Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Pickled Green Beans

I planted two varieties of green beans: Kentucky Wonder Pole and Rattlesnake. Both came with the instructions “harvest regularly for larger yields”. I guess that makes intuitive sense: Energy that was going to the picked beans can be diverted to new pods, helping them grow larger, faster.

As of this writing, Rattlesnake is by far and away the harvest leader. On a daily basis, I can go out to the garden and fill a pint bag with beans. Kentucky Wonder Pole has been off to a much slower start, though I suspect the rabbits had something to do with the poor performance of the lower-hangers. Now that the plant is larger, I can’t blame the bunnies anymore (though I still don’t like them). I’m hoping that Kentucky Wonder Pole gets its act together, it’s going to be very embarrassing to perform so poorly with the word “Wonder” in the name.

Moving on.

Dana was liking green beans for a while, but then she got pregnant and she currently doesn’t eat much besides bagels, microwave pizza and potato salad. With a growing stockpile, I decided to develop and debilitating pickling addiction with pickled green beans.

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(The jar on the left is made of blue glass, they aren’t just greener beans.)

Pickled Green Beans

I followed a recipe from my pickling book titled “Pickled Snap Beans”, with a few modifications. I adapted the recipe to be per-pint, so you can make as large or small a batch as you want.

  • Green Beans, washed, ends removed, and cut into 4 inch pieces or smaller.
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1 stem of Dill
  • 1 Tsp Pickling Spices
  • Cider Vinegar
  • Water

In each (clean, warm) jar, add a crushed clove of garlic, the pickling spices, and the dill. Fill the jar to within 1/2 inch with beans.

In a nonreactive sauce pan, mix water and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio. Bring the mixture to a boil and then remove from heat. Add the vinegar mixture to the jars to cover the beans.

Put on sterilized lids and bands. Process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.

The beans should be pickled and ready to eat in 2 weeks.

Results


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Half-Sour and Full-Sour Pickles

For Xmas two years ago I got a book The Joy of Pickling. Overall, I really like the book. It has a huge assortment of recipes, including things that I didn’t even know were possible. Reading through it, I’ve become inspired to try a whole variety of new recipes that I wouldn’t have even known about before hand.

But…there are a few little things about the book that irritate me. Recipes come in all shapes and sizes. Some recipes only fill a pint jar, while others are multiple quarts. It’s not always obvious how to scale recipes from one size to the other, especially if it’s based on how much you can “pack” into each container, and how much liquid it takes to cover. Many recipes call for ingredients that I have trouble finding, and don’t give any indication about variations or substitutions.Very similar recipes, adjacent to each other in the book come in different sizes that aren’t easy to compare directly. Measurements of ingredients sometimes come by volume, sometimes come by weight.

To give an example, there are two recipes for pickled cherries, right next to each other, on opposing pages. The first recipe makes a pint, and lists the amount of cherries by volume. The very next recipe, described as a “variation” on the first, makes a quart and measures cherries by weight.

In the same vein, salt is always (that I have seen) listed by volume, with the caveat that you use special “pickling salt”. Kosher salt or sea salt  tend to have lower density and so you can’t use the same volume measurements for those. You can “make your own” pickling salt by tossing kosher salt into a food processor or spice mill to grind it much finer. However, considering that you are just going to dissolve the resulting salt in water and lose all texture, that seems like a huge waste of time. A real solution, of course, is to just give your salt measurements by weight (or, gasp!, give both measurements).

I’ll stop complaining now, because it really is a fine book despite some of the small issues.

Dana and I would both like to reproduce the deli pickles we can get from our super market. I searched through the book to find two recipes which I thought were the closest. I put up a batch of each. We’ll taste the results, compare them to our target, and maybe try again with a better frame of reference.

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This image shows the two jars of pickles. Full sours on the left and half-sours on the right.

Full Sour Dill Pickles

My intuition is that the “Half Sour” pickles are closest to what we are after, but in the book she describes the “Lower East Side Full Sour Dill” as the kind that New Yorkers would expect to find in their delis. Deli pickles are, after all, what I am after, so I included this recipe in my test. Her recipe for this makes 3 quarts, so I’ve adapted the recipe to be per-quart-jar. I’ve also adapted the recipe to use generic pickling spice, because I don’t have all the individual spices on hand (she calls for allspice and coriander seeds).

  • Pickling cucumbers, blossom ends removed
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 Dill heads
  • Dash crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tsp pickling spice
  • 1 Tsp whole black pepper corns.
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt.

Mix the salt and water together until the salt dissolves.

Pack the remaining ingredients into the jar. Add brine to cover. Put the remaining brine into a plastic bag to put on top. The bag helps hold the cucumbers under the surface.

Bubbles should appear after 3 days. Let the pickles sit and ferment for 3 weeks, skimming scum and other garbage off the top daily.

Half Sour Dill Pickles

Her recipe for Half-Sour pickles, in true form, is a 1-quart recipe instead of the 3-quart recipe for the Full Sours. It’s hard to really compare the two like that, but I’ll deal with it. The recipe for this is almost exactly the same as above except for the strength of the Brine (she includes bay leaves here, but that’s already part of my Pickling Spice mix, so they are identical for me):

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt

Make these in the same exact way. Let them sit for 2 weeks instead of 3, skimming daily.

Results

The pickles are good, but not great. The first thing to mention is that the “Pickling Spice” I used in these recipes contain several ingredients I wasn’t aware of, and which don’t help the flavor: Cinnamon chief among them. The pickles do have a bitter, cinnamony aftertaste that really hurt the final flavor. Next time, I’ll definitely buy the individual ingredients and mix them together myself. I’ve been looking for things like whole cardamom and coriander seeds from my local supermarket to no avail. I may have to find a different source for these.

Besides the off-flavors of the pickling spice, the half-sours are probably closest to the deli pickle we are trying to get. My next batch will be based on that recipe, with modifications.

The Full Sours were way too salty for our liking. We’ll eat these pickles, but we won’t make that recipe again.

 


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Apricot Jam

I’d like to make an embarrassing confession: Until this summer I’d never eaten a fresh apricot or tasted apricot jam. Sure, I’ve had some trail mix or granola or whatever with little dried cubes of sweetened orange fruitmatter, but a real fresh apricot has never been on the menu.

I was trying out a small batch of pickled cherries, when I saw a recipe for pickled apricots on the opposite page. I took a quick read-through to see how similar the recipes were, and maybe see if apricots (which are now in season) would be a good project to tackle next. There, at the beginning of the recipe, were some words that changed the course of the next few days:

There is no better way to preserve apricots than as apricot jam, but this pickle comes close.

That’s quite a compelling testimonial, from the author of the pickling book! I decided right then that I would make a batch of apricot jam and, after that notch was firmly carved in my bedpost, I would maybe try pickling some too.

I took a trip to the orchard to grab some apricots. The trees had been thoroughly picked over (by people who, no doubt, knew what I was missing), but my height allowed me to grab some of the ones that were hanging just out of range of the average picker. I managed to fill about half of a 2.5 gallon bucket, which was more than enough to do some experiments on.

No sooner had I walked in the door than I rinsed one off and stuffed it into my cake hole.

Wow. These aren’t just smaller peaches. They’re totally legit. The veil has been pulled off, the die has been cast, Caesar has crossed the Rubicon. Apricots, it seems have been added to the list of things I need to buy too much of each year.

(Besides the great flavor, it helps that apricots are freestone and don’t typically need to be peeled. Processing them is much easier than most peaches, though they are smaller and you need to do more of them).

Apricot Jam

  • 6 cups apricots, rinsed, stoned and finely chopped.
  • 4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 packet Sure Jell no sugar pectin

Process the apricots and put them in a non-reactive bowl. Add lemon juice and 2 cups of the sugar. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and put the mixture in the fridge to macerate overnight.

The next day, dump the apricot mixture into a large stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.

In a separate bowl combine the remaining sugar and pectin. Whisk to combine (this, supposedly, prevents clumping). When the apricots are boiling so hard that stirring doesn’t make it go down, add the sugar mixture. Stir vigorously.

Being the mixture back to a boil for 1 minute. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims, add sterilized lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Good. Really, really good.

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It’s not just a peach jam with an orange color, like I was half expecting. It has some tartness to it, great texture, great color, and fantastic taste. This probably is up among the top few jams I’ve made since I’ve started making them. It’s not better than my favorite cherry jam, but I definitely like it more than peach jam. I will certainly add this to the rotation, we will be making much of this next year.

I suspect that apricots would mix very well with oranges, tart cherries and maybe even cranberries. I’ll play with these ideas and more next year.

 


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Cherry Butter

I have a rule: When cherries get down to 1.99$ per pound or less I pounce on them like a lion who….pounces….on things. Whatever. I’ll work on the metaphor later. Don’t judge me.

Last year I couldn’t even find sweet cherries in the grocery store for any price, but this year they came down to 1.99$ for a brief, glorious moment. I ended up with three bags. Three bags, and no immediate plans for what to do with them. I sat down for some serious brainstorming (and, truth be told, browsing funny cat pictures on the internet. I have an attention deficit thing).

I decided to try out a recipe for pickled cherries I got from my pickling book, but that was only a pint. I needed something to do with the rest. (The pickled cherries take about a month to brine, so I’ll post that recipe with review when I have a chance to taste them).

I have been keeping a recipe for Chai Cherry Butter in the back of my head since I first saw it last year. I didn’t have the spices needed, but I liked the general idea of making a cherry butter. So, that’s what I made (next year, maybe, I’ll try the Chai version).

This recipe doesn’t include any measurements, because they really aren’t necessary. A simple cherry butter has only a single ingredient, and you just cook it down until it’s the texture you want. Things get only a little bit more complicated if you want to preserve the results in a sealed jar, but not by much.

Cherry Butter.

  • Cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted.
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Amaretto
  • Lemon Juice

Put the cherries in a crock pot, along with some sugar (about a cup, to taste) to help release the juices. I added the cinnamon here to really incorporate the flavor, but you can add it later too. Set the temperature to high and just cook the heck out of them for a long time. At least a few hours. Blend the cooked cherries with an immersion blender or, working in batches, with a regular blender.

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Continue cooking the mush down until it has your preferred fruit butter consistency. Stir in the vanilla and amaretto. Cook a bit longer to let some of the alcohol boil off.

Fill warm, sterilized jars with the butter. Add lids and bands, then process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

The resulting butter is fantastically good. It has some of the same character as an apple butter or a peach butter, but with a strong cherry flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. The cinnamon was added very early in the process so its flavors were subtle and mellow. I wasn’t trying to make a “Vanilla Cherry Butter”, I only wanted to add a dash of vanilla to help bring out the cherry flavor. Dana says she can taste the vanilla clearly, but I feel like I hit it right on the mark. The amaretto, like the vanilla, was not intended to change the flavor in a major way. Instead I wanted it to just add some background complexity, which it did.

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I never cook my fruit butters down as far as some people on the internet do. The consistency is good and thick but still spreadable. The flavor is great. Just, great. I don’t know why I’ve never made this before but I will most certainly be making it again.


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Garlic Harvest

All my garlic is finally harvested, and there are some clear winners among the bunch. Here’s a review of what I got. I broke the counts up into three categories by amateur visual inspection.  The ones marked “Large” are the ones I will try to plant again this fall, the small ones will probably end up in some pickles, and the medium ones will mostly be kept to eat and use in the kitchen.

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Music

  • Small: 4
  • Medium: 3
  • Large: 3

Music was a pretty good performer this year, though there were a few small cloves in the bunch, and this count doesn’t include the ones that went weird on me.

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The Music plants were among the earliest to sprout last autumn, and were second in vigor through the spring only to German White. In one case, I had two Music bulbs in the same hole so I had to dig them up and separate them half way through the growing season. Both of those two bulbs were on the smaller side. I suspect that if I had broken them up sooner (or been more careful when I planted them in the first place) they might have grown larger. Overall, I am happy enough with the Music cloves that I will definitely plant them again.

German Red

  • Small: 4
  • Medium: 6
  • Large: 1

German Red came out smaller than Music, on average. The plants were the second smallest (larger only that the Italian Purple, on average, though much more plentiful). They seemed to be sprouting well last autumn and had decent vigor through the spring, but they just didn’t produce as much as I was hoping for.

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I probably will not plant German Red again or, if I do, will not plant too much of it.

Italian Purple

  • Small: 4

I planted as much Italian Purple as I did any other variety, but got terrible yields. Only 6 of the plants survived the winter and two of those went weird, splitting into multiple small cloves early in the season. There isn’t enough of the Italian purple to attempt planting again this year even if I wanted to, which I don’t.

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The Italian Purple sprouted well last autumn, but as soon as the spring growing season started they were far behind the other varieties. The Italian Purple plants were all the shortest and had the fewest leaves of any of the varieties, and their resulting bulbs show that they just weren’t doing too well. Maybe it was because of their location: right in the middle of the bed. I suspect this variety is just not right for my particular microclimate.

Leningrad

  • Small: 2
  • Medium: 5
  • Large: 4

The Leningrad cloves were slightly larger than Music, on average. They were among the latest to harvest also, though only later by about a week. The plants did not sprout well last autumn, and I was worried I had lost the lot. However, they popped right up come spring and were some of the largest and most lush plants through the growing season.

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(Shown in the picture is only about half of the Leningrad. The remainder were as large or larger than what is pictured here). I will definitely be planting Leningrad again.

German White

  • Medium: 1
  • Large: 7

I planted fewer of the German Whites because there are fewer cloves per head. Most heads that I planted only had 4 cloves. Those few cloves really aimed for the sky, though. The German white cloves were almost all the largest cloves in my bed, and every single clove that I put in the ground made it to harvest without any issues. They sprouted most vigorously last Autumn, they came up fastest and largest this spring, and they produced the biggest, most reliable bulbs.

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(Two bulbs not shown, including the smallest one) Because the German White were doing so well, and because I was curious about it, I let one of them put up a scape and go to flower. That one plant, perhaps coincidentally, produced the smallest bulb of the bunch. Though, even that single “small” bulb was on the high side of “medium”.

I will definitely be planting several of the German White heads again this year, though not all of the large ones. Because of their fantastic yield, several of them are heading straight into my kitchen for cooking and other projects. I would like to put more than 8 cloves in the ground though, so I can get even more next year.

When you plant garlic, you’re supposed to plant only the largest cloves from the largest heads, to ensure the best yield. I will be planting the largest from German White, Music and Leningrad (Maybe, MAYBE one from German Red), and will fill in any additional space with new varieties. I’ll post more about planting plans when the time comes. I’ll also be posting some of the recipes I’m using the garlic in soon.