Friday, September 28, 2012

When frost leaves you in a pickle..

  If frost is forecasted and you're stuck having to put the garden to bed earlier than expected, it's time to buckle down an maximize your harvest.

 If I have a few days warning, I start pulling tomatoes that have a decent blush on them to finish ripening on the counter. When tomatoes have a blush of color, it is called the breaker stage. Many of the "vine ripe" tomatoes at the store are actually harvested at this stage. Picking these gives the plants a chance to reroute their energy towards the younger fruit and the breaker tomatoes will still taste fine.

 I pick all of the really immature winter squash. When they are very small they can be used like a summer squash. They are very delicate at this stage, so a fast wash and into the fridge. I use these up in the next few days. Care must be taken that they don't get dinged up as they are so fragile, and damage will make them spoil more quickly. 

 I also pick all of the squash flowers over the next few days. I have 2 containers that I keep in the fridge. One that is a filling for stuffed squash blossoms and another that is the batter that I dip them into. This way I can quickly wash the blossoms, stuff and fry them. Then off to the freezer they go on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Once frozen, I transfer them into a freezer container. They'll keep for 6 months.

 Very immature melons are also picked. These fuzzy darlings I pickle. I've pickled quite a few of them this year already as the deer liked to play in the melon patch and obliterated many vines. When they are really young you don't need to peel them or do anything like that as the skins are tender. I make refrigerator pickles with them. The immature melons are very bland and not sweet, so they pick up the flavor of the pickling liquid very well. 

 If left to their own devices, my husband and daughter would eat pickles constantly. This year, they did. The entire middle shelf in my fridge is just pickles and I am constantly reloading the jars. Assorted veggies can be tossed into this like carrots cut into sticks, onions, radishes, peppers (needs at least 2 small slits so the liquid penetrates them), sugar snap peas (ends cut off.. also so liquid goes through), purslane stems, tiny green beans, kohlrabi.. pretty much anything.

 More than a few zucchini were the size of my arm this year. These huge ones I process rather fast as the longer they sit, the tougher the seeds inside become. If the seeds are tender, I make zucchini parmesan and freeze them. Thick round are sliced, put into seasoned flour, then dipped into egg, and coated in seasoned breadcrumbs. A quick fry in a little olive oil to make them golden, on to a rack to cool, then on to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in a single row and into the freezer. Once frozen, they get put into freezer containers. I do the same with eggplant. It's a fast dinner later. Just pull out how many you need, lay them in a dish, top with tomato sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella, then bake.

 Itty bitty green tomatoes are yet another thing I will pick. There's no hope for them to get of size, but they do have their uses! I've swapped these out in recipes that call for green tomatillos. I just made a green tomato relish (which is like a rather tasty sour salsa), the recipe I got from Farmgirl FareI left it chunky. (The flash is making it look rather pale too. This works out well for us as in my sauce making frenzy, I didn't jar up enough salsa. The recipe is super mild for our taste, so the next batches I will be using more jalapenos.)

 We have yet to try them, but I also put up 28 quarts of 4 different pickled green tomatoes. The recipes for them are from Garden Betty.

 For now fridge pickles remain the favorite. They are this simple to make.. (per quart)

  1.  load up a clean jar with spices and an assortment of veggies to your liking (skip leafy greens. Cut slits in any small whole veggies -like peppers, beans, snap peas,etc. Cut the veggies so they are easy to handle, but also so the pickling liquid can permeate it well.)
  2. in a saucepot heat up to boiling 1 cup water, 1 cup vinegar, 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  3. pour pickling liquid over veggies and close up the jar. Once cooled, store in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. (VERY helpful to write the date on them!)

  The favorite here is garlic dill. I just pop in 6 whole black pepper corns, 4 cloves of peeled halved garlic and dill seeds or fronds. My husband likes them a little spicy, so I add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes to his. To go the sweet route.. you can add sugar to the saucepot.

 Ideally you want to use whole spices, or slightly crushed ones. If you use powdered ones it looks like sediment (see pickled 1/2 tomatoes above. I ran out of garlic heads!)

 DV doesn't much care for pickles, so his 1/2 gallon jar lasts him several months. We got as far as 4 weeks before they found the jar I hid in the back. 

 If you like it more sour.. use more vinegar. Roughly each quart jar you are looking to add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of spices. What kind is up to what you like. I suggest experimenting with different ones in jelly jars. Just make sure you tape the recipe to each jar (otherwise.. you'll have my mess!) 

 Best of luck to you all. I'm headed back to the kitchen!  

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