Canning: You can do it!

Canning and fermenting will help get you...
Canning: You can do it!
Can it up: Find Otehlia's recipe for these pickled beets and fennel fronds at the end of this article.

Area farmers’ markets have always been a great place to pick up homemade jam as well as fresh flowers, produce and meats. But over the past few years, more farmers have begun adding pickled, canned and preserved foods to their offerings at market and through CSAs. Canning or “putting up” food not only adds value to what the farmers grow, but the farmers also find it personally satisfying.

Scott Williams of Garden to Be sells a wide assortment of pickles at the Dane County Farmers’ Market during the winter months. The pickles are made by chefs at Promega’s kitchen facility from vegetables Williams grows on his farm. “I have always loved pickled vegetables and enjoyed them at some of my favorite restaurants,” he says. “It just made sense to make my own.”

Bekah Wilce of Farment ferments the vegetables she grows. “I love the products I make, and that people enjoy them,” she says. “I also like working with people’s tastes.”

For John Binkley of Equinox Community Farm, putting up food is nothing new. He is just continuing to do what farmers and his family have done for years and loves offering quality food to people during the winter months.

Garden to Be
Williams started Garden to Be in 2000 growing crops mainly for restaurants but also florists, farmers’ markets and grocers, and started growing microgreens in the winter of 2002-2003. Williams had been selling microgreens at the winter market and started offering pickled vegetables about three years ago.

“I like the winter market,” Williams says. “It’s more intimate, and people actually come to shop. I wanted to increase what I had to offer.”

He works with more than forty area restaurants, including Lombardino’s, Marigold Kitchen and L’Etoile. Williams also works with the Spring Rose Growers Cooperative, helping the farmers in the coop to centralize their distribution process. Twice a week he coordinates pickup and distribution to restaurants.

Preserving his produce has added an intensity of work during the growing season, but he maximizes efficiency by growing larger quantities of the same plant.

Where to find: Pickles sold at Dane County Farmers’ Market Winter Market

Wilce started Farment out of necessity as well as desire. She moved to Madison from New York in 2009, where she had been a farm intern since 2007. She wanted to continue farming, but couldn’t find affordable farmland to purchase.

“It’s hard to get started here,” she says. “There are a lot of vegetable farms, it’s hard to find markets and farming is very competitive. Vegetable prices are low, and many people grow their own food.”

Meanwhile, during her farm internship, Wilce had started fermenting. “I lived off the grid with limited power and fuel,” she says. “That makes freezing and canning difficult.”

So Wilce fermented the surplus produce in addition to making some ciders and mead. As she honed her craft, she began growing food with the intent to ferment.

“I grow cabbage, cukes, beets, carrots, sweet hot peppers and chrones, a tuber in the mint family.” Wilce explains that Odessa Piper first brought back the tuber from France in a sock, which in turn was cultivated by the folks at Harmony Valley Farms. Wilke plans to add turnips and radishes to her fermented offerings soon.

Unlike canning, fermentation does not involve boiling water or pressure to seal the product. In fact, Wilce says, “Sealing is not desirable, as the process produces carbon dioxide that needs to escape.”

Working out of the FEED Kitchens, Wilce takes the vegetables and puts them in ceramic crocks, submerging them in a brine. The top of the crock is covered with a cotton cloth to allow for the release of carbon dioxide gas while keeping out dust.

Wilce experiments with adding herbs and spices for flavor. The vegetables are kept out of light at a constant temperature of sixty-eight to seventy degrees. Wilke then checks the pH of each crock daily to measure the acidity and ensure a safe environment for the beneficial bacteria to grow and stabilize, which takes from a week to months to properly ferment. Fermented foods are safe, a concern that many people have. The process produces lactic acid, which outcompetes pathogenic bacteria. Scientific support is slow to arrive, but “fermentation is very safe, and there is a system to ensure that,” Wilce explains.

Where to find: Area markets including Tuesday Eastside, Saturday Westside, Sunday Monroe Street and via Wilce’s Weekly Pickle CSA share

Equinox Community Farm
Binkley grew up in Waunakee, where he helped in his family’s large garden; canning was just part of life. “Canning is nothing new, especially in rural communities,” says Binkley.

He founded Equinox Community Farm in 2009 and started canning small batches of vegetables for sale in 2013 under the “pickle bill.” That legislation allows for the sale of home-canned goods up to $5,000. Canning small batches for a couple of years allowed Equinox to decide if they wanted to expand the operation without dealing with the extensive regulatory hurdles that come into the picture with producing and selling processed foods on a larger scale. They decided to grow and expanded into more production.

They began working out of the FEED kitchens, getting their recipes approved by the FDA. This year they plan to ramp up production, from 1,000 jars to 2,500 jars. Though most of their business is still selling fresh produce, they did add a canned goods CSA option this year, which they will continue next year. “We don’t grow particularly to can; our CSA is big enough that we just take fresh products off the top,” explains Binkley. He currently cans thirty-eight different recipes including salsas; fruit, tomato and pepper jams; many types of pickles including turnips, cauliflower, red onion; and beet and corn relish.

Where to find: Northside Farmers’ Market and via the seasonal or end-of-season canned goods CSA

Recipe: Pickled Beets and Fennel Fronds

Canning: You can do it!What is it about beets that puts them on many folks’ “most unwanted” list?

It can’t be their gorgeous color, or their delicious earthy greens. Eaten raw, their sweet crunch pairs perfectly with so many ingredients–creamy goat cheese, roasted nuts, smoked fish. Boiled or roasted, their smooth texture melds delightfully with other vegetables such as winter squash, fennel and sweet onions as well as seared steak. Pickled, their sweet tang complements a bitter escarole, salty feta, boiled eggs, crisp carrots and roasted hazelnuts.

Making pickled beets was a tradition in our house. I grew up eating them (and I turned out just fine, I might add). My mother made them the way she had learned growing up in Pennsylvania, a delicious sweet-tangy brine made with equal parts sugar and vinegar, hints of bay leaf, cinnamon and clove. We always had a jar in the fridge, hardboiled eggs comingling with the beets. Purple eggs are fun!

This season, I decided to branch out and put my own spin on the family recipe. Apple cider vinegar adds a fruity element to the tang, while star anise complements pieces of raw fennel and fennel fronds. Hints of mustard seed, black peppercorns and clove round out the flavors. Brown sugar balances the earthy beets. Sometimes you don’t want to mess with tradition, but in this case, it turned out just fine.

1 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
4 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt

1 star anise
1 large piece cinnamon
2-3 whole cloves
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp whole black peppercorns

5-10 medium to large beets, cleaned, boiled until tender and skin removed, diced into 1-inch pieces (about 20 minutes in rapidly boiling water)
1 fennel bulb, sliced, and 1 fennel frond, cut

Place dry spices in bottom of quart mason jar. Place boiled, diced beets and chopped fennel bulb in glass jar. Heat the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a saucepan until it comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour vinegar solution over beets and fennel, making sure the vegetables are submerged. Top with fronds and cover tightly. Place in fridge, or process in boiling water bath. Let sit at least 24 hours before enjoying!

Makes about 1 quart.