Bleak Snowscapes And Christmas Debt Loads Make January A Month We Need Cheap Healthy Hobbies. 

January is a time for cozy, for bundling hard against the whipping winds outside the window, snuggling your cat and being grateful you made it through Christmas in one piece. The city has come to a bit of a standstill, you most likely are not super flush with cash after the holiday bonanza, but as long as you have enough money for the heat bill and enough friends to stock a dinner party or neighbourhood bingo game, you’ll get through.

Food and games are key, really. The home versions of each are economical, comforting and, of course, that cozy word again. This is an amazing time to take up a new culinary hobby, to learn a new food skill.

While summer’s gentle breezes make just about anything possible, we have to try harder right now, but when we find a fit it can be magical. For me, that fit has been to really soak up the time I have to mess around in the kitchen.

Next Levels Salads and Snacks

Home pickling is simple and adds a whole new dimension to snacks and meals.

“Anyone who enjoys cooking at home should take their cooking into the pickling and preserving world”, chef Mark McCrowe says.

“The main reason being so many people end up throwing so much food in the bin. Showing your expensive produce some love by prolonging its life doesn’t only feel rewarding, it’s a fun hobby that you can bring the family into, and it transforms simple ingredients into new magical things.

“Some great ways to ramp up your pickling and preserving repertoire, and gut your fridge at the same time, are turning old veg into kimchi, sauerkraut, or a basic pickle recipes that can be used on almost any veg, and will take your meat and cheese boards, salads, and snacks to new levels. Once you do a little research and familiarize yourself with a basic pickling ratio, the world is your oyster.”

A Normal Part of the Food Lifecycle

City councillor Hope Jamieson agrees, though pickling for her is more directly linked to the family harvest.

”I grew up in a family that had a big kitchen garden and we were always out in the woods foraging with our grandmother when she’d come visit. I remember she and my mom taking a day or two in the fall to put up beets, rhubarb, cucumbers and all kinds of jam.

“It was just a normal part of the food lifecycle of our family. Growing and canning food to me is a really important part of being intimately involved with creating a sense of home and connection to family and culture. Also now that I’m an adult, I can experiment with new flavours and I love condiments, so that’s also cool.”

Improve Taste & Healthiness of Your Meals

Fermentation expert Paula Mendonca had a simple goal; improve the  tastiness and healthiness in her family’s food.

“What got me interested was I was able to transform simple vegetables/fruits into something with a totally different taste and texture. Plus the added health benefits of probiotics. The fact that my kids absolutely love sauerkraut and kimchi motivates me to always have a batch on hand.”

The Art of the Pickle …

Some people make pickles, and some peoples’ pickles make them kings. Jonathan Richler of Jewish Deli is a pickle king, most def.

“To be honest, my interest began with making a half sour dill to accompany my smoked meat sandwich.” On an island that loves a bread and butter or sweet mustard pickle, Richler felt half, rather than full sour was the ticket.

“It was easier for me to make trials using a vinegar base as opposed to lacto fermentation, so it required a firm recipe, lots of shelf space, jars and a roll of painter’s tape. The science was fun and the result was a firm grasp on what we call ‘the pickle spectrum.'”

If anyone can explain the art of the pickle to me, it’s Richler. He’s playing coy with that, however, but offers up some solid advice in its place.

“I don’t really have any fermentation quotes or philosophical influences, but the idea and romance of a pickle is to preserve someone else’s harvest. Get as local as you can for better quality vegetables, and don’t be afraid of a little calcium chloride to keep your sticks crisp. Get some pH strips from Big Eric’s to make sure your levels are food-safe.

“And once you get your basic brine down pat, try different spices for flavour enhancement. Time changes taste and that’s the best part of it all. Keep a journal and remember to scream SCIENCE!! Every time you open up a jar of your soured efforts.”

Here’s to science , food, and cozy. A trifecta to take you through these winter months and deliver you to the other side, healthier and more skilled. Start with quick pickles, move on to heat sealed and, finally , lacto ferment with wild abandon. Or not. Just keep making quick pickles if that’s what makes you happy. There’s no wrong or right style, just your own taste and interest.