For the love of pickling

Guest post by Emily Burrows, a food preserver and Pickle Contest judge.

Pickling is an ancient art grown out of necessity: the need to preserve the harvest, the fundamental need to maintain nourishment throughout the year.

Before the days of iceboxes, when options for storing food were limited, people pickled. Before the days of canning–the practice of which only dates to the late 18th century at the earliest–people pickled. Pickles are mentioned in the works of Shakespeare and in the bible. Pickles crossed the lips of Cleopatra and graced the tables of all pharaohs before her. Pickles even appear in the archaeological record of Mesopotamia.
The first pickle was almost certainly inadvertent. We can imagine a cave-dweller digging a hole, lining it with leaves, and tucking away a stash of foraged vegetables or fruits. Over a period of days, or longer, the food would have undergone the natural process of anaerobic fermentation (the breakdown of sugars into lactic acid by bacteria). This process would have bathed the food in a sour-tasting, low pH solution, which would have discouraged the growth of harmful bacteria, and preserved the food.

And tada! Our cave-dweller had pickles!

It is worth mentioning that this anaerobic fermentation is also responsible for the creation of two other essential food groups–cheese and alcohol–so if our cave-dweller didn’t find pickles in his leaf-lined stash, he found one of those other hors d’oeuvres. It was quite a party back in the Neolithic era!

Throughout the centuries, early man began to vary his pickle recipe. Through trial and error he learned to use different leaves to line his earthen pits, or throw in twigs or berries, figuring out that some ingredients–such as garlic, cinnamon, and cloves–had preservative powers. Eventually certain recipes became tradition, bestowing upon pickles saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, or spice.

Ceviche, a traditional dish of South American origin consisting of fish and vegetables pickled in lime juice.

Today, pickling is a phenomenal and creative art to explore. Stray a little further than the common dill and you have capers and kimchi, eggs, sauerkraut, watermelon rinds, spicy Indian lemons and limes, sardines and anchovies, shoots and roots and artichoke hearts! And we mustn’t forget the pickled pigs feet, ears, and assorted organ meats to finish off our pickle panoply.

We can pickle that!

And pickling is safe and simple. It’s easy enough to follow guidelines for fermented pickles (like Alton Brown’s recipe for sour dill pickles) or you can simply create a flavored brine with spices, vinegar or citrus juice, and salt. Any brine or marinade with a pH of 4.6 is pickle-friendly.

Many people pack their pickles in glass mason jars and process them in a water bath canner, which is a phenomenal way to have shelf-stable pickles all year round. But you mustn’t forget the refrigerator pickle, too, which can live happily in your icebox for weeks on end.

Intrigued by the history and art of the pickle? Come on out to DC State Fair on Saturday to see the city’s finest! The winners of this year’s DC State Fair Pickle Contest will be showered with glory, fame, ribbons, cash prizes, and gift cards to Fair sponsor Annie’s Ace Hardware, in Petworth!

Volunteer at the Fair

You can get involved in this volunteer-run event and celebrate DC! DC State Fair will take place on Saturday, September 28, from 11 AM to 5 PM at the Barracks Row Fall Festival. We need your help in making this year’s Fair run smoothly. Help prep pies for the judges, direct contestants where to drop off their entries, or just help set up! There are many ways to get involved. It’s also a great opportunity to meet other like-minded DC’ers! Sign up to help out today and be a part of making this year’s DC State Fair great!

And volunteers can still enter our contests! (But we ask that you not sign up to do Prep for a contest you have entered or plan on entering.) Most of our contests are still open for entry, but many of them close tonight or later this weekend. Make sure you register or submit your entry now for your chance to win! Head over to our 2013 Contests page to start the registration process, before you miss out!

Contest Entry Deadlines Extended!

We want to see the competition heat up, so we’re giving you more time to enter our contests! But don’t wait, because many contest entry deadlines are this weekend. The Jam/Jelly, Sewing, Pickle, Knit/Crochet, and Cupcake contests have extended their deadlines into this weekend. Head over to our 2013 Contests page to start the registration process now, before you miss your chance to enter!

The contest entry drop-off and judging schedule will be published on the Event Details page soon. Keep an eye out there and in upcoming State of the Fair Newsletters for more information.

We look forward to seeing you and announcing the big winners at the Fair on Saturday, September 28.

Good luck, exhibitors!

Upcoming Entry Deadlines

Friday, September 20
Pickle Contest
Jam/Jelly Contest

Saturday, September 21
Photography Contest
Sewing Contest (1 PM)

Sunday, September 22
Cupcake Contest
Fermented Vegetable Contests
Knit/Crochet Contest (5 PM)
Homebrew Contest

Get Your Entries In!

Wednesday, September 25
Kids’ Poetry Contest (4 PM)

Thursday, September 26
Bike Accessory Contest

*Entry deadlines are midnight unless otherwise stated.*

Register Early or Enter at the Fair, Saturday, September 28
Hats for Newborns Contest
Funkiest-Looking Vegetable Contest
Heaviest Vegetable Contest
Heaviest Fruit Contest
Longest Vegetable Contest
Honey Contest
Kids’ Art Contest

Get Your Entries In!

Remember, we also have two contestant workshops, for Kids’ Poetry and the Bike Accessory Contests, being held at Southeast Branch Library, where contestants can work to craft their entries prior to the Fair. The library will also be hosting a seed swap and solar cooking demonstration during the Fair!

Get Your Entries In!

DC State Fair contest registration is open, but many contests’ entry deadlines are approaching. Whether you plan to enter our artistic, crafty, or culinary contests, head over to our 2013 Contests page to start the process now!

Some contests, such as the Pie Contest, have registration that ends today. Other contests have deadlines that fall later next week; yet other contests can be entered on the day of the Fair. The drop-off and judging schedule will be published on the Event Details page soon. Keep an eye out there and in upcoming newsletters for more information.

We also have two contestant workshops, for Kids’ Poetry and the Bike Accessory Contests, being held at Southeast Branch Library, where contestants can work to craft their entries prior to the Fair. The library will also be hosting a seed swap and solar cooking demonstration during the Fair!

We look forward to seeing you and announcing the big winners at the Fair on Saturday, September 28.

Good luck, exhibitors!

Upcoming Entry Deadlines

Friday, September 20
Pickle Contest
Jam/Jelly Contest

Saturday, September 21
Photography Contest
Sewing Contest (1 PM)

Sunday, September 22
Cupcake Contest
Fermented Vegetable Contests
Knit/Crochet Contest (5 PM)
Homebrew Contest

Get Your Entries In!

Wednesday, September 25
Kids’ Poetry Contest (4 PM)

Thursday, September 26
Bike Accessory Contest

*Entry deadlines are midnight unless otherwise stated.*

Register Early or Enter at the Fair, Saturday, September 28
Hats for Newborns Contest
Funkiest-Looking Vegetable Contest
Heaviest Vegetable Contest
Heaviest Fruit Contest
Longest Vegetable Contest
Honey Contest
Kids’ Art Contest

Get Your Entries In!

Prepare for the Fair: Bikes, Poems, Seeds, Sun

Guest post from DC Public Library, which is partnering with DC State Fair to offer workshops and events.

DC’s not a state yet, but it has a state fair and a state library: the DC Public Library. Here at the Southeast Branch Library in Eastern Market (403 7th St. SE, Washington, DC 20003), we are excited that DC State Fair is happening in our neighborhood, and we’ll be having programs for Fair-goers right here in this historic Carnegie library before the Fair and on the big day.

To prepare for the Fair, stop by the library on Tuesday, September 24, for bikes and poetry.

  • Poetry Writing Workshop – At 4 PM, we will host a poetry-writing session, lead by our youth services librarian Katie Nye, for young people who’d like to enter the Fair’s poetry contest.
  • Bike Accessory Clinic – At 6:30 PM, Denise D’Amour from Capitol Hill Bikes will stop by to offer tips to those hoping to enter the Bike Accessory Competition.

On Saturday, September 28, the day of the Fair, stop by the library for seeds and sun.

  • Seed Swap – If you’re out for the Fair, stop by the library at 11 AM to hear master gardener Mia Hawkins share tips about seed saving and then participate in a seed swap with other DC seed savers. Any DC seed savers are encouraged to bring their seeds and exchange them with others.
  • Solar Cooking Demonstration – At 1 PM, listen to a talk from Louise Meyer of SHE Inc. about the benefits and methods of solar cooking. We will have a solar cooker in our garden all day, so come check it out whenever you have a chance.

Even when it’s not harvest season, the library has many resources for the crafters, food growers, and the state-fair minded. One good place to start is with our new collection of LibGuides that point you to library resources on a variety of topics including urban gardening, cooking, and crafting. Go to www.dclibrary.org/researchguides.

Any questions? Please contact David Quick of DC Public Library at david.quick2@dc.gov.

Hop on your bike and tour school gardens

The annual DC School Garden Tour is almost upon us, and there are some tickets left for avid cyclist-gardeners! The ride is Sunday, September 8, starting at 11:30.

BicycleSPACE and DC’s School Garden Program from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education are putting together this ride to showcase places where DC students learn about gardening, urban agriculture, healthy eating, and more.

Each school garden on this year’s tour has a specific project in mind to make the garden better. After the tour, participants will vote on which school garden receives the ride’s proceeds toward that goal.

Interested? Register for the ride here!

Learn How To Keep Bees In DC

Beekeeping demonstration and hive at DC State Fair 2012

Were you inspired by the honey entered in last year’s Honey Contest? Are you excited to raise your own bees in the city?

A free* six-session course in Columbia Heights will give you all the details you need to grow bees in the District! The DC Beekeepers Alliance is putting on the course, which meets for six weeks on Tuesdays at 6-7:30 PM, starting on August 27.

Head over to the course registration page and sign up! Tell your friends, raise those honeybees, and enter the Fair’s Honey Contest!

*The course is free, but you have to commit to volunteering 12 hours in an urban gardening program by August 2014.