Sunday, July 19, 2009

In a dill pickles, cornichons and sauerkraut

I've been off of the blog for a little while -- life's been busy , in a good way--but it's meant that we've been doing an awful lot of eating and cooking that I just haven't yet blogged. Yikes! Catchup time.

I figure I might as well start with our pickling adventures, since pickling and preserving is such a hot topic in these more economically frugal times.

So, I've been toting around a sauerkraut recipe for ages now, and meaning to make it, but it always sort of sounds vaguely complicated. Well, let me tell you, now that I've made some, it takes absolutely no time to start it off. Really. Plus it's cheap to make and if you can wait a few days for fermenting time, you'll be rewarded with the easiest cheap delicious condiment you've ever made.
Homemade Sauerkraut

Unusually for me, I was very cavalier about the amounts I used in making this recipe. But basically you need the following:
  • Green cabbage (a nice tight head, cleaned, and sliced very finely. Save a couple of leaves for covering the sauerkraut later) I used a 5 lb head
  • caraway seeds (I used about a tablespoon here)
  • coarse sea salt (I used about a tablespoon of La Baleine sea salt)
  • Clean crock or jars (after the initial salting and squishing, it all fit in two quart sized jars)
  • time (around a week or so)
Shred or finely chop the cabbage -- this is easier with a food processor to be sure, but can be done by hand, believe me. Leave a couple of large (3-4 inch diameter) leaf pieces to cap the top of the sauerkraut later.

In a large non-reactive bowl, toss the cabbage with sea salt. Use liberal amounts of sea salt -- as usual I went for the notion of the whole thing tasting as salty as the ocean and that seemed to work.

I also vastly underestimated how much cabbage I'd have, so I wound up needing other pots and bowls initially, but after 20 minutes or so, enough water had drained out of the cabbage that I could squish it all down and condense it into one bowl. Don't throw away that brine, transfer the cabbage and water into the same bowl!

I sprinkled it with the caraway seeds until it seemed like it was nicely dotted with seeds (see above pic) and then set it aside for a bit longer, maybe another half hour. After that I squeezed and wrung as much moisture out of the cabbage as I could, (still saving the brine in the bowl, mind you) and packed it into two clean quart-sized Fido jars with the wire-clasp closure. Tamp the sauerkraut down very firmly as tight as you can -- if you're doing this in a big crock, tamp it all down and weight it further down with a heavy plate too.

Add in the brine to cover the sauerkraut, leaving at least an inch of head room at the top of the jar, and cover it with the cabbage leaf and close it up. Do the same with the other jar.

Stand them in a tray or pan in case the jar leak -- I overfilled mine and they leaked quite a bit over the next few days-- and then put them in a cool dark place for a few days. Say, under the sink or in the closet. You may notice that they'll not only leak out liquid, but also some foam off the sides. Don't worry, it just lets you know that fermentation is working. Do be careful though, as you open the jars, mine sprayed out a bit as I unclasped it from the pressure buildup.

After a few days taste test the sauerkraut and see if you like it -- if you want it more sauer, let it ferment a bit longer. When it's to your liking, you can just close up the jar and put it in the fridge, or you can can it to preserve it for later, perhaps an Oktoberfest.

I bought a box of half pint Ball canning jars in case I liked the sauerkraut and/or thought it might be a useful item to trade someone for other food items, perhaps some fresh eggs, or such.

To can the sauerkraut you can follow the instructions on the bottom of the Ball packaging, to which I will add that not only should you heat the jars and lids to sterilize, but also heat up the sauerkraut. If the kraut seems a bit dry, you can add in clean plain water to moisten it up again.

Pack the kraut in the jars and add water if you need too, leaving at least 1/2 an inch of headroom. Wipe the rims and center the lid on top, screw down the band, and then process them for however long the instructions advise it takes in your pressure canner or in boiling water -- it's different for different altitudes. Let them stand in the hot water for five minutes and then take them out and stand them up on a towel in a tray (in case there's breakage). I always find it satisfying to listen for the little metallic pops as the jars cool and the lids suck downward, indicating a good seal.

They tell me that sauerkraut is often made in big batches. The amounts above seemed like a lot to me-- it was a 5 lb cabbage and about a tablespoon of caraway seeds with about two tablespoons of sea salt. But I gather "big" is relative, as other sauerkraut makers talk about making it 75 pounds at a time. And at the Webber Ranch last night, our host pointed me to a ceramic crock that could fit a small child and was marked "30" as in 30 gallons. That was their sauerkraut crock. Well, I was happy with 5 pints of sauerkraut. I know how to make more after all....

Flush with the success of the sauerkraut -- and while it was still quietly foaming and fermenting in my closet-- I turned my attention to pickles.

For many of us crazy food-obsessive New Yorkers, pickles mean only really one place, Guss' Kosher pickles, right out of the barrels in front of 85 Orchard Street (helpful hint: if you're there and they're open, buy a lot, because God only knows when the next time will be when you see them open again.)

If you are sadly, hundreds of miles away from pickledom, though, you might turn your thought to making your own kosher dill pickles, which is in fact what I did.

Kosher Dill Pickles

Basing off of the Arthur Schwartz recipe which David Lebovitz so kindly linked, I made the following adjusted recipe, which worked well for the baker's dozen of Persian cucumbers I found at our local market. There are better cukes out there for pickling, and I'd like to try the Kirbys or lemon cucumbers, but unfortunately this is what I had on hand.

12-14 short pickling cucumbers
2 quarts water
3 tablespoons coarse white salt (kosher, if available)
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled and lightly-crushed
2 tsp whole coriander seed
1 tsp whole fennel seed
1/2 tsp whole allspice berries
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of dill, preferably going to seed, washed

1. In a large pot, heat 1 quart of water with the salt until the salt is dissolved. Add the remaining water.

2. Prepare a quart widemouth jar or a couple of pint jars by running them through the dishwasher or filling them with boiling water, then dumping it out.

3. Pack the cucumbers vertically into the jars, making sure they're tightly-packed. As you fill the jars, divide the garlic, spices, bay leaves, and dill amongst them.

4. Fill the jars with brine so that the cucumbers are completely covered. Cover the jars with cheesecloth, secured with rubber bands, or loosely with the lids. Store in a cool, dark place for 3 days. A white slimy scum developed at the top of my brine, which I scooped off.

5. After 3 days, taste one. The pickles can ferment from 3 to 6 days. The longer the fermentation, the more sour they'll become. Once the pickles are to your liking, refrigerate them. I'm still souring my pickles as we speak.


I have always wanted to make cornichons because I LOVE LOVE LOVE them, with a bit of pate and cheese or salumi. Mmmmmm, perfect lunching materials. Unfortunately I had no idea where to get the minis to make cornichons.

While we were at the Webber Ranch in Petaluma, our hostess Elisa, set out some cornichons along with a fab cheese board. "Homemade" she said while describing the whole board. My ears pricked up.

"Where can you get the cornichons?" I asked Kathleen, Mme. Baker.

"Oh we grow them. We have them in the garden -- in fact you have to keep picking them before they get too big. You want to see?"

Within about fifteen minutes, I have a little over a dozen cornichons in my hot little hands, including a couple of overgrown fellas which I plan to pickle in the same way as I did the dill pickles above. You can order the seeds for the Cornichon de Bourbonne, the preferred cornichon (also called gherkin) for pickling, from Scheepers.

Elisa was kind enough to share her recipe for cornichons:
  • Small cornichons, freshly picked
  • Tarragon
  • sliced shallots
  • whole peppercorns
  • whole dried red peppers
  • bay leaves
  • white wine vinegar
As with much of my pickling experience to date, I haven't been good about amounts or measurements. I had only picked about a dozen cornichon-sized babies, so it all fit into one half-pint Ball jar. therefore I layered them in the jar with only a few slices of shallot, one sprig of tarragon, about a dozen peppercorns, 1 dried red pepper and a bay leaf. Then I just heated up enough white wine vinegar (about a cup) to cover everything, poured it over the whole lot, and put on the lid and screwed on the band (not too tightly) and let it cool, which sealed it without processing. I don't intend to keep it for long, so we just put it in the fridge and plan to eat them oh, probably in the next week or so.
Final note, so in the process of hunting down my ingredients, I noticed that the corn I had gotten from a local bodega (intending to use much later in a posole,) looked mighty suspicious. I could see even through the tupperware sides that it seemed to be very powdery looking, so I hailed it out and took a look. Indeed, it was not just powdery but full of HOLES. Ew. Ew. EW! Like Swiss cheese, i.e. as if it had been something....

With the corners of my mouth drooping ever more downward I looked closer and saw movement.

EW EW EW!!! Unwelcome visitors.
I have tentatively identified it as a granary weevil and am now putting bay leaves in every damn thing I lay my hands on.


And ew.

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