California Capers (Pickled Nasturtium Pods)

I planted one non-vegetable this year, and that was nasturtiums. They have a very pretty flower! They mostly died horribly in my garden.

My nasturtiums have started to bloom! #gardening #flowers

A photo posted by sarah (@braisinhussy) on

You can already see in the background that a leaf is getting chewed up. Anyway, the reason that I wanted to grow nasturtiums was to make these “California capers,” or pickled nasturtium seedpods.

Backstory: a few years ago, my parents and I spent Christmas in Italy. Our traditional Christmas breakfast is bagels with lox, cream cheese, onions, and capers. We thought we had bought regular capers, but they were way peppery-er and totally awesome. We tried to find them back in the states, and to that end we bought actual pickled peppercorns. It was not those. So I was looking at various things on the web and ran across these.

I’m not sure why they’re called “California,” because surely nasturtiums can grow anywhere, but I guess it’s because the climate of California means they can grow for a really long time (provided they don’t get eaten to death or a drought attacks or whatever). So my nasturtiums only yielded about three pods before they kicked the bucket, but my pal Lydia had a massive plot of them in her front yard, and she very kindly let me rummage through hers to pick enough for pickling.

They’re a bit of an acquired taste, but I do have to say, they’re good on our bagel combination. Still not the same as the ones we found in Florence, though.

2/3 cup nasturtium seedpods (harvest them while green and still on the vine, otherwise they’re too dried out for this to work)
1/4 cup salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf

Rinse the seedpods to remove any bits of dirt that may still be clinging. Combine the salt and water in a container that has a lid (or use plastic wrap). Add the seedpods, stir once or twice, then cover and let brine for 3-4 days. Shake the container or stir the mixture a couple times a day. (They will not smell good. That is normal.)

Strain the seeds and rinse them in a colander. Place the bay leaf in the bottom of a jar and pour the seeds in on top.

Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil and stir to dissolve. Pour the vinegar mixture carefully into the jar. Close the jar, let cool to room temperature, and then move to the refrigerator. Let them sit for at least a week before using. They’ll keep a long time in the fridge.

Dill Pickles

[image: back of an envelope with the recipe scrawled on it]
[image: back of an envelope with the ingredients scrawled on it]

I don’t have a photo of the pickles because we ate them too quickly for me to get them into a nice jar (they were DAMN GOOD). So enjoy this scrawled ingredient list on the back of an envelope. It’s how many of my kitchen antics are recorded.

I’ve made three different kinds of pickles over the last few weeks. My folks had half a head of fennel that they weren’t going to use, so I found this recipe for Pickled Fennel with Orange on Serious Eats. I guess the only change I made was that I used the stalks of fennel as well as the bulb I had, to try and approximate “three small fennel bulbs.” (I wish they’d had a weight measurement instead.) The other thing which was recommended in the comments was to rinse the fennel after salting it.

I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but after like a week of flavor development I really got into it. It was good out of the jar, but my preferred application was on sandwiches. Toasted rye, cheddar cheese, grilled chicken, and fennel/orange pickle.

The second pickle is the dill cucumber pickles, recipe below. These were so good that I’m going to attempt cucumbers this year in my garden. But that is for a different post!

After we hoovered up the cucumber pickles, I decided to reuse the brine on some leftover asparagus spears. Reusing brine is NOT recommended if you’re canning, but it’s fine for refrigerator pickles. Asparagus has to be blanched first before putting into the briny deep. They’ve been in there for 48 hours; I tried a spear today but they weren’t ready yet. I’ll wait a few more days.

1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp dill seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
24 cucumber spears (I had 1.5 large cucumbers—sliced in half across, then each half into eighths)

Place the dill seeds, peppercorns, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leafs in the bottom of your pickling container of choice (I use cleaned 32-oz. yogurt containers). Wedge the cucumber spears into the container atop the spices.

In a small pot, bring the vinegar, water, and salt to a boil. Carefully pour into the container. Refrigerate for a week before eating. (If you are not using a jar and therefore find that the end of your spears are bobbing over the surface of the brine, rotate them top to bottom every other day.)

Curried Eggplant Pickle Relish

[image: six small white eggplants]
[image: six small white eggplants]

This was my final harvest of the Casper eggplants. Six li’l guys. I pickled them using a curry pickle recipe, thinking “eggplant + curry = good.” But once pickled, I realized I had failed to take into account their texture. Eggplants are way softer than cucumbers and peppers. So when I bit into one, I didn’t get a crisp snap, just a sort of softened press. Not a great sensation. But although the texture was off, the flavor was still good, so I chopped up the eggplant flesh and made it into a relish.

(This was the smaller of the two jars seen in the Tomolives post.)

Enough eggplant to fill a 1-quart jar once peeled and cut into spears
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp whole allspice
3/4″ fresh ginger root, thinly sliced

Peel and cut the eggplant into spears. Put the ginger, whole allspice, and cumin seeds in the bottom of your pickling container (as mentioned in my last post, I use old yogurt tubs), then pack in the eggplant. Bring the vinegar, water, salt, and curry powder to a boil for 5 minutes. Carefully pour into pickling container.

Let develop in the refrigerator for 1–2 weeks, stirring every other day or so. Remove eggplant and dice, removing seeds if necessary (since I was using tiny eggplants, this was not a problem). Strain the pickling brine and discard the solids. Pack the diced eggplant into your final jar and pour strained liquid over top (discard any extra). Store in fridge, use on hot dogs and the like.


[image: jars of tomolives and curry eggplant relish]
[image: jars of tomolives and curry eggplant relish]

More pickles! These two jars I prepared for my friend Lydia, owner of the blog Truffle Wants Snacks. The larger jar on the left contains Tomolives, which are apparently a Southern thing. I made them with green Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and darkened-a-bit-but-still-not-totally-ripe Indigo Rose tomatoes from my garden. Clearly I picked these a while ago—back in November after the frosts became unbearable for my plants. I was trying to find pickle recipes for green tomatoes, and came across a couple promising posts.

This line, from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen immediately jumped out at me:

Tomolives are just wonderful in a martini, served as a casual appetizer, skewered with sharp cheese, or plucked from the jar while you stare into the depths of the refrigerator wondering what to have for lunch.

Martinis, appetizers, cheese. Check, check, check. These are some of the many fine qualities that Lydia brings to a friendship.

(The curry eggplant relish recipe will be coming in a few days!)

1 quart unripe small or cherry tomatoes
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
2 Tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbsp white granulated sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
2 bay leaves
2 small red chili peppers (SUPER CHILIS!)

With a toothpick, skewer, or knife, poke holes in each tomato (I used a toothpick and poked them from the stem end down to the opposite end). Place the chilis, bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and mustard seeds in the bottom of a 1-quart jar. Pack the tomatoes in on top.

Boil the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic cloves together for 5 minutes. Carefully pour into the jar. Refrigerate for a week before eating.

(I don’t actually pickle in the jars, I use cleaned 32-oz yogurt containers and then transfer them into the nicer jars when it comes time for presentation. Allows me to make sure all the good stuff is on top. If you do this, during the initial pickling give them a stir every so often to make sure everything get submerged equally.)

Pickled Peppers

[image: pint jar of pickled green bell peppers]
[image: pint jar of pickled green bell peppers]

The weather here has started to turn! We’ve gotten a few nights of rain! It’s thrilling! But as the nights have gotten colder, I’ve started to worry about my veggies. We’ve dipped as far as 36F. No frost yet, but I decided to harvest my green bell peppers just in case.

[image: bowl of green bell peppers]
[image: bowl of green bell peppers]

Nine in all! (There’s a runt you can’t see hiding at the bottom of the bowl). I had enough to make a quart of pickles. I sliced most of them into rings, the others into strips. After a day in the fridge, I had very crisp and pickley-tasting pickles! I used a 32 oz. plastic yogurt container. I transferred about half into the pint-sized Ball Jar you see up top so I could get a nice photo.

These are refrigerator pickles because I’m scared of canning.

1 cup white distilled vinegar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp dill seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic, peeled
however many sliced peppers can be packed into a quart jar

Put the dill seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf, and garlic in the bottom of your jar or whatever you’re doing the pickling in. Pack in the sliced vegetables.

Bring the vinegar, water, and salt to a boil. Carefully pour into your jar (a funnel may be useful here). Make sure everything’s covered with the brine (you may want to employ a weight to squash them down). Refrigerate overnight. Will keep in the fridge for several months.

Garden Update: November 7, 2015

[image: november 7th tomatoes]
[image: november 7th tomatoes]

Look at all those wee tomatoes! Look at all those flowers! IT IS NOVEMBER.

We’ve had a little bit of rain, and temperatures have generally started to fall, but my plants are continuing their weird “it’s still summer!” behavior. It’s dipped down into the upper 30s a couple nights this week, but the only thing that seems affected is my Casper eggplants. The leaves get kind of limp, but they perk right back up once the sunlight hits them.

I’m just waiting. I still want all the blossoms on my plants to turn into fruits. But… I don’t really want them to ripen, actually? I have plans for pickling! Pickled green tomatoes and pickled green bell peppers and pickled eggplants (okay, these’ll be mostly ripe) and pickled green chili peppers. (Actually I haven’t really decided what to do with those if/when frost hits—if they’ll be pickled or if I’ll make a green chili sauce.) I just want to make pickles! Refrigerator pickles, I should point out. Canning still frightens me.

I have given up entirely on the kabochas. The female bud I was so excited about last month withered and fell off before it had a chance to bloom. It was a sad day in the Hussy House.