a pickle party: part 1 – sauerkraut

Do you know what I love more than pickling? Pickling with other people!

Some of my favourite people and I got together a few Sundays ago to do just that! The beauty of having more people means you don’t end up with a million jars of pickle (you’ll have noticed by now that I use the term “pickle” quite loosely to refer to any kind of grandma style cooking that ends up in a jar) to store  because you can share the loving! PLUS with all the extra hands you get a variety of pickles!

Extra plus: more people to share the slightly mundane aspects of pickling. Like sterilising!

Washer woman

Washer woman

Boil

Boil

IMG_9563

IMG_9573

IMG_9575

IMG_9599

Maddness always ensues during pickling.

IMG_9582

IMG_9585

We decided on four recipes based on current, seasonal produce and the various excess of goodies in our combined fridges. This left us with ingredients for sauerkraut (hello cabbage from the bottom of the vegetable crisper!), brinjal (eggplant) kasundi, quince paste, and lemon curd (with lemons from my mum’s tree, my favourite!). Despite what the photos might suggest about order and organisation, I assure you that 6 people in the kitchen is guaranteed chaos. We were cooking, sterilising, drinking, eating and dancing all at once. It was excellent fun!

The most important ingredient for any pickle party is bubbles

The most important ingredients for any pickle party are bubbles and snacks!

Given the number of recipes we made, and my penchant for writing long-winded, meandering posts, I’ve decided to post the recipes individually and in order of relative ease so I don’t lose you all in the process…

Sauerkraut in a Jar

On a scale of 1-10 in difficulty, sauerkraut rates around about a 1. Dead. Easy. We used this recipe from The Kitchn.

  • 1 medium head of green cabbage
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs caraway seeds (optional but delicious!)
  • 4-5 large, sterilised jars

Divide the head of cabbage into 8 wedges then shred each wedge into fine ribbons. Combine the salt and cabbage in a large clean bowl.

IMG_9536

Massage and squeeze the salt into the leaves for about 10 minutes until the cabbage becomes watery and limp (according to our chief masseuse, this is QUITE the work out).

Chief masseuse, Tegan

Chief masseuse, Tegan

IMG_9586

Mix in the caraway seeds if you’re using them, then divide the mix into your jars, pressing down firmly to ensure that cabbage is covered by its brine (there’s not a lot of brine at this stage so don’t dismay if yours seems a little dry).

IMG_9590

The recipe suggests that you weight the cabbage down to ensure that it’s covered by the brine. We were pretty slack and skipped this stage! Secure a piece of muslin over the mouth of the jar, or, in our case some chopped up tea towel, to allow the mixture to breathe…and to keep bad stuff out.

IMG_9594

Over the next 24 hours or so, you’ll need to push the cabbage down (with your hands or a clean spoon works well too!) to ensure that it’s fully covered by its brine. You need to leave the cabbage to ferment at room temperature (so long as it’s not too hot in the room!) for 3-10 days, covered only by the muslin. You’ll notice the mix become more briny and begin to bubble over this period.

IMG_9638

The Kitchn’s recipe gives an excellent rundown of the fermentation process that the cabbage goes through to turn into ‘kraut. The science of it is actually quite beautiful in its simplicity. I tried to summarise and paraphrase their description a few times but in the end, The Kitchn describes it best:

Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. To put it (fairly) simply: There is beneficial bacteria present on the surface of the cabbage and, in fact, all fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus is one of those bacteria, which is the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products. When submerged in a brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

The distinctive sour smell will be noticeable after about 3 or 4 days, but the readiness of the mix will be determined by flavour. Check it each day (it’s like a primary school science experiment!) to see if it’s to your liking. Mine has been fermenting for a week, and I’ve only just put the lid on and popped it in the fridge.

IMG_9641

Now to get my hands on some good ‘wurst to eat this with!

Next up: lemon curd!!!

someone else’s green tomatoes

I am fond of utilising seasonal produce and this recipe does just that. Green tomatoes are easily found in late autumn at most good markets and green grocers. I was lucky enough to be given some beautiful home grown ones for this batch. It was a mad rush to catch them before they all turned red as I’d been given these at the same time as the cumquats featured in the previous post!  I probably could have made it easier by using the green tomatoes first, but no. Ever a sucker for punishment I went with the cumquats whilst I kept one eye firmly on a rapidly ripening pile of green (and some not so green) tomatoes. At one point, out of desperation to save the tomatoes, I found myself cooking marmalade and pickling at the same time! Luckily I didn’t confuse the salt with the sugar. I will never learn the meaning of moderation.

 

I’ve used this recipe from Gourmet Getaways a few times now. I think it tipped me over from “moderate granny food enthusiast” into its “crazy cat lady” level equivalent. I liked this recipe because I happened to already have everything I needed…and it came typed on an index card from someone else’s Granny! In my opinion, these are the best kind of recipes!

 

As I tend to do, for my first batch of these pickles I followed the recipe to a T, I even switched my digital scales from metric to imperial to make it feel more authentic! I’ve used the metric conversions below.

 

Retro Green Tomato Pickles
  • 1.9 kg green tomatoes, washed 
  • 400 gm onion (~3 medium sized onions)
  • 9 tbs salt
  • 900 gm sugar
  • 750 ml white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 3 tbs curry powder
  • 1 tbs turmeric powder

Roughly dice the tomatoes and onions, placing into a pan (with a lid) in layers sprinkled with salt. It’s up to you whether you want to hand cut or use a food processor to get through your tomatoes and onion. I’ve done both and prefer the chunkiness afforded by hand cutting and also the ease of using the food processor…especially when it comes to the onions! This time, for authenticity, I went forth with a knife and cried a thousand onion tears in the process. All for you, guys!

 

Leave the mix to sit overnight to draw out excess moisture. Definitely, definitely put a lid (or a plate) on your pan unless you want your whole house to smell like pickled onions! I have gone so far as to relegate the pan to the laundry overnight because the smell is THAT strong.

Salting overnight draws out the excess moisture

The next day, carefully drain off the liquid in the pan then scald the mix with a kettle full of boiling water. Do this twice to remove all the salt.

Salty, tomatoey, oniony water

Salty, tomatoey, oniony water

Place the pan on the stove and pour in about half of the vinegar. Bring the mix up to boil over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes (the recipe suggests using a timer…meh!).

Meanwhile, combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, turmeric, curry) in a large bowl and slowly pour in the remaining vinegar to form a smooth paste (it looks a bit a lot like baby poo…). I decided to add a couple of tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds at this stage and will probably bastardise the recipe again next time with some coriander and/or fennel seeds and green chilli.

After 10 minutes of cooking, take the pan off the heat and add the sugar. I used only (!) 700 grams of sugar this (and last) time because I found the pickle too sweet for my liking. I think it could go down as far as 500 grams, but I’m not sure if that will affect the overall chemistry. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved then slowly add the flour paste, stirring constantly and thoroughly to avoid lumps.

Put the pan back on the heat and cook for another 10 minutes, or until a desired consistency is reached. The pickle is prone to sticking to the pan at this stage so stir constantly.

Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool a little then pot into (about 4 or 5 large) sterilised jars.

Honestly, it’s not the prettiest pickle I ever did see, but it makes up for looks with flavour and versatility! It seems to go with everything! I love it smeared generously on toast under freshly sliced tomatoes (red ones!) and a crispy fried egg. Om nom indeed.