Pickling Spice–How and Why to Make Your Own

Homemade Pickling Spice--In a Jar

If you’re reading this, I assume that you pickle.  And if you are already committed to that old-timey homesteading endeavor, you might as well take the next step, and make your own pickling spice too.   Yes, it is worth it:  making your own takes very little time;  ensures a fresher product than the ready-made pickling spice you find at the supermarket; allows for combinations of spices that you choose; and costs much less.

For the freshest product sold at the best price, go where you’ll find a high volume of sales.  First stop—the Indian grocery store.  India is home to the Spice Coast.  You‘ll find nearly every spice that you need here sold for a song.  Allspice, the rare New World spice, can be purchased at local Middle Eastern or Caribbean Mom & Pop shops. Lastly, dill seed is reasonably priced at the supermarket or try a Jewish or Polish grocery store.

To really get in touch with your pioneer roots, try growing some of the spices. I plant dill every year and it just goes to seed eventually.  I collect some seeds to use in pickling spice and the rest just replant themselves—the perfect lazy gardener specimen. Like dill, cilantro also goes to seed quickly.  I collect all I can though I usually have to buy some too.  I guess we eat our cilantro too fast to make enough seeds. Lastly, I  buy the chilies from the farmers market and dry them on newspapers or in paper bags.

Once you have purchased or dried all of your spices, transfer them from bags to jars or containers with tight fitting lids.  I recycle peanut butter jars and the like for this purpose.  Storing spices in a jar keeps them fresher and makes them easier to handle. Just be sure to label them with the spice and the date.Storing spices in recycled containers

The recipe below is what I use during the fermenting process for cucumber but it may be used in fresh pack pickles too.  I usually triple the recipe and that lasts 1 season of pickling.

Pickling Spice
Author: 
Recipe type: Herbs & Seasonings
 
Ingredients
  • 3 T mustard seeds
  • 6 Mediterranean bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 - 6 dried red chilies, crumbled
  • 1 T whole allspice berries
  • 1 T dill seed
  • 1 T coriander seed
  • 1 T whole black peppercorns
Instructions
  1. Mix and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

This is a flexible recipe so I let the girls do the measuring and mixing completely.  No knives, no fire, what could go wrong?

Homemade Pickling Spice--girls measure and mix

Working as a team without my instructions. Just reading the recipe!

Homemade Pickling Spice--girl crushes bay leaves

Crumbling bay leaves–perfect activity for little hands.

Homemade Pickling Spice--cutting the dried chilies

Using scissors to crumble the chilies–probably should have had her use gloves as we had an itching eye incident. Oops.  Good thing it happened to the tough kid.

Girl Holds Homemade Pickling Spice

Ready for pickling.

For more information and recipes on pickling and fermentation see the following links:

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Vanilla Lime Spirited Cherries

2014 Jul 27_1225

Child Picks CherriesFive years ago I bought a little self-fertilizing dwarf sweet cherry whip from Jung’s nursery – a variety called Black Gold Sweet Cherry.  Gardening with edibles is my passion; unfortunately my yard is less than ideal for such a hobby.   The word “postage-stamp” comes to mind when describing it.  In addition to its limited size, a large maple and a north-facing growing space limit sunlight.  Despite these challenges, I have (in my humble opinion) managed to create a fairly pleasing landscape with a number of edibles.  Over the years I have had some epic failures in my edible gardeniGirl Picks Cherriesng adventures but also some smashing successes.  This sweet cherry tree is the latter—a prolific producer of sweet cherries in a tight space with sub-optimum sunlight.

Hands Full of CherriesWe picked a record 6+ pounds of cherries this year from this little tree. The unprecedented bounty caught me by surprised and sans a cherry pitter.  Cherries have a short shelf life.  No way to eat them all fresh and no desire to pit even 3 pounds with a paper clip.

Canning in syrup without pitting seemed the obvious choice. Canning with the pits has some cons.  The pits dictate that you must eat them out of the jar as is—no future cherry pie or jam making as you could with frozen.   On the pro side, canning with pits adds a lovely almond flavor to the cherries.  If I use them as garnishes in drinks then I don’t think anyone will be overwhelmed with the nuisance of pit spitting.  Olives have pits.  Fresh cherries have pits.  People can deal.

And since I’m using the preserved cherries in drinks, why not throw in a bit of booze with the syrup— spirited cherries.  Given my intractable pioneer sentiments, I normally wouldn’t waste my precious cherry crop on such a frivolous food enterprise.  “Do we really need spirited cherries to make it through the long, cold winter?”  (This is the way my mind works, people—obsessive compulsive utilitarianism).  But, actually I do need these to make it through the winter, and they will serve a purpose because back in January, at the Tosa Ladies Book Club annual planning meeting, I volunteered to host our Christmas Party.   I have had the privileged of being a member of this book club for 10 years and I know from experience that a few of those gals take their cocktails very seriously.  Spirited Cherries shall serve as the foundation and inspiration for the required holiday cocktail.  I’m thinking Manhattans or Cherry Lime Rickies, but I’m open to suggestions.

Meanwhile,   I’m off to Door county to pick more cherries  so I’ll have plenty of cherries for cocktail recipe testing.   My new Oxo cherry Pitter arrived in the mail and I’m itching to use it.

Spirited Cherries for Canning--The Ingredients

Spirited Cherries
Author: 
Recipe type: Food Preservation
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 3 - 3.5 pints
 
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds cherries, washed only (do not remove stems or seeds)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup brandy (vodka or rum)
  • ¾ cups bottled lime juice
  • 1-2 vanilla beans
  • Optional Additional Spices--1 cinnamon stick, 1 star anise flower, or a few cloves
Instructions
  1. Wash all canning jars, lids and screw caps. Place the jars in the hot water bath canner and simmer. Place the lids in a smaller sauce pan filled with water and keep those at a low simmer too. Set screw bands aside on a dry towel.
  2. In a non-reactive medium pot, add sugar, water, brandy, and lime.
  3. Make a slit length-wise down the vanilla bean. Scrape out the sticky seeds and place in the pot along with the vanilla bean pod. Add any other spices if desired.
  4. Bring the ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes.
  5. Add cherries and bring to a boil again--boil for 1 minute longer.
  6. Remove from heat and pack hot cherries and syrup into sanitized, hot jars. Leave ½ inch head space.
  7. Remove bubbles with a skewer, wipe rims with a damp cloth and place lids on jars. Tighten screw bands to finger tip tight and place in the canner making sure the jars are under water by at least an inch.
  8. Place lid on canner and bring to a boil. Start timing at boiling--15 minutes( at 1000 ft altitude or less)
  9. Once time is up, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Time for another 5 minutes.
  10. Remove jars from canner and allow to cool for 12 hours at least.
Notes
It takes about 1 pound of cherries to fill a single pint jar.

*You may substitute lemon juice for lime, however be sure to always use bottled and not fresh for canning recipes as the acidity level of fresh varies too much.

Cherries

Wash the cherries but leave the stems and pits.

 

Spirited Cherries--preparing the syrup

Bring the water, sugar, lime, brandy (or other spirit) and vanilla beans and pod (plus any additional spices) to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  This is the syrup.

Spirited Cherries--heating on stove for hot pack

Add the cherries to the syrup and bring to a boil again, boiling for about 1 minute.

Laddle the hot cherries and syrup into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Process pints for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes.  Spirited Cherries

See my instructions for Hot Water Bath Canning if you need instructions.

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How to Make and Freeze Pumpkin Mash (Winter Squash Puree)

Pie Pumpkins

Pie Pumpkins

A month after the regular farmers markets closed for the season, I spied my pile of winter squashes sitting patiently, expectantly on my pantry floor.  They could probably wait unharmed another month or more, but with Christmas and a family-dinner-pumpkin-pie-commitment just days away, I thought that I should tackle the task of transforming them into pumpkin mash before the last-minute holiday frenzy begins.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

When I first started preserving, I preferred freezing to canning or drying.  Freezing takes little time or effort and poses no food safety threat.  However, after years of the kids (actually me) accidentally leaving the freezer door open or losing valuable goods in the frosty depths only to be discovered years later covered in freezer burn,   I have turned to canning and drying whenever possible and  reserve freezing for those veggies that strictly require it.  Because canning pumpkin puree cannot be done safely in your kitchen even with a pressure canner, winter squash has become one of those few veggies that get frozen.

Acorn squash

Acorn squash

Carnival Squash

Carnival Squash

Pumpkin mash is a “must” for me as it enhances the texture and moisture of nearly all sweet  treats made with whole wheat flour.  If you remain unconvinced about the necessity of pumpkin mash because you still use white flour to make sweet treats, read this and then come back here for your pumpkin mash tutorial. Not into sweets? Pumpkin puree has other applications besides pumpkin pie and sweet treats.  You can slip it into all kinds of soups, stews and sauces to thicken them and secretly add more veggies to your diet.  I have a great squash soup recipe which requires mash.  I shall post it soon.

How to Freeze Pumpkin Mash:

  1. Choose an appropriate winter squash: pie pumpkins, hubbard squash, and butternut are all good choices.  Avoid large jack-o-lantern pumpkins as the flesh is too tough and stingy. Smaller squashes like acorn, carnival, and delicata have a good texture and flavor but have too little flesh to make it worth the effort.
  2. Wash the squash and peal the skin if it is a squash with smooth delicate skin like butternut, but leave it intact if it is tough-skinned like a hubbard. (Pealing isn’t necessary, it just makes mashing the cooked squash less messy).
  3. Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon.   Cut into smaller manageable hunks if necessary—the smaller the pieces the faster it cooks. If it is a large squash like a blue hubbard you may have to work a bit to get it open.  A farmer-friend of mine shared her technique with me, “Toss it down the basement stairs.  It cracks the squash wide open, and it is fun.”
  4. **Cook the squash until extremely tender with one of the following methods:     Oven:  Place hunks or halves in a baking dish.  Then fill the dish with about an inch of water.  Cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350 F for 1 -2 hours—until the flesh is tender.       Roaster:  Cook in a counter-top roaster at 350 F with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom. Cover the pan with aluminum foil to make sure that  the water doesn’t evaporate.     Crock Pot:  Cook about 2 hours on high or 4 hours on low—with an inch or 2 of water covering the bottom.     Stove-top: Steam or boil smaller chunks for about 30 – 40 minutes.       **For each method, cook time may vary depending on the size of the hunks of squash.
  5. Once tender set it aside and allow to cool. Tender flesh is important—a little over- cooked is okay but a little under-cooked is not.
  6. Drain excess water. Use a spoon to scrape cooked flesh from the skin if it was not already pealed.
  7. Mash flesh with a potato masher or fork right in the pan or pot—no need to dirty another dish.Pumpkin Mash--freezing
  8. Scoop out one cup portions onto plastic wrap or freezer paper.
  9. Wrap mash removing all air.
  10. Freeze wraps in a single layer on a cookie sheet.
  11. Transfer to a freezer bag or container and label.  It will keep for 1 year.Pumpkin Mash--Frozen Individually in 1 cup Portions

Miscellaneous Winter Squash Information

Yield:  about 1 cup of mash for every pound of butternut

Cooking: In pancake and waffle recipes, you can substitute about half of the milk required with pumpkin mash.  1 cup of pumpkin mush replaces 2/3 cup of milk.

Storing: Thin skin squashes like butternut can last up to 3 month and thick skinned squashes like hubbards can last up to 6 months if stored properly

Avoid washing the squash if possible until ready to cook. However, if you must, wash winter squash in 1 gallon of cool water with 1 teaspoon bleach.  Dry thoroughly and keep in a cool dark place like the basement. Do not allow the squashes to touch one another. Do not store near apples.

 

Pumpkin Mash--child measuringCooking with Kids:  Food preservation can be hot and heavy work, but this tasks is the exception.  Involve the kids all of the way through the process.   Takes the kids to the market with you to buy the squashes–ask the farmer about the varieties available so you and the kids can learn about them at the same time. (You can still get squash from the Winter Farmers Market, by the way).  Have the kids wash the outsides of the squashes, scrape out the seeds, and later they can mash and measure the cooked squash.  Nothing is more fun to a little kid than mashing mush with their bare hands.  Also don’t forget my farmer-friend’s technique.  If you get a giant hubbard squash, the kids can also chuck it down the basement stairs for fun.

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Homemade Hot Sauce from Fermented Peppers

IMG_6163

Hot sauce adds a welcome layer of hurt-so-good flavor and excitement to many dishes.  This homemade hot sauce recipe holds its own and some would say even surpasses some of the more popular brands.  Compared with store-bought, homemade has the same tangy richness but with a fresher flavor, a brighter color, and not a whisper of questionable additives.

So now, while red peppers of every variety are still at the market, make haste.  The beauty of this recipe is that it allows you to make something entirely unique, designed to fit your taste.  You may choose to make it with 100% Thai chilies for a fiery hot sauce or you could go the other extreme and only use sweet bell peppers for a pure pepper taste experience.  The choice is yours.

This recipe starts with fermented red peppers.  Fermentation takes time but little effort.  I promise that the hullabaloo is kept to a minimum and effort exerted shall be paid back ten fold in the tangy heat enjoyed over the next several months or weeks—however long it lasts.

Click here for a quick tutorial on the basics of fermenting.

TIP FOR CHOOSING YOUR CHILIES: To help you gauge heat, you can create a mild sauce like Louisiana Hot Sauce or Frank’s Hot Wing Sauce using about 1.5 pounds sweet red bells and 0.5 pounds red ripe serranos or jalapenos. You may also choose to ferment your peppers separately—bell peppers in one vessel and habaneros in another for example. After fermenting and processing them both separately, you can mix the 2 peppers until you get the precise amount of heat and flavor you desire. That is a bit more work but not much and probably worth it especially if you’re looking for an exact level of heat.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

STEP #1: Pickle your Peppers

Pickled Peppers

  • 2 lbs. red peppers–any variety from sweet to scorching (1 kilo)
  • 2 quarts water (2 liters)
  • ¼ cup salt—heaping (100 grams)
  1.  Mix the salt into the water dissolving completely to make the brine.
  2. Wash and cut the peppers removing, stem, seeds and white pith. Depending on the size, cut them into halves, quarters or even smaller.  Do not try to ferment whole peppers as the interior flesh must be exposed.
  3. Place the peppers in a clean, non-reactive vessel like a half gallon mason jar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Pour enough brine over the peppers to cover them.  Pour the rest of the brine into a sealable quart or pint sized plastic bag and stuff it into the mouth of the jar so that all of the peppers are completely submerged in brine. If using a larger, more open container use a larger gallon bag filled with brine and lay on top of the peppers. All peppers must be completely submerged in brine or they will not ferment.
  5. Label the jar with the date and contents and place it on a plate or in a bowl to protect your counter from spillage.
  6. In a few days you will see the water begin to cloud and bubbles appear. This is the fermentation procesIMG_6118s.
  7. Keep it at room temperature for 3-6 weeks removing the bag periodically to clean off the white scum (yeast). Begin tasting the peppers at 3 weeks to determine whether they have become sour enough for your liking.
  8. Once they are ready you can do one of the following: filter the brine, boil it for 1 minute, cool it and then store the peppers in it in the fridge where they will keep for 1 year. Eat them; cook them; they are delicious. OR you can make home hot sauce.

Note: Brine, not water, is used to fill the “weight” bag so that if the bag accidentally springs a leak the salt water concentration remains constant and the fermentation process is not spoiled.

 

STEP #2: Make the Hot Saucefermenting peppers2

  1. Remove the pickled peppers from the brine (do not discard the brine) and puree them in a blender or food processor.
  2. Strain the pepper puree through a fine mesh colander, sieve of or food mill until the entire liquid portion of the pepper is squeezed out.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  3. Yield will vary depending on how enthusiastically you strain and the fleshiness of the peppers used.  Jalapenos are very fleshy for example but scotch bonnets are quite thin.  In this example  1 ½ lbs. red bells and ½ lbs. serranos yielded 1 2/3 cup liquid purée + ½ cup fermented pepper solids. Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers
  4. Freeze or refrigerate the pepper solids in a freezer-safe container or bag.  They make a great flavoring agent for beans, soups, stir fries—anything where you want a bit of heat and sour.IMG_6173
  5. Strain the brine through a coffee filter and boil for 1 minute removing any additional scum. Allow it to cool and store in the fridge. I use it in soups and stew.  It adds a rich flavor that I find irresistible.  It’s like using beer or wine in cooking.

Homemade Hot Sauce Recipe

  • 1 cup strained, fermented pepper liquid
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½  teaspoon canning salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  1.  Combine all of the ingredients and store in the fridge where it will last for 1 year or more.
  2. You may adjust the seasoning to your liking with more or less salt or vinegar.  You may also prefer to use the brine instead of the vinegar.Homemade Hot Sauce & Pickled Peppers

     

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Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles–Sandwich Toppers Made Easy

This time of year, when everything is in season, you will find me at the farmers market wringing my hands and looking a bit frantic—so many veggies and so little time.    Soon after, I will begin talking out loud to myself.  Naturally.  How else does one make plans and set priorities?  “Mid-September.  Okay, pickling cucumbers are on the way out, and I still have about a month before the first frost takes the tomatoes and even longer for the peppers, soooooo cucumbers it is…”

…which means pickles.”   I did the full ferment kosher sours long ago at the start of the season.  If you read this blog or know me even a little, you know that I am passionate about pickles and pickling. If you didn’t know, well, let me tell you that I’m kind of a big dill in the world of pickling.  Get it, kind of a “big dill.”   I even have a T-shirt that says so.

My tastes run toward salty, savory, garlicky, or hot when it comes to pickles.  However, another camp of pickle connoisseurs stand firmly in allegiance with the sweet pickle.  I don’t share that opinion, but a sweet pickle, I admit, does have its place on the plate. Tart, tangy, and sweet, a tuna fish or pulled pork sandwich wouldn’t be the same without an old-fashion bread & butter pickle on top.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer PicklesWhile I’m not a sweet pickle fan per se, this is no second-class bread & butter.  I’ve taste-tested it on bread & butter fans and have received rave reviews. The simplicity of the recipe with its consistent, flavorful, and crunchy results has led me to make this year after year.   Moreover, it takes just minutes of prep time and freezing allows me to store it in small and extra-small portion sizes.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Ingredients

Bread & Butter Freezer Pickles--Sandwich Toppers Made Easy
Author: 
Recipe type: Pickle
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 4 cups
 
Salt and sugar (for unknown reasons) keep cucumbers crisp even after freezing them. If you want them even crisper, dry soaking the cukes in ice cold water for 12 - 24 hours before cutting and preparing them.
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ lbs. pickling cucumbers (5 cups sliced)
  • 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (1 ½ cups)
  • 2 T pickling salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ t turmeric
  • ½ t paprika
  • 1 T whole mustard seeds
Instructions
  1. Wash and thinly slice the cucumbers removing the blossom end—do not peel.
  2. Combine cucumbers, onions, and salt in a large glass bowl and let stand for 2-4 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, vinegar, and spices and allow the sugar to dissolve completely.
  4. Rinse and drain the vegetables well, drying and blotting them on a clean tea towel.
  5. Combine all ingredients and place in individual freezer containers leaving an inch of head space for expansion.
  6. To use, thaw for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled.
Notes
Once thawed, these pickles will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Blossom-EndCooking with Kids:  Let the kids slice the cucumbers while you slice the onions.  Use a steak knife if they are under 11.  They should still use safe knife skills especially tucking their fingers in on the hand that holds the cucumber.   Kids are also able to measure the salt, sugar, vinegar, and spices. (It’s not canning so you don’t have to get too panicked about precise measurements.)  Lastly, my kids really like to mix so let them toss the cukes with salt using their clean hands or mix the sugar into the vinegar.

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--Preparing

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--drying

Bread-n-Butter Freezer Pickles--freezer bags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roasting & Freezing Bell Peppers

Sometime in fall, my attention turns from tomatoes to peppers.  Sweet red, yellow, and orange bell peppers come into season in Southeast Wisconsin in Mid-September and usually stick around until sometime in early November–a mere 6 or 7 weeks to enjoy one of the most delicious treats from the farmers market.  During peak season, farmers practically give them away— 2 or 3 for a dollar!!!  That’s a steel of a deal compared with prices at the supermarket. So while they are in season, run to the market and buy as many as your freezer can hold. You will not regret this.

First determine how many you plan to freeze as is and how many you plan to freeze roasted.  Make sure to set aside 3 of the roasted peppers to make Romesco.

How to Freeze a Fresh Pepper

All peppers freeze well.  Simply wash them, remove the seeds and white membranes, and cut them how you would like to use later—chopped, sliced, halved etc. After preparing peppers, place them on a cookie sheet and freeze.  This is called IQF—Individually Quick Frozen.  Once individually frozen, transfer the peppers to a freezer-safe plastic bag or box, date and label.  Use these peppers in cooked dishes, not raw, as they lose their crispness.  I uses them in stir-fries and soups.

How to Roast  Peppers

Peppers can be roasted on a grill, under an oven broiler or directly on the grate of a gas stove.  I use the grill as it is the easiest way to do larger quantities and it can be done while grilling other food.

Grill Method

  • Place whole washed peppers on a clean grill on medium high heat.

  • Char and blister each side of the pepper (3-4 minutes each side) turning with a metal tong.

  • Once the pepper is charred evenly, place in a bowl and cover with a plate or a larger nesting bowl to contain the steam.

  • Allow the peppers to steam at least 15 minute.

  • If you plan to eat the peppers soon, remove the stem, seeds, and skins with your fingers.  Do not use water to wash the seed away as this will reduce the sweet, smoky flavor attained in roasting.

Oven Broiler Method

  • Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead place peppers on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler.

Stove Top Method

  • Follow the steps above but #1.  Instead place peppers directly on the grate of the stove top and turn gas to high.  You can roast 2 or 3 peppers on each grate.  This only works with gas stoves.

Storing roasted peppers in the refrigerator

Roasted peppers kept in an air tight container will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Peppers drizzled with olive oil, will keep for about 1 week.

Storing roasted peppers in the freezer

Place roasted peppers with skins and seeds still intact on a cookie sheet.  Freeze and transfer to a freezer-safe bag or box.  It’s easier to remove the skin and seed from partially defrosted peppers as the pepper is stiff and easier to handle.

Sofrito

Because exploring ethnic grocery stores remains one of my favorite past-times, I feel fortunate to live in a city as ethnically diverse as Milwaukee.   I love ethnic food adventures so much, that 2 years ago for Mother’s Day, my husband drove me all over Milwaukee’s South side so that we could investigate all of the Greek and Turkish grocers.  We took turns going in the stores while our girls slept in the back seat.  It was nap time.

Milwaukee’s South side is rife with immigrant-owned mom and pop establishments.  Although we have fewer on the North side, a few gems exist.  El Pueblo, a Puerto Rican/Caribbean specialty store just down the street from my house, is one such gem. It was here that I discovered sofrito in the freezer section.  After asking, the owner explained that sofrito is a seasoning made with tomatoes, peppers, onions and herbs.  Sofrito is a constant of Puerto Rican cuisine added to various dishes like beans, eggs, rice, and meats.  I took it home; I tried it out; I loved it, and thought, “I can make that.”  And so I did with all locally-grown ingredients of course.  After researching and testing many recipes I came up with my own.

Sofrito
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment & Seasoning
Cuisine: Latin American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: about 8 cups
 
Sofrito can be made with green or red peppers. I prefer the red for sweetness and color. When red peppers come into season, make a large batch of sofrito--enough to last the entire year--then freeze it. I add it to beans for a quick delicious side dish. I also like to add it to Latin inspired soups and sauces.
Ingredients
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 cups onions, minced
  • 3 cups red and green bell peppers, minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato, cored, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 lime, juice
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 t black pepper
Instructions
  1. Chop or process ingredients in a food processor and combine.
  2. Place sofrito in freezer safe bags, removing all air.
  3. Date and label.
  4. Freeze sofrito flat in the bags so that it is easy to break off frozen chunks as needed.
  5. Fresh sofrito will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Cooking with Kids:  I make sofrito with a food processor. The kids are in charge of pushing the button. They love this task. The processor is a noisy, electric machine with a button and a sharp blade. Nothing could be more irresistible to a little kid

Mild Pickled Jalapeños

Pickled jalapeños are a family favorite.  No Mexican inspired meal goes without them.  Because 3 of the 4 members of the family protest when something is too spicy, I would buy mild jalapeño pickles from the grocer.

Yes, you read that right.  I WOULD BUY A PICKLE.  I bought La Preferida Mild Pickled jalapeños for years.  It galled me, especially when fall arrived, and jalapeños spilled over every farmer’s stall at the market selling for a cheap $2 a quart.

I tried to recreate them at home, an annual exercise in futility.  I tired the obvious at first—removing the seeds and white pith. This helped but certainly didn’t eliminate the heat. I tried to substitute peppers like poblanos, but they didn’t have the right meaty texture.  I wanted mild pickled jalapeños, not pickled poblanos.   I tried blanching and salting them, knowing from a food science stand point this probably wouldn’t do anything…and it didn’t.  Renewed in my quest, each fall I scoured university extension sites from California to Maine for answers on how to de-heat  jalapeños.  Nada.

How do the people at La Preferida make such a tasty mild jalapeño pickle?  I was on the verge of writing the company a letter, when serendipitously, I stumbled on a seed catalogue revealing the answer.  You cannot make a hot jalapeño mild.  You can, however, grow a mild variety.  Duh!   The answer is so obvious.  Why did it take me 5 years to figure it out?

Question answered. Problem not solved. Where can I get one of these mild varieties?  I have yet to meet a farmer that grows and sells them in Southeast Wisconsin.  Let me know if you know one.  I could grow them, but with curious children and cats and a cave of a house,  I don’t have a safe environment, let alone the sunlight to start my own jalapeño seedlings indoors in February.  Nor have I discovered any nursery around here that grows mild varieties like Texas A&M, Senoritas and Fooled You.  Again, let me know if you do.

Then, in another serendipitous moment, I went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant with a friend who asked the waiter to bring extra pickles—not the jalapeños, just the carrots.  She confessed that she was addicted to those delicious little pickled carrots.  I tried one and agreed—a perfect combination of mild heat and sweetness and a satisfying toothy texture.  Light bulb!  If I modify the heat with carrots, not only will I get milder pickled jalapeños but also the added bonus of pickled carrots.  This classic pickled is officially called Mexican escabeche and includes jalapeños, carrots and white onions.  Most recipes call for a bay leaf too, but I prefer a lighter, brighter flavor and so leave it out.

Mild Pickled Jalapenos (and Carrots)
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 9 pint jars
 
Ingredients
  • 3 pounds jalapeños, sliced into ⅛th inch rings, seeds and veins removed
  • 3 pounds carrots, sliced into ⅛th inch coins
  • 3 cups finely chopped white onions
  • 6 cups water
  • 6 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 4 T canning salt
  • ⅛ t turmeric per pint jar
  • ¼ t sesame oil per pint jar
Instructions
  1. Prepare the carrots, onions, and jalapenos. De-seeding/de-veining is best done with hands--slice the peppers, put on some disposable gloves and deseed/devein the rings one at a time with your hands. Slow but effective.
  2. Rinse and drain the prepared jalapeno rings in several changes of water to eliminate all seeds.
  3. Meanwhile, bring vinegar, salt and water to a boil.
  4. Add turmeric and sesame oil to clean hot pint jars, then pack tightly with carrots, jalapenos and onions.
  5. Pour hot brine over ingredients leaving ½ inch head space.
  6. Cap and hot water bath process for 10 minutes.
Notes
This recipe is flexible. Reduce it by half or a third. You may also play with the ratio of carrots to peppers. More carrots for less heat more peppers for more. If you find a mild variety of jalapeno you can eliminate the carrots all together. Do not reduce the ratio of water to vinegar if you intend to can it.

After reading this, you might ask, why not just buy the mild pickled jalapeños slices bottled by La Preferida.  Is a $2 quart of fresh jalapeños so compelling?  Well, to me it is, but if it isn’t to you, I have additional reasons.  I like to know the source of my food whenever possible for all sorts of environmental and food safety reasons.  Remember the E. colitainted jalapeños discovered a few years ago?  Do I have to say more?   Also commercial bottled versions come with preservatives and additives like sodium benzoate and sulfides.  While the FDA may generally recognize them as safe in the amount typically eaten, I would just as well avoid them if I can.  Cancer is cancer no matter how tenuous the link.

More pickle recipes and information:

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Best Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning…so far.

My family enthusiastically rushes to the table whenever I make Mexican anything.  For us, no condiment better complements Mexican foods than salsa fresca—that fresh and feisty combination of onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and lime.  For about 6 months of the year, this posed no problem as fresh tomatoes are easily accessible, but the other 6 months…well, I got a problem.  Because we try to eat local as much as possible, the solution seems apparent, just can some salsa during tomato season.  So I tried that again and again and again.   I searched for years to find a decent, tested tomato salsa recipe for canning with no success.

Faced with disappointment, I put the dream of a good canned tomato salsa on the shelf and moved on to explore other options.  We tried commercial brands, even high-end ones, but with their mushy texture and over-cooked flavor we unanimously rejected them all.

Making salsa fresca with out-of-season grocery store tomatoes also met with dead-end results.  Grape tomatoes had an acceptable flavor, but a thick skin and high price made them an un-solution.  Roasting paste tomatoes enhanced their flavor but made a sloppy salsa and took too much time.  I thought that I had arrived at the perfect solution when I discovered the Kumato—a rich, red-brown tomato perfectly packaged in cellophane.  While pricy, the flavor was excellent particularly considering the source and the season.  But when something seems too good to be true, it is.  A bit of research revealed that Syngenta, the company that developed the Kumato, collided with my ethics.  Syngenta has patented the Kumato’s seeds and strictly regulates the farmers allowed to grow the plant.  I believe that farmers have a right to save seeds and that life cannot be patented, and I am back to square one.

So this summer I once again took up the crusade to find a decent canned salsa recipe, and I think that I finally got it.   While it does require cooking before canning (thus diminishing that fresh flavor), it doesn’t taste overcooked. It uses lime, the logical choice to acidify the tomato salsa–a far superior flavor compared with vinegar.  It has adequate cilantro flavor, and the texture, because it uses paste tomatoes, remains firm.  Although nothing compares to salsa fresa with vine-ripened tomatoes, this is a good substitute with the added benefit of convenience. Once made and on the shelf, it essentially becomes an instant food—a blessing if not a lifesaver at times when you have 10 minutes to prepare a meal for hungry, whining kids.

Use safe canning practices.  Click her for step-by-step hot water-bath canning instructions.

Best Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning...so far.
Author: 
Recipe type: Preserving
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 half pints
 
Recipe adapted from University of Wisconsin Extension Salsa publication.
Ingredients
  • 7 cups peeled, cored, seeded and chopped paste tomatoes (about 3½ lbs.)
  • 1 cup seeded and finely chopped green chilies—from hot to mild
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • ½ cup bottled lime juice
  • 2 t salt
  • ½ t cumin
  • ⅔ cup finely chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  2. Add cilantro and simmer for another 10 minutes; continue stirring.
  3. Ladle into hot half-pint jars leaving ½ head space.
  4. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at 0—1000 feet altitude; 20 minutes at 1001-6000 feet; or 25 minutes about 6000 feet.
Notes
You can easily double or triple this recipe. I like to use ½ pint jars to can salsa but you can follow these same instructions and use pint jars.

Freeze Peaches & Make Fresh Peach Lemonade

Peaches grow best in sub-tropical climates, not here.  I know a few farmers with a few trees, but the harvest is hit or miss.  Happily, this year was a hit.  With our balmy, seemingly endless-summer, which felt more like the South of France than Southeast Wisconsin, peach-tree growers experienced a bumper crop.

Hooray, because eating a fresh, tree-ripened peach is a small slice of summertime heaven.  Second to that, a properly preserved tree-ripened peach surely beats a rock-hard, off-season grocery store peach any day of the week.  So while the season lasts, eat them…and preserve them.  Options remain endless—syrups, pie filling, even pickles.  I prefer to freeze them mostly, but I also make peach fruit leathers and peach butter, neither of which can easily be found at the supermarket. I do follow a strict rule and never can peaches.  Canned peaches conjure memories of bad times like junior high school lunch or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

HOW TO FREEZE PEACHES

Step 1: Blanch and Remove the Skins

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Add whole peaches no more than 8 at a time to the boiling water, cover with lid and time for 3 minutes.  Start timing immediately. Don’t wait for it to return to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the sink, create an ice-water bath.
  4. After 3 minutes, remove peaches with a slotted spoon and place the fruit in the ice-water bath to cool as quickly as possible. This is called blanching, and it stops the activity of the fruits’ enzymes thereby preventing browning.
  5. Once cooled, the skins should slip off easily.
  6. Cut into wedges or halves removing the pit.  I sometimes skip the knife and just use my hands depending on how I will use the fruit later.
  7. Next transfer the cleaned fruit to another large bowl of ice-cold water which has been acidified with lemon juice—¾ cup lemon juice to 8 cups water. The lemon water is an additional safe-guard against browning.  Leave the cleaned peaches here until you are ready to pack and freeze them, and do not dump the water out at the end.  You can turn it into a Peach Lemonade. I’ll show you how.  Read on. (Crushed ascorbic acid/vitamin C will also do if no lemon juice is on hand, but you won’t be able to experience the peachy lemonade).

Step 2: Choose a Freezing Method

Wet Pack Methods:
1.  Sugar Pack
Sprinkle desired amount of sugar over the peaches as you layer them in the freezer-safe storage bags or containers. I use about 1 tablespoon sugar for every 2 cups peaches. Let it set at room temperature for about 5 minutes before freezing it.  This allows the sugar to bring out the peach juices.  Leave ½ inch headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer.
This is my preferred method—great results with less work.  I pack them in 1-cup or 2-cup plastic containers, and use them in my packed lunches or for after-dinner treats all through the winter.  The kids love them.
2. Honey Syrup Pack
Honey syrup is much simpler to make than simple syrup with sugar and water.  You don’t have to make it in advance as it doesn’t require cooking and cooling. Moreover, it has more sweetness with fewer calories. The syrup will be easier to make if the water and honey are warmed slightly.
  • Very Light Honey Syrup—4 parts water: 1 part honey
  • Light Honey Syrup—3 parts water: 1 part honey
  • Heavy Honey Syrup—3 parts water: 2 parts honey

Again, pack the peaches in desired proportions in freezer-safe containers leaving ½ inch headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer.

Dry Pack Method:
Blanch and remove peach skins and pits. Cut into wedges, place on a cookie sheet and set in freezer.  Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe storage container. I can easily remove the number of frozen wedges that I want anytime.  This method is great for storing peaches which you will later bake.  I also like to throw these into smoothies and of course I use them to make Peach Lemonade.
“No time–Freeze now, Prepare Later Method”:
Use this method when you’re really pressed for time and the peaches are on the verge of spoiling.  Put the entire peach in the freezer. That’s it. Transfer it to a freezer bag if you’re planning on leaving it there for more than a few days, otherwise, it will start to shrivel. You can later run the peach under warm water and the skins will slip right off.  I use these peaches to make fruit leathers or peach butters.  This “No time” method works for tomatoes too. 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Peach Lemonade
Author: 
Recipe type: Beverage
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: About 2 quarts
 
Why waste even a bit of peachy goodness? I think of this as my reward after an afternoon of processing and preserving peaches.
Ingredients
  • Lemon water used to hold the cleaned, blanched peaches (about 8 cups)
  • Lemon juice as needed
  • ¾ - 1 cup sugar
Instructions
  1. Take the lemon water that the clean peaches were floating in awaiting processing and place it in your blender or if you have an immersion blender, transfer it directly to a pitcher. The water will be a peachy-orange color with small bits of peach flesh floating in it.
  2. Add sugar and blend thoroughly in your blender.
  3. Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if needed.
Notes
Because of the peach bits, it will be a nectar consistancy. Add a whole, clean peach (no skin, no pit) if you'd like an even thicker nectar. This will also work if you want Peach Lemonade on a day you don't want to process a batch of peaches. Ingredients 1 - 2 peaches sans skins and pits ¾ - 1 cup sugar ¾ cup lemon juice Directions Blend in your blender, adjust for flavor, and serve.

Cooking with Kids:  Let your kids help with removing the skins and pit.  I also let my girls spinkle in the sugar while I layer the fruit in containers–just measure out the sugar in advance or have them. They also love to use the blender.  What kid doesn’t like using a noisy machine?  Lastly, the kids must participate in adjusting the taste–great sensory exploration for the little ones and an opportunity to describe flavor for the older ones.

Tip: I want to give a shout out to Tree Ripe.  Long before I knew that we would get a bumper crop of peaches, in late June I headed to the parking lot of the Ace Hardware in West Allis to buy peaches off the back of a truck arriving straight from Georgia.  I bought 70 pounds of peaches. I know GA isn’t exactly local, but it directly supports farmers, and Georgia is closer than California, and I can’t live on apples only.  I also bought 10 pounds of MI blueberries.  If you live in the Midwest check Tree Ripe out.