Saturday, May 29, 2010

Strawberry breakfast

My son and I woke up today and went to pick strawberries in the still-cool morning. The first crop hung red and ripe from the plants, and in a few minutes we had a bowlful. We sat quietly, eating the berries, juice dribbling down our chins. Our neighborhood, normally raucous with music, cars and conversation, was still silent in the pre-six-o'clock-hour. This one moment -- of bucolic peace, of lush serenity in the midst of the inner city -- was worth the hassle of caring for these plants all winter. I went through a long season of mulching, of watching frost warnings and covering blossoms with bedsheets, for that my son and I could eat breakfast together, from our own backyard, in contented togetherness.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grape leaves

I invited friends over to dinner last weekend -- promising fare from my garden -- only to realize that my edibles were either fading out (rhubarb, lettuce) or still in their infancy (tomatoes, peppers). I scavenged beet greens, herbs and pea shoots, and then the grapevine caught my eye. The new vines were springing out all over their trellis -- lush and leafy, and threatening as usual to overtake the whole garage roof. I had cooked with brined jarred grape leaves before -- why not fresh ones?

My extensive cookbook collection yielded little information on preparation of fresh grape leaves, and even the internet yielded scant results -- a lot of "I'm planning to try this" articles, rather than articles speaking with the wisdom of hindsight. The most authoritative article, or at least the most confident, gave several different blanching methods. I picked young, undamaged leaves and carefully trimmed out the thicker stems and veins. As for blanching, I went with "plunge into boiling salted water, turn off the heat, and wait 3 to 5 minutes". Fishing them out of the water, they had the consistency of wet paper towel, although they didn't rip quite as much as I expected.

Now, the traditional Greek way to prepare these would be dolmades, those lemony packets of rice often served room temperature and slick with olive oil at Mediterranean restaurants. In retrospect, this would have been a good choice, if only because this preparation adds another hour of simmering to the leaves. But no, I had to be Little-Miss-Locavore. I spurned exotic rice and lemon in favor of home-preserved figs and local cheese. I rolled each leaf with half a brandied fig, a sprinkle of sea salt and a chunk of black pepper goat cheese from the farmer's market. I briefly considered grilling them, but it was 90 degrees and just the blanching had been so unpleasantly hot that I decided to keep cool and serve them as is. I wasn't in left-field with this approach -- I had found several recipes with similar serving suggestions, albeit with the more processed brined and jarred leaves.

I served them in the backyard, in sight of the original vines. The finished product looked nice, but the leaves were tough. No, they were beyond tough -- it was like chewing cud. My husband had to take a discreet walk over to the compost pile. The salty-sweet filling was very good, and it made me realize I just should have stuffed the figs with goat cheese and left it at that. What is the point of the grape leaf anyway? To bundle up a filling, like rice or meat, that would otherwise crumble out. The brined leaves add a sour-salty taste to dishes, but the fresh ones tasted bland and green and were tough to bite through. I'm not sure if grilling would have helped -- it might have just made the leaf tough and charred. So, there's a local food failure. I don't think I care enough about eating grape leaves to try again -- in the end they are just a finger-food delivery system for better tasting morsels. I can use lettuce or rice paper for that. Maybe one day I'll find a Greek grandma to teach me the age old ways, but my guess is that the wisdom lies in simmering them for a good hour before attempting to take a bite.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Spring slump

The kitchen garden is in a bit of a Spring slump this week. The rhubarb is looking raggedy and the asparagus is ferned out. The cold weather greens have been pulled for the table to make way for warm weather crops. The peas have barely started to bloom. While a few fruits are nearing ripeness, we are still a few weeks away from a real strawberry harvest:

This gives me little to use in the kitchen, beyond herbs and spring onions. The lush grapevines are also leafing out with abandon, so I may blanch some leaves and stuff them with a savory rice filling for dinner. This is not to knock my dear alliums. The chives and scallions make their way onto the table almost nightly. My current favorite is the flat, wide garlic chives:

For those with more of a savory than a sweet tooth, there is no more pleasant breakfast than these garlic chives, chopped, stir-fried, then folded into a few scrambled eggs.

If only these were my own eggs! Alas, I remain chicken-less. Fortunately, after shopping around the local meat CSA's for the past few years, and I have finally found one that satisfies me. For a very reasonable price, Grass is Greener Gardens has loaded me up with a wide variety of lamb, pork and beef cuts, as well as honey and eggs. No chicken this month, so the jury is still out on that one. So my breakfast this morning was seriously local: CSA eggs, Wisconsin butter, homegrown garlic chives and homegrown mint tea, sweetened with CSA honey. Perhaps I'm not in such a slump after all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Bohemian Perennials

Hops and horseradish are both new to my garden this year, but historically appropriate to this area of Chicago. Indeed, I expect someone has raised the plants on this land at some point in the last century. While my neighborhood, Hermosa, is now known mostly as a Puerto Rican and Mexican community, it once housed mostly German and Czech immigrants. The neighborhood is bordered by rail yards and factories and this was a haven for local labor. Some of the older denizens of this area -- the 80 and 90 year-old African-Americans -- still recall to me when this area was "Bohemian". "Mind you," said one, "that was when there was still an ice man and coal carts".

Both of these newly planted perennials have not grown according to my book-learned expectations. I expected the hops to come up much sooner. They just popped up yesterday, in mid-May! Hardly the "early spring" oft cited in my garden reading. When I was visiting friends in chilly Oregon in early April, they already had long, winding vines trained up their arbor (I use "vines" colloquially, as I think the right label for hops is actually a bine -- but I don't want to put on horticultural airs). Perhaps this delay in popping up is due to languorous first-year growth. Maybe next year the hops will be up with the asparagus. According to my sources, hops grows like gangbusters once it gets going, up to half a meter a week. I plan to train the strongest shoots up my porch, which looks painfully new against my old, worn house. Hopefully, the graceful green vines will soften the raw edges of the construction.

The horseradish did come up early, but I am surprised about how it has been struggling. Everything I had read seemed to imply that it was generally repellent to all forms of garden pests: "no major insect problems" and "no diseases" is repeated everywhere in the "garden wisdom" literature. Usually, the authors write that the plant itself is the pest and it will take over the whole garden if you aren't careful. Well, my plant can't seem to keep more than two leaves on it at once -- every time there is new growth, I come out in the morning to see the leaves nibbled or snapped off. I can't figure out what it is -- I assume slugs or snails, since those seem to be damaging everything else in the garden. As usual, I am pretty suspicious of the information in the gardening books and websites. Who among these authors has actually grown everything in their books? Read just a few websites or "encyclopedias" and you find the same tidbits and tips repeated over and over again, often verbatim. It's like all the cookbooks that talk about browning meat to "seal in the juices" even though Harold McGee disproved this theory long ago.

Anyway, I did find an excellent online article on horseradish by a woman who seems to have actual experience. Interestingly enough, she calls into question another popular "fact": is horseradish really the ideal companion plant for potatoes? As for pests, she points to the flea beetle as the usually culprit for springtime damage. Now, my leaves do not have the "shot-hole" appearance that seems to be classic for the flea beetle. I am glad, however, to find someone that admits that horseradish isn't the absolute problem-free plant that the majority makes it out to be. Even she, though, attests to it's aggressive spreading habit, so I am going out to sink a bottomless pot around my plant right now. While it is currently struggling, I fear that when it does settle in and start real growth, it could be the end of my tiny vegetable bed!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Self-sowing flowers

The hot-colored blossoms of California poppies are my first harbingers of summer. There is much to recommend these easy plants; I love the ferny foliage, the silken texture of the blossoms, and the long blooming season. Multiple sources write that they make good cut flowers, though I have never had much luck. I can't say I regret that, as the informal, nodding stems seem more at home in a casual garden border than stuffed in a vase.

I first sprinkled the seed in my front bed four years ago, rather naive about the "self-sowing" qualities described on the packet. Good thing I love these plants, for eradication would be a dismal project. The seed heads are bursting with tiny seeds, readily sown by wind and gravity all over my garden and beyond. I have noticed the seedlings popping up in sidewalk cracks halfway down the block. Even in desired locations, the seedlings come up very thickly, and must be thinned aggressively for a nice display. The one year I did not thin them out, thanks to the torpor of late pregnancy, I ended up with a dense mat of underperforming, leggy plants.

Self-sowing plants entice me with their care-free attitude. If one has anxiety about formal "garden design" and or feels self-conscious about plant placement, self-sowers are an easy out; just let the plants make the decisions. And, as Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd point out, the plants tend to pop up just where they belong, though one would have never chosen that site intentionally.

Of course, it is a fine line between self-sowing garden plant and weed. Feverfew is rampant in my garden. I'm unsure if it was purposefully planted by the former owner, or if it is just a weed that has drifted in from surrounding areas. I can't begrudge its presence, however. It grows in the areas -- the dry and the hardscrabble -- that would otherwise be visual wastelands. The seedlings are easy to pull out, but I will leave them where they are. I have never tried it out medicinally, and am content to welcome the daisy-like flowers and pleasant citrusy scent to my "wildflower" bouquets.

This is not to say I am at peace with all self-sowers. I could do with less dill popping up all over my herb garden and, even this early in the season, I am tired of pulling out chives from every corner of my yard. A responsible gardener would deadhead these plants before they scatter their seed all over the place. But in late summer, I am charmed by the seed heads, and prefer to pay the piper later. I must also admit that a few extra dill plants-- with their airy yellow heads -- will look nice among my cosmos. I would have never thought of that.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Patron Saint of Lost Garden Causes

I stopped by the Kilbourn Park Organic Plant Sale today and as I was settling the bill, the cashier pointed out a forlorn group of plants. They had literally been kicked to the curb. There they sat, leggy and wilting, along the harsh sunny asphalt of the greenhouse driveway. She told me they were free for the taking and encouraged me to pick up a few. Sigh. I am not one to ever turn down a chance at plant redemption -- no matter how many bitter disappointments trail in my gardening wake.

Just moments before, I had been congratulating myself on my purchasing restraint. My garden is already bursting at the seams, and I still have many potted seedlings sitting around the patio. To further restrain myself, I had even arrived with just one $10 bill. I was careful in selecting a mere two herb plants -- anise hyssop and lovage. Both were herbs that I wanted to try out this year despite forgetting to purchase seed over the winter. Yet nothing quickens my pulse like the words "free plants" (except maybe "free seeds"). I inevitably looked over the sorry pots and found two that I didn't have the heart to abandon, a yarrow and some johnny-jump-ups. I love violas and am trying to get them to self-seed the whole northern edge of my backyard. The yarrow -- well, it looked horrible:

Yarrows are, however, such obliging plants, and do well in poor soil. After the harrowing ordeal of the porch reconstruction, my front bed is a mess of compacted, debris-laden dirt. Yarrow, peonies and poppies are my best bet at this point. I decided that a cutting-back and some gentle treatment might rescue this sorrowful specimen. If it dies, oh well! It was free. My husband just gave me a sad, unsurprised look as I came back to the car juggling an armful of pots. "Couldn't you have found more basil?" he sighed, eying the ferny, dying mess of the yarrow plant. This is what he gets for marrying the patron saint of lost garden causes. I pointed out that at least it is a cheap vice, unlike cigarettes or shoes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In praise of the daikon

I often read praise for the productivity of the greens of early Spring, especially kale. Eliot Coleman, among others, waxes poetic on how hardy and productive kale can be, growing even in the snow. Never mind that one can tire quickly of earnest stir-fries and nutrition-filled omelets! But what of the daikon radish? Pound for pound, it has far outpaced the greens in my garden. I planted the daikon radish seed on March 6th and the first seedlings popped up ten days later. Today -- after exactly two months of generally cold and wet weather -- I pulled up 3 radishes. After trimming, each weighed in at over 3 ounces. Pretty impressive, especially considering that my other Spring root vegetables -- beets and carrots -- are still fetal, boasting the barest wisp of a root.

While radishes are a staple across Asia and the subcontinent, they are low in food energy -- each of my radishes is probably under 20 calories. But what the daikon lacks in stored energy, it makes up for in Vitamin C. No scurvy for my family this Spring! According to A Cook's Guide to Asian Vegetables, daikon leaves are edible and quite rich in calcium and iron, but seldom used in Asian cooking. The guide suggests using the leaves in braises and stir-fries, similar to other bitter greens. My favorite culinary vegetable reference, the indispensable Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchini, also testifies that radish greens "in good shape" are "worth saving and cooking as much for their flavor as for their nutrient value". Finally, let us not forget the daikon's other importance: Elizabeth Schneider writes that "no vegetable is as beloved by vegetable-carvers world-wide, particularly in China".

So how to cook my bounty? Usually, I make a quick daikon pickle to stuff into my banh mi sandwiches. I also have a jar of effervescent radish kimchi, hauled out of the fridge on Korean dinner nights. But I need some new ideas: Amaranth to Zucchini suggests a radish-ginger stir-fry. My dearest friends simmer slices of daikon in their rich Taiwanese braises. Both recipes on are on the docket in the coming week. Food journalists are also beginning to feature more radishes. (As an aside, while I appreciate that cooking magazines are increasingly featuring seasonal ingredients, I find their timing frustrating. In January, I was deluged with chive and radish recipes. Now, just as the last frost date arrives, I am up to my neck in late summer recipes for tomatoes and zucchini. I suspect this mostly has to do with the advanced production schedule, though perhaps these food writers are based in warmer climes, like California. Either way, the seasonal time-warp requires that the organized cook clip and save the interesting recipes, anticipating the time of plenty). One of the few Spring recipes that made it into my file over the winter featured roasted radishes, courtesy of Saveur. I wouldn't have even remembered that I clipped it except that the New York Times ran a similar recipe last week, excavating the winter memory from the rubble of my Spring-gardening mind.

I am happy to report that this recipe is a keeper! The texture and flavor are genuinely transformed. Gone is the crisp, peppery bite of the raw vegetable. The slow-roasting yields a soft, sweet product, reminiscent of a turnip. I roasted daikon and French breakfast radishes. The daikon stood up better to the treatment: the French radishes, though tasty, were a bit watery.

I also stir-fried the greens. Normally I throw in the stems, but the daikon stems have uncomfortably prickly surfaces, so I just chopped up the leaves themselves. They were so-so, a bit chewy, with no flavor to recommend them as superior to other hardy greens. If I were a hungry pioneer, the radish leaves would happily find their way into the soup pot. As a dilettante urban gardener, I'll stick to my spinach and mizuna, and invest the nutrient wealth of the radish leaves into my worm bins.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Time to buy some beer

Thanks to the wet weather, the slugs have come out in force in my May garden. I pulled three off my "maypop" passiflora this morning -- damage had already been done, as you can see in the above photo. The kohlrabi, below, looks like it was a delicious midnight snack for these pests. Hopefully the young plants will bounce back, but the leaf damage on the kohlrabi was pretty extensive.

Mama's goin' to the corner store tonight and pickin' up some PBR. I'll sink the cutoff ends of plastic bottles into the ground and fill them with the beer. Some books advise using saucers, but the only spare saucers I have are from my mother's old china. It all seems a bit too frou-frou to lay elaborately decorated dinnerware around the backyard. Recycled plastic will do. I also make morning rounds on the slugs' favorite plants and handpick them. The beer and daily vigilance has worked well in the past, but the general clamminess of the past few weeks may require a more aggressive approach -- I recently read that coffee grounds are an effective deterrent. I certainly have a steady supply of those. I may not be trapping my slugs with craft beer, but I can battle them with fair trade beans!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Patchy frost after midnight

After a cold, rainy day more reminiscent of March than May, we here in Chicago are threatened with "patchy frost after midnight", mostly the western suburbs. After an obsessive scouring of all weather-related media, I am reasonably sure my garden will be safe from ice. However, with many of my annuals in the ground already, I'm not taking any chances. Late afternoon found me scrambling around the house for old sheets to cover up all the plants that I couldn't bring into the basement for the night.

I wasn't sure what to do about the worm bins, which left the sheltered confines of my basement a few weeks back. They are sitting up against the side of the house, and they are a pain to move: heavy and drippy with wormy compost juice. I found a website attesting to the general hardiness of redworms, so I'm going to take my chances and let them stay outside. It probably wouldn't hurt for my worms to take a hit, anyway. A little natural selection may be in order, given the general explosion in the population in the past month.

As I was fussing over the strawberries and potted tomatoes, I noticed that my second round of French breakfast radishes were ready for harvest. With chilled fingers, I yanked them up on the way inside to the kitchen. I planted some seed from Renee's and some from Pinetree. The Renee's radishes, elongated and relatively slim, are what I have come to expect for the variety. The Pinetree seeds came up globe-shaped, even though they were billed as French breakfast. What gives? They taste similar, though. Tonight for dinner, we will have radishes, butter and salt on baguette, followed by chicken with tarragon and a salad of spinach and mizuna. Each dish has a homegrown component! So it must be late Spring, no matter what the weather feels like.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lest I romanticize the homegrown life....

Cinco de Mayo seemed like an excellent day to slice open the Monterrey Jack cheese that I made in January. I planned to pick up some masa at the local Mexican store, entertaining a rosy vision of pressing my own tortillas and toasting up homemade quesadillas. I sliced into the red wax and all looked well: a little wetter and crumblier than I had expected, closer to feta than cheddar in texture. But one bite was all it took to erase any quesadilla dreams: a bit sour, not salty enough and a weird chalky aftertaste. There's the rub with hard cheesemaking: you wait months only to find out something went wrong in the process. Who knows what it was? The milk was from the grocery store, so its not like my ingredients were prime. Maybe too much rennet, too little salt, excessive moisture? My best guess is moisture, especially since I rigged up a homemade press that probably didn't deliver the necessary pounds per square inch.

To cheer myself up, I decided to break into the refrigerator rhubarb pickles that I made over the weekend. The flavor was okay, a bit too vinegary for my taste and the chili heat was weak. But the texture! Uggh! The stalk was so stringy, I could barely bite through it. Note to self: next time, rhubarb preserves need to be chopped up, or else the stalks peeled. So there I sat with sour cheese and stringy pickles, generally glum about my dilettante efforts to decommercialize my kitchen. Kraft and Vlasic are leagues ahead of me.

I should be grateful I am a dilettante -- if we were truly living off the land, we'd be facing a grim dinner tonight. Fortunately, I am just dabbling and there is no wolf at the door. I can chuck the nasty stuff and pull out some spaghetti and frozen tomato sauce. In the future, I'm sticking to my tried-and-true pickles....cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, dilly beans and watermelon rind. As for the cheese, it's probably best to dabble in the soft stuff. I can make a good ricotta, and I don't have to wait four months for a taste. So it is that, or buy a real cheese press....tempting as always to go for the hardware. But I should probably avoid the overhead if I don't have a reliable source of good milk. All the more reason to convince my husband we need a goat...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Out of the garden and into the wok

The garden greens are coming fast and furious these days. From young kale to crinkly spinach, I am serving up this leafy bounty before the cool Spring weather is replaced with bolt-inducing heat. Many of the greens, specifically the mizuna, are doing well with "cut and come again" treatment (hence the shaggy look in the photo). Yet, most plants will have to be yanked and eaten in their entirety prior to Memorial Day. They are occupying space reserved for my warm-weather seedlings: the peppers and tomatoes are rapidly outgrowing their pots! I console myself that soon enough we will be facing the prospect of Autumn weather and, once again, my 'bright lights' Swiss chard can grace the garden with its perkily colored stems.

This year, the winner of the bunch in terms of both production and flavor has been the mizuna. On the peppery scale, it is closer to mustard than spinach, and the young leaves can sub in for arugula in most salads. Our favorite way to eat mizuna is stir-fry. The preparation is so simple that it barely qualifies as a recipe. It is more a general approach, suitable for everything from spinach to broccoli: Heat up a wok nice and hot, saute a few minced cloves of garlic in some oil and then toss in the mizuna along with a good shake of oyster sauce. After a few minutes, the greens will be wilted but bright. Serve it forth to much acclaim, even from hardened greens-haters. The mizuna gives a nice bitter counterpoint to the salty-sweet oyster sauce. As with most cooked greens, it is shocking how small they cook down. I filled a large salad bowl with mizuna last night, and had barely enough stir-fry to fill a salad plate.

On the lettuce front, we are enjoying the mature heads of the variety "tom thumb". If you really want to class it up, each precious head can be served as an individual salad. Just drizzle them with a nice vinaigrette, and you're done. At our house, butterhead lettuce leaves usually act as edible serving utensils for a spicy ginger-pork mixture. The cool, bland leaves serve as tiny cups for a few tablespoons of hot and heavily-flavored stir-fry. The juxtaposition between the cool and the hot is heaven in the mouth. The original recipe calls for cilantro, which my husband hates. In the spring, we add mint instead and in the summer, Thai basil. These lettuce cups are easy and addictive: I have tried a lot of recipes in my lifetime and this one is a keeper. Print it out and it will serve you well for years. I am looking forward to my first delivery of CSA pork this month, so that this favorite meal can be truly local!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Edible flowers

Edible flowers always seem to me more of an eye-pleaser than a palate-pleaser -- while a few yellow or purple blooms can boost the visuals of a salad, I rarely find that they boost the flavor. After the "Wow! I am eating a flower" moment, I don't need to go back for another taste. A garnish of flowers is a good way to show off your chef street cred to impressionable guests. Sadly, after the oohs and aahs, usually the blooms are politely pushed to the side of the plate. Nor do I blame these diners. The candied violets I made a few nights ago -- jewels though they were -- tasted, well, sugary. Ho-hum.

In my experience, the exception to the underwhelming taste of edible flowers is the humble chive blossom. Though billed in many a garden book as imparting a "mild onion flavor" to dishes, I find the taste more powerful, closer to that of raw white onion. This strong, lingering flavor is especially prominent when still in half-bud, the tiny florets just emerging. Added to omelets or pasta, the blossoms can serve the same role as chive leaves, but with a lovely purple tint.

Many a gardening expert attests to to "spicy" punch of nasturtium flowers, which I will taste soon enough thanks to the seed GROW project. I tried to resist planting the nasturtium seed until all danger of frost had passed. But I just had so very many seeds, and with so much room for error, I had to push the limits of weather. After an overnight soak, I planted some seeds three weeks ago, and only one came up. Replacements are going into the ground this week. I was tempted to pluck one of the first tender leaves from the seedling for a quick taste, but I resisted. Soon enough I will have leaves and flowers by the bowlful. Let's hope that's a good thing for both the eye and the palate!

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

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring preserves

The backyard homestead has become more lush in the past week. Every day, there is the possibility of one, or even two, homegrown ingredients on the dinner table. Last night, we had mizuna in our stir fry. Tonight, freshly picked radishes and rhubarb will grace our May Day table. The radishes will be served simply, with homemade bread, salt and butter. The rhubarb will become a small dish of cobbler -- oh, if only the strawberries were a little further along! After dicing up the rhubarb for dessert, I found I had some extra stalks. Thus, I launched into my first garden preserves of 2010: rhubarb pickles.

Now, at first I had planned to make rhubarb pickles with this recipe. Then I noticed that it called for sherry vinegar and grenadine. Now, I am not above purchasing specialty overflowing pantry attests to my habit of buying all too many one-use bottles for my various recipe experiments. I could probably use the sherry vinegar again for some Spanish tapas extravaganza, but the grenadine distressed me. I don't really use it in cocktails, and the most readily accessible brand seems to be little more than red-colored high fructose corn syrup.

Never one to abandon a recipe, I started researching various homemade substitutions, like reducing pomegranate juice with sugar. At this point, however, I was going to be spending more time making the grenadine than I would spend making the actual pickles. I also don't have pomegranate juice sitting around the house, so this would mean a car trip, more grocery money, etc. It all seemed too tiresome and expensive, not to mention against the pioneer ethos of making do with what ya' got. It was time for a new recipe.

Mother Earth news to the rescue! I found an interesting recipe, calling for ingredients I had lying about. This also gave me a use for the last of my homegrown dried chili peppers. Now my jars are cooling. I am tempted to dig right in, but I know they will taste better in a few days, so I will eat a radish and wait patiently. This is a refrigerator pickle recipe, as the hot-water canning process would soften the stalks to a mushy consistency. It makes sense to focus on quicker preservation processes in the spring and summer: the coming abundance means there is no need to stretch the vegetables into the dark of winter. Gather ye rhubarb while ye may, and leave the late-summer cucumbers to the more shelf-stable pickling methods.