People have been canning, preserving, and pickling different foods for centuries. And while seemingly simple, anyone that has ever pickled their own recipes know that there are some necessary steps that must be followed to ensure a successful crop. While pickling is part science, it is also much an art, with thousands of different recipes to mix and match from.
We were lucky enough to speak to Paul Virant (Head Chef at Perennial Virant, Vie, and Vistro) to ‘pickle’ his brain and learn a little bit about how he got into preserving and what to do (and not to do) when first getting started.
Paul Virant in his happy place. Paul is head chef at Perennial Virant in Lincoln Park, Vie in La Grange, and Vistro in Hinsdale
UW: Are there differences between ‘Preserving’, ‘Canning’, and ‘Pickling’ and if so, what are they?
PV: Preservation is sort of the umbrella for which many other categories fall under, such as canning, pickling, dehydrating, curing, etc. Pickling and canning are just two different forms of food preservation.
UW: How did you get into pickling/preserving in the first place?
PV: From a young age, growing up in St Louis, growing up in small towns, it was more of a way of life, and just how food preparation was done. It was not thought of as an art as just a part of your everyday lifestyle, especially for my grandparents. Later on in life, as I was working in Manhattan, I got very interested in a lot of the other forms of preservation, especially some of what cultures in Asia were doing. I read something somewhere that close to 40% of a farmers crop somehow or another ends up as waste along the way. So I figured, take a logical way to preserve food and minimize waste, and develop wonderful recipes that incorporate that method.
UW: Do you have any favorite recipes to preserve/pickle?
PV: I have a recipe for a smoked apple butter as well as a corn relish with pickled tomatoes, dill, and dill-seed that are tremendous to name a few.
Smoked Apple Butter
UW: Usually pickling/preserving seems to be done in small batches. Is there are specific reason for this? Can/do you ever do large batches at a time?
PV: We produce some of our core recipes in large batches but it takes special equipment opposed to your simple mason-jars. The trick is knowing how to scale them properly so you end up with the same great results. For our specialty recipes, we are usually doing those on a smaller scale so a bunch of mason jars might do the trick.
Mason Jars are perfect because you can scale your recipe easily jar by jar
UW: On my list of things to do this summer is can/pickle a collection of recipes. What tips might you offer a beginner to help ensure the perfect batch? Any specific ingredients, methods, equipment, or techniques?
PV: Start with some simple standard recipes before you try and get creative. It can be easy to get right but it can also be real easy to mess up an entire batch if you have poor ratios. With pickling, you want that perfect acidity. Once you have mastered the easy recipes and start getting the hang of it, then you can start experimenting a little bit more.
Tomato Sauces and Salsas are great recipes to can for later
UW: Where would you recommend looking for great recipes?
PV: Of course, I always recommend checking out my book, “The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking With Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux”. But a few other great places to look (in addition to the internet) are Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving” and “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer.
UW: Thanks for your time and advice Paul. Are you working on anything new and exciting that we should know about?
PV: Without revealing too much, I can tell you that we are working on a product line which we hope to be launching this coming fall in a few select grocery stores. We are super excited about the opportunity to sell to our customers who will now have the ability to take our great recipes into their home kitchens to enjoy daily.
I don’t know about you but I am looking forward to Fall! In the mean time, I’ll try my own hand at some preserves. If there are any successful batches, you can expect a follow up post!