As a pair of somewhat employed musicians, our wedding was going to be a semi-DIY affair. We spent a few days last year day-dreaming about cooking the food for our own wedding, but even mentioning the idea brought about threats of dis-ownership from both sets of parents. We lucked out and found a great caterer, one who would—almost in honor of our CSA obsession—be sourcing all the vegetables from local Vermont farms. But we were going to be doing the rest: finding the alcohol, purchasing the tablecloths and decorations, buying the flowers (which our friend Ammie—a florist and new music violist—would be flying in to arrange), and writing the ceremony.
The problem with even a semi-DIY out-of-town wedding is that you’re not there (and there is not your home). Every decision seems to take twice as long. I was particularly flummoxed by calculating delivery windows—figuring out just how reliable the myriad combinations of FedEx, UPS and the US Post Office worked, so that everything would arrive on time at the venue, but not so early that no one was there to receive them.
None of this was helping my anxiety level, and as previously mentioned, in the days leading up to my departure east, I more or less stopped being able to eat. This made the height of the summer season CSA vegetable situation somewhat dire. Since I neither had the wherewithal to eat nor could I live with myself if I let all the vegetables rot, I decided that various forms of preservation were the way to go.
The easiest was just to freeze a bunch of things. We got a vacuum sealer before last years Thanksgiving because Andrew wanted to cook the holiday Turkey sous vide. The turkey was meh, but the vacuum sealer is great. We have a chest freezer in our pantry, so there’s plenty of room and I spent an afternoon prepping green beans, cauliflower and summer squash for freezing. The vacuum sealer is quite loud when it’s sucking all the air from the package, a sound which is somehow deeply comforting.
Then I moved on to pickling. Pickling seemed like a good strategy given my loss of appetite—the pickles would be ready to eat in a couple of weeks, when we were back in Chicago successfully married and presumably interested in food again.
Pickled Banana Peppers
For the last three years of the CSA, we’ve used this recipe from Serious Eats to pickle banana peppers. I looked around a bit for something different, but it didn’t really seem worth experimenting with different flavors when this recipe is so simple and good.
You combine 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat and add sliced peppers, and then stir for about 15 seconds as the peppers soften. Let the entire thing cool to room temperature, then put in a jar and throw in the refrigerator.
These are so good. You can throw them on anything—pizza, sandwiches, salads, you name it.
Next up was the pickling cucumbers. Alton Brown has my favorite dill pickle recipe. You put 1 TB peppercorns, 1 TB red pepper flakes, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, and 1 tsp dill seed in a large jar. Then you add all of the cucumbers. The brine is 1/2 cup salt to 1 gallon water, and it gets poured over the top. If you put a little sandwich bag in the top of the jar and pour in some more brine to that, you can weigh down the pickles without having to do anything fancy. All of my pickling failures have tended to result from either over-filling the jar (which I’m definitely doing below…) or not weighing the pickles down well enough.
These are lacto-fermented pickles: the brine prevents bad bacteria/mold from growing, while good bacteria can do their job. After two or three weeks at room temperature they’re still crisp, but have a wonderful slightly sour tang. When they’re ready, you can put them in the refrigerator.
Pickled Onion and Green Pepper Relish
We’ve always struggled to find something to do with green peppers. Neither Andrew nor I really enjoy eating them, which seems to be a pretty universal sentiment among our friends, who have resisted our entreaties to take them off our hands. After a bit of digging around in the internet, I found this relish recipe. It’s suppose to be a condiment for hot dogs or hamburgers and as a bonus, it’s shelf-safe, too.
You take 3 onions, 8 large green peppers, and a few jalapeños and slice them up into thin strips. Put them in a stock pot along with 6 TB pickling spices, 2 cups of white sugar, 1 tsp salt, and 2 cups of apple cider vinegar. Simmer for 5 minutes.
It starts out a bit weird, since it’s not a liquid at all, but after a few minutes, the vegetables start sweating and it begins to look like what you would expect from a hot dog topping.
After the relish comes together, it’s time to can them. Sterilize some jars, add the relish, and put the tops on. Boil them in a water bath for 30 minutes. I didn’t actually think to taste the relish before canning it, so there’s going to be an element of surprise when we actually open one.
Apple Pie Filling
And finally: apples. Last year was apparently a rough one for apples at Nichols Farm. We had some hail storms early in the summer, which pock-marked all the apples. But even with the losses, by the middle of the fall, we had enough apples to fill our crisper bins and were running out of room in the rest of the fridge for all the other veggies. This year has been a great one for apples—and we started getting them early in the season. The apples are great—breed names we’ve never heard of, with surprising combinations of sweet and tart and crunch. But by the week before I was leaving down, our smaller crisper drawer was already overflowing with apples and I felt I needed to cull the herd.
I figured the internet must have come up with some way to make filling for an apple pie and freeze it to stick in a pie later. Sure enough, I found this recipe from Food.com and decided to just go for it.
You start with 16 cups of apples, peel and chop them, and add 4 TB of lemon juice to theoretically keep them from going brown (which only partially worked, see below).
In a large dutch oven, add 4 cups of sugar (!), 1 cup cornstarch, 4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp nutmeg. Add 8 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer for 2 minutes, and add the apples and simmer for another 6-8 minutes, and then remove from the heat and let it cool for about 30 minutes. At this point, it will look disconcertingly like a cauldron of something you might add eye-of-newt to, but the smell is of fall and crunchy leaves and wholesomeness.
Then it gets ladeled into a freezer bag, which is frankly easier said than done. I recommend getting a partner to help you. Going solo, I got apple pie filling all over the counter, the floor, one of the cats, and in my hair. And, you know, the entire outside of the bag.
It’s also worth point out that this recipe made about twice the amount of liquid you really need for the amount of apples it calls for. I used the time-honored strategy of throwing the extra goo in the fridge, forgetting about it, and then throwing it out four weeks later.
CSA ingredients used: apples
Other ingredients used: water, sugar, salt, cinnamon, cornstarch
Next: Week 13