THE preservation of certain vegetable crops for use in winter (as distinct from root-crop storage methods) entails little trouble, yet can add very appreciably to the family food reserves. Vegetables that can be dealt with as described in this section are not numerous, but they stand high in the nourishment list. The list can be extended by adopting bottling and canning methods, but unfortunately these require special apparatus and considerable care in the operation thereof. Only the simplest methods, which can be carried out by any one without fuss or bother, are explained here.
Onions, Red Cabbage, Beet.
These are the easiest to pickle, and though onions and beet can, of course, be stored in the natural state, a few jars of them in pickled condition are extremely welcome as well as valuable in winter.
Onion bulbs from 1 in. to 2 in. in diameter are just the right size for pickling. They can be picked out from any variety when the crop is lifted, or they may be of the special pickling type, such as Paris Silverskin and Queen.
The onion tops and roots removed, the bulbs next need to be peeled. This is less painfully carried out if the unskinned onions first spend about twelve hours’ in salt water – 1 lb. of salt to the gallon. Skinned after this bath, they need soaking for about thirty hours in a fresh supply of salt water (same proportions).
At the end of that time they are washed in cold water, dried, then placed in jam jars and covered with boiled spiced vinegar which has been allowed to become cold. Air must be excluded by tying over the top of each jar an airtight cover; these can be bought in packets from chemists’ shops and die big stores. The pickled onions should remain in store about three months before being used.
Red pickling cabbage should be washed after the removal of discoloured outer leaves, then shredded with a knife. The shreds are placed in a bowl or basin, in layers, and each layer sprinkled with salt before the next is added. There they remain for twenty-four hours, after which they are drained, then put into jars, covered with cold (spiced and boiled) vinegar, and the jars sealed with airtight covers.
Beet is also easy to deal with. The roots are boiled whole in salt water (not much salt) for about ninety minutes, then taken from the water and allowed to cool. The peel is then removed, by scraping gently with a knife, the roots cut into ½ in. thick slices and these placed in jars which are then filled up with cold (boiled) vinegar. Seal the jars, and the pickled beet is ready for use in the kitchen whenever it is required, 5
Beans Sliced and Dried.
Runner and dwarf French beans can be dried as sliced pods. They should be young and tender, not old tough specimens gathered at the tag-end of the season; old ones should be shelled and the seeds dried, as explained below –
Top and tail the young pods, remove the strings, cut each into three slices (the smallest may remain uncut), and place in boiling water for about two minutes. Take them out, drain them thoroughly, then dry them until they are brittle enough to break easily.
The drying, which may take from four hours to as many days, according to the temperature to which they are exposed, is done in front of an open fire (not above, or they will be smoke-tainted), or in a warm airing cupboard, or in an oven which has just been used for cooking.
If the oven method is adopted the beans should be left in all night, the oven door slightly open. Rushing tactics must not be adopted. In a temperature higher than about 120 degrees the beans may scorch and be ruined. Drying need not be completed without interruption. The beans may go into the oven at intervals, as convenient, until they show by their brittleness that drying operations are complete.
During these proceedings they are most easily handled in shallow wooden boxes without tops and provided with bottoms of muslin or canvas or wire gauze, the beans being turned over at intervals. When the job is finished and the beans have been given time to cool they can be stored in tins or jars provided with lids or covers, or in paper bags, in a dry cupboard.
Previous to cooking they should be soaked in water all night.
An alternative method of preserving runner and dwarf French beans for winter use – for cooking then as fresh beans – is to place the sliced young pods between layers of salt in an earthenware or stoneware jar, or in large jam jars, to be made completely airtight by sealing with one of the special covers.
Economy in salt will result in failure; it should be used in the proportion of 1 lb. to every 3 lb. of beans. Start with a layer of salt in the jar, add a layer of sliced beans, then a layer of salt, more beans, and so on; the layers to be firmed down as filling proceeds, the final (top) layer being of salt.
The filled jar (covered) should be inspected a week later and another layer or two of beans and salt added to make up for the shrinkage which has taken place. It is essential that the final sealing shall leave the container absolutely airtight.
When the salted beans are required for use they should be washed in three or four changes of water, then soaked in warm water for two hours, then cooked in boiling water (no salt required) for about thirty minutes.
Without the use of either salt or heat, shelled beans can be preserved for a very long period. Any kind of bean will do – broad, runner or dwarf French; though certain varieties of the latter, such as Green Gem and Lightning, are most generally suitable for use as haricots. That word simply denotes the dried bean (the seed) as apart from the pod and beans complete.
The pods are left to ripen on the plant, or if the weather happens to be wet or cold the plants are pulled up, bundled, and suspended under cover, where there is a good current of air, until the pods have turned yellow. Pods of broad beans are ready for gathering when the tops of the standing plants have become nearly black.
The beans removed from the pods are spread out on clean paper to dry, and when this is completed they are stored in bags or boxes away from damp, frost or heat.
Preliminary to cooking, pour boiling water over them and allow to soak for twelve hours.
Dried Shelled Peas.
These also keep well, provided the peas – removed from the pods – are very thoroughly dried and then stored in large tins with tightly fitting lids to keep out the damp, or in bags or boxes in a damp-proof cupboard. The pods may remain on the plants until it is convenient to gather them, or the plants be uprooted and taken under cover for a time.
The shelled peas need to be exposed to the fire, or dried-out in a slow oven with the door ajar, until there is no doubt of their dryness. Cooking should be preceded by twelve hour’s’ soaking in water; this should be boiling when poured over them.
Mushrooms. Old or maggoty mushrooms will not keep satisfactorily; in any case only good ones are worth the trouble. Those selected for storing should be dried until quite crisp, after having the peel removed from the top and the stalks cut off. They should not be exposed to air after drying until wanted for cooking.
Herbs Dried for Winter.
There is always demand during winter months for mint, sage, thyme, parsley and other common herbs for flavouring and seasoning. Dried and reduced to small fragments they will keep indefinitely in tightly corked bottles or stoppered jars in a cool dry cupboard – not on a shelf exposed to full light.
Parsley stands up quite well even to the worst winter weather in some soils and districts; even so, a supply should be dried. Not more than a minute in a really hot oven (not so hot that there is risk of scorching) will suffice. It can also be dried by slower methods, but does not retain its colour so well.
Old, woody sprigs of mint, thyme, etc.., should not be gathered for drying. Clean young shoots, picked in summer when their first flowers are appearing, during early morning or evening and when there is neither dew nor rain upon them, are ideal.
Mint, sage and others with large leaves should be stripped from the stalks and dried to a crisp condition in a cool oven. In very hot, sunny weather it is possible to dry them sufficiently by prolonged exposure outdoors – spread out on sheets of clean newspaper and taken under cover in the evening.
Thyme and other small-leaved herbs can be hung up in bundles near a fire until they crackle and flake when touched. The leaves then part very readily from the stalks and can be powdered by rubbing between the palms of the hands or beneath the pressure of a rolling-pin; mint, parsley and sage to be broken up in the same way.