My time prior to becoming a Master Food Preserver is B.P. – Before Preservation. I was making jams and pickles back then, just with a slightly less fastidious approach and way more unreccommended experimentation.
Food preservation so enthralled me that I acquired just enough knowledge to be a little dangerous. I suggested to my dear friend, and at the time fellow food blogger, Amy, that we write a preserves bible. Hindsight produces appropriate cringing. Then I laugh. Then I cringe again because I’m reminded that the short-lived project marks one of the first major hiccups in my friendship with Amy (we’ve since recovered). The way-too-ambitious tome was supposed to have some 300 recipes and I’d insisted, no, demanded, that we follow a rigorous schedule of weekly, perhaps even daily recipe testing. Nevermind the full-time jobs, relationships, or limited resources. Or the fact that testing 300 recipes would likely equal over well over 1500 jars of final product.
I love me some jam and pickles, but that is just plain bananas.
My first attempt at pickle fermentation many, many moons ago, which looked gorgeous, but ended up being pretty gross. I’ve learned many lessons since then.
I think Amy thought I was nuts. I know I was. Something we both enjoyed so much ended up going horribly wrong. Developing a more reasonable and measured approach to many things, canning and preserving included, was one of many lessons learned. And I’m relieved and happy to say that Amy and I are still very close friends, though she now blogs in a completely different, though no less involving genre. The funny thing is we’re actually thinking about doing the book thing AGAIN. Only this time mashing up our two separate loves – geeky sci-fi and food. Anyone who knows either of us also knows we share a deep fanaticism for the original Dune series. The spice, apparently, must flow. Though maybe with less interplanetary war.
Right now, those not familiar with Dune are scratching their heads. The digression ends here. You came for brine!
Prior to the dreaded B.P. book incident, I made my first batch of fermented dills. Calling them “mostly ok,” was generous. Post-canning, they were soft and flaccid and more salty than sour, in part because I used and incorrectly measured the wrong kind of salt. I ended up throwing the entire, inedible batch out. I didn’t want to go through the whole fermentation process again and I certainly didn’t want to waste any more precious cukes. I was aiming for a nice balance of crisp and sour and salt. So Amy and I narrowed it down to a refrigerator pickle, but there are as many brine recipes as there are Oprah fans, and to my horror, each one (the recipes, not the fans) had more salt that the last.
So Amy and I developed a brine, blending the measurements from a few different, but sensible sounding recipes. I’ve since come to call it the Friendship Brine.
Now that I am A.P. and an MFP I suppose I should check the recipe to make sure it’s a safe balance of salt and pH. But FYI, I don’t have the heart to. The Friendship Brine yields a lovely, crisp, and well balanced pickle that Steve loves and every summer, the gorgeous green jars line the fridge shelves, full of dill and garlic and, of course, pickles. They never last long. Once they reach the ready point, they’re gone within days.
But mostly I keep it the same because it’s something we made together. And it reminds me how none of this has ever been a solo project. And I wouldn’t want it to be.
Spanish black radishes from Flora Bella Farm.
Cucumbers are done for the season, but I fully intend to use this same brine recipe on a batch of spicey Spanish black radishes. Flora Bella Farm dedicates 1500 square feet of their limited land to cultivating these rare root vegetables and I plan on enouraging them to keep doing so. Also planning to use it for a light green tomato pickle. And maybe turnips. Beets?
The Friendship Brine
4 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt (not Morton’s – it uses an anti-caking agent. BAD Morton’s!)
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- Dissolve the salt in the water and vinegar.
- Place prepared pickling cucumbers – washed. blossom end cut off (1/8″), and cut in half lengthwise – in clean and sanitized glass jars and add fresh dill, two cloves of garlic, and a teaspoon of pickling spice (see below).
- Pour the brine into the jar to cover the cucumbers. Screw on a clean top and place in the refrigerator. Pickles are ready to eat in two weeks, though if you want a crisper, less salty/sour pickle, you can always eat them sooner.
Felicia’s Pickling Spice Blend
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 tablespoon dill seed
1 tablespoon whole cloves
12 bay leaves, broken into flakes
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- Mix, do not grind, all of the above and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.