I had this revelation: “sweet and crunchy is good.”

Mix the veg with salt and keep in a bowl with ice cubes for 3 hours, with a weight on top. I used a plate stacked with canned goods, worked like a charm!

Salting the veggies. Let sit for 3 hours (the ice cubes keep it cool), with a weight on top. I used a plate stacked with canned goods, worked like a charm! This step pulls excess moisture from the veggies.

I wanted to try a new pickle recipe (still on the hunt for the best pickles!) and Becky over at Chicken Wire and Paper Flowers had posted a recipe from a book from the 70s. I figured any recipe that is still around after that long must be pretty good. The full recipe is below.

Thoroughly rinse the salt off the veggies. No need to pat dry but do let them drip dry a little.

Rinsing the veggies. No need to pat dry but do let them drip dry.

It took me two days to make them. See, you should really read the full recipe before starting. There’s a step where you let the veggies sit in salt for 3 hours. Once those three hours were up, I was due at a friend’s. So I rinsed them and put them in the fridge until the next day.

Mix the veg with the spices and vinegar, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot but  not boiling.

Cooking the mixture over the stove.

After finishing the recipe, you’re supposed to wait, so I dutifully packed them into jars, labeled with, “open after 9/21,” and waited. Honestly, I’m not sure the importance of waiting, but Becky said they are better the longer you let them sit, so fair enough. At any rate, I opened the jar on Monday. Holy smokes, these are delightful little beasts.

Pour into hot sterile jars, put on lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Here the jars of pickles have been processed. Now we wait…

The pickles are sweet but not harshly sweet, just a perfect flavor. They’re a little yellow from the turmeric, but not fluorescent. They are exactly what a bread and butter pickle should be. They taste amazing on sandwiches, and are fun even as a snack. I will be taking them as my contribution to the appetizer lunch at Ladies Preservation Society today. Yes, they are good enough to give to others without apology, and the recipe is big enough that I don’t feel like a fool for sharing.

The waiting is the hardest part, as they say. When finished, they will be the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. Enjoy!

When finished, the pickles will be the perfect balance of sweet and tangy. Enjoy!

Recipe (I halved the recipe from The Ideals Family Garden Cookbook, via Chicken Wire and Paper Flowers)

Makes about 3 pints (using 2 lbs of cukes)

Veggies:
½ gallon cucumbers (about 2 – 3 lbs cucumbers)
4 small white onions
1 green pepper (shredded)
¼ cup salt

Syrup:
2.5 cups sugar
¾ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
½ tsp celery seeds
2.5 cups cider vinegar

Wash veggies. Slice cucumbers and onions crosswise in very thin slices. I used a mandoline at 1/8” thickness. Using a cheese grater, grate the green pepper (this is harder and more wasteful than it sounds, so cutting into small pieces would work, too). Mix the veggies with salt in a bowl. Stir in about a tray of ice cubes, to keep cold. Cover with a weighted lid and let stand for 3 hours. Rinse and drain thoroughly.

To make the syrup, mix all the dry goods together, then add vinegar.

Combine syrup and veggies in a large pot. Put over low heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very hot but not yet boiling.

Place in hot sterile jars, add lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Let stand 4-6 weeks before opening.


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The Great People at IFBC

ifbc2013

Last weekend was IFBC (International Food Blogger Conference) here in Seattle. Now that IFBC weekend is over, and I’m recovering from information overload, I want to recap my experience. I thought I’d divide it up into two chunks – the food and the people. Because both were fantastic and inspiring!

I went with a friend, Kristin, and she introduced me to so many people. She even got me invited to a brunch at All Recipes (which was awesome)! As a relatively new blogger in the community, I suddenly feel connected to my fellow bloggers. Yay! If you are thinking of coming to IFBC next year (and you should, it’s in Seattle again!) I strongly recommend it. And at $95 for active bloggers, it’s easily the best value in town (not even including the fact that I got at least that much in swag and samples.)

I attended at least one excellent talk on every day. You know, there are always some talks that are better than others, but I was impressed at the range of topics and depth of knowledge presented. Dorie Greenspan was the keynote speaker on day one. She talked about the passion that food writing requires, and I think everyone in the room was inspired by her motto, “say yes and follow your dream.” She also pointed out that she’s lucky because she’s worked hard. I like that; I’ve always believed we make our own luck. And while I’m not a big baker, I can see why people flock to her, and bake along on Tuesdays with Dorie. She is so genuine and charming.

Dorie Greenspan and a rapt audience.

Dorie Greenspan and a rapt audience.

Day two had multiple great talks in a row, the first was a session with a demo by Chef John Mitzewich of Food Wishes, and food photographer Andrew Scrivani from the NY Times. This session was really fun, and Andrew’s photos are absolutely gorgeous. I was stunned to hear the amount of work that goes into every shot! I also got some great tips about lighting and composition.

Andrew also lead smaller session about workflow, and how to stay professional and organized in an artistic field. While a lot of this talk was over my head, it was a great reminder that writing and photography takes discipline.

"The posture of a food photographer." Conference participants using natural light to photograph Chef John's salmon dishes.

“The posture of a food photographer.” Conference participants using natural light to photograph Chef John’s salmon dishes.

Finally, on Sunday morning, journalist and chef Kim O’Donnel led a writing workshop. She talked about how food connects us all and is a reflection of society and the world. Her talk was relaxing and uplifting. Then we did a few timed writing exercises. One was to write out a recipe for pb&j in 5 minutes. It was hard but fun; you should try it! I volunteered to read mine in front of the room, with Kristin acting out my instructions. Nervous! But everyone was supportive, and the criticism I received was thoughtful and made a lot of sense (like to include yields, which I always forget!). It’s humbling to be in a room with such accomplished cooks and writers, and I am grateful for everyone’s interest and kindness.

Kim O'Donnel reading to us at the start of her session. She read from literature about food and eating.

Kim O’Donnel reading to us at the start of her session. She read from literature about food and eating.

After this conference I definitely feel connected to the blogging community. We spent the weekend talking about food and writing, two of my favorite things. I think I even made a few new friends, and certainly found a bunch of new blogs to read. You can expect links to their work, because I’m already having fun reading them!

Kristin and I went to lunch at Lecosho on Saturday. We are standing on the Harbor Steps here.

Kristin and I had lunch at Lecosho on Saturday. We are standing on the Harbor Steps here.


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Pickled Peaches and IFBC!

Pickled peaches!

Pickled peaches!

I’ll get into pickling peaches in a minute, but first I have to tell you, I’m going to IFBC this weekend! The International Food Blogger Conference is right here in Seattle this year, and I am so excited to go! It makes me feel like a super legit blogger; I got business cards and everything.

ifbc2013

I’ve been trying to plan my weekend – I’m going to learn about food photography, get a little tech help from WordPress, taste a bunch of foods, and spend the weekend with my dear friend Kristin over at KristinPotPie. But I’m already a little torn, because there’s a session on olives at the same time as a session with a photographer from the New York Times. Tough one.

Check back soon for my impressions on the conference and maybe a few new ideas. And if you’re going, leave me a comment and I’ll look for you there.

Suncrest Peaches

Suncrest Peaches

Pickled Peaches

Ok, onto pickled peaches. For Ladies’ Preservation Society this last month, there was just going to be two of us, so naturally we thought that’d be the perfect time to take on a huge project, ha! But seriously, she and I are a little obsessive about canning. And peaches. They are about as time consuming as just about anything I’ve tried, but for some reason are still the most fun and satisfying thing to can. Maybe it’s because they’re so much work, or maybe because the end result is so wonderfully beautiful.

Peaches that have been blanched. They are now in the ice bath in a cooler. Just be ready for cold hands when you grab them out!

Peaches that have been blanched. They are now in the ice bath in a cooler. Just be ready for cold hands when you grab them out!

I grabbed this recipe from Chicken Wire and Paper Flowers (thanks Becky!). Then my friend brought a case of Suncrest peaches, and I think we used about 12 pounds of them. They were the biggest peaches ever, a teensy bit tart but still very juicy. And freestone, thank goodness.

Recipe

10 + pounds of peaches
3.5 cups white vinegar
2.5 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
2” piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
½ tsp whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks

Slicing the blanched peaches. It's actually easiest to peel them first and then slice them.

Slicing the blanched peaches. It’s actually easiest to peel them first and then slice them, although the whole process is pretty messy.

Blanch the peaches for 30 seconds in boiling water, then plunge them in ice water. I got the idea to use a cooler from Becky, and it’s so much tidier than using large bowls. Next, peel, pit, and slice the peaches (we did 6ths or 8ths, these peaches were huge), and place them in cold water with a little citric acid, to prevent browning.

Look how full the bowls are! We wouldn't have had room for another peach. Here the peaches are resting in cool water mixed with citric acid.

Look how full the bowls are! We wouldn’t have had room for another peach. Here the sliced peaches are resting in cool water mixed with citric acid.

Next, combine ginger, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks in a cheesecloth bag. Add this to a pot with white vinegar, water, sugar, and allspice, and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Lower heat, and add the peaches (we had to do this in 2 batches) and cook until just heated through, 2-3 minutes.

Ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in cheesecloth.

Ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in cheesecloth.

In sterile jars, pack the peaches so that there is about an inch of headspace. Pour syrup over the peaches so that there is ½” headspace. [Question for you experts out there: Is the headspace above the liquid or the top of the fruit? Because the fruit floats, it’s always a little above the liquid.] Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Cooking peaches in the liquid (with the spices still in) for a couple minutes, just to heat through.

Cooking peaches in the liquid (with the spices still in) for a couple minutes, just to heat through. You don’t want to cook the peaches too much so they stay firm.

This recipe made 12 pints, so we each have 6 jars. Yay! I will be using mine to make a pickled peach pie, or possibly a pickled peach crumble. Either way, it will be topped with ice cream and will be fantastic.

Filling the jars with peaches.

Filling the jars with peaches, then the cooking liquid.

See you at IFBC!


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Foraging for Fruit

Himalayan blackberries

Himalayan blackberries

Every year, we go with a group of friends that live near a greenbelt to a spot with tons of wonderful berries. Last year we got like 10 pints of  berries. We made blackberry cobbler, and all of us had enough to take home and freeze.  This year, only three of us could go, so we thought we’d all have even more per family! I planned on making jam, freezing, and baking. I asked D to take pictures the whole way to document the day.

Heading into the greenbelt for our foraging adventure! Note my giant bag ready for filling. Optimist!

Heading into the greenbelt for our foraging adventure! Note my giant bag ready for filling. Optimist!

These are all the berries we picked last year. See why I was excited?

Last year’s haul – see why I was excited?

In Seattle, and I imagine over much of the rest of the country, late summer means blackberry picking. The Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is violently invasive, and takes over roadsides, empty lots, and natural areas. The only benefit is that they produce some pretty tasty fruits.

Rubus armeniacus leaves.

Rubus armeniacus leaves.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we also have 2 other blackberries, the invasive evergreen blackberry (Rubus laciniatus) and the native trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus). Both of these have delicious fruits, but are generally less common than the Himalayan, and don’t produce fruits in the same quantities.

Rubus laciniatus - evergreen blackberry. This one has deeply divided leaves and purple stems.

Rubus laciniatus – evergreen blackberry. This one has deeply divided leaves and purple stems.

Rubus ursinus - trailing or California blackberry. This one has trifoliate leaves, and thin whitish stems. It's generally on the ground, or winding through shrubs.

Rubus ursinus – trailing blackberry. This one has trifoliate leaves, and thin whitish stems. It’s generally on the ground, or winding through shrubs.

Well. That bounty from last year was nary to be found this weekend. Because of the warm spring and summer, all fruits have been earlier than normal this year. Up until last week there was probably a boatload of perfect fruit on the vine. But last Thursday we had heavy rain, it lasted all day, and it seems to have destroyed the whole dang crop.

It's starting to dawn on us that our trip may not be as fruitful (ha) as we had hoped, but we weren't ready to give up yet!

Our first spot – here it started to dawn on us that our trip may not be as fruitful (ha) as we had hoped, but we weren’t ready to give up yet. We’re only halfway to the best patch, it must be better there!

We started at one spot (above), had no luck, went to the next and the next, and after 2 hours we had just over a pint of acceptable berries. Darn! They were either squishing in our hands as we picked them (over ripe) or too hard, or mummified with rot. Fruit flies were even on some of the best looking fruits, a sure sign that they were starting to ferment.

A common sight this weekend - what look like good berries are starting to rot on the vine. The other berries probably won't ripen this year. What a bust!

A common sight this weekend – what looked at first like good berries were starting to rot on the vine. The other berries probably won’t ripen this year. What a bust!

We did have a lovely hike, of course. And with what appears to be divine intervention, we found plums. Tons of plums! In the greenbelt there’s a little grove of plum trees, probably an old orchard, that have all reverted. Normally there are one or two plums dangling within reach and a few rotting on the ground.

There were yellow and red plums. Most of the red ones were mush, so I mainly picked yellow ones. (Note the trailing blackberry in the shot).

There were yellow and red plums. Most of the red ones were mush, so I mainly picked yellow ones. (Note the trailing blackberry on the right). Most of these were bad, too, but I rummaged around until I filled a pint.

Saturday there were a bunch within reach (with the help of a little light shaking), and many on the ground looked like they had JUST fallen. I scoured the lot for the best plums, and got about a pint. They aren’t big, but are quite delicious. (I have some pears that I bought on a trip to the country the next day, and I’m brainstorming what to do with them both.)

Here's the bounty from this year! I'm not about to complain, they are still great, but quite a difference from last year.

Here’s the bounty from this year! I’m not about to complain, they are still great, but quite a difference from last year.

We ended up making a smaller cobbler than normal, and had to include frozen berries plus a couple apricots and plums, just for good measure. It was delicious! And since there were only 3 of us, we even had leftovers. I’m sorry we won’t be enjoying the fruits of our labors for the rest of the year, though. I may see if I can buy some berries at the farmer’s market this year, because blackberry jam is my very favorite.

Still worth it... we made "kitchen sink" cobbler - blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, apricot, plum. Topped with ice cream... yum!

Still worth it… we made “kitchen sink” cobbler – blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, apricot, plum. Topped with ice cream… yum!