Friday, 20 September 2013

On Fermentation and Failure Part Two

When I initially wrote this post a year ago, it felt like it would be ages before I got a chance to try my hand at fermented cucumbers again - especially since my failure affected me so heavily. But, as it always does, time flew by before I knew it.

I was more cautious this year, less ambitious. I took home half the amount of cucumbers from the farmers' market than I had taken home the previous year. I kept a close eye on my crock, tasting one from my batch daily. Ten days later, I decided that they were ready, transferred them into clean jars and moved them into the fridge to stop the fermentation process.

Altogether I ended up with eight jars of beautiful, cloudy, sour dills that reminded me of my grandmother's old-world recipe. The best part being that I just had to let nature work - no steamy vinegar kitchen, no hot water baths. 

The Bees have been talking a lot lately about the concept of "simple living" and came to the conclusion that our lives are anything but simple. We voluntarily make more work for ourselves because we believe in the importance of making things by hand. I could simply go to the grocery store and buy myself a jar of full-sour pickles. I may have been even more inclined after failing last year to give up completely. But it was important to me to support my local farmer, important to me to provide for myself and my husband over the winter months, and important to me to learn from my past mistakes. Having achieved all of that this year gives me more fulfillment than could ever be bought in a store, and that's exactly why we do what we do.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Summer is a busy time for bees, and it's always a busy season for us Bees, too.  I always start the season with an ambitious list of things to accomplish, and in the end, have to concede I can only do about 1/4 of what I planned.

A good part of my summers are always spent trying to capture the fruitfulness of summer, hoping to keep up with the fruits and vegetables as they ripen in the garden and appear at the farmers' markets. Last year while I was away in London, I didn't do any gardening or canning, and I really missed it!  I made up for it perhaps too much this year, having made ten different kinds of jam, frozen and canned tonnes of fruit, and put by so many pickles, that my freezer is full and my store of empty jars is very depleted, and the season not finished yet.  I hope my near and dear ones look forward to holiday gifts of jam, relish and pickles, because I can't possibly consume it all alone!

I planted my own cucumbers this year because I love French cornichons, and wanted to try my hand at making my own.  This entailed picking tiny cucumbers (about 5 cm long) every other day, and storing them in the refrigerator crisper until there were enough to make one jar. I used fresh tarragon from my herb garden in these pickles, as well as in the pickled radishes I made.  Just trying to keep up with the cucumber plants, I made a ton of dills, piccalilli, and mustard pickle relish, just because I didn't want any to go to waste.  In the end I had to stop picking them because there is no way one lady can eat that many cucumber sandwiches!

By late August, the whole vegetable garden, including my patio herb garden, is totally out of control, and I feel a little overwhelmed! I prune the herbs and hang them to dry for later use in cooking, infusions and herbal tea.

To keep up with the tomatoes, I've resorted to not only canning, but also oven-drying or freezing all those I can't eat.  Oven-drying couldn't be easier.  Simply halve small tomatoes, such as plum, paste or cherry tomatoes, or slice larger tomatoes, such beefsteaks or heirlooms.  Place in a bowl,  drizzle lightly with oil and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer skin-side down over parchment lined baking sheets.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and any herb you desire (thyme, rosemary or basil are my favourites).  Place in a preheated 275 F oven, and leave for 1 1/2 to 6 (yes, six) hours, depending on the size and juiciness of the tomato, and desired dryness.  I like to leave them semi-plump (about 3 hours).  You can pack them in oil, but I prefer to freeze them on a tray and then place them, once frozen, into a freezer bag, to use in sauces and as pizza toppings in the winter for a taste of summer.