Friday, September 25, 2009

Reflections On My First Pickling and Preserving Class

Going into my first cooking class as an instructor, I was nervous. The curriculum and some of the recipes were untested. I didn't know exactly how many people would be in the class, where they would be coming from, or how much experience they would have. I also didn't know whether or not I would have any assistants, or even what I would do if I had them!

As it turned out, there were 13 enrolled students; 1 school intern; 1 photographer; and 5 (!) assistants. Everyone in the class was a pleasure to work with, and had great kitchen skills. And the assistants were able and tireless; they increased everyone's enjoyment of the class (mine not least of all!).

We started with a discussion of food preserving. I talked about why it is important for us to be able to preserve food. Then I discussed food safety, and the various factors we can control to prevent food spoilage. This led to a discussion of some of the different methods of food preservation, including freezing, refrigerating, lactofermentation, vinegaring, canning, and drying, with a separate discussion of preserving dairy. Lactofermentation is my favorite preserving method, because it is easy, healthy, safe, and tasty. For more discussion of lactofermentation, check my previous blog post here.

I shared a few thoughts about kitchen organization, including one of my favorite techniques, which is labeling and dating everything that goes into the fridge! My refrigerator houses many mason jars containing homemade things. If I didn't label and date them, I would lose control of my fridge pretty quickly. I date things I buy, too, so that I know when I opened them, and when it might be time to get rid of them.

After that, I did a brief knife technique demo, illustrating the benefits of having a large knife, especially when working with large vegetables like cabbage. I also demonstrated methods for cutting up green peppers, onions, and apples.

After the discussion and demonstration, we moved into the kitchen to work with food. Everyone made some sauerkraut (of course!), then various people made yogurt, kimchi, pickles, other lactofermented vegetables (including parsnips), lactofermented lemons and plums, kombucha, and corned beef; we also made (non-fermented) applesauce and canned it, using the method from the Ball Blue Book. At the end of class, everyone took home their sauerkraut and other lactoferments, to babysit them during the week.

In the second class, a week later, everyone brought back their various krauts, and we admired their diversity and rainbow colors. After a brief strategy session, we divided into teams, and made dishes using all of our preserved foods from the week before. These dishes included yogurt-cucumber salad; lactofermented coleslaw; mayonnaise and Russian dressing; different kinds of canapés and sandwiches involving raw and cooked corned beef, sauerkraut, kimchi, coleslaw, pickles, etc.; kombucha and salty-sweet preserved fruit and drinks; broiled chicken with preserved lemon; choucroute garnie, "the king of sauerkraut dishes"; and a delicious baked ricotta dish with pine nuts, honey, and dried fruit.

I will definitely be teaching the class again. Watch this space for dates and times. And if you have suggestions, requests, comments, or questions regarding the class, please add them in the "comments" section of this blog post, below.


Anonymous said...

Great blog! Love to read another fermentation fan. Have you read "Joy of Pickling" by Linda Ziedrich? It's my favorite book on pickling. Check out my posts on pickling here:

Alex Lewin said...


Thanks! Your blog is great too. Really enjoyed it.

I just ordered _Joy of Pickling_. I'll add it to my "Food Preserving Reading List" once I've read it.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, I really enjoyed the class! Now i am much more confident in my fermenting endeavours. And got some kombucha brewing again!

Unknown said...

I made an attempt at Corned Beef... well, it has been in the brine for a couple weeks now. I opened it last night and it smells a little off. now i am worried I did something wrong. I have turned it a couple of times but there was a little part that was sticking up out of the brine. Any thoughts? Does it always smell funky?

Alex Lewin said...

Hi Wenzday,

I'm sorry that your corned beef got funky. It shouldn't smell funky. It should probably remain completely submerged the whole time, if possible. Weight it down with a plate or something?

There is some element of uncertainty in all of this. Commercial corned beef is made with chemicals that give a more certain outcome, but are probably carcinogenic!