Pickled Carrots

We got a fair few carrots from our CSA. They’re delicious raw or sliced into coins and glazed in a pan. Even their greens are tasty, if you treat them properly. But the focus of this post is preservation: pickled carrots.

We had a bunch of beautiful orange and purple carrots—about a pound and a half each. As usual, our recipe is based on one from the NCHFP. We wanted a lot of spices to play against the natural carrot sweetness, so we used mustard and coriander seeds, along with some heat from the Peruvian purple peppers we grow. But the real kicker were the fresh umbels from our garden.

Fresh fennel umbels

No, it’s nothing to do with Uriah Heep. Umbels are a kind of inflorescence, common to lots of plants in Apiaceae. In fact, umbels are so common in that family that it’s also called “umbel-bearing”, Umbelliferae. We had dill and fennel umbels to split up among the jars.

Canned pickled carrots

Here are the notes—almost a recipe, if you squint. We definitely cooked them only briefly, less than the 10 minutes suggested by the NCHFP.

1lb 9.3oz orange
1lb 7oz purple

5.5C cider vinegar
1C water
2C sugar
2t Morton’s kosher salt
7g (~2t) mustard seed
9g (~4t) coriander seed
3 peruvian purple peppers

fennel and dill blossoms in the jars
fennel gets 3 bonus peppers

added 1.5x of vinegar, water, sugar, and salt for purple carrots with about 3C of leftover brine
+ 1t each fennel and corianer seeds, refresh 3 peppers
5 extra peppers in each jar

made 2qts orange, 1.75qt purple (?! probably more tightly packed)

These are tart pickles, not too sweet, with lots of great flavor from the seeds, especially the umbels. I imagine these would cut right through fatty braised brisket or hot pastrami, roasted pork belly, or seared duck breasts.

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How to Make a Scottish Breakfast

You have to start this recipe a day in advance. The first step is to walk up Ben Lawers and get soaked in a sudden downpour. You’ll be dry by the time you’re back at the car, don’t worry. Stop at a farm shop near the Mains of Taymouth on the way back; buy some eggs and a black pudding. The ice cream there’s not bad either, and the portions are huge. You should tell your Italian friend that one scoop is plenty for the both of you.

Slicing up black pudding

The next morning, slice up the black pudding and fry the slices in savory Scottish butter. Add the eggs a touch later. Your Italian friend will say that the butter is ‘so tasting’, and you will assume he means ‘flavorful’.

Frying it all up in lots of butter

Toast helps but is by no means necessary. All talk about high cholesterol is to be strongly discouraged. Talking of any sort can only serve to distract you from the crisp crust, the iron tang of the blood, the grainy crunch of the oats, and the richness of the fat. The yolks’ brilliant orange will leave no room to wonder why your Italian friend calls them i rossi.

This recipe may be hard to reproduce, but I’m going to leave it here for posterity.

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Quick Pickles

Blueberries were the first half of our bulk order from Lancaster Farm Fresh. The second half? Cucumbers. Twenty pounds of them, in fact. We made a three things: bread-and-butter pickles, relish, and some fridge dill pickles. That covered about 16lb of them—the rest got put into salads. There’s one thing I wish we could have done: natural pickles a/k/a fermented pickles a/k/a lacto-pickles a/k/a the Real Deal. But it was too hot in these parts, and my DIY ethic of building my own thermostat for a fermentation chamber trumped my GTD ethic of actually having a thermostat. So the Real Deal will have to wait for the fall (or whenever I finish building the damn thing).

This was a long, cucumber-y ordeal. Broadly: cut cucumbers, assemble spices, sterlize jars, cook the pickles as necessary, can. With two (determined) people, a lot can be done in parallel, especially when you’re cooking more than one recipe. And parallelism is even more important when one of the two of you is anal enough to check that the mandoline is cutting the 3/16″ demanded. (Hint: it was me, not Hannah.)

Kirbys at 3/16"

The NCHFP recipe for the bread-and-butter pickles suggested using calcium hydroxide a/k/a pickling lime for firmer pickles. Sliced pickles tend to get soft, so we went for it. (A mistake, I think—see below.) Calcium hydroxide is also used for nixtamalization, the process for softening corn for making tortillas and tamales; it’s called cal in Spanish. The large Hispanic population here in Philadelphia means that cal is easily available even though the ‘mainstream’ markets—whatever the hell that means—don’t have it.
Soaking sliced pickles in pickling lime

And so: into the fridge’s bottom drawer for a nice long spa session. This is my favorite way to brine larger quantities—I’ve done hams and turkeys this way. Make sure you clean the drawer well first! All told, these bulk purchases can play hell with fridge space—it may be time for us to get a reach-in for the basement.

Pickling places heavy demands on one's fridge

The relish recipe on offer at the NCHFP is quite simple and came out well. My notes say we followed their recipe to the letter, with the addition of 13g of yellow mustard seed.

Cooking relish

The final product came out fairly wet—one jar didn’t seal, and we’ve been using a fork to strain the relish at serving time. But the flavor is excellent—salting and draining the sliced or chopped cucumbers before cooking and packing them may help next time.

Finished relish

The bread-and-butter pickle recipe produces an enormous quantity raw, especially when you consider the chalky stiffness of the limed cukes. We had to use two pots! My notes show that we departed a bit from the recipe:

6 lbs of 4- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
1 cup pickling lime (=111g cal)

8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 3 pounds) = 1.060kg sliced onions
1/2 cup canning or pickling salt = 150g Morton’s
4 cups vinegar (5 percent) = 3C cider + 1C rice
4-1/2 cups sugar = 4C / 750t
2 tbsp mustard seed = 21g
1-1/2 tbsp celery seed = 12g
1 tbsp ground turmeric = 13g fresh grated

Some batches we added chili flakes. The cal definitely gave the pickles an alkaline flavor and slightly chalky texture.

Recording weights as you go is a nice way to compensate for the American cook’s unhealthy obsession with volume measures. I can only assume that we use volume out of some libertarian ethic of freedom, or perhaps as a form of puritanical self-flagellation. It’s certainly not because volume is convenient—have you ever measured 1T of honey?—or accurate—what about flour?

Even before canning, I noticed that the pickles were chalkily crunchy. Five weeks later—the recommended aging time—the chalkiness persists, though the alkaline flavor is mostly gone. I’d skip the cal next time.

Between batches of bread-and-butter pickles

In my eternal pursuit of crunchiness, we opted for the “low-temperature pasteurization treatment”. The main idea is to trade time for heat, which keeps more juicy pickle structure intact.

Filling jars with bread-and-butter pickles

When you don’t have a big water canner, doing two thirty minute batches isn’t the most fun thing in the world. But the reward is pretty great, even if they’re not perfect. Next time we’ll be changing the spices a bit, since the celery seed is a little overpowering. We’ll definitely skip the cal and its chalky crispness.

Finished bread-and-butter pickles

I apparently neglected to photograph Smitten Kitchen’s fridge dill pickles, but I do remember this: they came out impossibly salty at first. We had to rinse them before serving them at a party. They were tasty and we’ll make something similar again—but if only she had measured by weight….

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Blueberry Jam

We get a CSA share/farm box from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, our friendly regional organic mega-distributor. When they offered bulk purchases of blueberries and Kirby pickling cucumbers, I jumped at the chance. Let me tell you about the blueberries.

10lb of blueberries

10lb of blueberries is, it turns out, a lot of blueberries and less blueberries than you would think. About 2lb of them, like most things in our house, got [eaten] out of hand. We made two large batches of jam, froze one or two pounds, and then jarred the rest whole in a light simple syrup (what the NHCFP calls medium, augmented with the bits of jam left in the pan).

The first step is sorting and cleaning. Mushy berries are just fine for jam; moldy berries less so. I wasn’t entirely impressed with the quality—the berries were above average for what you might find in a supermarket, but definitely inferior to farmer’s market berries at their peak. Still, at about $3/lb, it was tough to complain.

Cleaning blueberries

If there is a single most important piece of advice when it comes to canning and preservation, it is: take notes. We used two different recipes, and I copied them down with the salient changes.

We made two batches of blueberry jam, which we referred to by number as BJ #1 and BJ #2. We wanted two different jams because variety is the spice of life—and also to compare powdered and liquid pectin.

BJ #1

BJ #1 followed a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which has an extremely useful if un-glitzy website. We ended up getting 4 pints out of their recipe, using 1.1kg of sugar instead of the full 5.5C they asked for. I probably went heavy on the nutmeg.

Here’s what my notes say:

2-1/2 pints ripe blueberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg or cinnamon
5-1/2 cups sugar (used 1.1kg)
3/4 cup water
1 box (1-3/4 oz) powdered pectin

Canned 5 minutes. Made about 4 pints.

Boiling up BJ #2

BJ #2 followed a random, spicier recipe. It produced 5 pints’ worth.

8 cups fresh blueberries
6 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pouches (3 ounces each) liquid fruit pectin

Made about 5 pints. (?!)

My confusion surely comes from the different amounts: 4 pints of blueberries made 5 pints of BJ #2, but 2.5 pints of blueberries made 4 pints of BJ #1? I truly don’t understand. We should have marked down the weights we used—I’d wager that each batch just used 3lb of the blues. Looking at the final product, the liquid pectin didn’t seem to set as well as the powdered. Since liquid is so much more expensive, powdered definitely seems the way to go.

BJ #2

Both jams are tasty, with BJ #2’s spicing coming through quite nicely. Having these put away feels powerful—these jams will adorn breakfasts, fill layers in cakes and pies, and enhance the larders of friends and neighbors for some time to come.

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Artichokes; butter

Cook artichokes: peel the stem, cut off the top third or so, rub the exposed cuts with a lemon, and steam. Meanwhile, melt butter with thyme, lemon zest, and a dried hot pepper. When you can easily pull a leaf off the bottom, add lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil to the “sauce”. Eat slowly, saving the heart for last.

Artichokes; butter

In other news, the carote in agrodolce were absolutely delicious. The raisins add a really delightful dimension beyond the sweet vinegar. While I enjoyed their flavor, the pine nuts had a mealy texture—perhaps pre-toasting would avoid that.

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Il Cucchiaio Americano: carote in agrodolce

In order to practice my Italian, I bought a copy of Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, a hefty tome with over a thousand pages. I’d hesitate to say it’s definitive for Italian cuisine—they’ve managed to publish other volumes containing regional cuisine—but it’s something very close. I’ve been told it’s considered a little sciccoso: perfect.

Carote in agrodolce

I’ve made a few things out of it. Here’s carote in agrodolce: sweet and sour pickled carrots. Perhaps the most famous agrodolce dish is caponata. Unlike caponata, which cooks for some time and is served immediately, this recipe cooks quickly and then sits for nearly three weeks. I have to be frank: I have no idea how these carrots will come out—it says to wait twenty days. But this quick cooking will, I imagine, leave the carrots delightfully crispy and pickle-like. These recipe is “an optimal contour for mixed boiled meats”, so there’s that, too.

This recipe plays to my tastes, seeing as I’m a complete pickle pig. My New Year’s Resolution, however feeble, was to “pickle more things”. And also to use our champagne saber as often as possible, though that’s a different story. We almost made this as a contorno for dinner the other night, and then realized we’d be awfully hungry by the time it was ready next month. But I made it this morning, and I’m translating the recipe now, while the spirit moves me. If it’s no good, I’ll come back and say so later.

Recipe: Carote in agrodolce

Sweet-and-sour pickled carrots
Translated and adapted from Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, p. 398

Ingredients

  • 300g carrots
  • 300g white sugar
  • 100g raisins
  • 50g Italian pine nuts
  • 1 L white vinegar
  • pinch salt

Instructions

Thoroughly clean a wide-mouth mason jar and lid. Peel and thickly julienne the carrots. Soak the raisins in water.

Bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil. Boil the carrots for three minutes. Drain the carrots but strain and save the liquid.

Squeeze the raisins dry and then mix in the pine nuts. Fill the mason jar with alternating layers of carrots and the raisin mixture. Cover the contents of the jar with the cooking liquid, topping up with more vinegar as necessary. Seal the jar “absolutely hermetically” and let sit twenty days.

Notes

Preparation time:

The recipe doesn’t in fact specify peeling the carrots. Nor does say to strain the liquid, but I didn’t want the foam in the final product.

It is important to use real Italian pine nuts—the much cheaper Chinese pine nuts from a different species can seriously mess with some people’s palates. Just say “no” to pinemouth.

Also, don’t be misled by my super professional photo: I normally keep my jars on the windowsill, but in this case I’m worried about the fat in the pine nuts going rancid. It’s probably best to keep this jar in a cool, dark corner.

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Chocolate Preferences by Gender

Apparently, I’m what a feminist looks like. When considering the chocolate taste test, it didn’t even occur to me to break down tasters by gender—it took my friend Ruthie’s suggestion for me to realize that I hadn’t considered an obvious variable. (Thanks, Ruthie!) The tasting team comprised 6 men (Justin, Andy, John, Bill, Jonah, and I) and 4 women (Sydnor, Lizzie, Adrienne, and Nicole).

Likes by Gender

Likes weren’t particularly gendered except for samples E (Theo Organic), I (Mast Bros. Brooklyn Blend), and O (Pure Icelandic Noi Sirius).  Only men liked sample E (Justin, John, Andy, and Bill) and sample O (Bill and I); only women liked sample I (Sydnor and Lizzie).  You can see the spread in this updated summary chart, which includes lines for the male and female means.

Normalized Summary with Gender

Legend

While there are differences, the mean spread between male and female means is 0.46 points, with a standard deviation of 0.38 points. The “Likes by Gender” graph above shouldn’t be misinterpreted as some chocolates being “for men” and others “for women”—the gender effect seems to be a small one.

Update: Here are the full tasting notes for these samples. Not particularly illuminating, I don’t think.

Sample E Sample I Sample O
brittle cherry overripe fruit way overdone good texture furniture polish gritty strong smell overripe blah dirt sock old moldy fertilizer poop dirt a little bit of rottedness i guess grainy wine high booze blackberry smooth finish gritty waxy sooty stronger fruity smell smooth good texture bland plain aromaless crumbly chalky winey fruity grainy as it melts baking chocolate m&ms crumbly texture layered flavor boozy tart at first mid-density smooth texture boozy fermenting fruit tart rotting fruit boozy acerbic withdrawn will stab you in the night bitter fruit with aluminum not very chocolatey neutral smell texture not good chalky grainy cloying a little little aroma berry light fruit edging on sweet coconut original smell sweet milky light and sweet not complex bubble gum blah couldn’t finish lower cocoa sweeter baby powder sweet coconut oil light saccharine wax coconut and weird fats which overwhelms the cocoa subtle smell fruit light not strong chocolate flavor a little too sweet

One (over)interpretation of this is that women don’t want to eat poop dirt and men don’t want chocolate to stab them in the night—though I would have guessed these things were universal.

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Taste Test #1: Chocolate

We tasted chocolates. We were ten tasters: Justin, Sydnor, Lizzie, Adrienne, Nicole, Andy, John, Bill, Jonah, and me—Michael. I asked each taster to bring a bar of “fair trade” chocolate; most people brought dark chocolate which at least claimed to be fairly traded. We had 16 chocolates: 13 dark, 3 with dairy (samples A, L, and M). All but 2 of the chocolates were plain bars: one had cocoa nibs (sample G), and another wasn’t bar shaped (sample F).
Chocolate tasting notes
The methodology was slightly convoluted and didn’t completely blind the tasting. Lizzie chopped the chocolates, put them on plates with distinguishing markings facing down, and numbered each plate 1 through 16. (Thanks Lizzie!) Sydnor then randomly switched the numerical labels for alphabetical labels, A through P. (Thanks Sydnor!) Lizzie did a remarkably good job of camouflaging bars, but some bars retained their distinctive texture or markings. That said, the group was willing to avoid open speculation about which bar was which. In addition to making tasting notes, tasters assigned each chocolate a rating between 1 (out of my mouth!) and 5 (platonic ideal of chocolate), with tasters freely using decimal ratings, continued fractions, etc. Tasters split into small groups: Nicole, Adrienne, and Andy; Justin, Bill, John, and Sydnor; Jonah, Lizzie, and I.

Sample key
A B C D
Alter Eco Dark Velvet*
Madecasse Rich & Fruity Endangered Species Dark Trader Joe’s Dark
E F G H
Theo Organic Dark Taza Mast Bros. Cocoa Nibs Trader Joe’s Dark Fair Trade
I J K L
Mast Bros. Brooklyn Blend Alter Eco Dark Blackout Equal Exchange Very Dark Endangered Species Milk*
M N O P
Trader Joe’s Milk Fair Trade* 365 Dark Pure Icelandic Noi Sirius Cote d’Or Noir Intense
* Contains milk
Round, not bar shaped
Contains cocoa nibs

The raw ratings are available in CSV; the tasting notes are available in TXT (mildly preprocessed: tasters aggregated, one line per sample).  Statistical amateur hour follows.

Tasters did not rate surjectively: many tasters never gave a 5, while Andy never gave anything a 1. Supposing that a taster “likes” something they rate at 3 or above, here is the breakdown (graphs are clickable). The samples are on the x-axis; the y-axis is the number of “likes”.

Aggregate likes
Sorting chocolates by popularity, we find:

  1. TJ’s Dark (D), Mast Bros. Cocoa Nibs (G) (8 likes)
  2. Alter Eco Dark Velvet (A), Equal Exchange Very Dark (K), 365 Dark (N) (7 likes)
  3. TJ’s Dark Fair Trade (H), TJ’s Milk Fair Trade (M) (6 likes)
  4. Theo Organic Dark (E), Taza (F), Cote d’Or Noir Intense (P) (4 likes)
  5. Madecasse Rich & Fruity (B), Endangered Species Milk (L) (3 likes)
  6. Mast Bros. Brooklyn Blend (I), Pure Icelandic Noi Sirius (O) (2 likes)
  7. Endangered Species Dark (C), Alter Eco Dark Blackout (J) (0 likes)

To my mind, the moral of the story is that supermarket brands are inoffensive: TJ’s and the Whole Foods 365 brand both ranked near the top.  The Mast Bros. bar was the highest rated “boutique” bar. I didn’t like it much but 8 out of 10 tasters did—so what do I know.

Linearly normalizing tasters to their own range of scores, the full results are below.  The taster colors in the legend match the cumulative bar chart of “likes” above. Again, samples are on the x-axis, and the y-axis are the ratings.
Normalized Summary
Legend

Looking at inter-taster effects, k-means with k=3 isolates two pairs of tasters with fairly divergent palates: Sydnor and John’s tastes are plotted in blue, while Bill and mine are in red; everyone else is plotted in green, and the mean over all tasters is in black. The axes are the same as the previous graph.

Clustering

The four of us deviated a fair bit from the mean, yet Bill and I rarely agreed with John and Sydnor. The points where we did agree are telling: the universally despised Endangered Species Dark and the not-much-better Madecasse Rich & Fruity; the classic Trader Joe’s Dark and Dark Fair Trade, the caramelly and accessible Endangered Species Milk.  I don’t think the root cause is differences in perception, since our notes often read similarly: John, Bill, and Sydnor all mentioned coconut in their notes on sample O; we all agreed that Taza was “like putting playground sand in [our] mouth[s]”, but some of us enjoyed the “interstitial delights” while others didn’t.  De gustibus non est disputandum.  Or at least I hope not—Sydnor and Bill are married.

I’m not sure what to make of this heatmap, but a statistician friend of mine recommended making it (thanks for the help Justin!), and it certainly looks cool.  Darker reds indicate higher positive correlation; lighter yellows indicate anticorrelation.  Yes, I know this is the wrong way to do it if the diagonal is white.

Correlation

All of this aside, I suspect that there was a strong “considered taste” effect. Normally, we are happy to say that chocolate is chocolate, and it goes in the mouth.  Considered next to each other, though, each chocolate’s idiosyncrasies and—let’s not be coy—flaws fall into clearer relief.

I didn’t get what I wanted out of this taste test: a clear winner. I found instead that:

  • 16 samples is way too many,
  • chocolate can taste like “poop dirt” (thanks, Nicole!), and
  • disgusting chocolate still makes great devil’s food cake (happy birthday, Kelly!).

In the end, I doubt I’ll return to Chocodome: 16 bars enter, ten tasters leave… unpleasantly full and distressingly caffeinated.  A square or two after dinner will suit me just fine.

Update: I’ve also done some analysis by gender.

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