Monday, June 4, 2012

the preservation society

I don't proclaim to be an expert on how Edie Sedgwick spent the mornings after Andy Warhol's Factory parties but I feel fairly confident that  they did not involve pickling a pound of asparagus spears.   But there I was digging out my canning supplies the morning after a large evening at a 1960s-inspired benefit for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery (a party so fun I forgot to actually take any photos. oops.)

When starting out canning the first step (well, the  first step for me anyway) is to get over the conviction that botulism-poisoning is imminent for one's family and friends.  As with most fears, your best weapon against this is information. Get yourself a good book on canning, educate yourself on the process and the dangers, be vigilant about prepping your materials, ingredients and water bath properly, pay close attention to processing times and temps and, for pickling, use the vinegar with the proper acidity and in the proportions called for in the recipe.  While you don't need to arm yourself with several thermometers and a roll of litmus paper, you should adhere closely to the recipes and directions.  So if you're the kind of cook who prefers tossing ingredients into a pot to see what happens rather than following a recipe, canning may not be for you.  Might I suggest flavoured syrups or a nice sorbet?

There are a number of great resource books out there but I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Canning for a New Generation from my friend Jennifer and I really like the approach author Lianna Krissoff has taken. 

We can pickle that after the jump.

She gives a thorough but understandable background on canning and mixes traditional favourites like strawberry preserves and B and B pickles with more global offerings.  (That pickled turnip you adore in your wrap at the Cedar Tree Cafe? We can pickle that.)  She also offers up recipes for using with your preserves.  Homemade creme fraiche? Oh, that is happening. And her recipes focus on high acid fruit and acidulated (pickled) veg which reduces the aforementioned fears of botulism considerably.

Most importantly Lianna has divided the recipes up by season so that you can work your way through preserving what's fresh now.  I'm not going to lie, I've basically planned my next five months of canning and preserving.  Which is how I ended up in a steamy kitchen at 9 a.m. Sunday morning trimming three bunches of asparagus and crushing Lianna's pickling spice blend (I like crushing things almost as much as I like simmering them.)

One of the strange things about pickling is that you don't actually get to taste the fruits of your labour right away.  The absolute soonest you could crack open the pickle jar is the next day.  Since I only made two pints of asparagus, I haven't decided if one will get opened now or if both will go into the larder.  Consequently I can't really tell you how they taste.  But they sealed properly and look lovely.

I only used the top 4 inches of the asparagus spears for pickling so I was left with another pound or so of perfectly good stalks.  I took Lianna's advice and boiled, blended and strained these into a bright green puree to be stored in the freezer.  This will be heated up with some stock, a little cream and some seasonings for a simple soup.  When the weather turns chilly it will be a wonderful taste of spring.

Next up?  Maybe pickled sugar snap peas. Or preserved ginger. And, of course, strawberry season is just around the corner!

It's pretty much impossible for me to write this post without thinking of this Portlandia sketch.  If you can't laugh at yourself... we probably won't be friends.

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