Making Bread and Butter Pickles

Before beginning to make pickled eggs, I had never cared much for pickles of just about any sort all my life, although over time I have come to realize that I wasn’t as averse to pickled items as much as I thought, demonstrated by having begun making pickled eggs and continuing to love them for many years now.

My mom, on the other hand, has enjoyed several kinds of pickles as long as I remember. While I was growing up, every summer into the fall, she would be part of a group of ladies at our church who would be making various jams, jellies, and pickled vegetables to sell later each autumn at the church’s fund-raising bazaar. This in fact was an indirect inspiration for me, a couple of decades later, to make my pickled eggs to contribute to the same church bazaar table. To this day, every year my mom makes an English-style chutney containing rhubarb (which she grows in her garden), raisins, and onions, using the recipe the church group assigned to her to make in the early 1980’s.

Over the years, one of the things that I have been keeping my eyes out for at roadside farmers’ stands on my way up to the cottage are artisanal jars of pickles from the local farmers to keep my mom supplied with pickles, usually of the bread and butter pickles, and pickled beets, varieties. For several years, one stand in particular sold bread and butter pickles that my mom really liked; however, the stand has since closed. I won’t be trying to find out whether the lady who made them distributes them elsewhere; conversations over the years indicated that she found that making at least her bread and butter pickles was becoming too much trouble for the price she was able to charge.

A growing nagging feeling that I should at least experiment making bread and butter pickles for my mom has been developing over the past couple of years.

This year, after having found a different road side stand distributing various pickled vegetables from a local cabane à sucre (maple sugar shack) (here’s my archive), I bought some jars of the bread and butter pickles for my mom. She tried them, and found them to be representative of the style but not as good as those from the closed farmer’s stand, and further, that the jars appeared not as fully packed as the other jars.

This proved to be one of two imps pushing me over the edge to experiment, the other imp being having found a three litre basket of pickling cucumbers at my local grocery store shortly thereafter, which I decided to purchase.

I almost looked for a recipe for bread and butter pickles on the internet, but just in time, I discovered on the back of a packet of the pickling spices I use for my pickled eggs a recipe for bread and butter pickles (here’s the recipe I developed, based on the recipe on the back of the bag.) I was mildly amused to see it there, having never noticed it before in all the years that I had been using this brand of pickling spices for my pickled eggs.

Already having a supply of onions, sugar, and vinegar, I proceeded to wash then slice the cucumbers in my food processor using the slicing tool. The recipe was based on cups of sliced cucumbers, so given the number of cups of sliced cucumbers I actually produced from what I’d purchased in the three litre basket (14 cups, as compared to the base recipe’s 20 cups), I adjusted the amounts of each of the rest of the ingredients accordingly.

I deviated from the original recipe in the following ways:

– The original recipe called for thinly slicing the onions, while I coarsely chopped the onions;

– In addition to the pickling spice blend in the bag, the original recipe called for mustard seeds, turmeric, and celery seeds, which I did not have, and which I simply omitted;

– The original recipe called for packing sterilized jars with the cucumber slices, onions, and pickling solution immediately once bringing the mix to a rolling boil, and then boiling the sealed mason jars in a water bath for 10 minutes, while I instead boiled the cucumbers and pickling solution for ten minutes, then packed them in sterilized mason jars, and finally proceeded directly to cooling the jars, over concerns that, not having used the water bath method before, I would suffer jar breakage.

Tasting a leftover pickle that didn’t get bottled, I could tell that it tasted roughly like what I knew bread and butter pickles should taste like.

The whole process, including cleaning up, took about two and a half hours, and produced five jars of about 450mL each. I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy it was.

My mom was thrilled to learn that I’d conducted my experiment, and anxiously awaited my next visit so that she could try the results.

In the meantime, I had a nagging guilt about not following the instructions and not treating the filled jars in a water bath. The following week, when I happened to be back at the grocery store, I happened upon another display with more pickling cucumbers, and yet another imp convinced me to buy a three-litre basket of cucumbers.

This time, I decided to follow the recipe a bit more closely, given that I already had what I considered to be an otherwise successful batch of pickles in sealed jars already in storage: While I decided to continue omitting the turmeric, mustard seeds, and celery seeds, I sliced the onions thinly and into coins; I brought the cucumber slices, sliced onions, and pickling solution to a boil; then I immediately packed the sterilized mason jars with the mix; and then boiled the sealed jars in a water bath for ten minutes. I did not have any jar breakage. The second basket I’d purchased seemed to have more cucumbers than the first basket (16 cups of sliced cucumbers), and I produced seven 500mL mason jars, as well as one 250mL mason jar.

In the meantime, my mom had made some pickles using some instructions she’d received from a friend, involving the use of pickling solution saved from a number of previously consumed jars of pickles, and some English cucumbers she’d purchased.

The following week, I visited my mom, bearing a jar from each batch, and we set up a taste-test. Fortunately, I am not outright averse to bread and butter pickles; they just aren’t something for which I’ve acquired a taste – yet. 🙂

We had four jars of pickles to compare, which we rated as follows by preference (1 – liked the most, 4 – liked the least):

1: My batch #2 – perfect, and crunchy (refrigerated)

2: My batch #1 – almost as good as “my batch #2”, but not crunchy, at least not enough, and otherwise very good (not refrigerated)

3: Current roadside stand pickles – okay, but not as good (refrigerated)

4: My mom’s recycled pickling solution experiment with English cucumber (refrigerated) – fourth place, and okay but decidedly unremarkable.

We came up with a suspicion afterwards: Since “my batch #1” wasn’t refrigerated while the others were, we wondered if that could have made a difference in the crunchiness.

I received a phone call a couple of days later about “my batch #1”: After refrigeration, they were declared a complete success, since they developed a certain crunch in the fridge.

So my experiments seem to have been successful, at least until and unless I find some spoilage in the jars of “my batch #1” after a few months, if they last that long, and of course which I am not expecting to occur anyway.

And, who knows? Maybe I’ll develop a taste for my bread and butter pickles!

Learning to Make Chocolate Buttercrunch / English Toffee

My latest foray into the cooking world has been chocolate buttercrunch, or what some people call English Toffee (apparently, mistakenly) (here’s my archive).

For several years, I have had an on and off exposure to what within the family we have been calling “crunch” after my brother started patronizing a local candy shop not far from his home. The favourite treat he bought from the store was chocolate buttercrunch. My mother and I loved it, and of course my brother did as well..

Said “crunch” was difficult to resist; it got to the point that my brother would simply place orders with his “candy lady” to purchase the “crunch” in bulk, amounting no doubt to several pounds at a time. The boxes in which he received the “crunch” were generic cardboard packing boxes about the size of a couple of large textbooks. Curiously, sometimes his orders took a week or two to fill, “because it will be a week or two before I make it again.”

Over time, I quietly shared my suspicion with my brother that his “candy lady” may have simply been ordering the candy from a well known Canadian brand of high end chocolates, since at a mall location of said brand of chocolates, they were selling the same kind of candy in squares which visually appeared to be identical to those from my brother’s “candy lady”, and they certainly seemed to taste the same. I also recall seeing a clerk replenishing the supply in the display case from a generic cardboard box, which seemed to be very similar to the boxes that my brother had been getting from his “candy lady”. No matter, both were entirely scrumptious.

But alas, several years ago, my brother’s “candy lady” closed her shop and moved away, and I rarely patronize the mall locations of the well known Canadian brand of high end chocolates in order to maintain a supply of the candy.

In June, 2020, I began making the “crunch” at home, rather successfully, for the most part – although it is now, albeit but a few weeks later, beyond my recollection as to why I specifically chose to attempt to make it. To my surprise, it is remarkably easy, albeit still requiring plenty of patience, and at least some basic skill – even when it largely goes according to plan.

I first found a recipe (here’s my archive) and which is the basis for my recipe, although I have modified some of the key steps, such as:

a) although I use butter as the principal fat source as called for in the recipe, I use margarine to grease the heavy pot, simply because I have a lot of margarine on hand given that a number of other baking recipes in my collection of recipes call for margarine (or can use either margarine or butter interchangeably, and we’re generally a margarine family. 🙂 )

b) I use maple syrup instead of corn syrup, since I live in a maple-syrup producing area, and it is commonly available; and,

c) I do not add nuts (a common ingredient in most “crunch” recipes), on the advice of my brother who (after relating a family story offering context) suggested that I “make what *I* like”, since I have not been fond of nuts, certainly in whole form, since I was a very young child.

(see later on for other modifications I brought to the recipe.)

I then purchased a food thermometer, a food scale (incidentally addressing a “problem” I have been “dealing with” for a few years now every time I try a recipe typically from Europe, typically from Jamie Oliver), some milk chocolate bars, and some butter; I already had a good supply of granulated sugar at home.

The first time I made the candy, I was surprised at how long it took for the buttercrunch part to rise to the 300F point, reminding me of a school chemistry experiment in which (as I recall) alcohol and water solutions would boil first at the lower boiling temperature of the alcohol, before rising to the boiling point of water.

The buttercrunch during the early stages of the cooking

Once brought to the correct temperature, I poured the (at this point liquid) buttercrunch in my baking pan, which temporarily warped due to temperature differences. This led to parts of the buttercrunch which were thicker than others, to the point of some parts being “too thick”.

Chocolate was melted in two parts, a portion for each side, with cooling in between each attempt. However, I had difficulty in setting the second layer of chocolate, which easily became detached from the buttercrunch once cooled, and especially when I broke the large flats into pieces.

A separate problem with the chocolate was that I found that the milk chocolate bars I was using were on the one hand ideal for melting and pouring evenly (once melted) over the buttercrunch, yet on the other hand seemed to melt a bit too easily for my liking in the final product.

The melted chocolate, a combination of chocolate chips (traditionally used for making cookies and the like), and milk chocolate buttons

My brother and my mother both tried the “crunch” I’d made, and immediately took a great liking to it. My brother, whom I believe was being mildly gracious beyond otherwise liking what I’d made, asked about how hard it must have been to make the candy as good as the commercial offerings to which we were accustomed.

The time it took to cook the buttercrunch part had taught me to answer that it was principally a matter of patience while cooking the buttecrunch part as it took its time to rise to the correct temperature of 300F, and that beyond that, the success appeared to be largely due to a simple and successful recipe that I had consulted.

My next attempt experimented with separate parts of the recipe:

a) spreading the amount of “crunch” called for in the recipe over two baking pans instead of one, in order to make it less thick; and,

The buttercrunch poured and spread over two surfaces, using parchment paper

b) only attempting to coat one side of the candy with chocolate, instead of both;

The buttercrunch covered with the melted chocolate

c) using semi-sweet chocolate chips as the chocolate source, principally because its price was more consistently at the lowest price point of bulk chocolate at my local grocery store.

The first two items were largely a matter of technique, while the choice of chocolate to use was initially a matter of cost. This incidentally addressed my concerns with the melting point of the chocolate, since its melting point also appeared to be a little higher than a number of the milk chocolate bars I was buying, as evidenced by the semi-sweet chocolate chips appearing to take longer to melt in my hands while handling.

Reviews from my brother and my mother indicated that using the semi-sweet chocolate chips was as good as the first batch, but that there was a slight preference for the milk chocolate coating, and that I had largely succeeded at making the candy less thick.

Given the success of the experiment with semi-sweet chocolate chips and the feedback I’d received, I decided to make a 50/50 blend of the semi-sweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate (be they buttons, chocolate bars, or otherwise), hoping to bridge the slight preference for milk chocolate with the apparent slightly higher resistance to melting in one’s hand of the semi-sweet chocolate chips.

This incidentally also lead to an opportunity during my upcoming summer holidays at the cottage to use up various collections of milk chocolate buttons which had been accumulating over a couple of years at the cottage – which is unheated over the winter when I am not there, hence presumably slowing any effect of time on its quality.

Bowl of chocolate chips and milk chocolate buttons, ready to melt (see picture above of melted chocolate)

During my summer holidays at the cottage, I made three batches of the recipe, with uneven results.

The first batch turned out acceptably, however, I noticed that the butter began to separate from the buttercrunch near the end of the cooking phase when I had reached 300F, and, that it seemed to take longer to reach the temperature than at home in the city. I also found that it was harder to manage the cooking of the buttercrunch part, due to the heat from the stove rising against my hand holding the thermometer and the pot, making it very hot and dangerous. The stove at the cottage uses traditional electrical coil elements instead of the radiant heat elements to which I’m accustomed at home in the city; the heavy pot I was using at the cottage was a large heavy aluminum pot with a different handle configuration as compared to the somewhat smaller stainless steel pot I used in the city.

Nonetheless, the results of the first batch were sufficiently satisfactory that I was confident to give samples to a couple of neighbours.

The second batch proved more difficult, and underlined two problems I encountered during the first cottage batch, viz. that it seemed to take longer for the buttercrunch to rise to the desired temperature, and the butter seeming to separate. I assumed that this was possibly because the pot at the cottage had a larger surface area, affecting the heating of the buttercrunch part, due to greater heat losses to the ambient air being somewhat higher than in the pot I used at home. I also remembered at this point that I knew that the main burner on that stove heated unevenly.

During this same second batch, the chocolate mixture melted with a bit of difficulty due to the microwave oven being a model of half the capacity power wise to the unit I use at home in the city, affecting how it melted the chocolate and at what rate. A hot spot formed in the mix that burned, but which ultimately mixed in well to the rest of the chocolate without apparent ill effect.

The result from this second batch was what I consider a failure, since the buttercrunch part did not turn crunchy, but rather retained a firm fudge like consistency. As a candy, it was fine and very tasty; however, as buttercrunch, it was a failure.

A few days later, I decided to repeat my experiment, using a smaller pot, hoping that the relatively smaller surface area of the pot would address the heating issue. Unfortunately, the firm fudge-like consistency was repeated, and I again failed to get the crunchy part I was hoping for. I also had some difficulty in with uneven melting of the chocolate, which only affected the spreading of the chocolate, leaving a particularly bumpy surface in the finished product.

My last experiment at the cottage was to have involved the use of a portable countertop induction stove with the pot I use in the city (having asked that these objects be brought to the cottage by my mother who came to the cottage at the end of my holidays.) Unfortunately, the pot was not of the variety of stainless steel that works with induction stoves, stopping the experiment in its tracks.

I did not attempt to make any more “cruch”at the cottage, having a fair amount of the “failed” results on hand, and being confident that I could not, at least in the short term, resolve the issues at hand.

Back at home in the city after my holidays, I decided to make the “crunch” again with the equipment with which I’m familiar at home, albeit with a bit of trepidation, given my failures at the cottage.

It was, both unsurprisingly and as well as surprisingly, a complete success: The buttercrunch reached proper temperature, butter did not seem to be separating from the buttercrunch part, and I got the desired end product. My mother immediately asked for some samples, and gobbled up the results with great pleasure.

In the process, it seems that my suspicion that the difficulty with the batches made at the cottage laying with the uneven heating of the stove’s main element had been confirmed.

I have also begun to wonder, given that I have had such relative great success from the beginning – barring the difficulties at the cottage – that my brother’s “candy lady” may indeed have learned how to make her own chocolate buttercrunch, and she may indeed have learned to cut consistently-sized squares, which appeared to be similar to those of the well known Canadian brand of high end chocolates. Presumably, packing boxes are readily available similar sizes, and coincidentally, each purchased similar sizes. And, presumably, when she said that she was planning to make the “crunch” only after a certain delay, she was indeed doing so because she had other production priorities at hand when my brother was placing orders of relatively large quantities of her product.

Either way, I seem to have learned how to largely replicate the taste and texture, and dare I say the essence, of the “crunch”, to the pleasure of the family’s various sweet teeth.

A serving of the end product

Update 20200831: I used my portable countertop induction stove and a cast iron pot I own to make the buttercrunch part, and a double boiler to melt the chocolate. No surprise, it worked. So now all I have to do is try making the crunch at the cottage.

Update 20200911: I again brought the countertop induction stove, as well as the cast iron pot, to the cottage in order to replicate the experiment. I also used the double boiler method to melt the chocolate. My brother proclaimed the results as my “best batch yet”. When my brother and I left, our mom greedily kept most of the batch after giving my brother one of four bags of the candy, rationalizing that she was to be at the cottage for a few more weeks, while my brother might benefit from a hypothetical “next batch” that I might make. I kept quiet over my disappointment that to me, the “crunch” part seemed to be somewhere between the desired, crunchy result and the somewhat soft, granular fudge that I had made during my summer vacation. This leads to a new conclusion that had previously been going through my mind, that ambient humidity affects candy making, too. (Here’s my archive) Obviously, home in the city is a bit more climate controlled with central air conditioning, while at the cottage, the humidity is whatever it is, including when it’s stiflingly hot and/or humid.

Adventures in cooking between the Metric and Imperial measurement systems

I recently tried a recipe I watched Jamie Oliver make on “Jamie’s Quick and Easy Food”. It presented a minor challenge, because all the measures were in metric units, a different system than that to which I am accustomed to using while cooking.

The recipe I tried is “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits” (a type of oatmeal-raisin square) found at https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/oat-recipes/buddy-s-flapjack-biscuits/ (here’s my archive) (here’s my recipe based on Jamie’s recipe).

Incidentally, I have since also made a somewhat similar recipe called “Blondies”, which I found at https://joyofbaking.com/barsandsquares/Blondies.html (here’s my archive) (here’s my recipe). Although it is still in either American or Imperial units, it also provides conversions in metric units (see below).

I live in Canada, which has been officially metric since a phase-in period spanning from 1970 to 1985.

However, in Canada, we also deal with at least two traditional systems of measurements, in addition to the metric system:

  • Imperial Measurements (English Units) originating from the British Isles, because of historical ties from colonial times; and,
  • The United States Customary Units, which are derived from the British Imperial Measurements, and which are really important in Canada because the United States is Canada’s largest trading partner.

This means that in Canada, we regularly albeit informally deal with what could be described as a complex hybrid of (at least) three measurement systems. Although the Imperial System (English Units) has been slowly fading for decades, it has also kept a strong hold on things, such as through old measuring cups and other implements used in home kitchens, often inherited from parents and grandparents. The US Customary Units also have a very strong influence on Canada, especially since the units usually have identical names as their counterparts in Imperial units, as well as very similar though distinct measures.

In my personal experience, listing all ingredients in all home recipes in metric is uncommon in Canada, despite metrication back in the 1970s. In my personal experience, we still list ingredients in quarts, cups, ounces (both liquid and weight), teaspoons, tablespoons, and the like. This of course is complicated by some things like “new” pots being in litres, as well as things like jars, both of the mason and commercial product varieties, which are in millilitres and litres (while my pickled eggs recipe is based on Imperial units, for instance.) In any case, when food weights come into play, I usually I know how to estimate them, such as “about a pound of chicken or ground beef” (follow the weight on the package to help estimating), or a given number of pounds of potatoes, coming out of a bag that is known to contain 10 pounds of potatoes.

As mentioned above, many measuring cups and other kitchen implements are still in Imperial or American measurements, although some newer measuring cups (of which I do not possess save the one mentioned below) and other kitchen implements are also marked in Metric units, in addition to either Imperial or American units.

So, back to baking the squares: This is the second time I have followed one of Jamie’s recipes. The first time, several years ago, I guesstimated conversions. I was fortunate a few weeks later to find a glass measuring cup with multiple scales printed on its sides, each for different ingredients, such as flour, sugar, starch, rice, and the like, and showing graduations in grams for the given ingredient. In retrospect, I perhaps should have been searching for a kitchen scale instead. In any event, I largely forgot about the measuring cup after having used it once or twice.

When I was preparing to make Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits, I had a minor problem. Since I had forgotten about the measuring cup with scales in grams, and I don’t have a kitchen scale, I couldn’t simply weigh out the ingredients. I had to convert the measures of Jamie’s list of five ingredients, composed of 100g of each ingredient. No doubt making each exactly 100g was an intentional novelty added to the original recipe, as well as, of course, being an easy way to remember how much of each ingredient to use.

In the process, I was reminded of a confusing reality of which I’ve been aware all my life: I navigate the above-mentioned three measurement systems, often without thought, almost on a daily basis. To wit, I found a website that converted 100g of flour to close to 2/3 cup in Imperial units, and close to 3/4 cup in American units. I didn’t immediately know which to choose.

I did remember at this point that I had the glass measuring cup with the various scales. I determined that 100g of flour was equal to about 2/3 cup in one of the kitchen measuring cups I have. I guessed that at least with said measuring cup, I would also need to measure to 2/3 cup each for oats and raisins. I was able to determine that golden syrup, through a recipe found on the internet, is almost completely composed of sugar, and in fact has very little water in it. Again using the glass measuring cup with multiple scales, I measured out 100g of plain sugar, and found that it is about 1/4 cup in my regular measuring cup; I chose to use brown sugar in the recipe I developed, and added one and a half tablespoons of water in order to simulate the effect of the liquid nature of golden syrup. An online conversion revealed that 100g of margarine was also about 1/2 cup.

But I am now finding it dissonant that I can’t be certain what the real capacities of each of my multiple measuring cups are, nor for which system (Imperial or American) each were designed. I would only ultimately know by securing a kitchen scale (for dry goods), or securing a graduated cylinder (for liquids), to systematically measure each and every measuring cup I have. Perversely, graduated cylinders to which I would have access are graduated in millilitres, a metric measurement.

And what about the squares? “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits” are nice enough, although I think that there are too many oats. On the other hand, my mom likes them a lot. The “Blondies“, as their name may well suggest, are scrumptiously like a chocolate chip cookie version of brownies. Hence both have earned a place in my collection of recipes.

Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits
Blondies

Home Made Pizza Using Biscuit Dough

I started making pizza at home in about November, 2019. I figured it was time to learn how to make pizza, being somewhat of a pizza fiend.

I started off with the base biscuit recipe slightly modified from my friend’s cheese biscuit recipe, excluding the sugar and cheese, which I also use for “Barbecups” and “Chickencups“. I eventually, for this recipe, also slightly increased the milk content.

Here are some photos from the process, starting from moulding the pizza dough in two #8 (10-1/2 inch) cast iron skillets.

Pizza dough — my recipe makes two pizzas’ worth (see above)
Pizza sauce — about 3-1/2 oz to 4oz per pizza
About 15 x 2inch slices of pepperoni per pizza
Finely chopped onion and finely chopped cooked bacon, half of an onion and one slice bacon per pizza
About 100g of grated pizza mozzarella cheese per pizza
Bake the two pizzas in your oven set to 450F, on the top rack
Baked pizza, after about 24 minutes of baking at 450F

The pizza recipe went through a few minor iterations, mostly to adjust for note-taking, experience with pan size, and the usual corrections for typos, completeness, full instructions, etc.

As a side note, when I first made the pizza, I had also recently acquired two cast iron pans to add to my collection, received from a friend who was breaking up her house; they needed to be run through my oven’s self-cleaning cycle in order to make them usable again (yes, they were rather full of baked on crud and rust spots.) The smaller of the two proved too small for the amount of dough in this recipe, but it has been used for other things. 🙂 I now have two #8 pans at home, and two more #8 pans at the cottage, for making pizza.

Updates: Learning to make bran muffins

I recently took up making bran muffins for my mom and occasionally for myself, and have been trying out two recipes: One from the internet from allrecipes.com, and my mom’s recipe, which I transcribed and reworked to my current recipe format.

Initially, Mom decided that she preferred the allrecipes.com recipe over hers.

However, she asked me to slightly modify her recipe, by making it less sweet and increasing, we decided commensurately, the bran to replace the reduced sugar as well as increase the “branniness” of the muffins.

The resulting “new” recipe is available alongside my mom’s original recipe and the allrecipes.com recipe in my archive of personal recipes.

And … she says that she now prefers the “M” recipe (ie. “M” for molasses, or I think “M” for modified).

(While you’re checking out my collection of recipes, check out my recipe for three ingredient drop biscuits, basically the greek-yoghurt-and-complete-cake-flour recipe for “easy biscuits that you can make quickly any day of the week that is guaranteed to please” that has been going around the internet and various media outlets in North America over the past couple of years, with grated cheese added to it.)

Learning to make bran muffins

Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned two more recipes — or three, given that one is represented by two recipes of the same thing — to add to my repertoire of cooking skills.

My mom loves bran muffins, and has a bit of a penchant for crisped rice and marshmallow treats. I’ve known these things for years, but over the past few weeks an imp pushed me over the edge to learn how to make them for her.

I like both, but previously never really had a personal grand desire to learn how to make either, even despite my love of a family friend’s ambrosia-worthy banana bran muffins, which I used to occasionally ask her to make for me in my younger years.

The first thing I did was look on the internet for recipes on how to make both, a trivial task. Here are the recipes I found for bran muffins (here’s my archive) and for crisped rice treats (here’s my archive, and here’s my recipe based on it). (Interestingly, the Canadian website for Rice Krispies lists a slightly higher ratio of marshmallows than the recipe on the US website, and also calls for vanilla extract!)

The crispy rice treats were almost as trivially easy to make as it was to find a recipe for them. I bought the ingredients, and within a couple of days made two batches, being able to serve one batch to a willing and hungry group. I found that indeed the melting marshmallows can burn easily in the pan if you’re not paying attention.

Mom got her supply a few days later, and happily began munching on them.

For the bran muffins, I looked around the kitchen, and to my great pleasure, I happened to have all the ingredients called for in the recipe I’d found on the internet (here’s my archive).

I proceeded to make the muffins, and was surprised at how easy it was to make picture perfect muffins. Despite considering myself a competent home cook, I expected it to be a bit more of a challenge. Instead, the recipe was easy to follow; given the attribution, while I am sure that it was “somebody’s recipe”, it came across as having no doubt been fastidiously reviewed, tested, tweaked, and re-written by the website’s editorial staff.

They turned out great, and of course I tasted them in advance. The real test was when I presented them to my mom. She liked them a lot, and ended up eating all of the bran muffins using the internet recipe, two at a time.

She did, however, ask me to make some bran muffins with molasses, and told me where to find her old recipes.

The old molasses I had had begun to solidify with age, but could be liquefied in a microwave oven; however, it re-solidified and created hard little balls once mixed with the cooler oil and sugar. An electric beater could not break them up; I baked the muffins, and they had globs of molasses at their bottoms.

The other night, I again made bran muffins, this time one batch of each recipe. In the picture below, my mom’s recipe is on the left, and the internet recipe is on the right. Yes, by the time I’d taken the picture, I had already eaten one from the batch on the left. It was yummy!

When I used the same container of molasses, I reheated it in a microwave oven several times, including after mixing it with the oil and sugar, but before adding the eggs. It worked, and I managed to keep the molasses sufficiently liquid when I mixed in the eggs, and then the rest of the ingredients.

Mom’s recipe is on the left; the internet recipe is on the right

After the above photo was taken, I did a taste test of the internet bran muffins (here’s my archive). Comparing the two, each is distinct from the other — molasses comes through very clearly in my mom’s recipe — but beyond that, they are also very similar.

The two recipes are in fact very close: One has molasses, the other doesn’t, one has two eggs instead of one, but a bit less oil. This resulted in samples from each recipe tasting very much like bran muffins and somewhat similarly, although the molasses in my mom’s recipe added a new flavour profile, while the extra egg added a certain firmer cake like texture. The rest of the ingredients and proportions between the two recipes are virtually identical.

Now I’m waiting to bring the two batches to my mom to have another side by side taste test. 🙂

20191030 Update: I brought the two kinds to my mom, and she confirmed what she’d whispered weeks before: The Internet Recipe wins the challenge!

Cooking soup with single burner portable stoves for a crowd

As I recall, I began cooking big batches of soup (eight quarts and more) for my church’s after-service social time / coffee hour in early 2013.

On a lark, I had decided one winter Saturday afternoon that it would be a good idea to make soup the following morning during the church service and serve it during the after-service social time / coffee hour. I sought out a recipe on the internet for “big batch vegetable soup”, which sent me to a recipe on the Martha Stewart website for four quarts. The recipe suggested that it was very flexible, so I chose the ingredients I liked, ignored those I didn’t, and doubled the numbers to make eight quarts, the size of a large stainless steel pot I had. The next morning, I bought the requisite ingredients on my way to church, and upon arrival, I just started making the soup in the church kitchen during the service. During coffee hour, it was a modest hit; all of the soup was served, with none left over.

Since then, my soup recipe, having evolved somewhat from Martha Stewart’s, has become a small yet (I hope an) integral part of what has become a larger occasionally recurring food event.

This is in no small part due to a comment I received from a fellow parishioner that Sunday morning in early 2013. By the time she managed to come to my service table, the soup had cooled too much for her liking; this prompted me to invest in an inexpensive portable counter top single burner electric stove. At the least, the theory went, I could cook the soup in the church kitchen, and then upon bringing it out to the hall for serving, I could keep it hot. Since then, however, I have shifted to cooking the soup in the hall where it has been served, avoiding in the process the danger of walking through a hall with a large pot of boiling soup at a time when it starts filling with people.

I have since invested in the following:

  • a double burner counter top portable stove;
  • two more inexpensive single burner electric counter top stoves;
  • a somewhat more expensive, single burner induction counter top stove;
  • two 50 foot, 12 gauge extension cords, one of which normally does not get used;
  • and, already having had an eight quart stainless steel stock pot, I bought:
    • an eight quart stainless steel pot I found at a steal of a price at a second hand shop;
    • a slightly used 16 quart stainless steel stock pot at a steal of a price at a second hand shop;
    • a new 20 quart stainless steel pot for a steal of a price at a grocery store.

In a number of ways, portable counter top stoves are central, however indirectly, to the success of the soup I make, despite the relatively large volumes of soup I now occasionally make.

Over time, I have learned how to make large quantities of crowd-pleasing soup while also discovering some of the limits of counter top stoves, as well the upper limits of the environment in which I am using them.

My single burner, traditional coil stoves are rated at 1000 watts each (8.33A @ 120V). My double burner coil stove is rated for a total of 1500 watts (12.5A @ 120V). My single burner induction stove is rated at 1800 watts (15A @ 120V).

In my experience, it is possible to make the following capacities of my vegetable soup (your results may vary according to your soup recipe):

  • 1000 watt single burners:

I find that these units may be used for making eight quarts of soup in a two hour period, and 16 quarts if you have at least three hours to make it. (As a second burner, it also allows for the frying up of vegetables that are later added to the soup pot, although depending on your site conditions, you may not be able to operate both burners simultaneously at maximum capacity.)

  • 1500 watt, double burners:

I am able to make two eight quart pots of soup in a two hour to two and a half hour period.

  • 1800 watt, single burner induction stove:

Particularly ideal for making eight quarts of soup in less than two hours, and it will handily make 16 quarts of soup in a couple of hours. It will also bring 20 quarts of soup to a boil in just over two hours.

Planning, preparation, and logistics of “mobile cooking” for a crowd

This post is not on how to cook a full, multi-course meal or buffet for a large crowd; rather, it is about just a relatively small part of it. As described later and despite describing the portable stoves as being central to the cooking of the soup which is one of the two subjects of this post, attempting to cook a full, multi-course meal or buffet for a large crowd with consumer grade portable cookware, and in environments not set up for such cookery, is impractical at best; to do so would require planning and menu design far beyond the perview of this post.

Setting up and preparation:

Often when traveling to cook for a crowd, one is doing so in an environment that is unfamiliar, and depending on the circumstances (such as the type of hall in which I make soup for a crowd), is not set up for doing so.

From a cooking perspective, this means that I normally do more than simply collect the soup ingredients and throw them into a pot, hoping that tasty soup will come out a couple of hours later. Often, this means now that while cooking the soup takes place in the church hall, I prepare the ingredients in advance at home, typically the day before. Fresh vegetables are cleaned, chopped, and placed in containers for transport. Usually, they are mixed together, and even the olive oil is added and mixed in. Frozen vegetables are taken out of the freezer the day before in order to defrost them at least somewhat, so as to reduce the amount of time required to defrost them during cooking. I also transport all the fresh food in a cooler.

Equipment-wise, I bring most of what I need for the cooking part. (Fortunately, my church has tables, tablecloths, chairs, dishes, a commercial dishwasher, and the like.) Of course I bring the portable stoves and my pots, however I also bring my own cast iron fry pans and cooking utensils, such as spatula, ladle, and can opener. I even bring my own towels for cleaning up my area, which of course I launder myself.

Real life challenges to using portable stoves in areas not designed for cooking

I once agreed to making the soup for my church for the Fall Fair Luncheon, at which the soup would be the main dish. This was in contrast to my normally serving it informally in a mug as I usually do during Sunday coffee hour — sometimes on its own, sometimes as part of a modest luncheon — after the church service. This meant that I attempted to make a total of 44 quarts of my soup simultaneously in the same church hall. I came upon a reality of what I can only presume is a common condition of many halls not expressly designed (or recently upgraded) for high electrical demands, such as cooking for the very crowds they were designed to welcome. “That’s why there’s a kitchen, silly!”

I ended up learning definitively that the hall in which I was cooking the soup had only one electrical circuit, with what I was told (and which I later confirmed) was a 20 amp fuse. A quick addition in my head indicated that at its peak when I was trying to bring all 44 quarts of soup to a boil simultaneously, I was trying to consume between 29.6 to 31.7 amps on what proved to be a single 120V / 20A circuit!

(Note: I live in Canada, where the mains voltage is 120 volts, and unless specifically designed otherwise, circuits and circuit breakers — and in the still common situations where fuses are still used — are generally designed and set for 15 amp loads. I can only assume that the 20 amp fuse in place upon which I normally rely is there legitimately.)

It also led to what I consider to be an unfortunate conclusion, in the context of my desire to publicly (as opposed to hidden away in the kitchen) make my soup for a large crowd: The electrical outlets in many halls, designed and built decades ago, are often served by a single electrical circuit. Hall and home builders simply never envisioned nor intended for cooking, which often requires a large amount of electricity, to occur outside of a kitchen; at most, they may have assumed that someone might plug in the equivalent of a plate warmer, possibly two, to keep a casserole or two warm.

This led to my realizing that making my soup for the church had its limits. With some patience, I could still make my soup in relatively “small” quantities — usually up to 16 quarts at a time, and perhaps if I reduced the heat a bit at certain times, perhaps fry up the vegetables at the same time. However, the fuses blowing a few times confirmed that large quantities of soup — and more generally, large scale cooking — could not be cooked simultaneously in an area not set up for the loads required for cooking. This means that despite the fact that a “large hall” may have many outlets, unless the hall was designed or since upgraded for heavy electrical loads, there is a good chance that the many outlets are in fact all on a single electrical circuit.

Although I purchased all of my portable stoves for cooking in non-traditional areas, as I’ve learned, their value for cooking in certain circumstances is limited to actual cooking of relatively small amounts of food — as in, depending on which stoves are chosen for use, that which may be cooked on one or two portable stoves at a time — and only keeping warm to hot larger quantities of food that have already been heated up, only then using more of my portable stoves at once.

Which leads me to the following conclusion: Portable cookware are very useful tools for the traveling cook, but one must not have have illusions of “feeding the multitude” based solely on these tools.

Captain Obvious Update Comment: Putting aside (possibly sardonic) suggestions of “use the kitchen, silly”, it has occurred to me that some may say “well use a portable gas stove to avoid the problem with electrical limits”. To me, the obvious issue becomes one of ventilation being required to avoid the buildup of combustion gases, particularly carbon monoxide. Some may well bring a fan to prop in a nearby open window in order to assure extraction; this would require such a window can be conveniently located. Yes, I have an opinion on that subject, too, to the order of old windows that were never designed to be opened, or which have been long since painted shut. 🙂

This past weekend, I made more pickled eggs. A lot of them.

This past weekend, I made over 19 dozen pickled eggs, produced over three consecutive “double batches” of my recipe, all in one day; this was a single-day record for me. According to my recipe for pickled eggs, a batch is about two and a half to three dozen eggs, depending on the size of mason jars used (the volumes and number of eggs in each jar play around with the pickling solution per egg required.)

In July 2018, I described my then-recent experiences over several sessions making large numbers of eggs in anticipation of a flea market at which I then sold my pickled eggs.

For this weekend’s production, I had started a week prior with an impulse purchase of seven dozen eggs to take advantage of a sale; the roughly six dozen for a double batch of pickled eggs, and roughly a dozen leftover for general use in the kitchen. A couple of days later, I bought another seven dozen eggs. Finally, on pickling day this weekend, I bought yet another six dozen eggs. I had begun with a vague notion of making some pickled eggs for a good customer (eight jars of 14!), and “some more” for my personal reserve, of which I actually already had a reasonable supply. Once I had bought the third round of eggs, I had it in my mind to also make jars of six for an upcoming church fall fair to which I give pickled eggs to sell, as well as to have jars of six on hand for gifts, and to bring to parties. The expression “unbridled enthusiasm” comes to mind. 🙂

On the point of being a bit too enthusiastic, I decided that while I am pleased with the overall production, given the personal reserve I already had had on hand, the production of the equivalent of one of the double batches — the last round of six dozen eggs purchased — should have been foregone. I am likely to be asked again relatively soon to make more pickled eggs for my good customer, during which I would be able to make more pickled eggs for my personal reserve; in any case, I would at least keep the torn eggs from such a production for my personal reserve.

Time commitment reduced!

My experience last spring preparing for the flea market made me think about the time commitment involved in boiling the eggs, and since then, I have experimented with increasing the number of eggs I boil at once from 18 to 36. I was successful, a key point having lay in having actively mixing the boiled eggs in the ice water at the end to ensure proper quick cooling of the increased number of boiled eggs. This time reduction made a huge difference this weekend! (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Peeling method

I have also figured out my peeling method, which (usually) helps reduce tearing, while of course helping to peel the shells: Peel eggs by tapping the bulbous end on a hard surface. and continuing while rotating the egg, then up-ending the egg and continuing to tap. (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Torn eggs

Earlier this year, I had came to the conclusion that for large batches of eggs, a tear rate of roughly one egg per dozen is acceptable, since I just put the torn eggs aside in a separate bowl, then bottle them together, which I keep for my own personal reserve.

This weekend, I had a good experience with my tear rate: There were only 11 eggs over the 19 dozen eggs with tears — in fact, only about six had tears, while a further five were merely deformed from shells which cracked during boiling.

Final count

The final count from this weekend is as follows:

– 8 jars of 14 eggs each for my regular customer
– 8 jars of 6 eggs each for the church fair, gifts, and use at parties
– 1 jar of 22 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars of 13 eggs each for my personal reserve
– 1 jar of 9 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars 6 torn eggs each for my personal reserve

And finally, here is a photo of what 22 jars of varying sizes with 229 eggs looks like:

This is what 22 jars, totalling 229 pickled eggs. looks like

Making Pickled Eggs

I started making pickled eggs in late summer 2007, as I recall, as “a thing to do” to contribute to a church bazaar’s preserves table.  I had never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs before; it was just an “out of the blue” conviction that had come to mind.  The first appearance of my eggs at the church bazaar was in the fall of 2008; I had believed that for the fall 2007 bazaar, I’d begun too late to pick up some confidence in making them in order to present my offerings at that year’s bazaar.

In the process, I learned how to make the pickled eggs, got some practice under my belt, and got a bit of an overview of the process.

Interestingly, the pickling solution I found on the internet, which I continue to use to this day, was key to what I now consider a long standing success.  Shortly after having begun my adventures in pickling eggs, I bought a jar of pickled eggs at the store.  I found said eggs to be slimy, and the pickling solution sour and too mouth puckering.  I ended up giving away the open jar to a family friend who liked them that way better than the recipe I use.  Had I bought the pickled eggs at the store first, I doubt I would have ever embarked upon making pickled eggs myself.

I began by buying small eggs, and stuffing as many as I could per mason jar; I soon began buying large eggs, and would pack the mason jars somewhat less tightly.  See below in the “Jars and Lids” section for further suggestions on how many eggs to pack per jar size.

Of course, I keep my eyes out for sales on eggs.  In the Montreal, Quebec (Canada) area in 2017-2018, a price of $5.50 for three (3) dozen eggs was a good sale price.  I will also buy eggs on sale at $1.99 per dozen.  (Prices in Canadian dollars.)

I eat my pickled eggs almost daily.  I continue to make the eggs for my church’s fall fair, although they typically only end up selling less than half a dozen jars each year.  And, I now make large numbers of pickled eggs for a small flea market in which I participate each year.  (See further down.)

Making pickled eggs, tips, and experiences:

I have seen various instructions on how to boil eggs, how long to boil them, and how to cool them properly in order to shell them easily and perfectly.  I have a view on that:  boiling and shelling eggs very largely isn’t about tricks and shortcuts, or such-and-such a special method.  It’s simply about boiling them the right amount of time, rapidly cooling them with ice, and a lot of work removing the shells.  Yes, some eggs shell more easily than others, and vice versa.  I have decided to give up on most theories on why eggs, particularly sometimes whole boxes of eggs, tear easily when shelling them.  One must simply immediately and abruptly cool them after boiling, using ice water, and be careful while shelling eggs; fortunately, I seem to have learned over the years how to shell eggs while largely avoiding torn eggs, barring the occasional batch of eggs that tear far more than usual.

What do I do?

  • I boil 18 cold eggs at a time.  This number generally works well for me.  You might find another number works well for you.
  • Fill the pot with cool to cold water to roughly an inch (2.5 cm) above the eggs.
  • Bring the pot to a boil.
  • Boil for eight (8) minutes.
  • Immediately drain the boiling water, and begin running cool to cold water over the eggs.
  • Immediately add ice cubes to the pot (keep the water), covering the eggs completely, and begin shelling a few minutes later when much of the ice has melted and the eggs have largely cooled.

Despite my instructions above, I have some recent and long term observations regarding this process:

  • When making large batches of pickled eggs, it takes time.  I find that there is little way around this, beyond having a helper or outright equal partner, if only because I find that boiling larger numbers of eggs at once makes for more variable cooling of the eggs (quick cooling being needed for easier or at least less difficult shelling), and that beginning the next round of boiling 18 eggs while still shelling already-boiled eggs is perilous, from the perspective of a less than optimal personal ability to manage multiple things at once in the kitchen.
  • The ice should be in cubes, not larger pieces of ice.  I am blaming a recent experience of a relatively high rate of torn eggs in a batch on the fact that the ice I was using was made in plastic food containers, making ice blocks far larger than typical ice cubes, and the notion that that probably affected the cooling rate of the eggs.
  • In my personal experience, a torn egg rate of about one egg per dozen is normal, to be expected, and not to be fretted over.  As far as I’m concerned and for pickling purposes, a torn egg is anywhere from a bit more than a dimple until just before it’s completely in several pieces.  (Use the eggs which completely break up for snacking while you work, or making egg salad sandwiches later.)  Torn eggs will pickle just as well, and are put aside, to be bottled together in my personal consumption jars of pickled eggs, and not to be given away.  This is of course purely aesthetic; but at a certain point, were a customer to buying from me, they would (rightly so) ask for a discount on a jar of torn pickled eggs.

Jars and lids:

I pack my jars as per follows:  6 eggs per 500mL mason jar, 9 eggs per 650mL jar (from a favoured brand of spaghetti sauce whose jars look like, and appear to act like mason jars, though according to some sources do not meet mason jar standards), 14 eggs per 1 litre mason jar, 22 eggs per 1.5 litre jar (a commercial jar that is not mason), and 30 eggs per 2 litre jar (“large” commercial pickle jars — yes, I imagine that most people might consider “large” jars more likely to be the 4 litre jars of pickles like you mostly see at restaurants and delicatessens).

The largest sized jar I like to pack are 1.5 litre glass jars.  They hold 22 eggs, and this size is now my reference for the largest jar size with which I want to work.  2 litre jars hold 30 eggs and are a bit too big, unless, of course, I am trying to make a clownishly big jar of eggs, which in the past I have wanted to do, and which in the past I have done.  I have no intention of ever packing 4 litre jars.

I give away and occasionally sell my eggs (see below), which means that over time, I have to acquire new mason jars of varying sizes.  While I obviously reuse my mason jars after I empty them, occasionally come across mason jars in recycling bins, and receive empty mason jars from friends and family for free, I still eventually need to replenish my supply of mason jars.

While I live in the big city where buying new jars by the case is a trivial matter,  I normally go to a nearby used-goods store, part of the Goodwill Network.  I buy mason jars one to several at a time, depending on what’s available, my needs, and whim.  Putting aside any illusions I do indeed have of “reusing and environment”, and fewer illusions of “helping people” (ie. not that the store isn’t helping people, just that doing so isn’t particularly one of my motivations when it comes to purchasing the mason jars or anything else there), I enjoy the convenience of getting them there, not getting a dozen at a time, and not having to pay any sales taxes (which is part of the local provincial and federal governments’ support of social and employment re-insertion programmes).  I normally only buy the Bernardin and Golden Harvest branded mason jars of 500mL and 1 litre sizes, while not the older mason jars in Imperial measurements (Canada has been metric since the mid-1970’s), and/or those which often are somewhat to very square — eggs, after all, are round! 🙂  I don’t buy other non-mason formats of jars, nor the 650mL mason jars that come from a commercial spaghetti sauce which is sold in jars which look like, and appear to act like mason jars, though according to some sources do not meet mason jar standards, since I get enough of them from my other cooking projects.

I look for pricing on the individual jars at 50 cents per 500mL mason jar, and 75 cents per 1 litre mason jar, and look for mason jars which (normally) have the old lids and rings on them.  (A bit more on reusing lids below.)

I normally buy new lids at a local dollar store chain at 12 for $2, plus taxes, bringing the price per lid to under 19 cents per lid, or about 69 cents per 500mL mason jar, or 94 cents per 1 litre mason jar.

Occasionally, I purchase boxes of 12 lid and ring combinations, but the last time I did so, if I remember correctly, the price would have been to the order of $5.39 plus taxes.  This would make the lid-and-ring combination cost just under 52 cents each, for a total of $1.02 per 500mL jar, or $1.27 per 1 litre jar.

The clincher:  WalMart sells cases of 12, 1 litre Golden Harvest mason jars, (obviously) with new lids and rings, for $9.49 plus taxes, or just over 91 cents per mason jar.  Only compared to the more expensive Bernardin mason jars are the reused 1 litre mason jars I buy more competitive.

So, the purchased reused 1 litre mason jars with a new lid, when I sell them (see below) — hence not counting them as a cost when I use them for my own use, and then use them again when empty — are only competitive cost-wise with new mason jars when I am able to use used rings.

Since I use the 650mL mason jars from the commercial spaghetti sauce I use, their cost is hidden in the price I pay for the spaghetti sauce.  Of course, I only buy them on sale. 🙂  Hence, the direct cost per se per such jar is for the lid only, ie. about 19 cents (lid only) or 52 cents (lid and ring).

Lids:

Normally, when I make my eggs, one of the many “either / or” categories that go through my mind is personal consumption vs. the rest, which are potentially destined to be eaten by anyone, be it by sale, gift, or plate of hors d’oeuvres being passed around.  I reuse lids for the personal consumption group, but all others receive new lids, mainly on ethical grounds based on the lids normally having been designed for single use.  I have generally had excellent results reusing lids, and the only problems I have had with seals were related to some floating spices happening to get caught in the rubber seal, preventing the seal from working correctly at that location.

As for rings, I try to reuse rings as often as possible (and therefore, when buying jars at the used-goods store, trying to get as many as possible with the rings and lids).  Normally, I throw away rings with any non-trivial amount of discoloration or oxidation, while reserving those with slight discoloration for my personal consumption, and finally spotless rings for the jars being sold or given away.

A recent experience using a used lid on a commercial jar:

During one of my recent batches of pickled eggs, I had intended to fill my 1,5 litre jar (capacity of 22 eggs) to be a showcase jar during an upcoming flea market at which I was going to sell my eggs, with the expectation that I would have no clue as to whether or not it would sell.  During a previous flea market, I had prepared a 2 litre jar containing 30 eggs to act as a showcase jar; it drew the attention of only one person. who ended up not buying it on the advice of his wife.  (She figured it would be far too large and would likely end up mostly not consumed; her husband purchased a far smaller jar.)

However, this year’s showcase jar was not to be; the cooking session during which I was to make the jar unfortunately included a higher-than-normal rate of torn eggs, coincidentally 22 eggs above the expected rate of one egg per dozen.  Hence, the jar was filled with the 22 most torn eggs, and kept for personal consumption.

I had used a “new to me” lid on the 22 egg jar:  The lid came from a commercial jar of mild salsa, the salsa jar’s neck having the same size as the neck of the 1.5 litre jar.  It sealed great.

When I opened the jar and ate an egg, I noticed that the flavouring was somewhat different from usual.  Good, but a bit different.

The next morning, I noticed the flavouring again, and realized that many of the eggs in the jar would likely taste that way.  I began to identify the new flavour, and I realized why it was there.

The reused lid had absorbed and retained some of the spicing from the salsa jar, which then was released in the vinegar in the egg jar.  Of course the lid had been properly washed in a dishwasher prior to use, and put in the boiling water immediately before bottling the eggs.

Fortunately, after a few eggs, the salsa spice taste was no longer present.  (I am not a fan of salsa nor salsa spice, but the taste transfer was very mild.)

So beware of reusing lids!

The obligatory wash-and-boil-your-jars-and-lids comment section:

When bottling your now-boiled and shelled eggs, and adding your now-boiling pickling solution, it is imperative that the following things be respected:

  • All used jars need to be visually inspected for cracks, chips and other defects; the presence of any of these are cause not to use them for canning of any kind;
  • All used jars need to be properly washed in advance (lids and rings, too);
  • At bottling time, your jars and lids need to be in a boiling water bath.  I have found that for pickled eggs, the time it takes to put several in the boiling water bath and then the time to take them out and immediately fill with the eggs and pickling solution, one jar at a time, is sufficient;
  • At bottling time, your pickling solution should be kept boiling in between filling the jars;
  • At bottling time, I have found that immersing your shelled eggs in a boiling water bath for the time it takes to place them in the bath and then remove them and immediately transfer them to a jar that has just been taken out of its boiling water bath, is sufficient;
  • At bottling time, your lids should be taken out of the boiling water bath and immediately placed on the just-filled jar.

In this section, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule applies:

I most recently was selling my pickled eggs at a small flea market in June, 2018.  In the months leading up to the flea market I had prepared, over roughly eight cooking sessions spread over three weekends, the following amounts of eggs:

  • (roughly) 29 jars of 6 eggs;
  • 9 jars of 9 eggs;
  • 9 jars of 14 eggs, plus:
  • 1 jar of 14 eggs, to keep for myself;
  • about 7 jars of 6 torn eggs;
  • 1 jar of 12 torn eggs; and,
  • 1 jar of 22 torn eggs.

This was based on rough notions of:

  • in years past, at the same flea market, I have sold as many as 19 jars of 6 eggs;
  • last year, I believed that I could have sold more than the 2 jars of 14 eggs and 4 jars of 9 eggs that I had prepared for the flea market, had I prepared more jars of those sizes;
  • prior to the flea market, I unexpectedly sold 4 jars of 6 eggs, then 2 jars of 14 eggs, then 3 jars of 14 eggs, to a contact through work who adored my eggs upon tasting them one day when I randomly decided to bring some to the work site (and therefore I had to scramble to make more of the large format!);
  • I would want / need a few jars for use at parties, and giving away in the intervening period and beyond;
  • my accepted torn egg rate of one per dozen, which materialized pretty much spot on, except and therefore plus the unexpected extra 22 torn eggs during one cooking session;
  • relative unbridled enthusiasm. 🙂

Which leads to the Hallowe’en Candy Rule:  Why would I want to go to all that trouble?  And what do I do with any leftovers?  Well, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule says that you should only give out candy that you would not mind having a large amount of leftover should you have overbought supplies, or should there to be few children who knock on your door for any of a variety of reasons like inclement weather, or a last-minute public scare causing parents to restrict their children’s trick-or-treating, or a change in neighbourhood demographics, or any other reason.  In this case, it didn’t matter if I overestimated the number of eggs to make for the flea market:  I like my pickled eggs, and any excess would be eaten by me, be brought to parties as hors d’oeuvres, or be given as gifts.

And how did the most recent flea market I participated in turn out?

For selling eggs, until recently, I priced the eggs at 50 cents per egg, except for the jars of six eggs, to which I would add an extra 25 cents to help compensate for the mason jar costs.  As of June, 2018, I now charge closer to 57 cents to 58 cents per egg (slightly variable depending on the jar size and rounding to the nearest 25 cents), which incidentally also brings the prices closer to the lower end of the range of prices for pickled eggs at grocery stores.

The previous price of 50 cents per egg was me being modest, and perhaps simplistic.   I knew that other artisans were selling 500mL jars of artisan pickled products and jams and jellies at $5.00 and more, depending on the item.  But I felt I couldn’t justify that much, and in any case, I had seen jars of 6 pickled eggs at a local discount store for about $3.49.  I felt somewhat uncomfortable raising the price on jars of six pickled eggs to $3.25 last year, despite it being on account of recovering some of the jar costs.  As of this year, jars were priced at $3.50 per jar of six eggs, $5.25 per jar of 9 eggs, and $8.00 per jar of 14 eggs.

Despite this year’s price adjustments, nobody said boo.  The number of sales on some sizes were up from last year despite the price increase.  And where it was down, I attributed that without hesitation to foot traffic and variations in salesmanship.

A quick back-of-the-envelope tally of sales income and costs for all the jars of pickled eggs listed above suggest that as a batch, I recouped my investment, and my margin is in the leftover product, including the torn eggs which were never intended to be sold (and weren’t).  Leftover amounts of unsold product intended to be sold were to the order of 13 jars of 6 eggs and 4 jars of 9 eggs.  As mentioned earlier, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule was not only a guiding factor in the business plan; in the end, it certainly proved to be an integral part of the business plan.

Update:  There is a second post on pickled eggs from October, 2018.

Updated recipes

I have been adding my personal recipes to malak.ca since the beginning of December, 2017.

It has been a sort of starting from fresh to create my personal cookbook, a project I started, I think, long before 2011 — as early as 2007-ish, as I recall.  (I remember discussing the cookbook with someone somewhere around 2012, and said conversation could not have occurred before 2011.)

Several years ago, I’d put together a personal cookbook, but at a certain point during its construction, somehow the main file either got corrupted, or I had several copies which I didn’t manage properly (and presumably, in this scenario, began overwriting previously entered recipes with newer versions of other versions.)  However it all happened, I became disillusioned and lost interest on a practical level to reconstruct it all, let alone finish it, despite a certain allure it had.

Back in December, I decided to start from scratch, doing a rather 90’s thing — or perhaps even an 80’s, or 70’s, or 60’s thing — I used a basic text editor and started retyping each recipe, sometimes using what I did still have as a reference, and in at least four cases, just reusing the recipe as I’d entered it back a few years ago, with the remnants of the original cookbook file.

In the case of some of recipes I’ve been typing in, I’ve actually been able to tune the text based on recent memory of just having made the items in the last couple of weeks (as in, as I was making the item in question, going over to my computer to make adjustments), or up to a couple of months ago.

I started posting pdf’s on my website.  And, I’ve been using a “post early, post often” approach to each recipe, as in, check recipes, fine tune them, repost the update, and, fine tune them again, adding sections like “equipment” as I’d start to be using that in other recipes, and so on.  I even have been recalling a lightning talk I rather liked at a linux conference I attended in 2011 which, ironically, used baking and recipes as a way to demonstrate the need to developers the importance of clear, concise, and complete instructions and documentation in order to encourage others to join their software projects.

And, fun fun fun, today I took advantage of another day of holidays, er, waiting for the garage to call me back and say that my car, in for servicing, was ready:  I went through all my recently-typed recipes and did some basic editing.  Lists and sentences / semi-sentences were capitalized.  Lists received dash points.  Instructions which hadn’t already been fleshed out, were fleshed out.  Sentences with multiple steps were broken up into discrete instruction lists.  A number received sections “do this part, then while that cooks, do this part”, etc.  (And then, transferring the updates to my webserver, to my laptop as a backup, and to my backup server which is also my webserver.)

Obviously, the likes of “cooking sausages” isn’t there, even though apparently when I make them for a Santa’s Breakfast, they are highly rated beyond the fact that I’m the only volunteer who actually relishes in making 200+ sausages at home in advance.  And, that having the sausages pre-cooked so that they only need to be reheated in the oven is quite convenient when you’re serving 100+ people.

Eventually, if you look at the eggplant, first meatball, cheese biscuit and zucchini dish recipes, I may update them in the style of the newly retyped recipes as above, while converting the texts of the newly retyped recipes to that format (the original format for my “personal cookbook”), and take photos.

Finally!  My recipes are now documented, accessible, shared, sharable, and, if I ever get around to it, ready for transfer into a “cookbook”.