WhenI was in town Tuesday I ran into Mrs. Brummer, the matriarch of my favorite farming family. Her family owns Brummer’s Happy Breeze Farm, which is famous throughout the region for its mums, although what I really love about the place are the new potatoes and apples. I asked her what was in and she said asparagus. Only asparagus. And a lot of it.
My husband, Madhava, and I bought a bunch for ourselves Wednesday morning and while I was cooking lunch I was damning the fact that I had no use, business-wise, for the asparagus. And then it hit me: pickle!
That afternoon I went back to Brummer’s, bought a whole mess of asparagus, and got to work. I started small, with a few test batches using peanut oil instead of mustard oil. The Chili Pickle I made last summer was a huge success, thanks to some pickle freaks out there. One of my big customers actually wrote to me asking if I had any pickle without mustard oil. At the time I didn’t, but now I do! Once the recipe was perfected I realized I needed more bhoga, particularly oil. I really wanted to use peanut oil because all of the ingredients in this pickle are good for Ekadasi. However, after visiting four stores I could not find gallon containers of peanut oil without TBHQ.
TBHQ, for those not in the know, is a preservative found in commercial oils. Googling TBHQ brings up information on its anti-oxident qualities and some scientists even claim it helps prevent cancer. Sounds like a good thing, right? Well, radiation can also be good when used to stop cancer but it isn’t something I wish expose myself to in my day to day. Further web searching reveals another scientific opinion about TBHQ. Guess what? In additon to protecting against cancer, it has also been found to be carcinogenic. So much for “exact science.” While I am sure most of the oils on the shelf have TBHQ in them, although not stated on the label, I simply could not bring myself to buy any brand which clearly lists it as an ingredient. So-called food without vowels just doesn’t seem wholesome to me.
There weren’t a lot of options on the supermarket shelf. Store after store after store after store it was vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil and olive. Vegetable oil was not an option, since the Sabjimata line is decidedly anti soy (don’t ask me about my personal life). I love olive oil, but cannot bring myself to buy anything other than cold pressed extra virgin, which is a lot more than regular old olive oil. Notice how I am avoiding talking about solvents? Ewww. I can’t even think about it. Really. Canola oil, otherwise know as “Canada oil” or rapeseed oil, is simply not fit for human consumption and people everywhere should rebel against this cheap oil which the food machinations that be has thrust upon the proletariat. And yes, I am serious.
American supermarkets have so many choices, most of them total rubbish. Because I want to keep my final product affordable, I was faced with a situation where I had to make a practical decision based not solely on my lofty food ideals but also on the bottom line.
So I bought corn oil. This was a painful decision for me, since corn oil is neither good for Ekadasi nor my first (or second or third) choice. But I think it works well, making the pickle suitable for those who literally turn their nose up at the smell of mustard oil. Who knows, if it’s a good year for pickle, maybe next year’s batches can be made with olive oil.
This batch of pickle is in 8 oz. jars because that is all I had around. Getting to Lancaster for jars is not as easy as it used to be now that my kids are in preschool in State College (adding another hour onto the 1.5 hour trip to Fillmore Jars). But I think the size is good and keeps the sticker shock down. I will do a few batches of 32 oz. jars in the next couple weeks for those customers who like to order in quantity. The thing about doing a jam business is you have to have to have inventory in stock. Oh, how much simpler it would be to bake or do catering.