Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Preservation by Any Means Possible (and... a Lahey Bread, if you are still keeping track)

I like to think of words in the English language, and how they look or "feel" like their spellings... my favorite examples: laugh, quiet, grumpy. When I see the word 'August' in type it evokes this feeling of exhaustion, of exhaling with a sigh, of brevity. In the Midwest, our most prolific season is August and the aforementioned descriptions sum it up well. Pretty much any vegetable that grows in our zone is on and ripe for the preservation, and while I don't preserve as much as some, I still feel that pang of tiredness. I wonder if I am doing as much as I can do, wondering if I am doing too much for the food-eating conundrum I find myself in (a.k.a. my picky boys).

Last weekend, the Kiddo and I spent time at my Parents' farm. My only food goal was finding a peck of jalapeno peppers. Last year's peppers were excruciatingly hot, so hot that I actually still have a number of jars leftover despite the near 3 pints of candied jalapenos I ingested myself. When considering my preserving tactics this Summer, I thought of an uncle - since I could justify doing more if I had someone with the fortitude to eat the last of the super hot peppers. And he must have a stomach of steel. Last Summer, I traded some canning for some upholstery work, and when my Mom gave him the peppers he ate almost half a jar immediately.

Finding jalapenos this year was more difficult, and after some hunting, we found a farm with them. I helped an Amish man pick a gallon pail full of mixed peppers. This was after a misunderstanding at a different farm that landed me a peck of crisp green bell peppers. Monday morning before leaving, 4 dozen corn appeared tidily bundled in a green mesh sack, the result of tasting some bi-color corn we got from another Amish neighbor on Saturday during our quest. It was the sweetest corn I've had this year, and now 10 1/2 lbs. are resting in the deep freeze.

As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I decided before I left that I needed to make proper lacto-ferment crock pickles this year. This beautiful photo from Chiot's Run was what did it; after reading the post, I went down to the basement and brought up the crock my Mom gave me a year ago that belonged to my Gram. I re-washed it and sterilized it for fear of mold spores (my poisoned vinegar was in the basement) and then left it on my kitchen counter open to the air for the weekend. Tuesday, I picked up some pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market, exactly 5 lbs. when I weighed them.

I decided not to can vinegar pickles this year, but couldn't bear the thought that I wouldn't have any until next year so these traditional pickles are a welcome addition. So is the handsome crock on the floor of my kitchen.

hitchhiking caterpillar on the dill.

The recipe that Suzy at Chiot's Run used was from Linda Ziedrich's pickle book, which I do not have but intend to pick up soon. I followed the recipe, but I had no allspice. I may pick some up and add it after a trip to the co-op tomorrow... if I remember, that is. I also added just a few more hot chiles de arbol. I felt proud that my coriander seed was saved from my garden last year, I measured it out of an origami packet I made to conceal it.

my salad plate was exactly the right size to keep everything submerged.

Pickles done, I turned my attention to this gem of a recipe: lacto-fermented peppers from the Woodwife's Journal. At the farmer's market I also picked up some other green peppers of varying heats, poblanos, serranos, Aneheims, a few extra jalapenos since I was feeling a bit on the shy side with them. These are so delicious straight away, and I can only imagine they will get better with time. I had a few more alterations with this recipe since I was almost out of live cider vinegar (Bragg's, and I ordered another gallon today).

I eyeballed a half peck each of hot (green) mixed peppers and sweet bell peppers, but used only 1 1/3 c. of the cider vinegar and topped it off with plain white vinegar. I also used part olive oil and part grapeseed oil, and a few grinds of black pepper. Try to find Mexican oregano if you can, because that really makes these I think. They are the perfect kind of mild heat, slightly oily and herby, and just plain addicting. I had a half gallon jar and two quart jars, and already I'm wondering if I shouldn't do a second batch because I want everyone I know to try these. And unlike last year, the jalapenos are approachable.

The two larger projects out of the way, I turned my attention to these crazy, bright peppers. When I stood along this long row of mixed hot peppers of various types with an Amish man and picked these, he told me he planted them for the produce auction since their family doesn't much care for the super hot peppers. The auction draws both retailers and individual buyers, and many of the local Amish have gotten rather diverse in the things they grow to sell there. The most fascinating variety I thought were the tiny purple "ornamental" ones, which he assured me were edible, though he didn't remember the name. I bit into one and let my tongue discover the Scoville Heat Units. It was hot.

Last year, I remembered seeing this lacto-fermented hot sauce recipe and cataloged it. I grew a single plant of cayenne peppers and another of habanero, planning to make a smaller batch after they ripen. I may still do that, but meanwhile I used the whole lot that we picked for my bucket, 11 oz., to make a trial batch. It's fairly thick, bordering more on a salsa consistency and I'm actually not sure that I'll strain it. I have a week to think about it.

This isn't just hot. It's mind-numbingly hot. But it's fruity, and the heat doesn't last long which is kind of strange for something with all the visual warning of a traffic cone.

I saved all of the jalapenos, which worked out to exactly 3 lbs. (enough for one batch of candied jalapenos) for tomorrow and moved on to the corn. According to an old preserving book my Mom has, when blanching corn for freezing, you should boil for just as long as you soak in an ice bath - 4 minutes in the case of sweet corn. I filled up my sink with icy water and boiled 6 ears at a time. My rhythm was so efficient that before the next batch was done in the boiling pot, I had 6 of the drained ears sheared clean of kernels - in part to the bundt pan corn removal method I've been seeing around the Internet.

I crafted a "knife protector" out of a plastic lid, however. and it worked really well!

With all of the aroma of sweet corn in the air, no bread in the house, and a starter that had just recently emerged from refrigerated weekend slumber, I decided to tackle the long-lost and maybe somewhat forgotten task of making all of Jim Lahey's bread for what I affectionately coined The Lahey Project. I saved out 4 ears of corn, stripped them, and blended them smooth. Then I used my new favorite purchase, a nut milk bag, to drain out corn juice that was used for the liquid in the bread.

It rose, sweet and earthy and super sticky and I formed it, messily, into a ball. It rose for a couple more hours surrounded by large amounts of cornmeal to ward off some of the inevitable stickiness and when the time came to drop it into my pot, I of course slipped and mostly deflated it. It's been so long since I have done a no-knead bread, and forgot about the somewhat delicate nature of the risen dough. I baked it anyway. It was delicious. It may not be the most picturesque loaf, but I certainly got the gist of what flavors bread can take on when the liquid is replaced with juice.

So, August. It was midnight before I slipped into bed, finally finished my book, and then had trouble winding down into sleep mode. I love working this way, until I'm so tired I'm not really tired any more. It's all self-imposed now, which makes it feel so much more rewarding than when I made an hourly amount which never seemed to measure enough for the precious time I gave to others. (I'm not talking about you though, GOP...) The hot water bath will bubble with more hot peppers tomorrow and I'll continue to take stock and see what else I should be doing to ready myself for the days when things aren't growing and thriving. When August leaves us as quickly as the sigh that it feels like, and Fall stands proud and cold and begs you to turn on the oven.


  1. Goodness, that bread looks amazing! As does everything else in this post. And I love your knife protector - I will definitely be using that technique soon!

  2. Can I haz those pickles?! They look awesome. I did a batch last year that really didn't turn out because I just used the smaller regular pickles from my garden and CSA extras. The cuke matters is a lesson well learned! As for a cheaper version of the nut bag I get paint strainer bags,two to a pack,from a Home Depot for two dollars. They are the exact same mesh size and everything!!

  3. Alanna, I only did a dozen corn for the freezer last year, and I think this saved me an amazing amount of time and mess. Works great!

    H, I make 'kitchen bags' out of unbleached muslin, but sprung on the nut milk bag because I wanted nylon and couldn't find the fabric to make them. Are the paint strainer bags nylon? I've already used my purchased one so much it's paid for itself, and I love how fast it dries after I wash it out in the sink. I've strained everything from nut and coconut milks to syrups (from canning) and yogurt and I feel silly that I'm so excited about it. Saying "Nut Milk Bag" to my friends and neighbors is hard to do with a straight face...

  4. there is so much in this post that I want to duplicate, I can hardly figure out where to start! Thanks for pointing me to another bread book - my family will certainly appreciate it

  5. T,he term nut bag is genius. The prices have gone down on them as they used to be like 15 bucks apiece! Yes, the paint strainer bags are just like the nut bags,nylon and a gallon size. They wash out well and hang dry just as quickly. I used to make a lot of spelt milk and almond milk with mine.

  6. Beautiful. I just posted a pickle recipe, as well. I look for the Mexican oregano. I love this blog.

  7. Thanks so much for the shout out! I'm your newest follower. Love what I'm seeing here!
    Lots of herbal love from
    The Woodwife's Journal

  8. You are so welcome, Wanderer! I really just plain can't get enough of these - and my notoriously picky Husband loves them too. We've eaten a whole quart already!


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