Sunday, February 28, 2010

Piquant pickle plans for 2010

After months of sitting on my shelf, some pickle alchemy has finally occurred with my green bean pickles, a.k.a. dilly beans. I hadn't even planned on pickling green beans last year, but thanks to One Seed Chicago, I had a glut of blue lake pole beans in my garden come fall. I decided to put up a few jars of dilly beans -- I love dill pickles, and I didn't feel like blanching and freezing my whole bean harvest. Dilly beans look particularly nice when canned, especially when neatly arranged in an upright but slanted pattern around the edge of the jar.

I opened a jar for company around Thanksgiving and one taste made my eyes smart: very vinegary and harsh. I was tempted to get rid of all the jars right then and there, but decided to let them mellow for a few more months and recheck. Just this weekend I sampled them again, and am happy to report that the flavor has rounded out nicely. Now, the beans are tangy and garlicky with just an edge of dill. Because the beans are raw packed prior to canning, they remain surprisingly crisp. They surpass any dill pickle you can buy at the grocery store. I have decided I need to grow dill again this summer, just to have the heads to stuff into the pickle jars. As I sit here munching on my latest culinary coup, I am pondering what pickling projects to slate for the upcoming garden season.

Last year, I canned three different vegetables: cauliflower, green beans and brussels sprouts, the latter two from my garden. In addition, I fermented a small amount of sauerkraut and a few big jars of napa and radish kimchi. I will continue on with the sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as the dilly beans, but I must be a ruthless culinary editor and nix the sprouts and cauliflower in the upcoming canning season. The sprouts were more a novelty than a real treat, and after surprising friends with a bloody mary cleverly garnished in locavore style, I ran out of uses for them. They do seem to be popular though - I recently saw a jar of pickled brussels sprouts being sold as an artisanal local product for a heart stopping 8 dollars. The cauliflower turned out better, a decent sweet and sour pickle recipe from Eugenia Bone, but if I'm doing sweet and sour pickles this year, I'm going to revive my old habit of pickling watermelon rinds.

My other definite pickling project for 2010 is going to be a foray into poor man's capers, otherwise known as pickled nasturtium seed pods. I've had my eye on this thrifty gourmet project for a while, and thus had been planning to grow nasturtiums this season. I also wanted to have a taste of the 'spicy' leaves and flowers of the nasturtium (disconcertingly, referred to as "nasties" on many a blog). Still, the main motivation was to grow a source of homemade capers. I was, then, pretty excited to hear about the seed GROW project, a communal growing project for garden bloggers, featuring no less than the mighty nasturtium. Every blogger who signed up received a packet of seeds from Renee's Garden, and will post monthly updates on the nasturtium's progress in their gardens. Stay tuned -- any post relating to the seed GROW project will be tagged with this signature:

"I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds."

Capers will definitely make it into more cooking projects in my kitchen than the brussels sprouts. I use them in pasta, mainly, and sometimes with fish. However, the single best use for capers, in this East Coast girl's opinion, is for a New York Sunday brunch: bagels with cream cheese, lox, red onion, tomato and plenty of capers on top. Real bagels! Not frozen ones. And definitely not the hamburger-buns-with-a-hole-in-the-middle I have seen passed off as bagels in certain parts of the Midwest. My personal nasturtium project for 2010 is this: a completely homemade Sunday brunch. Homemade bagels, homemade cream cheese, homegrown tomatoes, onions and "capers" and, finally, salmon I've cured in my own kitchen. Catching the fish myself is out of reach at this point. I'll settle for making gravlax.

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