In the Garden:
A garden's bounty brings deep-seated satisfaction at the making and the tasting.
Real Women Pick(le) Okra
One of the dominant culinary memories of my childhood is of my mother's vegetable soup, redolent with carrots, onions, celery, corn, okra, green beans, and tomatoes, plus some of our own grass-fed beef and my father's rivvels (a tiny spaetzle-like dumpling). The vegetable base of the soup was the result of days of work the previous summer, when week after week was spent canning and freezing all manner of the garden's abundance. Not for years had this vegetable soup base been made, but I had vowed that now was the time. Thus was the impetus for a four-day marathon canning session with my friend Robin recently.
Vegetable soup wasn't our only goal. Also on the list was salsa, corn relish, pickle relish, a fruit and vegetable oven relish, pickled okra, and there happened to be some 'Concord' grapes ready for picking under that pile of untrellised vines so we also did a zesty grape conserve. Actually, this entire growing season has focused more on canning than my usual freezing, except for the seemingly unending freezer bags of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries needing to be tucked away.
Over the last month or so, with more still to come, I've set aside a vast array of foods for the upcoming winter months, including pickled asparagus, pickled eggplant, pickled kohlrabi, pickled beets, pickled beans, spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, and green beans. And probably more pickled okra, as it won't stop producing until frost, much to the chagrin of my itchy skin. Still, the satisfaction of seeing row upon gleaming row of food "put by" is without peer.
Whether you've canned for years or are only now thinking about the possibilities, I encourage you to take up the ladle and canning pot, stock up on your favorite cool, refreshing beverage, put on a movie or some music, find a willing friend (it's much more fun working with someone), and get to peeling and chopping.
Some Favorite Recipes
Pickled Beans or Okra. This widely used, basic recipe can be tweaked by varying the amount of garlic or hot pepper, the kind of vinegar, or by adding other herbs or spices, such as basil, tarragon, peppercorns, or mustard seeds. I have used this recipe to pickle just about every type of bean, including green, yellow, purple, French, Romano, and yardlong, as well as an assortment of other vegetables that are safe to process in a boiling-water bath canner.
If using okra, choose small pods that will fit into the jars. You'll need about 2 to 4 pounds for 6 to 8 half-pint jars. Trim the stem ends to 1/4 inch. For beans, plan on about 2 pounds for 6 to 8 half-pint jars. Top and tail and either cut to an inch lower than the top of the jars or cut into small pieces.
Into each clean, sterilized half-pint jar, put 1 garlic clove, fresh or dried chile pepper to taste, and 1/2 teaspoon dill seeds, one dill flower head or a 3-inch sprig of fresh dill, then pack with okra pods or beans. In a nonreactive saucepan, combine 4 cups white wine or cider vinegar with 4 cups water and 2 tablespoons Kosher or pickling salt. Bring to a boil, then pour the hot liquid over the okra or beans, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rim and attach the two-piece lids. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes. Store the cooled jars in a cool, dry, dark place for at least a month before eating to allow the flavors to blend and mellow.
Cooked Tomato Salsa. There are more salsa recipes than there are cooks, but this is a great classic version. I like to use this in cooking Southwestern foods, as it resembles a commercially available brand of seasoned tomatoes. I didn't grow jalapeno peppers this year, but have instead been using the large-fruited, thick-walled and nicely spicy 'Mariachi' pepper, which has also grown very well in the garden. If you haven't learned to love cilantro yet, try flat-leaf parsley instead. In another variation, substitute lime juice for the vinegar.
Combine 8 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes; 2 cups chopped onion; 2/3 cup cored, seeded, and minced fresh jalapeno or other hot peppers; 4 minced garlic cloves; 1 cup minced fresh cilantro; 1/2 cup vinegar; and 2 teaspoons Kosher or pickling salt in a large, heavy, nonreactive saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into prepared canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rim and attach the two-piece lids. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes for half pints, 15 minutes for pints. This should make about 4 pints or 8 half pints.
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