There are few things more satisfying in the world than the simple art of preserving food. It’s a process that reconnects us with the roots of a time far simpler than the world in which we live now. It reconnects us with what it truly means to work for what we eat. We live in a world now where we can have almost anything we want any time we want it. We can have stone fruit in the winter, we can eat broccoli all year round… gone are the days that mangoes become solely a special treat reserved for a few short weeks in summer (if you’re even that lucky)… we can of course buy them all year around now, if we dare pay the out season prices. My mother grew up in Canada and she often tells stories of having little mandarins in her stocking on christmas morning, it was a most coveted treat.
But now, we are spoilt. Whilst many of us try to live a life that is pared back and much simpler than the world around us seems to demand… a life where we live by the seasons and eat locally grown as much as possible… there is still a lot of the art that has been lost. There is something very special about cracking open a home preserved jar of summer peaches in the middle of winter, or enjoying the satisfying crunch of perfectly preserved pickles, long after the last cucumber has been pared off the vine. Summer is a spectacular time for fruit and veg, and whilst we are pretty lucky here in South West Australia, with lots of produce being grown locally year round, there are some particular things that we miss when the wet winter rolls in. So we preserve. I try to reconnect with the spirit of my grandmother, a woman who I’ve been told had a cellar full of home canned goodies ready for the long canadian winter. I try to reconnect a bit with my own history and the history of all of us, known or not. A history where good food came to the middle class through patience, and work, and commitment to the produce… not just to a late night drive to Coles. Where food came in seasons.
I’ve always been a pickle lover. That vinegary crunch is totally self satisfying. Whilst we have also been dabbling in the world of lacto-fermentation, I still can’t go past that vinegary taste of a pickle. The best thing about developing a perfect brine is that, I’ve discovered, one can pickle just about anything (think crunchy, carrots, zucchini, okra, tomatillo, gem squash…). Jars of sweet and sour crunchy vegetables ready for adding to winter dishes and eating out of the jar in front of the fire in a few months to come.
A little work. A little patience. And an honest commitment to the tradition of food.
PICKLE ANYTHING BRINE
Ingredients (makes 6 cups)
3 cups distilled white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
3 cups water
3 Tbsp good quality sea salt
2 Tbsp raw sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan on a medium heat, bring to a boil and stir until salt and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and use as per the basic pickles guide below. (Yes, it really is just that easy)
BASIC PICKLES GUIDE
1. Wash and prepare your veggies: Hard veggies like carrots, okra, green beans do well with a quick blanch in hot water. Other veggies (usually with a higher water content) are good to go just as they are. Slice into appropriate shapes – disks or ‘sticks’ seem to work particularly well – or whole if you are dealing with mini veg.
2. Pack your jar: Carefully pack your jars so they are nice and full, ensure you are using heat proof canning jars if you are going to follow up with a water bath method for long pantry storage. All pickles CAN be made and refrigerated and will last for about a month if you would like to avoid the canning stage.
3. Add some flavours: This one is up to you. I like about 1 tsp of mustard seed, a little fresh dill, some thinly sliced red onion or a clove of garlic – but coriander seeds, bay leaves turmeric, cumin seed, etc. all work well too… go easy on the spices – 1 /2-1 tsp of any spice is more than enough.
4. Pour in the brine: Pour in the hot brine straight off the stove. Leave half an inch or so at the top of the jar and be sure the vegetables are covered entirely. You’ll want to make sure all of the air bubbles are out by giving the jar a good poke with a wooden stick or the like.
You can pop the lid on know and refrigerate for up to one month or…
5. Canning: Water bath canning is the method we use. We use an old valcoa water bath these days but we have done it very successfully in a big old pot too. Follow these directions for Water Bath Canning (or any other reputable resource online) to ensure you’re preparing the bath correctly for food safety.
Store water bath preserves in the pantry until opened and then fridge those bad boys – if they make it that far.