Friday, September 10, 2010
I have the most amazing set of classes this semester as I've mentioned before - one is named "Club Cuisine" but would be more appropriately named "History of Food, Food Ethics and Sustainability." It is literally the most kick ass class I could have dreamed of for my last Fall semester of my college career (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Chef Knapp opened the class with the history of salt and the way colonization and settlement (including wars) can all be linked back to the discovery and movement of salt. China was the first recorded region to experiment with salt but their salt water lakes only produced fine salt crystals so they mixed it with water or other flavors to make it go farther (thus - soy sauce, fish sauce, etc.). Italy and Egypt both had salt mines which produced the prized large salt crystals and from there discovered the preservation powers salt had. Egypt was the first to eat the beloved olive, from soaking in a brine (salt and water, or salt and vinegar). Really, it is incredibly interesting.
So as part of our class last week we experimented with some "ancient techniques using modern methods." Namely, farmers' cheese, pickles, homemade ginger ale and stone-ground wheat bread leavened with yeast we captured from the air!
To pickle, there are a few crucial steps (some of which I shamefully missed in my home attempt). First, a sterilized jar. Canning and pickling creates a vacuum inside of the jar so that the preservation or fermentation process will happen with only what is inside the jar. Having a dirty or unsterilized jar locks in the bacteria so that it grows within the can. Secondly, you need to have heat pressure on the inside to make that seal tight. If air gets in, botulism can develop and contaminate the food. Thirdly, Salt and Water is the "brine." Salt's properties allow it to preserve flavor and stop bacterial growth - amazing!
I prefer sliced pickles rather than spears, but you can make them any way you would like. The stores do sell pickling cucumbers which are smaller and more bitter to the taste. I just bought two regular cucumbers and sliced them into circles. To sterilize your jars, submerge the jars and lids/screw caps in a pot of water. Bring the water up to boiling (the glass jar needs to be brought up to temp WITH the water so it does not break from temp shock) and boil for about 5 minutes. This sterilizes your jar. Fill your jar up with your pickles slices/spears. In a separate pot, boil water, vinegar, salt and pickling spices. Pour liquid, along with spices, into your jar of pickles. You can throw in a fresh sprig of dill. Seal the jar tightly - over the next few hours you might hear it "pop" as it makes its final seal. Leave for days, weeks or months until you are ready to try your pickles. I made four baby jars and am planning on opening each jar at a different time to observe the pickling process over time. Today I opened my first jar from yesterday's batch and found that it had a strong and nearly spicy pickled taste (black peppercorns were in my pickling spices jar) but you could still taste "cucumber." It also needed more salt, so I threw some more salt in the jar. However, make sure you always refrigerate your jars after you open them.