My spontaneous pickling session last week began with a spotless kitchen. Few things are as inspiring as the blank canvas of pristine counters, an empty dishwasher, and every tool at your disposal.
I had just boiled the kettle and made a pot of tea. The afternoon stretched out open ahead of me, a rare block of time when I didn’t have something pressing to attend to. My mind wandered to the ramps on the forest floor that were rapidly being taken over by dense foliage. Their season had nearly passed and I had only foraged for one handful. If I wanted pickles, today would have to be the day.
Come to think of it, my rhubarb was filling in nicely; I had also wanted to put up a few jars of pickled stalks. I may as well combine the projects. And if I was really going to do this, why leave out the fiddleheads in the refrigerator? Pickled fiddleheads are a must for future salads and cocktail garnishes.
Before I had time to question my ambitions, I filled my canning pot half full of water, lowered 6 jars onto the rack and set it on my gas range. I grabbed a notepad and jotted down a flavor profile for each batch.
I’d only make two jars of each. A small batch is better than no batch, and I had limited quantities of vinegar. Besides, I still had to get out there and harvest my spring produce. I had a little over an hour and a half before my boys would come tumbling in the door from school and the energy level in the house would triple. I had to work fast.
I began with the fiddleheads, because I knew they needed to be cooked first. Once they were cooling in an ice bath, I reached for a basket and Clara’s hand. We headed out into the backyard, making one stop for rhubarb and a second to dig a bundle of ramps. The ground was hard and big clumps of dirt clung to the roots. We needed rain. I dug as quickly as I could, yet carefully selecting one bulb out of a bunch so the remaining ramps have room to expand.
Clara swung happily while I took the garden hose to the vegetables and trimmed their ends with a pairing knife. Then we headed indoors and the real dance began.
Three pots, three vinegars, one pot with lids, one steaming vat of water and a selection of spices. I had to stop and snap a photo of my stove while simultaneously thanking KitchenAid for making a range that can keep up with my shenanigans. Thanks to the Even-Heat technology, the precision gas burner in the middle can maintain a rolling boil in my canning pot, while the rest of the sauce pots maintain a simmer. Now this is cooking.
At this point, Clara wanted to be in the thick of it with me, but I was shifting into fifth gear. I scooped her up into a chair and handed her a popsicle: a great way to buy myself 15 minutes of uninterrupted work time.
The canning jars had boiled for 10 minutes and were sterilized, so I fetched them out of the canner and lined them up on a clean towel. Referencing my notes, I tipped spices and seasonings into the jars: a little grating of nutmeg, a sprinkling of pepper, a slice of ginger.
The spring produce followed the spices into the jars: stalks of crisp rhubarb, trimmed bulbs of the ramps, and the cooked fiddleheads. Afternoon sun reached in through the windows and the smell of vinegar and spices filled the kitchen. This was the first canning project of the season and I revelled in the enjoyment.
I had kept the vinegar bottle next to each pot to keep track of which brine was which. Six pours out of three pots and my jars were ready for their lids. I wiped the rims, added the lids and lowered three varieties of pickles into the canning pot, where they processed for ten minutes. Pickles!
I wiped Clara’s face and hands and she slid down and ran off to play. Only then did I notice my small pot of tea that had been steeping for the last hour and a bit. I sighed, then laughed, then poured it over a glass of ice and stirred in a little maple syrup.
While I sipped my iced tea and waited for the school bus to pull up in front of the house, I contemplated my speedy canning project.
Having all the equipment at the ready makes spontaneous preserving possible. Weeks earlier I had washed and organized my jars. I made sure I had new lids and that the canning pot was accessible, not buried in storage. The only tool I couldn’t find was my jar lifter, but I used a pair of 12-inch tongs with silicone heads. They do the job of moving slippery jars around just fine.
A stocked pantry was my second arsenal. I didn’t run out of ingredients and had everything I needed, although I did tip the very last of the white wine vinegar into a pot. Few things stall preserving projects like running out of pectin or discovering an ingredient is past its due date.
I imagine this is how most of my summer canning is going to go down; a child or two alongside, multitasking to the max, and totally enjoying the process.
|French-Inspired Pickled Ramps|| || |
- 1 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon raw cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 pound ramp bulbs, about 3" in length
- 2 branches fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons brown mustard seed
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorn
- Place the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pot together with 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and keep hot.
- Trim the root end of the ramps and peel off the somewhat slimy outer skin (it may already be removed).
- Place two sterilized 1/2 pint jars on a clean tea towel. Add a thyme branch and a bay leaf to each jar. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of mustard seed in each and 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorn.
- Divide the ramp bulbs between the jars. Pour the hot vinegar pickling liquid, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
- Cover with lids and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
|Spiced Pickled Rhubarb|| || |
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup raw cane sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorn
- 4 whole cardamom
- whole nutmeg
- 1/2 pound rhubarb, washed
- In a small pot, combine vinegar, sugar and salt together with 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a simmer, then keep hot.
- Place two sterilized half pint jars on a clean tea towel. Into each jar, drop in 1 star anise, 1/2 tsp white peppercorn, 2 cardamom, and a grating of fresh nutmeg.
- Chop rhubarb and trim to fit into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
- Pour the pickling liquid over the rhubarb stalks, dividing it evenly between both jars.
- Top with lids and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
|Asian-Inspired Pickled Fiddleheads|| || |
- 1/2 pound fiddlehead ferns
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon wild black cumin
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorn
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 sliced of fresh ginger root
- Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Wash fiddleheads well and trim the brown ends.
- Boil fiddleheads for 10 minutes in the water, then drain well and rinse with cold water.
- In a small pot, combine rice wine vinegar, salt and 1/2 cup of water together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and keep hot.
- Place 2 sterilized half-pint jars on a clean tea towel. To each jar add 1/4 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp each coriander and peppercorn. Add a clove of garlic and a slice of ginger to each jar.
- Pack the cooked fiddleheads into the jars and cover with the hot pickling liquid.
- Place the lids on the jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
Disclaimer: KitchenAid Canada has compensated me for my services and my posts, but all posts represent my own opinion.
Disclaimer 2: Most of these images are iPhone snaps, because, really, who wants to wield a DSLR in the middle of a pickle?
Have you pickled yet this season? Do tell!