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Pickling vegetables is a great way to use up summer’s extra veggies, and not as hard as you might think.  
Photo: Alina Proenza

Pick a pickle, any pickle

By Tim O’Connor

This is my favourite time of year. Every single week there’s a new vegetable at the farmers’ market and, for chefs, the latest vegetable to cook with is like other people going gaga over the new fashion style.

People in the Glebe are lucky to have the Lansdowne Farmers’ Market just down the street and going there should be a Sunday ritual. Supporting these farmers is important as a ready, local source of healthier, better vegetables. They’re pesticide-free and they simply taste — and look — better. Farmers pull them from the fields and the flavours are so fresher and better than we get from greenhouses year round.

These are not bland grocery store veg that all look the same. There’s a joy in the irregularity of a farmers’ market carrot that’s crooked and maybe even has two ends. It’s a thrill to see all the different shapes and varieties. You can go home with four varieties of kale and find that each has its own best use — for salad, or for chips, or whatever else. They’re just better than the generic kale we get all year round.

My only problem with these beautiful veg is that I buy too many, which is why my home fridge is full of Mason jars of pickled carrots and beans. I’m sharing two pickling recipes with you, one for a “quickle,” and one requiring a little more time and patience.

There’s a misconception that pickling takes too much time and organization, but small batches of quick pickles take but a few minutes and no lessons from your grandma who’s been pickling since forever. For the quick recipe you just heat the liquids and pour over the chopped veg in a clean container with a lid.

Almost any produce in your fridge that needs to be used soon can work — carrots, onions, apples, zucchini. They’ll last a month or two in your fridge and be nice, healthy snacks down the road. You could also use them to make a tapenade (see recipe from my previous column). Or, if your day of labours is done, you might put a spear of your favourite pickled veg in your Bloody Caesar.

Tim O’Connor is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.

Quick Pickles

1 1/2 cups vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp mustard seed
Bay leaf
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp black peppercorn

Toast and slightly crush spices. Combine other ingredients in a pot and bring to boil, then strain over chopped veggies in a Mason jar. Cover and, once cool, put in fridge. Should last up to a month.

Ferment Brine

  1. Cover chopped veggies with water. Prepare and add same spice blend as in Quick Pickles, plus 2 slices of lemon.
  2. Weigh everything and subtract the weight of the container (weigh container before adding veg), then add 3% of the weight in salt.
  3. Stir with a metal spoon, then place in a clean container. Ensure all veggies are fully submerged (use a small bag of water or other clean weight on top if necessary). Cover with an airtight lid.
  4. Leave at room temperature for a week (the liquid will get cloudy) for great crunch and flavour, like a Strubs pickle. Then keep in the fridge for up to two months.

End-of-summer treats
Staghorn sumac lemonade and jelly

By Marisa Romano

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), a plant that grows in colonies along sunny and dry roadsides, forest edges and clearings, can be used to make sumac lemonade and jelly, treats that are only possible at the end of summer.

We usually pay little attention to the Staghorn sumac, but in late summer the large shrubs parade their fruits – elegant garnet red conical clusters of hairy berries (drupes). And certainly we cannot miss it in the fall when its leaves turn radiant hues of orange and red. It is a native of southern Ontario and the Maritime provinces; its common name, Staghorn sumac, comes from its thick hairy branches that resemble the velvety antlers of a male deer.

This is only one of the 35 different Rhus species of sumac found in North America, Europe, the Middle East and South Africa. Like Staghorn sumac, some of these species bear the edible tart red drupes. Their use in the kitchen goes back to ancient Rome where they were added to dishes to boost their acidity.

The red fruits of a Rhus species grown in the Mediterranean area (R. coriana) are used to make a red-brown coarse powder obtained by grinding the sundried drupes. This bold, tangy spice called sumac – meaning red in Arabic – is used in traditional Turkish, Lebanese and Persian dishes to add a zingy lemon flavour to grilled meats and fresh salads. You can taste it on fattoush salad tossed with Raouf Omar’s sumac vinaigrette at Jericho, the Lebanese restaurant located at 840 Bank Street!

Sumac is also the base for Za’atar, a fragrant blend of dry herbs, like thyme and oregano, mixed with toasted sesame seeds. Sprinkle this bold spice mix on plain hummus or fresh goat cheese to give them an extra spark or mix it with good olive oil and brush it on pita bread before toasting it on the barbecue for a savoury crunchy snack.

In North America, leaves and drupes of Staghorn sumac and some similar Canadian species of Rhus have been used by Indigenous populations for centuries as a holistic medicine, dye and food.

Nowadays, ripened clusters of red drupes (or bobs) of Staghorn sumac are used to make a lemony beverage, a traditional Indigenous American thirst-quencher called sumac lemonade, sumac-ade or Indian lemonade. The tangy lemonade-like taste is from acidic substances found on the tiny hairs that cover the berries. The bobs are gathered in late summer after a few dry days, before the rain has leached out the flavour from the red hairs. They are used as is or after a very light rinse under water.

Drupes of sumac soaking in water to make sumac lemonade Photos: Marisa Romano

This is the time of year when the red hairy and sticky drupes of staghorn sumac are ready for harvest, so if you are up for a foraging expedition, go for it, but be cautious and when uncertain, do not eat any wild plant without checking with an expert first!

To make the lemonade, break apart two large bobs, remove the twigs, and cover the small clusters and loose drupes with about four cups of water. Press them with a wooden spoon to release the flavour and let soak overnight in the fridge. Strain through a cheesecloth or a paper filter to remove the tiny hairs. Serve as is or sweeten the tart lemonade with maple syrup or maple sugar, honey or stevia. For a special touch, spice it with cloves or cinnamon. For a grown-up beverage, spike it with a splash of vodka or gin and serve on ice. You can serve the lemonade warmed up as a tea or at room temperature. If you make it as a tea, avoid infusing the drupes in hot water, as the heat extracts tannins that add bitterness. If you like your drink cold, make ice cubes with the strained sumac liquid to keep the drink chilled without diluting its flavour.

Drupes of Staghorn sumac are also used to make sumac jelly.

In a large pot, cover eight bobs with about five cups of water and press with a wooden spoon to release the flavour. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about 5 to10 minutes. Filter the liquid and add sugar and powder pectin as per directions on the pectin package (each brand is a little different; low/no sugar pectin, for example, requires smaller amounts of sweetener and honey can be used instead of sugar). Mix well; bring to a roaring boil for 2 to 4 minutes; test for jellying and when ready, pour into clean sterilized jars.

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods.

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