Friday, May 18, 2012

Canning for 'Farm to Fork' – and from his table to yours

Paperless tickets for Sunday's Farm to Form 2012 Picnic are available online and must be purchased in advance.

Chad McIntyre is a little like the guy who needs to make to doughnuts. Except he needs to make summer squash pickles. And he loves doing it.

Chad McIntyre leads a recent canning class
at The Market Restaurant
“I’ve got to pickle four cases for the weekend,” said McIntrye, chef at The Market Restaurant of Raleigh, which will be represented at Sunday's Farm to Fork 2012 Picnic in Hillsborough. “I want to be sure we have enough.”

The annual event, which celebrates the connection between local farmers and chefs, is a perfect fit for McIntyre. In collaboration with Walters Unlimited farm of Efland, he'll cook hickory-smoked brisket on carrot-turnip bread with pickled summer squash and a cilantro cream. He'll also make a version with vegan sausage in place of the brisket. 

McIntrye's creative use of seasonal fare has built a loyal following at The Market, where diners count on meals crafted from whole, all-natural, unprocessed foods gathered from local sources.

The Market has proved so successful, in fact, that McIntyre will temporarily shut down the cozy eaterie in the Mordecai neighborhood in September to relocate just a few blocks south to a larger space at the long-abandoned Person Street Plaza. In addition to more seating, the new spot also will feature a market in which McIntyre will sell both canned goods and canning supplies.

“Canning has become a signature of what we do here at The Market,” said McIntrye, who recently started selling hip T-shirts with the motto I Eat Local … Because I Can. “People expect it, and we like that they do.”

While he’ll eventually offer jams and jellies, sauces and pickles in the shop, McIntyre is not waiting until fall to get started. He's warming up now by leading workshops on how to can at home.

In recent weeks, McIntrye has taught a series of beginner, intermediate and advanced canning classes at The Market on Monday nights, when it's usually closed. The entry level classes have been most popular.

“I think that will continue to be our focus,” he said, noting that more classes will be scheduled in the fall. “People feel better about canning if they have a guide. Anyone who cans knows how easy and rewarding it can be. But sometimes new canners are afraid they’re going to kill someone if they do something wrong.”

In addition to practical, food safety-based instruction and a smattering of preservation history, McIntyre sends every participant home with a copy of the Ball Blue Book, long recognized as a preserver's bible.

To help build canning confidence, McIntrye focuses on high-acid products that yield reliable results, like the squash pickles. Students leave enthused and with a new respect for old traditions, he said. Some have even followed up to report success with making jam or jelly.

“I know how they feel,” he said. “It’s great to capture the freshness of what’s in season so you can enjoy it any time.”

One of the recipes McIntrye shares is the popular picked onions served at The Market. It’s perfect for beginners but yields a sophisticated taste that anyone would enjoy. McIntyre used them in sandwiches and to garnish salads. One batch will fill about six 8-ounce jars, sometimes with enough for an additional 4-ounce jar.

The Market Restaurant's Pickled Onions
½ tsp. pickling spice
½ tsp. turmeric
1½ cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 pinch salt
½ tsp. whole brown mustard seed
½ tsp. celery seed
6-7 cups onions, sliced about 1/4-inch thick (approximately 3 large onions)
  • Prepare jars, lids and rings according to USDA guidelines. Fill jars with raw sliced onion and set aside. 
  • Combine remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring well to incorporate. Pour hot vinegar mix over onions in jars, leaving a half-inch of head space. 
  • Run a knife through jars to break up any air bubbles. Top with lids and adjust bands until snug but not tight.
  • Place jars in water bath with water at least an inch above jars. Process for 10 minutes then remove to a heatproof surface to cool. Allow to mature at least a week before enjoying.

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