Preserving Baja Arizona

 

May 9, 2016

HomesteadIssue 18: May/June 2016
grace-stupkosky_homestead-canning-issue-18_edible-baja-arizona_01

Beyond Canning, by Autumn Giles.

My boyfriend and I learned quickly that when you buy a really old house in a really small town, everyone has a story about it. When word got out that we had purchased our first home, a bright pink, 110-year-old folk Victorian on our town’s main drag, we were instantly inundated with “pink house” tales: “Did you know it used to be yellow?” “Geronimo made tortillas on the porch,” and, my personal favorite, “I was married in your guest house because it used to be a chapel.”

Before we even closed on our home, a friend of ours passed along a multipage, photocopied newspaper biography of Hattie, the woman who, in the early 1900s, raised her children in our home, spoke many languages, and—most importantly to me—filled the cellar off the kitchen with home-canned food, which she subsequently gave away to those in need around town. After I learned Hattie was a preserver like me, I knew we had found our house, and I felt so proud to be stocking the cellar again. Between Hattie’s time and mine, preserving hasn’t really gone anywhere. In the same way that it made sense for Hattie to put up her surplus each year, preserving still makes sense to a growing number of people who are looking to source more of their food locally year-round and maintain a connection with traditional food ways. It remains an essential tool for those looking to cut back on food costs without compromising on quality and taste.

My favorite way to illustrate the economics of preserving is to talk about preserved lemons, the dead-easy yet completely transformative preserve made from salt, lemons, and time. Can I cook without preserved lemons? Absolutely. Indeed, I did for many, many years. However, in the depths of winter, do they infinitely improve my go-to roasted carrots? Without a doubt. I had never had them until I made them myself, because store-bought preserved lemons are cost prohibitive for me. Put simply, preserving empowers me to eat better for less.

Finally, there is much to be said for the social and community-building aspects of preserving. The first time I canned was years ago during a canning party at a friend’s apartment. Today I maintain many of the connections with fellow preservation enthusiasts that I made during that single afternoon. The joy that comes from honoring the harvest by gathering friends and family to put up food and share knowledge and stories is perhaps the greatest argument for preserving food. I can only hope that in a hundred years, the person living in my house hears a story about me filling up the cellar and feels at home, just as I did with Hattie.

My secret mission in writing this, which is indeed now not so secret, is to get more folks to see themselves as preservers. I think many of us, myself included for a long time, see the work of preserving as something separate from cooking. There are home cooks—plenty of them—and then there are preservers. At its best, I think preserving is just another, albeit invaluable, tool for the home cook’s toolbox. Particularly as the excitement around eating locally and seasonally continues to grow, I argue that passionate home cooks can become better at what they love by having the skills to preserve.


fig jam with toasted fennel

Fig jam with toasted fennel.

Fig jam with toasted fennel seeds

A sweet preserve with a savory character.

Before living in the desert, I considered figs a rarity—a somewhat mythical, hard-to-transport fruit that was often out of my price range. When I lived in Queens, there was a fig tree in a nearby yard that I would visit just to admire and check on its progress.

Here, when monsoon season starts at the beginning of July, the fig trees explode. It’s truly magical.

Even with the added lemon juice, which provides the necessary acid to can the figs safely, the figs are quite sweet. Just a touch of balsamic vinegar added at the end of the cooking period adds balance and brings out the savory side of the figs and fennel.

Fig Jam with Toasted Fennel Seeds
Print Recipe
Servings
2 Half pints
Servings
2 Half pints
Fig Jam with Toasted Fennel Seeds
Print Recipe
Servings
2 Half pints
Servings
2 Half pints
Ingredients
Servings: Half pints
Instructions
Materials
  1. Half- or quarter-pint Mason jars with two-piece lid closure
  2. Jar lifter
  3. Tall stockpot with a lid and silicone blossom trivet (available online) for processing
  4. Wooden chopstick
  5. Clean kitchen towel
  6. Wide-mouth canning funnel
  7. Paper towels
  8. Preserving pot
  9. Ladle
  10. Large nonreactive bowl
  11. Small stainless steel skillet
  12. Mortar and pestle or spice grinder
Instructions
  1. To toast the fennel seeds, heat them in a bare stainless steel skillet until they’re aromatic and just start to darken. This won’t take more than a couple of minutes. Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to grind them into a coarse powder.
  2. In a large nonreactive bowl, fold together the figs, sugar, and lemon juice. Add the fennel seeds and let the mixture macerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  3. Transfer the mixture to your preserving pot using a spatula to scrape any sugar that has settled to the bottom of the bowl and, over high heat, bring to a boil that can’t be stirred down.d
  4. Cook for about 7 minutes, or until a dollop of jam placed on saucer and cooled for a few minutes in the freezer doesn’t run back together when you drag your finger through it. Remove from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar.
  5. Ladle into prepared quarter-pint jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rims. Place the lids on the jars and screw on the bands until they are fingertip tight.
  6. Process in the tall stockpot with lid for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude as needed. (At 1,000 to 3,000 feet, increase processing time by 5 minutes. At 3,000 to 6,000 feet, increase processing time by 10 minutes.)
  7. After 24 hours, check the seals. Label, date, and store out of direct sunlight without the bands for up to a year.
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brined green tomatos with basil

Brined green tomatos with basil.

Brined green tomatoes with basil

A fresh, herb-infused brine perfect for tomatoes.

The degree of ripeness greatly affects how tomatoes behave in a ferment. Some folks like to ferment whole, ripe cherry tomatoes, which transform into something often known as cherry bombs due to their effervescent, explosive quality. Here, we’re using green or significantly underripe tomatoes. Using these firmer tomatoes means that they can be sliced and brined without fear that they’ll turn to mush. Plus, they maintain a nice bit of crunch, even when they’re fully fermented.

In general, less is more when it comes to fresh herbs in ferments. Their flavor will amplify as it infuses the brine throughout the fermentation period. Likewise, for long-term storage, it can be a good idea to pick out the herbs. If you’re eating them regularly and tasting, it may not be necessary to pick them out initially, but do so if and when the flavor of the herb becomes overpowering. The same can be true for the garlic.

Brined Green Tomatoes with Basil
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Brined Green Tomatoes with Basil
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Ingredients
Servings: 1 scant quart
Instructions
Materials
  1. Wide-mouth quart Mason jars
  2. An airlock system designed for a wide-mouth quart Mason jar
  3. A large nonreactive bowl
  4. A kitchen scale that has both grams and ounces
  5. A wooden spoon
  6. Something to weight the vegetables to keep them submerged (brining only)
Instructions
  1. Place the crushed garlic clove and the basil at the bottom of a quart jar.
  2. On top of the garlic and basil, add the tomato pieces, 1 handful at a time. You can shake the jar from side to side to help them settle, but do not pack them down. They should come no higher than the top of the jar’s shoulder.
  3. Pour the brine into the jar so it completely covers the vegetables. Use a wooden chopstick to jiggle the contents to help remove air bubbles. Weight, cover with an airlock, and ferment for up to two weeks. You may begin tasting for doneness after 3 days.
  4. Cover, label, and refrigerate for long-term storage.
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southwest chow chow

Southwest chow-chow.

Southwest chow-chow

A spicy, Southwest-inspired take
on the classic Southern relish.

Chow-chow is a mustardy, end-of-season relish, meant to be a bit of a catchall for what has to be pulled from the garden. Green tomatoes often make an appearance, as does cabbage. Because it has its roots in utility, there are as many versions of chow-chow as there are folks who make it. This one has a Southwest bent and includes poblanos in place of sweet green or red peppers, cauliflower, and tomatillos instead of green tomatoes.

This recipe takes just a bit of planning, as it needs to be salted and allowed to sit for 4 hours before going into jars. If you start it on a weekend morning when you wake up, it will be ready to process after lunch.

Southwest Chow-Chow
Print Recipe
Southwest Chow-Chow
Print Recipe
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
Materials
  1. Mason jars with two-piece lid closure
  2. Jar lifter
  3. Tall stockpot with a lid and silicone trivet for processing
  4. Wooden chopstick
  5. Wide-mouth canning funnel
  6. Stainless saucepan
  7. Clean kitchen towel
  8. Paper towels
  9. Medium nonreactive bowl
  10. Large nonreactive bowl
  11. Spatula
  12. Heavy-bottom preserving pot
  13. Ladle
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to stir together the chopped cabbage, cauliflower, tomatillos, onions, poblano peppers, and sea salt. Let the mixture sit for 4 hours, as the salt draws moisture out of the vegetables.
  2. After 4 hours, take the chopped vegetables a handful at a time and squeeze them to extract as much liquid as possible. Do not rinse. Reserve the squeezed veggies in a medium nonreactive bowl.
  3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, ground mustard, and turmeric in the stainless saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Once the sugar and salt dissolve, add the vegetables and return to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the relish to the prepared jars. Pour the brine (the remaining liquid) over the relish to cover, leaving ½ -inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe rims. Place the lids on the jars and screw on the bands until they’re fingertip tight.
  5. Process in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if needed. After 24 hours, check the seals. Label, date, and store out of direct sunlight without the bands for up to a year.
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