Table Matters readers will recognize Marisa McClellan from her columns here – The Larder and The Whole Chicken Project – and from her much-loved blog about canning and more, Food in Jars. Her latest book, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces focuses on canning, not bushels of vegetables, but pounds and pints – amounts we can all get at the farmers’ market. Preserving by the Pint is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
There is a year-round farmers’ market just a couple of blocks from my apartment. I go to it nearly every Saturday morning to pick up eggs, honey, and whatever local, seasonal produce is available. In the summer and fall, the bounty is downright flamboyant, with tables piled high to overflowing with lettuces, zucchini, and peaches. Winter means pears, Brussels sprouts, and sturdy orange squash. The most meager time of year is very early spring. The storage apples are sad and good only for baking, and there are still weeks to go before the first stalks of asparagus arrive. It can be a challenge to keep up the weekly market visit when so little is new and truly fresh.
Still, I’ve found that even in the face of such slim pickings, there are still ingredients that beg to be preserved, if you look closely. Early radishes and snacking turnips make tasty pickles. Baby greens grown inside hoop houses can be whirled into verdant, restorative pestos.
Then, it’s not long until the spring delicacies, such as ramps, fava beans, and garlic scapes arrive. Finally, the rhubarb and asparagus begin to push through the soil and the wild abundance of the growing season is upon us.
Pickled Garlic Scape Segments
Garlic scapes are the green curly shoots that grow from hard-neck garlic plants in early spring. Farmers remove them so that garlic plants will concentrate their growth energy into the bulbs. Once considered farm leavings, in recent years they’ve become one of the most popular farmers’ market items in April and May. They have a gentle garlic flavor and make an excellent pickle that ends up tasting like a crisp, garlicky dilly bean.
8 ounces (225 grams) garlic scapes (2 to 3 bunches)
¾ cup (180 milliliters) cider vinegar
1 tablespoon pickling salt
1 teaspoon dill seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon red chile flakes
Prepare a boiling water bath and 2 half-pint (250-milliliter) jars. Place 2 lids in a small saucepan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
Combine the vinegar, ¾ cup (180 milliliters) of water, and the pickling salt in a medium pot and bring to a boil.
Trim the ends of the scapes, then cut them into segments about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in length.
Add the scape segments to the pot of brine and stir for 30 seconds and remove pot from heat. Divide the spices evenly between the prepared jars and funnel in the warmed scape segments on top of them. Ladle the brine over the scapes, leaving ½ inch (12 millimeters) of headspace. Tap the jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return the headspace to ½ inch (12 millimeters), if necessary. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let these pickles cure for at least a week before eating.
Note: You won’t typically find garlic scapes in your local grocery store. They tend to be a farmers’ market, natural food store, or CSA-only item. If you struggle to get some, make sure to ask at a local market: chances are good that a farmer will bring some in for you.
Makes 2 half-pint (250 milliliter) jars
Marinated Sugar Snap Peas with Ginger and Mint
Although I like them raw or gently sautéed until tender-crisp, one of my favorite things to do to sugar snap peas is to quickly pickle them in a gingery, barely sweetened brine. I make them as a refrigerator pickle so that they retain their crunch and regularly eat them with open-face sandwiches or chopped and tossed with grain salads.
1½ cups (360 milliliters) unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon finely milled sea salt
1 pound (460 grams) sugar snap peas
1 green onion
1 sprig fresh mint
3 thin slices fresh ginger
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, honey, and salt. Heat until the honey and salt are entirely dissolved.
Wash the sugar snap peas well. Using a knife, trim both ends and remove the tough string that runs along the back of the peas. Cut the green onion into 2 or 3 segments, so that they fit the jar. Stand them up in a clean 1-quart (1 liter) jar, along with the mint sprig and the ginger slices.
Pack the prepared sugar snaps into the jar. If they don’t all fit, set them aside. You may be able to sneak them in once the pickling liquid is poured.
Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the sugar snaps. Tap the jar gently on the counter to remove any air bubbles. If you had any remaining peas, try to pack them into the jar at this time.
Place a lid on the jar and let the jar rest until it has cooled to room temperature. Refrigerate. Let these pickles sit in the vinegar for at least 24 hours before eating. They will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Note: Make sure to use the freshest sugar snap peas you can find. No pickling brine can restore crunch to a pea that’s lost it to age. If you can’t find sugar snaps, this recipe works equally well with crisp snow peas.
Makes 1 1-quart (1 liter) jar
Whole Strawberries in Vanilla Syrup
These preserved strawberries are a bit fussier than my normal slapdash approach to fruit, but they are well worth the effort. It’s particularly important that you give them time to rest overnight in the fridge after cooking, as this leads to the best finished texture. On days when I need just a little sweet, I spoon these strawberries into plain yogurt. On more indulgent party occasions, we eat them with pound cake. I have the classic canning bible, So Easy to Preserve, to thank for this preserving technique.
1 dry quart small, ripe strawberries (about 1½ pounds or 700 grams)
3½ cups (700 grams) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
¼ cup (60 milliliters) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Wash the berries and remove the stems and leaves. Place the berries in a medium bowl and cover them with the sugar. Add the vanilla seeds and bean and stir gently to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate it for 2 to 3 hours.
When the time is up, carefully pour the strawberries, vanilla bean, juices, and any remaining sugar into a shallow, wide pan. Add the lemon juice and slowly bring to a boil. Cook the berries at a boil for 10 to 12 minutes, until they go a bit translucent and their syrup is thick.
Pour the berries and syrup into a shallow bowl, allow to cool to room temperature, and place in the refrigerator, uncovered, for a day, jiggling the bowl whenever you open the fridge, to help distribute the strawberries in the syrup.
When you’re ready to can, prepare a boiling water bath and 3 half-pint (250 milliliter) jars. Place 3 lids in a small saucepan of water and bring to a gentle simmer. Scrape the strawberry mixture into a medium pan and heat to a simmer. Ladle the berries into the prepared jars and cover with the syrup, leaving ½ inch (12 milliliters) of headspace. Tap the jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return the headspace to ½ inch (12 millimeters), if necessary. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Note: Because these berries need to sit uncovered in your fridge for a day, make sure that nothing with a particularly strong smell is sharing your refrigerator during the same 24-hour time period. Strawberries are absorbent and will happily allow a robust aroma to influence their flavor.
Makes 3 half-pint (250-milliliter) jars
Excerpted from Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces by Marisa McClellan. Copyright © 2014 by Marisa McClellan. With permission of the publisher, Running Press.