As a child of the ’70s, I have many memories of my parents preserving. I remember helping make strawberry jam and hearing the echoes of laughter fill the kitchen as my father tried to pry my Meme’s (grandmother’s) recipe for mustard pickles from her mental notes.
Life must have become too busy in the mid-’80s, as my family slowly stopped this tradition. I’d love to say that I missed preserving at the time, but I don’t even remember it fading from our lives.
We lived without preserves until my father, who was a firefighter, made friends with a few Italian gentlemen at work. Dad has always been a formidable cook, and when he was gifted a jar of tomato sauce, it got him back into preserving—and got me back to eating it! But even while enjoying unfettered access to the pantry through the winters, I still avoided participating in my family’s long preserving days.
When I moved out of my parents’ house, I realized that I was at a crossroads. My unending supply of tomato sauce was drying up, and it was time to join in on the work and learn to preserve. In the summer of 2008, I, along with my partner, Dana, drove to Markham (the suburbs of Toronto) to learn to preserve a batch of strawberry jam. We were shocked at how easy it was! We followed a recipe with four ingredients and poured the jam into near-sterile jars before covering them in boiling water for 10 minutes.
By the end of that autumn, we had preserved 300 jars of food, including more than 100 jars of tomato sauce that we made with my parents. I’d make jam while cooking dinner or doing other chores. It was relaxing, enjoyable, and fun. But I didn’t discover the best part of preserving until the following winter—each time we opened a jar, it was like opening a time machine. The flavours of summer were as bright and bold as the memories of the day we made the preserve. Each jar connected us more deeply to our food and to the family and friends we made it with.
It’s been eight years since we rediscovered preserving. In that time, we’ve studied at least seven different styles of preserving food. We’ve learned that they are all quite easy and all share the same trait I discovered early on—each jar contains equal parts food and memories!
We’ve turned our journey into a blog (WellPreserved.ca) and a cookbook (Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips and Techniques for a Well Preserved Kitchen). In the following pages, we’re sharing a few of our favourite preserving techniques and a handful of recipes from Batch. Some are easy but creative preserving recipes; others are recipes that use those preserves in delicious entrées.
We hope you’ll join us in preserving this fall.
Basics of quick pickling
Try Quick Pickled Grapes here
These are the easiest type of pickles to make and were my Pepe’s (grandfather’s) favourite. This technique will work with any vegetable. Quick pickles are typically eaten after 20 minutes or so, though they can be kept in the fridge for longer (I’ve kept them for more than six months at a time). To make them, simply mix any type of vinegar with something sweet (I use up to 1/3 cup/80 mL of honey per 1 cup/250 mL of vinegar), heat, and pour over fruit or vegetables.
Quick pickling tip
There is no need to sterilize your vessel, and you can use any bowl or jar you want (but I prefer to avoid plastic).
Basics of fermenting
Try Fermented Brussels Sprouts or Apple Scrap Vinegar
There are multiple fermenting techniques (fermenting is used to make wine, beer, cheese, kombucha, and more), but the basics remain the same. Fruits or vegetables are submerged in a brine, which is sometimes made with salt or has sugar, yeast, or other beneficial bacteria added. The mixture is left, loosely covered, at room temperature. Many ferments are refrigerated after fermenting for longer storage. In general, the longer something ferments, the sourer and softer it becomes.
If you use a Mason jar with “shoulders” (not a wide-mouth one), you can trap ingredients under the brine by wedging longer pieces of ingredients under the shoulders in an “X” shape (a process we call seat-belting).
Basics of curing
Try Salt-Cured Gravlax in Olive Oil
Many people are surprised that making gravlax and other cured meats is easier than preserving strawberry jam. Meat or fish (and sometimes other ingredients) are covered with salt, which draws out moisture from the main ingredient and produces an environment that preserves the meat and prevents harmful microbial growth.
After curing with salt, make sure to rinse your gravlax really well, or it can taste overly salty and be too high in sodium.
Dos and don’ts of fermenting
- Make sure all ingredients stay submerged under the surface of the brine.
- Check your ferment daily and remove any “scuzz” that appears on the surface.
- Taste it often—it will change a lot as it continues to ferment.
- Experiment with flavours.
- Use non-iodized salt if salt is called for (iodized salt can inhibit the fermentation process).
- Use filtered water and jars that have been well cleaned and rinsed.
- Eat it if it turns moldy (if you check it daily, it shouldn’t).
- Be surprised if recipes that use salt taste too salty at first—the preserve will mellow as it ferments.
Excerpted from Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips and Techniques for a Well Preserved Kitchen by Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison. © 2016 Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.