Sunday, September 07, 2008

Preserving Season is Here, again

Every year about this time I go into what I can only describe as hoarding behavior. As the weather begins to get cool and the Sun dips a little lower in its path across the sky I begin to feel almost frantic to put food away into long term storage. When, like this year, we don't get enough vegetables from our own garden I begin taking advantage of the produce of other's. I start looking for good deals at the local Farmer's Markets, grocers, and orchards. Occasionally, I have even been graced with free produce and fruits. This year we have obtained a large quantity of carrots, onions, mushrooms, cabbage, and red bell peppers. I was also incredibly lucky to find cheap beef roasts on sale.

The mushrooms are in the dehydrating process right now. We use a small American Harvest dehydrator that we bought from Walmart several years ago. The sliced mushrooms are placed on the drying trays in single layers, but as close together as we can get them, and allowed the dry until they are crisp. Once crisp they are allowed to cool to room temperature and then vacuum packed until we need them. They make a great addition to any sauce or stew that needs to simmer for a while.

The red peppers and onions will be cut into 1/2" pieces and dried in the dehydrator just like the mushrooms. The carrots will be peeled and sliced before drying until crisp. If it turns out I have more than I need for drying then I can always can them in salt water or blanch and freeze. The cabbage is being made into sauerkraut and the beef roasts will become corned beef, both a form of pickling.

I actually started the sauerkraut yesterday. I used the hand cabbage shredder that we purchased last year and I must say it made shredding the cabbage a breeze. I was able to shred five large heads of cabbage in the same amount of time it took me to slice one head the last time I made sauerkraut.

I quartered and cored each head and sliced each quarter into a large bowl. I sprinkled a tablespoon of salt on top of each quarter amount of sliced cabbage until I completed each head. Any pieces that were not small enough for kraut ended up as fried cabbage for supper last night, or were eaten raw while I worked.

After each head of cabbage was shredded and salted it was put into the pickling crock and allowed to wilt before it was packed down very tight. After all five heads were shredded and wilted we added enough brine to cover the cabbage by a couple of inches. Then a plate was inverted over the and weighted down to keep it all submerged.

Now we wait for a few weeks as the cabbage begins to ferment and pickle itself. I'll have to keep an eye on everything and scrape out any scum or mold that forms but the first year we made sauerkraut went without a hitch so I am crossing my fingers that this year is the same.

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