Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Beet Goes On... with Pickles, Eh!

Growing a garden to have fresh, organic food throughout the summer is a great thing. But here in Stratford, with our frigid winter climes, it is pretty-much impossible without a greenhouse or coldframe to eat garden-fresh produce year-round. It is therefore generally believed that due to our geographic circumstances it is impossible and impractical to eat healthy homegrown vegetables in the winter. That myth is shattered by Suzanne Turnbull, the one-woman-canning-machine otherwise known as Pickles, Eh!
I contacted Suzie and told her my situation: I had a wide-row-ful of gigantic beets ready for harvesting, and there is only so much Borchtz my family can eat in a summer. I had just been informed that Suzie is going to be providing a pickling and preserving workshop at the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival's Chef School Education Tent, so I asked her if she could show me how to pickle beets so I could share a personal preview of her teaching about this important skill.
Step one: Wash the beets. Don't peel them, just wash them.
Step two: Boil the beets until they're cooked (depending on size, anywhere between 20 and 45 minutes). Drain and soak in cold water for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. The peels just slip off in your hand!
Step three: Slice the beets and layer them in sterilized mason jars along with layers of garlic and horseradish. Add pickling brine (to make this we used vinegar, sugar, salt, coriander seeds, cloves and peppercorns simmered with the stock from the beets we cooked).

Step four: Place the lids on top and secure the rings snugly but not too tight. Bathe jars in a canning pot with boiling water for about fifteen minutes. Remove, and let sit in a non-drafty spot for two weeks to allow for flavours to fully infuse. 
Besides the Pickled Beets with Horseradish and Garlic Suzie showed me how to prepare, she also taught me how to make Beet Relish with Cabbage (simmering in photo below) and Beets Pickled with Cinnamon and Cloves.
Pickling does take some time, so Suzie and I had ample opportunity to chat about her business. Suzie learned how to preserve fresh food from her mother as a matter of home economics and nutrition, "People had to do this to survive through winter and get their vitamins. We've such a different culture at the moment." I noticed Suzie was simultaneously tending: several large crock pots full of marinading cukes; a rack of vinegars being infused with herbs and flavours; tables full of cooled jars awaiting labelling; a collection of ripening vegetables; and countless other preparations in various stages of preservation. When I commented on her impressive juggling act, she affirmed, "I've always got four or five things on the go at all times."

For many years, Suzie would always give pickles and preserves as gifts. Several years ago, she asked herself, "I've always given away pickles, but could I sell them?" To test her idea, she threw tasting parties where she matched her mustards, relishes and chutneys with local food dishes. The response at these informal focus groups was overwhelmingly positive. Today, Suzie is a popular vendor at the Saturday Stratford Farmers Market and many of her 115 (and counting) products are featured at some of Stratford's most successful restaurants, including Foster's Inn where Pickles, Eh! tarrragon vinegar is their secret to the best Hollandaise sauce in town!
For the Stratford Chef School Education Tent at the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival (September 25 and 26, so get your tickets now!), Suzie will be demonstrating how to make and preserve Cranberry and Apple Chutney just in time for Thanksgiving! I highly recommend attending this free workshop: after learning how to pickle beets from Suzie, I've totally caught the canning and pickling bug! Looks like I'll be enjoying my garden's produce year-round from now on!

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