Episode #22 Preserving End of Season Harvests

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By Jo Flintham. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Here in the Hunter Valley winter is definitely on it’s way. Our nights are getting down to under 10 deg c and even though the days are stunning, there is a definite chill. This means that many of our warmer loving plants have packed it up for the season.

The cucumber vine died back almost overnight even though we hadn’t had a frost. The cherry and cherry roma tomatoes plants are covered in green tomatoes but they are starting to get attacked by bugs and the basil is all but done.

On the plus side our eggplants and zucchinis are still going strong and of all things, the pumpkins have decided to give a last hoorah putting on some last minute growth and baby pumpkins too. I will let them do their thing until we have a frost due then I will pick them like a woman possessed the day before. This is totally reliant of course, on me getting my timing right. But that is part of the fun of gardening.

We had about 5 kgs of cucumbers and about 1 kilo of small green tomatoes that needed to be picked.

I love cucumbers but if I ate 7kg of fresh cucumbers I think I would end up looking like one so I needed to do something with them to make them last longer. Hmm I wonder what I could do.

Pickles of course!

And as much as I love cucumbers I love pickles even more. I found a recipe years ago for a quick easy cucumber pickle that you store in the fridge. This means no fancy canning equipment needed just some basic ingredients, a pot and some sterilized jars.

This is the best recipe I have used to make sweet pickle cucumber and it’s quite forgiving. My cucumbers this year were from last year's saved seeds that I let cross pollinate. The result was a super yummy cucumber but with lots of seeds. Not ideal for making pickles but they still turned out great.

I will put the full recipe and instructions below, but as an overview this is what I did.

Boil jars and lids for about 15-20 mins to sterilize. Only use either pickling jars or thick glass jars. Thinner jars don’t handle being boiled and will crack.

The die hard preservers may argue that you can’t use old jars you’ve saved but using this method I haven’t lost one yet.

Make sure you also put the jars and water in together at room temperature and bring to the boil together or you will definitely crack your jars. You also want to keep the jar off the bottom of the pot if you can. In a pinch you can put in some all stainless steel cutlery to act as a trivet.

I boil up all the ingredients which is white vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds or whatever pickling seed I have… I have even used coriander seeds for a different flavour. Turmeric and fresh dill.

Fresh dill is a non-negotiable in my opinion. The upside is that when your cucumbers are coming to their end your dill will be exploding. I have plants popping up everywhere.

You can also add in chilli with your cucumber slices if you like.

I put all the ingredients except for the cucumbers and dill in a pot and bring to the boil.

I take out my boiling jars and put my sliced cucumbers and dill fronds in, layering as I go. I put them in pretty tight without squishing them too much and pour in the hot liquid. Your jars should still be quite hot so the hot liquid won’t shouldn’t crack them.

Fill all the way to the top to cover cucumbers and pop the lid on. Refrigerate as soon as it’s cool to the touch. They are ready within a few hours and will last a few weeks in your fridge.

This is the easy and fast way. If you want to preserve them for longer then you will have to go through a full canning process process like a water bath or pressure canning process.

This process isn’t that much harder but you do need some knowledge and equipment to do it right.

Water bath canning is what I did for my green tomato relish aka piccalilli.

Relish or chutneys are a great way of using up just about anything sort of non leafy vegetable.

On a side note. What’s the difference between relish and chutney? A relish has a hero vegetable that is quite crisp and fresh and a chutney has a combination of vegetables and often fruit and is also saucier and thicker with deeper flavours.

Back to the green tomato relish. The recipe and instructions are below, but what I wanted to highlight the water bathing method I used.

By water bathing your relish, what you're doing is ‘cooking’ the bacteria out of the relish while also sealing the jar to stop bacteria from entering. This allows the relish to become shelf stable meaning you can store it in the cupboard for up to a year. This method is great if you have lots to make and store or if you don’t have much refrigeration room.

To do this you need to have a big stock pot that is big enough to cover your jars by at least 3 cm, you will also need a rack or trivet to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot and you don’t want your jars touching each other. You will need a way or removing the jars out of the water once processed and you will of course need jars with lids.

There are purpose designed canning jars that have a 2 part lid. These are ideal as they have a much higher success rate of sealing and you can easily test if they have been successfully sealed by removing the outer ring and testing that the sealed piece stays in place. However, you can use a single lid method as long as it has a good seal and button in the middle.

If you are a first timer then I would recommend getting yourself a canning kit. I don’t want to endorse any particular brand but Ball is one of the biggest, most cost effective and most available. In Australia you can buy it online or at BigW. The kit will give you the pot, the rack, jar lifter and air bubble remover tool with a measure. It won’t include jars or the preserving book, these are sold separately. And really, you don’t need the book, there are 1000’s of recipes for free online.

Once you have your kit you are set. There are special ingredients or additives you need. And no special skills, if you can follow instructions, you can preserve food.

My green tomato relish recipe was a combination of about 3 recipes I have. This was purely because of the ingredients I had available to me on the day.

This year I had 1 kg of green tomatoes, a quarter of an old red cabbage that needed to get used up, 1 sad looking ripe tomato that I chopped out the bits the grubs ate. 1 large capsicum, 2 onions, several small garlic cloves, the end of what I had from last season's garlic harvest and pickling seed mix. I think the seeds were dill, celery and mustard.

I put all of this into my Thermomix and blitz it until it was fine bits but note a paste. You can do the same by chopping it up into little pieces.

I then put in the mix into a sieve and added a little sprinkle of salt and let this sit for about an hour while the liquid drained out. I then put it in a cotton tea towel and pressed the remaining excess liquid out. I kept the liquid in case I needed to add some back in during cooking.

I then put in 1 cup of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of white sugar and ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder in a pot and boiled. Add the drained vegetables and enough liquid to make it juicy but not swimming. Simmered for about 5 mins then put into sterilized jars.

I put the jars in the canning pot or large stock pot and processed them in a rolling boil for 15 mins then turned off the heat and removed the lid. I left them for another 10 mins before removing them and placing them on a towel on the bench. Left them to cool overnight and then tested the seals. Labeled and dated them.

The leftover juice went into the freezer ready to be added into a future minestrone soup. No wasting anything.

The first time I tried this I didn’t have all the equipment and I just made do. It worked great but it was a bit more fiddly. I like to upcycle everything I can but sometimes you just need to invest in purpose made equipment, especially when it means you can better ensure your food health.

No one wants botulism on the menu so be sure to educate yourself well about how to preserve food at home safely.

My ultimate goal is to grow and preserve enough food for our whole family to live on for a year. This will help us to keep eating organically, reduce our food carbon footprint and show others that with a little effort and planning they too can enjoy their food harvest all year long.

Quick Sweet Pickles

Makes just just under 4 cups of liquid

Ingredients

3 & 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 & 3/4 cups sugar

3 teaspoons cooking salt

1 teaspoon mustard seed

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 large bunch of fresh dill (enough to fill about 2 cups loosely packed)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Sliced cucumbers (or any other vegetable of your choice)

Chillies (optional)

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine white vinegar, sugar, salt, seeds, chillies if using, and ground turmeric.

Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve salt & sugar.

Layer sliced cucumbers and dill fronds in one large or a few medium sterilized and still hot jars.

Pour or ladle in hot brine to completely cover the cucumbers and seal jar. Leave to cool on the bench until only warm to the touch then refrigerate until consumed.

Lasts up to 2 weeks but I have eaten them for a month without issue.

Green Tomato Relish or Piccalilli

Ingredients

Brine

1 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons white sugar

¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder

Vegetables

1 kg of green tomatoes

1 quarter red cabbage

1 large capsicum

2 large onions

3 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons of mixed pickling seeds of your choice I use dill, celery and mustard.

Directions

Put vegetables into a food processor, Thermomix or chop into small pieces.

Put the mix into a sieve and add a little sprinkle of salt and let this sit for about an hour while the liquid drains out.

Then put it in a cotton tea towel or cheesecloth and press the remaining excess liquid out. Keep the liquid to add some back in during cooking as needed.

Put brine ingredients into a pot and simmer until sugar is dissolved. Add the vegetables and simmer for 5- 10 mins

Put relish mixture into still hot sterilized jars and put 2 part lid on finger tight.

Lower the filled jars back into the canning or stock pot and process them at a rolling boil for 15 mins then turn off, remove the lid and leave for another 10 mins to help seal. Remove jars and place on a towel on the bench.

Allow to cool overnight, label and date.

Store in a cool dry location and refrigerate after opening and use within 2 weeks.

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