On Pickling and Pizza-ing

School starts again next week (after Labor Day), and I’ve mostly been figuring out the classes I’ll be teaching this coming term, along with a few other miscellaneous new term things.  But I thought I’d pause for a moment to discuss what I think will become my food causes for the rest of the year, pickling (well, canning) and pizza making.

Back in early August, I wrote about my first experience/whim in pickling, which in the broadest sense, is taking some kind of vegetable (though I did have pickled grapes once at a function) and “cooking” them in some way in a brine of vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices.  Close to a month later, I’m happy to report this has been a success, one likely to be built upon/repeated with CSA farm share this weekend.

So far, I’ve done just some very simple and stupid easy pickling:  basically, 3 parts vinegar, 1 part water, salt and sugar, all boiled up and poured over whatever in jars, and then processed.  Mind you, that isn’t a recipe, but it isn’t a lot harder than that.  If you have extra veg and/or are just curious, I’d highly Ashley English’s book on Canning and Preserving.

To report based on what we made (and pictured here):

  • The green beans were excellent, and since this is the kind of thing that you can’t readily get pickled (as opposed to, you know, pickles) and since we have a lot of green beans around here, that will probably be the subject of most of the pickling/canning this weekend.
  • Haven’t tried the carrots yet.  Maybe while watching some football this weekend.
  • I was kind of dubious of Annette’s grandmother’s pickled green peppers, but they were quite good.  We’re going to pickle some red peppers from the CSA farm this weekend with the green beans and see the results.
  • As for the cucumbers aka “pickles:”  we were at first worried because there was a sort of white stuff on the tips of the cukes themselves, but I think that was as much a product of not salting them ahead of time, which is what English suggests.  Well worth it if you have a lot of cucumbers, but since we don’t, I guess I’ll wait until next year and plant some more cukes in the garden.
  • The beets were pretty good, though I dunno, a little goes a long way.  Which is true for beets in their roasted/fresh form, IMO.

In general, a thumbs up to pickling.  I have yet to try out any of recipes for relishes and what-not in English’s book, I’ve steered clear of anything that requires a pressure cooker (though  I must admit I kind of want a pressure cooker), and I believe we might have enough tomatoes to justify some kind of sauce/relish/jam.  But when it comes to simple pickling, it’s no big deal and worth the effort.

Now, pizza:

The thing about making pizza at home is that the more times you try it, the more you want to find that “perfect” method for making real pizza.  At least I do.  I’ve made pizza in my standard oven for years with satisfactory results, and I like the taste and novelty of grilled pizza, though that is a method that has its limitations, especially in terms of getting the toppings cooked.  So lately, I’ve been thinking about/threatening my wife with building some kind of pizza oven.

Out at our CSA, they’ve built a pizza/earth oven that is pretty freakin’ cool. I was told by Richard and Deb, the operators/owners of Tantré Farms, that the oven that was there was a project from a recently past intern on the farm, though I know that they’ve been firing this baby up all summer.  So, my initial thoughts were “hey, I could do that,” and I bought a copy of the definitive book on such things by Kiko Denzer.

As much as I would want to go out and build one of these things, I immediately ran into a practical problem (besides my ability– or lack thereof– to build such a thing):  we just don’t have the space.  Ultimately, I wouldn’t mind trying to make some kind of version of a pizza oven on a cart of some sort I could pull out of the garage.  But I’ve got to build up to that stage (not to mention doing a ton of other stuff around the house first), so I started out smaller with fire bricks in the oven.

It was surprisingly difficult to find fire bricks— none at your usual Home Depot/Lowe’s kinds of places around here.  So I drove way the hell out to the other side of town to a masonry supplier for my six bricks.  Interestingly enough, when I explained to the “fellers” that were working there what I was trying to do with said bricks, they were intrigued/surprised/appalled.  In any event, my six bricks cost me $11, which is about a 1/4th of the price of a pizza stone from a place like Bed Bath & Beyond, and these six bricks create a much larger space.

Our oven heats up to 550 degrees, far FAR below ideal pizza cooking temperature, though for better or worse, it took at least an hour to get up to that heat with those bricks in there.  I ended up making two kinds of pizzas:  two with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, and one with apples, prosciutto, and cheese.  The apples/prosciutto one was good, but not “quite right,” and also on a whole wheat crust.  The tomato one was good, though I think a tomato sauce would have been better.  The third try– the fresh tomato/cheese pizza– was probably best.

I would say that the thing I would adjust the next time I try to make this in the oven would be the location of the bricks themselves from the bottom of the oven and I might try to use the broiler.  The wisdom on pizza ovens at home suggest that the problem is you don’t want to have the bottom of the pizza cooking at a temperature that is that far off from the toppings, which is why a big and wood-fired pizza oven is ideal.  So with that in mind, the next time I try this method, I think I’ll move the stones up on the rack a bit, and actually use the broiler once the stones are good ‘n hot.

By the way, six hours later, those bricks are still too hot for me to handle without some kind of fire protection.

Stay tuned for my fall pizza experiments.

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