Ramping Up

Every week we get a bag of food from Kam’s Kookery & Guilford Garden. It’s called a CSA, for “community-supported agriculture,” but it’s easier to refer to it as our “veggie bag.” CSA customers commit to the veggies in advance, and given the nature of farming, receive a fluctuating variety and amount of produce every week (or every other week, as the case may be).

I had a couple of things in mind to try with this week’s bounty. My friend Hailey shared her experience of making pastrami-cured beets, which I was excited to make as soon as I learned we’d receive beets. We got turnips too, so to make it worth the effort I combined them. They’re delicious! Here’s the recipe Hailey and I used. I didn’t have any powdered garlic, and they still turned out delicious. At last! I didn’t wait until the turnips were sad and wrinkly before finally putting them to use!

A head of cabbage also came in the bag, so I started a batch of sauerkraut, adding bits of leftover turnips and beets for color and crunch. If you’ve never made sauerkraut before, there’s ample guidance online and in books you can get at the library. I decided to check with one of my favorite bloggers, the Zero Waste Chef, to see how she does it. I took her advice to let the salted veggies sit for an hour or so after I mixed and massaged them with salt. This ensured the cabbage released enough water so that I could easily submerge the veggies in the resulting brine, something that has taken a lot of pounding and squeezing in the past. After I filled the large jar, I decided to add some minced serrano peppers that we had in the freezer, so a small batch will have a bit of heat.

The veggie bag also had onions, zucchini, crookneck squash, sungold tomatoes, new potatoes, cucumbers, and Swiss chard. I love this time of year! This morning I flipped through How to Cook Everything Fast (thanks, Anne!) to see what I could make with some chicken thighs and squash: Provencal chicken for supper!

In a Pickle

fermented cucumber pickles

My “summer of the pickle” turned out to be a flop. After my first tasty batch, the others were disappointing, if not inedible. I forgot to add a grapeleaf to the horseradish pickles and they were a mushy mess. The dill tasted off. Some of the pickles were mottled. While fermentation is an inexact art, I’ve been doing some research to try to pinpoint where I went wrong. This is the best troubleshooting guide that I’ve found. So far I’ve learned:

  • Certain cucumber varieties turn to mush during fermentation
  • Summertime fermenting might be destined to fail in my too-warm kitchen
  • In addition to adding a grapeleaf (or teabag) to keep the cucumbers crisp, I should trim off the blossom end, which removes the source for the enzyme that causes things to go soft
  • Sunlight or incomplete fermentation could cause discoloration.

Summer of the Pickle

cucumber trellis
June 17 | I’m quite fond of the trellis I made from two T-posts snagged on bulk trash day, a stalk from last year’s Maximillian sunflowers, and hemp twine.
I’ve been daydreaming of traditional pickled cucumbers since reading this article last August about “the beauty of fermented foods.” I have grown and pickled slicing cucumbers before, but this year I wanted to grow chubby ones that would look so pleasing in mason jars labeled “dill,” “horseradish,” or “hot pepper” — each jar a new experiment in fermented flavors.
I unsuccessfully tried to start some plants from seed, so I was happy to find pickling cucumber transplants from Renrick’s Farm and Garden, via the Oklahoma Food Co-op.
July 11
July 13 (left) and July 16 | Batch No. 1: basic fermented cucumber pickles! After consulting Nourishing Traditions for guidance, I started with a brine of 2 T sea salt in about 3 cups of water, added about 1 T McCormick pickling spice, and two garlic cloves. To help retain crunch, I added to the jar two leaves from Brian’s grapevine. Then you simply leave them at room temperature for three days (or more, to taste). So good, and I’m just getting started. Watch out, Claussen!

Rotten Radishes, Or a Learning Experience

hearty radish
fermented radishes

My first batch of fermented radishes was delicious — crisp, savory, flavorful. I followed this recipe and the general fermenting tenets I’ve gleaned from reading Sandor Katz. I was looking forward to building on, or at least replicating, that success with my second batch; however, the slices turned to mush and have a faint unpleasant odor.  I think my first misstep was using radishes that were past their prime, which is doubly sad since I harvested them 50 feet away from my kitchen. (Why the hurry to harvest, when I just let them get pruney in my frig?) Since I really enjoyed the flavor of the first batch, I thought to reuse the brine. Was that a mistake? Seems likely. I probably should have just added a few tablespoons to a fresh batch. I hope you more experienced fermenters will comment.

fermenting radishesYou can read about my other fermenting successes and failures here.

Preserving Spring

Tuesday night I picked wild onion from my front yard. Or maybe it’s wild garlic? I can’t find a definitive answer. Anyone? Then I made a wild onion/garlic omelet for supper. I cooked it all in a smidgen of smoked jowl fat I scooped from the jelly jar stored in the frig. I am certain said smidgen was responsible for elevating the entire experience. Dregs of boxed wine accompanied the meal.

I think I planted the wild onion/garlic a couple of springs ago after I collected some on one of Jackie Dill’s foraging walks. Or maybe I got it at the Friendship Seed Exchange? So much doubt in this post. But I am certain of this: Freshly mowed wild garlic or onion is one of spring’s most delicious scents, despite the inherent waste.

wild garlicwild garlicwild garlic omelet

I cleaned up after supper (I’m trying to get better about cleaning as I go) and started on wild onion kimchi. But was it onions or garlic? And did it matter? I combined my puzzling odorous bulbs with several bundles of freegan limp green onions and — viola!  — wildish Allium kimchi!
onion kimchi

Fermented Okra

Let’s just get this out of the way: The fermented okra turned out pretty slimy.* But if you have no strong aversion to okra goo, then you’ll love it! (Reassuring, no?) The process is amazing in its simplicity, as it turns crisp okra pods into a tangy, tender snack that will keep for months in the refrigerator. It tastes similar to okra pickled with vinegar, but wins the preservation contest (if there were one) because it’s easier to make and imparts all the beneficial bacteria inherent in fermentation.
fermented okrafermented okra
My go-to fermenting resources (Wild Fermentation and Nourishing Traditions) offered no guidance on okra in particular, but I figured the Nourishing Traditions recipe for pickled cucumbers would work just as well. Luckily Brittany has fermented everything, so I turned to her on day 2 when there was none of the telltale bubbly activity. My guess is the viscous brine inhibits the bubbling.

I started with a brine of salt (1/4 cup), water (2 cups) and whey (1/2 cup) , to which I added two seeded jalapenos, several garlic cloves, and about two tablespoons of mustard seed. (If you don’t have whey, just make a saltier brine. Want to know more? I explain this a bit more in depth in the post about fermented beets.) I made sure the pods were submerged to prevent mold and covered the crock with a tea towel. I tasted the pods each day, and on day 3 I decided they were tasty, although the flavors continue to evolve in the refrigerator.

Not sold on fermenting okra? Here’s some other things to do with it: recipes, decorating, and another recipe.

*Edited to add: It’s been three days since I transferred the okra to the refrigerator, and I feel like my characterization of “slimy okra” might have been off-putting and not really fair. I’m snacking on it and noticed it’s not slimy at all. It’s the brine that is slightly slimy, and you don’t have to drink the brine, thankfully.

Manic Monday

It’s been quiet around here, so I thought I’d tell you about my evening. For the last two-and-a-half hours I’ve been a whirlwind in the kitchen: I started batches of fermented okra (more on this later in the week) and pickled eggs, concocted an apple-pecan-raisin bake, and assembled a three-bean salad (an adapted version of this recipe).

I was in a bit of a funk when I got home — but no more, thanks to this mishmash of food, an equally eclectic music selection (Janis Joplin, GreenMan, Jack Johnson, and Tori Amos), and the breezy, overcast evening.

Now that I feel quite accomplished, I think I’ll go snuggle up with a book.

Tonight’s evolving countertops:
fermented okra, pickled eggs, purple hull peasfermented okra, pickled eggsapple bake, pickled eggs, purple hull peas, fermented okra
bean salad

P.S. I’d like to talk to the person that thought 2-inch tile and grout would make a suitable kitchen counter.