Grandma Juanita’s Turnip Greens and Salt Pork

I’m not fooling: my fall turnip crop is gorgeous.   I mean, knock-on-the-neighbor’s-door-and-brag-on-myself gorgeous.

I went out to the garden the day before yesterday to thin my root crops out a bit.  I wanted to make sure there would be enough room for the remaining roots to get some size on them. It wasn’t until I got the turnips and beets into the kitchen to wash them up a bit that I noticed the luscious armload of turnip greens, each one as long as my forearm, with nearly no pest damage.  Friend, one pound of self-admiration + half a pound of cool autumn weather = one Sho’nuff Sistuh, swamped in a wave of nostalgia that nothing would satisfy but a big old mess of grandma’s turnip greens with salt-pork.

Here’s how you do it.

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Pickled Greens Recipes on a Fertilizer Friday

It’s that time of the week once again, friends, for Fertilizer Friday, the day of the week I fertilize my high-intervention garden plants, and the day of the when I provide a link to click where you can check out the weekly progress of some of the most beautiful, unusual, and unexpected gardens from around the world.  Sho’ Nuff sez “check them out!”

6-7-13 GARDEN PROGRESS REPORT

The only serious garden work I am keeping up with is the &^%^&^%$%% lawn.  Most everything else is in a holding pattern requiring very little in the way of labor intensive attention.  However, the first harvest of  spring greens, strawberries, and peas is ramping up.  My turnip, beet, and radish greens are coming in fast enough now that my family faces the prospect of one more wilted green side-dish with something like polite, smiley-faced lock jaw.  Because my spring planting of cool weather greens is  a small one (I will plant a larger crop for  fall) I don’t typically have enough at any one time to serve as a hot dish (the soul food “mess o’ greens) or enough to  freeze.  I still need to find ways to preserve what I have.  I solve this delightful dilemma by pickling them!

Before you pull a face and wonder “what in the world is she on about?!” keep in mind that human beings have been pickling vegetables since ancient times.  The sauerkraut you put on a summer brat is a pickled cabbage, not so very different from Korean kimchi or Japanese tsukemono (pickles).  The procedure we use to make pickled cucumbers, relishes and chutneys are also not so very different.

Here are the two simplest and most versatile ways I like to pickle spring greens.  One method, the older,  traditional European method, is the one Ma and Pa Ingalls used to preserve their garden harvests.  The other is what I refer to as a Quick ‘n Tasty vinegar-based refrigerator pickle.  They both take very little prep time.  Both have a thousand and one variations and can be “tinkered” with to suit your particular taste buds.

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Pickled turnip and radish greens with baby turnips and radishes.

Pickled Baby Turnips and Greens (Traditional Method)

This a basic recipe.  There is nothing saying that you can’t add other things like pearl onions, garlic cloves, hot peppers & etc.

1) Thoroughly wash and sterilize a 1 quart mason jar.

2) Thoroughly wash enough greens to tightly pack your jar.  You can use turnips, beet, chard, radish, or any other mix of greens that you like.

3) Wash and slice baby turnips to about 1/4 of an inch thick.  I added young radish leaves to my version of this and so I added also sliced radishes to make an attractive presentation.

4) Pack vegetables into your quart jar.  Make a pretty pattern or, if your kids are acting up the way mine were, do like I did and just STUFF the darned things in there.   Reality.  Straight from the hip.

5) While prepping the jar and vegetables, dissolve 50 grams of salt into 4.5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil.

6) Allow the brine solution to cool to room temperature.

7) Once the 5% brine solution is at room temperature, pour over the vegetables you’ve packed into the sterilized quart jar.

IMPORTANT: because your liquid is at room temperature, your leafy greens will not wilt and sink.  Instead, they will float.  It is imperative that they be completely submerged in the brine solution.  You can achieve this by inserting a folded “pad” of  saran wrap into the mouth of the jar and weighing it down with about 1/4 cup of the reserved brine.

8) Place a cap on the jar and very very very loosely secure it with a ring.  Because the pickling process will produce carbon dioxide, the jar lid needs to be very loose to allow gases to escape.  You may see salt crystals accumulating on the jar as the brining process progresses.  If this becomes annoying, simply wipe it away with a damp paper towel.

9) Place the pickling jar in a cool location where temperatures NEVER meet 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 25 degrees Celcius). The ideal brining temperature is between 70 and 78 degrees.  When the temperature meets and exceeds 80 degrees, bacteria will begin to proliferate in the brine and ruin your product.  This is why traditionally, pickling is done in the autumn.  If your temperatures are going to go in the 80s, it is alright to temporarily place your turnips in the refrigerator.  They will brine properly there, but it may take months to get a finished product.

10) Allow vegetables to pickle for 7 days.  The brine in the jar should remain transparent.  Cloudiness indicates bacterial growth.  In this case, discard the product and start afresh.  You can also check the jar for odors by opening it every two days.  The contents will begin to smell “vinegar-like” in the first two days, with strong overtones of turnip.  Any “off” or foul odors (these are very obvious) indicate bacterial growth.  In this case, discard the product and start afresh.  In a 5% brine solution, with temperatures below 80 degrees, the likelihood of a batch “going off” is very low.  You should not be “nervous” about this method of pickling.

11) Your product will be properly pickled after 7 days, although the flavors will grow richer or more complex the longer it takes you to consume your pickles.  You may store finished pickled either in the refrigerator or in a cool storeroom, basement, cellar or pantry.

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Refrigerator Turnip and Beet Green Pickles
Unlike the previous recipe, these greens must cure in the refrigerator, and remain in the refrigerator until consumed.

Refrigerator Turnip and Beet Green Pickles (Quick ‘N Tasty Refrigerator Method)

This a basic recipe.  There is nothing saying that you can’t add other things like fresh lemon peel, sliced ginger, or sliced fennel bulb or seeds.

1) Thoroughly wash and sterilize a 1 quart mason jar.

2) Thoroughly wash enough greens to tightly pack your jar.  You can use turnips, beet, chard, radish, or any other mix of green that you like.

3) Wash and slice baby turnips to about 1/4 of an inch thick.  I added young beet leaves to my version of this which is what gives it the beautiful purple color.

4) Pack vegetables into quart jar.  Make a pretty pattern or, if your kids are acting up the way mine were, do like I did and just STUFF the darned things in there.   Reality.  Straight from the hip.

5) While you are preparing your vegetables, bring 4 cups of water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 pinch of chopped chili pepper (remove seeds) to a boil.

6) Pour boiling water over vegetables, filling the jar.  The vegetables will wilt slightly and sink, so you don’t have to worry about making sure the top is submerged beneath the vinegar/brine solution.

7) Cap and ring the jar, then refrigerate.  You can “taste” these pickles after 30 days, but it will likely take longer for the full flavor to develop.

8) Keep refrigerated at all times.

For more on brining, salting, and smoking see the wonderful book: Charcuterie: the Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.  It will open your eyes to amazing possibilities.  I tell you what, the first time you brine your own bacon you will NEVER buy bacon in the grocery store again!!

Early Spring Greens with Mint Vinaigrette

Ah the beet, queen of spring and fall vegetables!  In my opinion, she has few competitors in gardening value.  She is easy to cultivate, and stores nearly indefinitely.  She also packs a heck of a nutritional wallop; and in terms of sugar content, lusciousness of color, and sheer culinary versatility, she is a vegetable in a league of her own.  Beets can be roasted, steamed, candied, pickled, whipped, pureed, or gnoshed straight from the ground raw.  The young leaves beautify crisp salads and the older ones can be wilted, stuffed, or even used as wrappers for steamed meat dumplings.

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Wilted Turnip Greens — a Soul Food & Japanese Cuisine Fusion

These are this year’s crop of spring turnip greens!  My 13 year old and 6 year old planted them for me.  Turnips are actually an autumn crop.  They need the shock of a good hard frost for the beautiful white/purple roots to develop a proper sugar structure.  They also store in the garden bed nearly all winter, regardless of outdoor temperatures.

Turnips produce some of the the earliest of all garden greens.  I can’t help myself: even though I plant turnips in the fall for the roots,  after a long drab winter, I am dying to eat something fresh and crisp and green.  I always plant at least a small patch to “get me through” the early spring until the later greens — spinach, beets, and chard — are ready for harvest.

Turnip greens have a more fibrous “structure” than spinach leaves (which in any case won’t be ready in the garden for another two weeks or so).  Unlike their  cousins mustard and kale, which are tougher and more bitter, turnips remain tender when harvested early, before the roots have developed.  This “structured tenderness” makes them perfect for a traditional Soul Food dish, “wilted greens.”  The particular recipe, however, is influenced by my years living abroad in Japan.  I’ve replaced Soul Food’s reliance on fat from pork with sesame seed oil, while retaining Soul Food’s cider vinegar finish.  This is a fast, low-calorie, high nutrient dish that tastes good with rice and grilled fish (the Japanese way) or with corn bread and fried fish, the African American way.  Try it both ways, first one and then the other!

You’re gonna need:

“Some” very young, fresh turnip greens.  Maybe 1/4 lbs?  Whatever — be sure to choose  bunches in the grocery store with the smallest leaves, rather than the largest leaves.  These leaves cook down by a LOT.  If you want several servings, you will need to purchase this in volume.

1 peeled garlic clove

1 – 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds

2 – 3 tablespoons sesame seed oil (hot pepper oil is also a nice alternative)

1/3 teaspoon cider vinegar

pinch of salt

Wash these carefully!

Wash these carefully!

Step One:

Wash your turnip leaves very carefully.  You don’t want to eat wilted grass.  Ask me how I know.  Wait.  Don’t. Discard damaged leaves and very long stems.  It is okay to leave the shorter slender stems.  Snip off any roots.

Toast your sesame seeds in a dry skillet.  Shake them in the bottom of the skillet so they don't scorch.

Toast your sesame seeds in a dry skillet. Shake them in the bottom of the skillet so they don’t scorch.

Step Two:

While your turnip leaves are drip-drying, lightly toast the sesame seeds over a medium heat in a cast iron skillet.  You can do this in the oven on a cookie sheet, if you prefer.

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Step Three:

Peel and score a whole garlic clove.  Do not mince.  Rub the inside of the skillet with the garlic clove while the skillet from the sesame seeds is still warm.  Be sure to press firmly to express the garlic oil. Leave the clove in the skillet, and then reheat the whole thing over a medium-high flame or burner.  When the skillet is hot enough to bring oil to stir-fry temperature rapidly, add the sesame oil.  If the sesame oil does not achieve stir-fry temperature immediately, WAIT for the next step until it does.

Step Four

Add the turnip leaves all at once, even if it fills the entire skillet.  If you have more leaves than your skillet can hold, continue to add leaves as the  bottom layer of turnip greens wilt.  This happens very quickly if your skillet is hot enough.  Stir as you add your leaves to prevent the bottom layer from scorching.  Do not put a lid on your skillet to wilt the leaves by “steaming.”  This will make your dish turn out watery.

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Separate out the garlic clove after the majority of the leaves have wilted.

Step Five:

Transfer your wilted greens to their serving dish.  Drizzle  1/3 tsp of cider vinegar over the greens, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.  Add the dash of sea salt at the very end.

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Serve as a side-dish.  I like mine with grilled fish and steamed rice.  Try it!  Enjoy it!

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