Back when the luxury to keep things you don’t need did not exist (as useless things themselves did not exist at all), the idea of storing something plentiful in preparation for times of scarcity seemed almost a war strategy. In spring and summer, when products of the earth abounded to the point of threatening to go to waste, the women of the family were often busy picking, cooking, canning and storing all sorts of imaginable produce, as if they were preparing some sorts of weapons against to fight off the cold season.
Imagine the smell of boiling wine and vinegar permeating the air, the tables and floors stained red with the juices flowing from baskets of plump, ripe tomatoes, or the sweet scent of cherry jam softly simmering on the stove that you could smell even before entering the house. Imagine the excitement of kids who learned at their own damage how painful it is to stick the finger into a pot of blistering jam, and the anticipation of being able to lick all the spoons once the job was done.
I find it appalling how, as of today, we can afford to have so much stuff that we are unable to sort out what we really need. While we often hold on to the most unnecessary junk, we fail to make good use of what we have and use available resources for our benefit in future times.
Most of the props I use for styling are remainders of times gone by: cutlery from Brooklyn thrift shops, dishes from old grandma’s houses, broken doors, vats that were used to harvest grapes for wine. Though it is important to leave our lives uncluttered, it is amazing how something that is plentiful and you have no idea what to do with can be saved for later enjoyment.
This is why every farm has a tradition of pickles – especially in consideration of the fact that produce tends to ripen quickly and all at once. Italy does it Sott’Olio: literally, ‘submerged in oil’. Every preparation sott’olio, which can be flavored with the classic garlic, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns, is utterly delicious and fairly easy to make, albeit somewhat time consuming.
If you do have the time and patience to do it, though, it pays off. Chances are you won’t be doing it more than 3-4 times a year, and your pantry will be stacked with awesome homemade goodies that you produced yourself (and you’ll find yourself with Christmas gifts ready on your shelves).
Here are a few tips on canning, as well as some links I encourage you to read should you venture into this amazing realm of the kitchen.
Clean your jars very well by sterilizing in a tall pot of boiling water, along with their lids, for 10-15 minutes. Let them dry well on a clean towel before using. No water must remain in the closed jars.
Make sure that the lids fit perfectly for each jar and are not damaged or rusty.
As Francesca kindly suggested, the jars can be popped in a low temperature oven to dry completely.
THE ACIDIC ELEMENT
You will either need to cook your vegetables in an acidic element like vinegar or a mixture or wine and vinegar or you won’t, but each time you will have to squeeze some lemon juice into the jars and swirl it around to completely cover them. Acidity kills the toxin Botulinum, which can develop in canned goods which have been prepared improperly. Take some time to read a little more about the risks associated with this toxin and safety methods if you are new to canning.
TO BOIL OR NOT TO BOIL?
Many preparations, like jams, are boiled into their jars to create a vacuum effect that will seal the contents and prevent any kind of bacteria from forming. In sott’olio preparations, this is not always necessary: if your vegetables have been boiled in vinegar, then the acidity and the oil will act as preserving agents, making boiling unnecessary. Any preparation that does not involve boiling in vinegar, though, must be finished off by boiling the jars.
Again, make sure no water at all gets in the jars!
- Always work with clean equipment and towels.
- Remember to boil the lids/caps as well! Ideally, you should use new, perfectly fitting lids each time you can something – though you can re-use the jar indefinitely.
- If the jar did not seal properly, toss everything at once. you can easily check sealing by pressing your fingertip on the top of the caps: they should not budge an inch.
- make sure that the food is completely covered in oil/liquid all the time. Every tiny bit of food that escapes the liquid will produce molds, but as long as everything is submerged it will be fine for a long while.
- Once open, refrigerate the jars.
I highly recommend you read this article full of precious information by Serious Eats, one of my favorite websites ever.
Also, did you know that the USDA has a whole guide on safe canning? Here is a great guide on canning principles and safety.
If you are serious about home canning and think you will have the resources to do it each season, I do recommend you invest in a good book. It is indeed a skill that, once learned, will come in handy for the rest of your life.
Carciofini Sott’Olio (Baby Artichokes Preserved in Olive Oil)
(makes about 3 0.5qt/1 pint/500ml jars)
100 baby artichokes (about 4kg not cleaned)
(Choose small, purple artichokes, or ask your local farmer/grocery which variety is best for canning)
1/2 liter (17 fl. Oz.) White wine vinegar
1/2 liter White wine
1 heaping tbsp Salt
About 1/2 liter (17 fl. Oz.) Olive oil, plus more*
A bunch of parsley
4-5 Garlic cloves
Dried chilli, to taste
* NOTE ON THE OLIVE OIL: Choose a regular, decent but inexpensive olive oil, as you will need quite a lot of it and using high quality olive oil does not necessarily make a difference. If you want to use a more flavorful olive oil though, all the better! It will make your jarred artichokes shine through.
On the first day, we are going to prep and cook our baby artichokes. For this step you might consider the use of gloves, as artichokes will stain your hands quite heavily.
Prepare a couple large bowls and half fill them with water. Cut one of the lemons, and squeeze a half in each bowl, then dump the half itself in as well.
Clean the artichokes: remove the tough outer petals until you see the point where they are a green hue that fades to purple. Cut off the tip, and trim the stalk by cutting all around it, as if you were peeling an apple (see picture below). More info on cleaning artichokes is available in this post.
As soon as each artichoke is ready, put it in the bowls with acidulated water. This will help prevent oxidation, as artichokes turn black very easily.
When you’re about halfway through this cleaning operation, prepare a large pot that can fit your artichoke hearts, and fill with the vinegar and wine. Bring to a boil, and add the salt. Drain the artichoke hearts very well, add them to the pot and let them cook until they are about 80% cooked. It might take around 10 to 15 minutes.
Prepare a clean cotton tea towel where you are going to wrap the artichokes. Once drained well and slightly cool, put them into the towel and squeeze it closed as well as you can. Make a sort of parcel, and let it sit for 24 hours.
On the second day, we are ready to put the artichokes into jars. For this amount of artichokes, you can use 3 1 quart mason jars, or smaller ones. The only important thing is to pack the artichokes tight, and make sure everything is well covered in oil.
Sterilize your jars by boiling them (along with their lids) for 15 minutes. Remove from the pot, let them drain well, and squeeze some lemon juice in each. Swirl it around to fully cover the whole jar, rims and lids included, then pour out the excess. This will help prevent the formation of bacteria and fungi of sorts.
Finely chop the garlic, parsley and dried chilli, and keep them at hand.
Working in a circle, tightly pack the artichokes into the jars. Once you finish a layer, sprinkle some chopped parsley, garlic and chilli on, then add some oil and proceed with another layer (see picture above). Sprinkle on the flavorings and add the oil until you fill the jar almost all the way up – leave about an inch. Top with olive oil to fully cover everything. Make sure that nothing sticks out of the oil!
Once done, close the jars, and leave them be for yet another day.
Day 3 is for finalizing the canning. You might have noticed that, as you were topping the jars with the oil day before, small bubbles of air inevitably formed between each layer. By leaving them to rest, the oil will have time to penetrate into every nook and will push out the air. If you check the jars now, you’ll notice how the oil has considerably reduced.
Fill the jars with the oil once again. You might need to do this for another couple of days, until the oil does not reduce anymore. Once you see the oil stays at a stable level, close the lids as tightly as you can.
It is best to wait another 20 days or so before opening your first jars, as flavors will have time to meld and develop and the artichokes will turn softer.
You can now store your jars away in your pantry. They will keep for a long time and will not produce bacteria or molds, as long as they are fully covered in oil. When you open a jar and fish out artichokes, make sure nothing sticks out of the oil and keep refrigerated.
Have you ever made pickles or canned goods? What are your favorites to eat and what are your favorite to make?
I’m curious to know!
PS: I’m stumped at how nice the person who took care of my travel arrangements for the Saveur event was. Maybe It’s just me being used to cold-a$$ emails, but I felt the need to state this fact. He must be from California or something. New Yorker’s emails aren’t that nice.
Thank you, oh Kind Saveur Staff Person.