October 2007: Ingredients & Implements: Pickles & Kitchen Scales.
Pickling has been practiced in some form or another for thousands of years. Soft-skinned vegetables such as cucumbers, cabbages, beets and peppers are placed in a special brining solution containing vinegar, salt, water, various peppercorns and spices. After several hours, days or even weeks spent in this saltwater bath, much of the vegetable's natural juices have been replaced with an acidic brine that naturally discourages harmful bacterial growth. Most pickles do not require refrigeration because of this natural acidity.
When most of us hear the word "pickles," we immediately think of cucumbers. By far, cucumbers are the most common vegetables converted into pickles. Other fruits and vegetables can be pickled, but only cucumbers are marketed as pickles. Not all cucumbers make good pickles, however. The larger American cucumber variety commonly found in salads does not usually do well during the pickling process. Instead, smaller varieties are grown specifically to become one of the many types of pickles we find on our grocery shelves.
Most pickles are produced by one of three methods: refrigerated, fresh-pack or processed (also called "cured" or "fermented"). Each of these methods creates distinct flavors and textures. Also, during production, a variety of flavors are achieved by adding different herbs, spices and seasonings to the pickle liquid. Then, each variety is generally packed whole or cut into halves, spears, sticks, chips, chunks, salad cubes or relish, or sliced lengthwise for sandwiches.
Here is an overview of the various kinds of pickles and pickled peppers available:
Dill - This is the most popular variety of cucumber pickle. Herb dill or dill oil is added to impart a distinctive and refreshing flavor. There are many types of dill pickles, including: * Genuine Dill - These pickles are made by the slow "processed" method. Dill weed is added to the tanks during the last stage of fermentation or to the jar after fermentation. These pickles usually have a higher lactic acid flavor than other varieties. * Kosher Dill - In pickle lingo, "kosher" means garlic has been added to the brine. More robust than regular dill pickles, kosher dills are the ultimate accompaniment to an overstuffed deli sandwich. * Overnight Dill - Cukes are placed fresh into brine (which may include a slight amount of vinegar) for a very short time -- one to two days. The entire process takes place under refrigeration, and they stay refrigerated when stored and shipped. The bright green pickles taste like fresh cucumbers accented with dill flavor. They are the kind of pickle you usually find at a deli. * Other types of dills include Polish and German style.
Sour/Half-sour - Fresh cucumbers are first placed into a seasoned brine which doesn't include vinegar. The containers are then refrigerated, and remain refrigerated when stored and shipped. The longer the cucumbers remain in the brine, the more sour they become. Half-sour pickles are extra crispy and keep their fresh cucumber color.
Sweet- Sweet pickles are packed in a sweet mixture of vinegar, sugar and spices. Here are some variations: * Bread & Butter - Sweet, thinly-sliced pickles made from cucumbers, onions and chopped green or red peppers. They have a distinct, slightly tangy taste. Available in smooth- or waffle-cut chips or chunks. * Candied - These pickles are packed in an extra-heavily sweetened liquid. * No-Salt Sweet - These are a relatively new variety of sweet pickle to which no salt has been added. Usually available as chips. * Sweet/Hot - These are a "hot" new kind of pickle. They're made by adding hot spices and seasonings to pickles for a delightful spark of piquant flavor.
Source: Pickle Packers International, Inc., a trade association for the pickled vegetable industry. www.ilovepickles.org.
Kitchen ScalesKitchen scales are indispensable tools that can be used to weigh baking ingredients, meats, poultry, seafood, fruits and vegetables for cooking and baking. Measurement and, more specifically, "precise measurement" provides home chefs with added assurance that their results will be successful each and every time. Aside from being more accurate, weighing is also easier and less messy than scooping and leveling ingredients.
It's no secret that using a kitchen scale guarantees precise measurement of ingredients, an essential in achieving the perfect final product. This is especially true in baking, where ingredient interaction affects the overall consistency of the baked good. A little extra flour, not enough baking powder, too much oil, and you've got a potential culinary disaster on your hands. Kitchen scales help get the recipes right every time.
In the U.S., measuring spoons and cups have traditionally played the dominant role in kitchens, whereas in Europe, the kitchen scale occupies center stage. Our allegiance to cups and spoons probably stems from having been taught by our mothers and grandmothers to use these tools. Plus, nearly every cookbook in the U.S. uses volume as opposed to weight in its recipes. However, the tide may be turning.
Types of Scales There are three basic types of kitchen scales on the market -- spring, balance and digital scales.
Spring Scales Spring scales, as the name implies, use springs to measure weights. An ingredient is placed on the scale's holding tray, and the holding tray presses down on the spring, which is attached to a dial or indicator that moves in response to the spring's compression, and indicates the weight of the item on the tray. Some spring scales allow the position of the indicator to be adjusted. This is useful for resetting the scale to zero after placing an empty bowl on it. This is called taring the scale. It allows you to weigh only the product you put in the bowl, not the bowl itself. It also means that you can measure one ingredient into the bowl, then tare the scale back to zero and add a second ingredient without dumping the first out. This is convenient because you can measure and mix in the same bowl.
There are two types of spring scales you are likely to see. The first is a stand-up type with either a needle that moves up and down, or a large round dial on the front to indicate the weight. The second is a low-profile model where the dial is built into the base of the scale. The low-profile type is normally much easier to tare. To do so, you just rotate the base. The stand-up type generally has a small knob on the side or back of the scale for taring.
Balance ScalesBalance scales determine the weight of an ingredient by comparing it to known standard weights. There are two basic varieties of this type of scale, and a third that combines the first two.
The first type is the straight balance. This is what you see blind justice holding up. The item to be weighed goes on one side, and one or more standard weights go on the other. If the two sides are in balance, then the item being weighed weighs exactly the same as the sum of the weights on the other side. A straight balance is very accurate. Some laboratory models are good to a small fraction of a gram. But they are not very practical for the kitchen.
The second type of balance scale is the sliding scale balance. With this type, there is a single known weight, but you can slide it from left to right along a scale until it balances. You have probably seen one of these in your doctor's office. These aren't as absolutely accurate as the straight balance, but they are easier to use and there are no little weights to lose.
The third type of balance is the hybrid. It allows you to use individual weights like a straight balance, but also provides a sliding scale.
Digital ScalesGood digital scales provide measurements with high precision and are extremely accurate. They are also very easy to use. They work based on an electrical component called a strain gauge (also known as a load cell). The resistance of the strain gauge changes based upon the compression or change in shape of the component. A simple computer in the digital scale is preloaded at the factory with a table of values that allows it to calculate the weight of a load by the change in resistance. Many scales update about once a second, but better scales will update their readings much faster. This means, if you're pouring sugar into a bowl, the scale will provide almost instantaneous feedback so you don't pour too much. Most digital scales also have a tare function that allows the user to subtract the weight of the container from the measurement.
What to Look For in a Kitchen Scale When selecting a scale, there are certain things to keep in mind in order to find the weighing device that best suits you. Here are some useful scale terms to know:
Capacity -- This is the maximum weight that the scale can accommodate at one time. The heaviest item that you might place on the scale should determine what capacity you need. For example, a scale with an 18-oz./500-g capacity would be suitable for weighing small items that weigh less than 500 g. This would often be termed a "diet scale" due to its small capacity. Most kitchen scales offer capacities of 18 oz. - 2 lbs., with digital scales offering capacities of 5 lbs., 11 lbs. and 22 lbs.
Accuracy -- Accuracy is also identified as Resolution or Readability. A scale's accuracy is really its ability to reliably produce an accurate weight. However, in today's world of terminology, accuracy for many has come to mean the smallest increment of weight that the scale displays (display accuracy). It could actually be better termed "resolution." A scale with accuracy resolution of ⅛ ounce means that the scale counts up (or displays its measurements) in increments of ⅛, 2/8, ⅜ . . . and so on. Another scale may have an accuracy resolution of ? ounce, meaning it would count up by fractions like: ?, ?, ?, etc. Therefore, you would never see the display show 1.4 or a reading in decimal points. Accuracy and capacity are the two most important specs for selecting a scale. They will also play a big role in how much the scale will cost. Therefore, you should select a scale based on your measurement needs.
Weighing Platform -- The size of the scale's weighing platform is another consideration. You want to have a large enough tray area to hold most of your ingredients -- it's okay if some of it hangs over the side as long as it is balanced and centered on the platform. Also, your sample should never rest against anything other than the scale's weighing tray, otherwise your readout will be inaccurate.
Tare -- Tare is used to reset the scale to zero. This can be used to weigh items using a container that you set on the scale. To use the Tare function, place the container or tray (tare item) on the scale, and press the Tare button. Your scale should go to zero, allowing you to now add items to the container and only see the weight of those items within it (net weight). It's really an Add & Weigh function in an electronic scale.
Calibration -- Calibration is the process of adjusting a scale's precision using known weights (calibration weights). Calibration should only be performed if your scale is not weighing properly. Though most mechanical kitchen scales have a reset wheel, true calibration really only applies to commercial "for trade" scales. After calibration, the scale should display the exact weight that is placed on the tray (within a certain tolerance), and also revert to zero when removing any weight. Some scales do not offer calibration (such as most postal scales). Typically, a scale calibrates at two points: zero and at the end of its span (span calibration).
Calibration Certificate -- A Calibration Certificate is a certified document provided by a local Weights and Measures authority which provides proof of calibration along with information about when/where the calibration was performed, and with what weights. This service must be performed within the state where you will be using your scale. Calibration certification is required for scales which are used to sell goods based on weight. If you are selling goods with your scale, it must be Legal for Trade and have calibration performed regularly.
Legal for Trade/NTEP Approved -- If you will be selling goods based off of weight with a scale, it must be Legal for Trade. This status is given to scales that meet certain guidelines and restrictions mandated by the Department of Weights and Measures. This helps insure that consumers are protected against overcharge.