Convenience. I think of my preserves as wholesome fast food. If I didn’t get around to planning dinner until during my drive home from work (this is more than an occasional occurrence) I can throw together a plate of pasta anointed with preserved tomato sauce and a grate of parmesan cheese and viola, dinner! The best part is I know exactly what went into our meal.
Community. I like to enlist the help of my friends and family during preserve season. I like to think it as group therapy where we all go home with future meals.
Connectedness. Many people don’t realize that the seasonal famer needs to support their family in January on what they sell in September. When you buy produce in bulk for preservation you are helping that farmer succeed, and ensuring that they will return next season to provide the yummy items you crave.
Meditation. Preserving food is a time for reflection – it forces us to slow down and perform one task at a time. If you try to multitask you may miss a step and blow the whole batch. It is hard not to feel immense gratification for the abundance of nature as you watch your countertop transform from mountain of fresh produce to neatly stacked colorful jars.
Drying. Dehydration removes about 80% to 95% of moisture from produce, making it difficult for microorganisms to find the moisture they need to thrive. Common dehydration methods are solar drying, oven drying, and use of commercial dehydration equipment. I tend to favor solar drying for herbs, garlic, and chili peppers. . . oven drying for fruits and veggies. . . and if you have a commercial dehydrator than you probably already know more about drying produce than I do.
Freezing. Freezing works well for most fruits and vegetables. Berries can be frozen whole and stored in air-tight containers for up to one year. Other fruits and veggies should be processed with vinegar or lemon juice and blanched prior to freezing to prevent loss of flavor, color and texture. Blanching stops enzyme actions which cause vegetables to grow and mature – the opposite of what we are trying to do during preservation.
Canning. Canning depends on acidity for safety to protect against proliferation of Botulism spores – a pH of 4.6 is the current threshold set by the USDA. Many fruits are acidic enough to be canned in a simple boiling water bath but most vegetables require processing in a pressure canner that exposes the produce to above boiling temperatures to be safe. Since I don’t have a pressure canner I pickle my veggies in an acidic liquid such as vinegar or lemon juice to lower their pH to safe levels.
Spicy Pickled Bush Beans
Makes four (4) pint sized jars
2 lbs. bush beans (green, yellow or purple), washed and cut to fit height of the mason jar
2 cups white wine vinegar
2½ cups filtered water
½ cup lemon juice
4 dried red chile peppers, pierced once or twice
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 (3 inch) strips lemon peel
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons honey
Sterilize four (4) pint sized mason jars and their lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This can be done in a large pot of boiling water or in your dishwasher.
Trim green beans so they fit upright in the mason jars. Evenly divide green beans, chili peppers, garlic, and lemon peels between the sterilized jars. In a small saucepan, combine all other ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour brine on top of pickles using a funnel, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space. Apply lid, wipe rim clean using hot water, and screw metal band on firmly.
In the large pot of boiling water, lower jarred green beans, submerging jar in at least 2 inches of water. Process for 10 minutes. Use canning tongs to carefully remove hot jar, and then set it in a cool, dark place. As the jar cools, listen for the lid to snap, signaling a proper seal. Wait one week before opening the jar. Refrigerate upon opening. Opened jars will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month.
If the jar does not seal properly store in the refrigerator and use within two weeks.
Bright Green Basil Pesto
Makes 1 cup
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Pecorino cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Blanch the basil. This is the secret to keeping the pesto green. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water to shock the blanched basil. Once the water has reached a steady boil blanch the basil for 10 seconds, stirring to ensure the basil blanches evenly (save this water to cook your pasta!) Remove basil with a slotted spoon and immediately drop into the bowl of ice water. Remove promptly and gently squeeze out excess moisture.
Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan. If I don’t devote all of my attention to this step I will inevitably burn them (this is heartbreaking because they are so expensive!)
Place the blanched basil, garlic and toasted pine nuts into the blender. Pulse until coarsely chopped, then add ½ cup of the oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
If you are going to serve immediately add the remaining olive oil and cheese – stir to combine.
If you are freezing transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle the top with remaining olive oil. The pesto will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months. When ready to serve thaw and stir in cheese.