First we’re overrun with green leaves, edible art from nature unfurling at an ever-quickening pace. The next thing we know, the markets are stuffed to the gills with herbs, young vegetables, and plump, succulent berries just begging to burst upon your tongue.
Now sets in the panic. How can we make it all last? The idea of “putting up” cans and jars just like our grandmothers did might seem a bit daunting, but really, it’s shockingly simple. No one preserves the season with more verve than the folks at Lenny Russo’s Heartland Restaurant and Farm Market Direct in St. Paul’s Lowertown. Russo was cooking entirely seasonally back when that seemed like a ridiculous notion.
When I stopped by Heartland to learn the basics, Dan Stepaniak, the market’s manager and head of the preserves was handling hot jars filled with a brilliant red chili sauce they’d just finished canning. Behind them was a case of shredded cabbage that had recently been transformed by the power of salt into sauerkraut.
Dan Stepaniak of Heartland
Basically, any item can be pickled from the most delicate bits from the garden like chive blossoms (as they’re doing at Wise Acres Eatery in South Minneapolis) to the sturdy, more traditional cucumber. Pickles don’t even have to be savory items: the hot trend in restaurants is pickled strawberries as they’re first coming into season. Once you nail the method, you can pickle any darn thing—even proteins like eggs and shrimp.
You’ll want to make a mix of 1:1 vinegar and water, plus a good amount of sugar and a little less of salt. The way to create pickles that will last the longest, you’ll want to do a hot brine poured over the would-be pickles. This takes a little more work, but you’ll have items that will last year long. It does cook things just a little bit. If you’d prefer to retain the crunch, you’re going to want to make refrigerator pickles.
“Pickling is all about getting the acid to the right pH,” explained Stepaniak. Plus, the smaller and more porous your item, the quicker it will pickle. “It’s all about experimenting until you find what you like best.”
Here is his recipe for pickling cucumbers (not quite in season yet) that would also work wonderfully for asparagus or carrots.
1 gallon water
1 gallon vinegar
8 cups sugar
1 cup salt
1. Slice cucumbers on a mandoline to about a 1/4 inch thickness.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a pot and heat until sugar and salt dissolve.
3. Let brine cool to room temperature and pour over pickles. (Do NOT pour hot or boiling brine over cucumbers).
4. Submerge cucumbers in brine.
5. Cucumbers are ready to eat within 2 1/2 hours or can immediately. (Best used or canned within seven days.)
If canning them:
Sterilize jars and lids (most washing machines have a sterilize function. Pack pickles into jars and pour warm brine over them. Seal the lid. Turn them upside down until the lids pop.
Or, skip the process and just store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Once you have the basics down, feel free to add whatever you like to season the brine further from tarragon, dill, garlic, red chili flake—go crazy! (And if this is still too daunting, Heartland does sell batches of those same pickles they use on their dining room menu).