Sunday, August 19 was the Select Nova Scotia Incredible Picnic at the Halifax Seaport Market. The day started out a little rainy, but by the afternoon, the sunshine and the crowds were out in full force. Thanks to everyone who … Continue reading
Last Thursday night was the first of four canning workshops that we’re hosting in partnership with Select Nova Scotia: Dilly Beans! A lovely group of participants joined us in a hot kitchen on a hot evening to learn how to … Continue reading
Water Kefir is a probiotic beverage with a base of sweetened water that is naturally fermented with the help of kefir grains, or tibicos. It’s a little different from the most commonly known kefir, which is made with milk and … Continue reading
As I previously mentioned in last week’s Fiddlehead Frolic part one, I’ve been doing some research into pickling fiddleheads. There aren’t too many recipe books that include recipes for fiddleheads, so I’ve had to experiment a bit. I really enjoy … Continue reading
Ahh… December 1. With the gardens put to bed, the cupboards full of preserves and the root cellar stocked, the food action committee has finally had some time to reflect on the growing season. Here’s a short slide show of some of our favourite photos from the season:
For details from any of our workshops, search this blog and our sister blog at the Halifax Garden Network.
Yours in food,
This post comes from Megan, neurotic first-time canner turned pro!
A few weeks ago I inadvertently volunteered to do a preserving demonstration at the Maritime Fall Fair. Inadvertently because I’d thought I was volunteering to man a booth, standing by while folks look at a display or pamphlets, and maybe answering some questions. Having never preserved anything in my life, I likely would not have volunteered had I understood I’d be demonstrating lacto-fermentation and canning to a seated audience. On a kitchen platform. With a microphone headset. Eep!
(This misunderstanding was no fault of the requester; I need to read my emails more closely and make fewer assumptions).
Realizing what I got myself into I figured I’d better learn in a hurry. Mixing up sauerkraut was easy – chop, salt, pound, wait. I texted a friend who’d taken the sauerkraut workshop: could it be that easy? I was forgetting something, right? But as with many of the foods that we’re used to harvesting from grocery shelves, it really isn’t complicated; we’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing things for ourselves. Lacto-fermentation, check.
Next: canning. Much more intimidating. In preparation I borrowed a book on canning and bought myself a canner and the appropriate utensils (all for less than ~$40 new). I got home and set out all of my equipment, along with my jars and a bag of valley apples I’d picked up, and got busy reading through all the steps. After going through it four times I felt ready to give’r.
After an hour of peeling and chopping I had a pot of apples and spices simmering into applesauce on the stove and I began heating water in my canner with the jars and lids. This was the first important safety step in the manual: making sure that your jars are hot enough that they don’t break when you add your hot food. Check. Within little time my apples were turning to frothy, foaming, pillowy goodness. I carefully removed a jar from the canner, filled it with applesauce, removed air bubbles and checked the “headspace” as directed, placed a lid and sealing ring, making it “fingertip tight” (another important safety step), and put it back in the canner. Ditto the second and third jar, add enough water to completely surround them, and they were on their way. Voila!
At this point I grew skeptical; this was too easy. So I started worrying about whether they would actually seal – did I get the headspace right? What exactly is “fingertip tight”? Did I get out all the air bubbles? And if I got any of these steps even minutely wrong, could it work?
As I pondered this something startling began to happen – boiling water began shooting from the canner and cascading down its sides, creating an alarming sizzling and popping noise akin to a tiny fireworks display. I leapt into action with tea towels, trying to avoid the boiling water droplets flying through the air while attempting to stop the water from running down between the stove and wall to areas unreachable – already late in the evening, I didn’t fancy ending my night by having to pull the stove into the middle of the kitchen to mop, knowing that such an endeavor might uncover a much scarier mess. Standing as far from the stove as possible, arm out-stretched and oven-mitt protected, a quick assessment told me that while my canner was tall enough for the jars I’d chosen, with the steamer insert (used to keep the jars off the direct heat source – another important safety step) there wasn’t enough room to completely cover them with water, and once boiled it had boiled over.
Okay. Time for a quick decision. Remove enough water to stop the overflow (but then the jars wouldn’t be completely surrounded!), turn the jars on their side so they could remain completely immersed (but the directions said not to tilt the jars!), or completely abandon the process? I went for option two, thinking it was probably the wrong choice but going for it anyway. I tipped them on their sides, took out a bit of water; the effluence stopped. As I waited for them to process I lamented that my instructions hadn’t told me which steps are fudge-able and which aren’t. Not being science-minded, I figured the process was probably pretty picky. Twenty minutes later I removed the jars from the canner half-heartedly and stood them back up on the counter, believing that they wouldn’t seal and my foray into canning would be a failure.
As the final step was to check the seal 24 hours later, I put the venture to rest for the night. All the following day at work my mind would return to the jars of applesauce on my counter, waiting for me to come home and do my check, mocking me as the lids would lift easily from the jars. I’m not sure if I would have been so wrapped up in their success or failure if I hadn’t been aware that in one week I’d be doing it in front of a group of folks who would probably know better and I would be revealed as a preserving fraud. The ego is a powerful thing.
But sometimes miracles happen. They sealed! I’d googled “seal test” earlier in the day and tried four methods, just to be sure. I was elated! It worked! I’d canned something! I celebrated by promptly opening one and diving in.
Over the next week I stoked my confidence by preparing jars of lacto-fermented kimchi and dill pickles, and pickling and canning the last of my summer carrots. The satisfaction of chopping and mixing, bubbling and boiling, setting aside and tasting, is addictive. Part science experiment, part artisan craft, and results that celebrate our local harvest well into the winter.
And I avoided appearing as a complete novice at the demonstration. I was paired with someone with plenty of experience – a whiz with preserving – who took the lead while I played the role of assistant / beginner, demonstrating that you don’t need to be a kitchen or harvesting expert to make the most of our local produce – you don’t! It was fun – and I added pickled beets and salsa to my list of Things I’ve Preserved. What will be next?
Ahhh…cabbage. I really like cabbage, but I often run out of recipe ideas. There’s just so much cabbage in, well, a cabbage. I know we’ve talked about kimchi on this blog before, posting recipes and such, but I recently got … Continue reading
Thank you to everyone who submitted a story and/or photos to our “Preserving the Harvest” Contest! All the names were entered in a draw. And our lucky winners are… (Drum roll please) Grand Prize: Elisabeth Bailey
Alternate title: Adventures in Fermented Cabbage!
Our final summer preserving class centred around preparing kimchi and sauerkraut, which was a welcome break from the warm kitchens that canning can produce! Our instructor, Benjamin Lee, started off our class by discussing the history of fermentation as a preserving technique and moved on to the health benefits of pro-biotic foods and the value of do-it-yourself fermentation as a local strategy of resistance to the commodification, standardization, and mass-production of our culture.
In accordance to this sentiment, we all made our own non-standard variations to our kimchi and kraut. For the kimchi, we all started off with basic combinations of Napa Cabbage, daikon radish, green onions, garlic, carrots, apple and pear, which was massaged with salt until wilted. We then finished it off with miso or fish sauce and Korean chili pepper.
We were encouraged to get a little more creative when it came time to making our sauerkraut. Some folks like their kraut pretty traditional, but once we had a taste of Benjamin’s homemade kraut with ginger and seaweed we were all converted to experimentation! It was a lot of fun personalizing our own take-home batches with seaweed, apple, pear, and spirulina.
After the cabbage and our chosen flavouring ingredients were wilted in a bowl with some sea salt, the kraut got stuffed into jars and pounded just enough to submerge it in its own juice. It’s important to keep the vegetables covered by liquid to keep down the growth of mold and scum – a larger piece of the discarded cabbage core can be placed in the jar to help keep the level of the cabbage underneath the liquid. Each jar was then covered with parchment paper and sealed up. In about a week, we’ll all be able to taste the fruits (or cabbage?) of our labours!
Here is a very basic, traditional recipe for sauerkraut. This method is for a bigger batch, but feel free to use the general ratios and experiment! Regular glass jars can also be used – just make sure your cabbage is submerged by liquid and you’re good to go!
5 lbs cut cabbage (approx. 2 small cabbages)
3 Tablespoons Kosher or pickling salt (non-iodized)
- Wash and cut (or shred) fresh cabbage. Remove any outer leaves that are damaged.
- Salt and mix the cabbage in a non-metal bowl. Use 5 tsp of coarse pickling salt for every head of cabbage.
- Pack cabbage into a crock or food-grade plastic bucket. Pound the cabbage with a non-metal tool (such as a mason jar or rolling pin) – but, if you like your kraut crispy, be gentle. Water will emerge from the cabbage.
- Lay a plate, fitted to the size of your container, on top of the sauerkraut. On top of the plate, rest a weight (such as a clean rock, heavy jug or bag of water).
- Let stand up to 6 weeks (depending on how strong you would like your sauerkraut to taste). If you’re keeping your kraut at room temperature it may be done in as little as 3 weeks. Cooler temperatures (less than 18 degrees Celsius) will require longer fermentation, but some say it gives you better flavour. Keep tasting the kraut as the weeks progress and refrigerate it when it achieves the tanginess you like!
On Sunday my team of intrepid volunteers and I headed out to the Select Nova Scotia Incredible Picnic. There were delicious lunches, honey samples, a microscope in which to check out soil samples, a petting zoo and more.
We had samples of lactofermented pickles (like the ones we made at the Bridgewater Sustainability Festival) and we were making sauerkraut. Now, if you’ve been reading our blog since the early days, you’ll know that sauerkraut was the great food adventure of last summer. My former co-worker, Keltie, and I got a little overzealous with the sauerkraut and ended up making about 15 heads of cabbage worth of the stuff. That’s a lot of kraut! All that kraut did force us to get creative. I like sauerkraut lightly sauteed with a little apple and onion. Keltie perfected the sauerkraut chocolate cupcake.
This year, I’m trying to hold back a little – just 4 cabbages went into this batch. Sauerkraut is possibly the easiest preserve to make. Here’s the recipe:
• Wash and cut (or shred) fresh cabbage. Remove any outer leaves that are damaged.
• Salt and mix the cabbage in a non-metal bowl. Use 5 tsp of coarse pickling salt for every head of cabbage.
• Pack cabbage into a crock or food-grade plastic bucket. Pack down the cabbage with a non-metal tool (such as a mason jar or rolling pin) – but, if you like your kraut crispy, be gentle. Water will emerge from the cabbage.
• Lay a plate, fitted to the size of your container, on top of the sauerkraut. On top of the plate, rest a weight (such as a clean rock, heavy jug or bag of water).
• Let stand up to 6 weeks (depending on how strong you would like your sauerkraut to taste). If you’re keeping your kraut at room temperature it may be done in as little as 3 weeks. Cooler temperatures (less than 18 degrees Celsius) will require longer fermentation, but some say it gives you better flavour. Keep tasting the kraut as the weeks progress and refrigerate it when it achieves the tanginess you like!
Delicious Additions to Sauerkraut:
- grated apple
- grated beet
- chopped onion
- dill seeds
- juniper berries
- caraway seeds
- white wine
- celery seeds
- bay leaves
What’s your favourite way to enjoy sauerkraut?
I just got this email from Food Action Committee volunteer Angela Hersey:
I have a question about sauerkraut – when it’s finished fermenting, can I simply store it in jars? And does it need to be refrigerated or can I keep it on a shelf (maybe then it would need to be processed?)
When it’s finished fermenting, you should put it in the fridge (or a root cellar). This will slow down the fermentation and it should keep for a few months. If you kept it on a shelf, it would keep getting stronger. Alternatively, you can process it in a boiling water bath and keep it on the shelf. This, however, will kill off the good bacteria that lacto-fermentation is so famous for.