Archive for the ‘Food Preservation’ Category

Packing up the Kitchen

Besides the dehydrator (which is full of tomatoes and will later be full of squash) and a knife, cutting board, and roasting pan (for roasting and freezing a few last batches of summer veggies harvested yesterday), I am packing up the kitchen today.

Last ditch harvesting

I’m really glad I saved all the big appliance boxes that I did–the big crockpot went right back in its original packaging and the dehydrator (once it has done its final Vermillion duties) can do the same.  The pressure canner has always lived in its original box–it just needed a little taping to be ready for the journey.

Last ditch processing

So far, most of the baking pans are in a sturdy box–the frying pans, cast iron, smaller sauce pots, and lids are all packed up as well.  Canning jar rings, lids, funnel, and jar lifter are all nestled in the boiling water water canner, whose lid has been bungeed on.

I never did get all those jars filled–along about Saturday, when I was recuperating from Friday night’s going away party and some neck and back pain as well (which I am doing stretches to help), it occurred to me that maybe I could just call it good.

The jars can be filled or not–depending on how many extras I have, maybe I will even donate a case or two to the Civ (without their boxes, which I’ll use to house the canned goods still in the pantry).

Fall allergies and abandonment fears

Not everything will be boxed and ready to go tomorrow morning when I pick up the moving truck, but hopefully clearing out the stuff that is packed will make it easier to account for and pack up what’s left.

I have mostly been relocating all packed boxes to the living room, so they can quickly and easily head out the front door, but it’s starting to get tight in there. Once the TV (which is going back to H) is gone, that will free up more room for more boxes.  If I do have a TV in Minnesota, it’ll have to be one I find there!

The chest freezer is (finally) scheduled for clean-out today as well–there is a waiting freezer at the farm to contain all that pork and maybe a chicken or two as well.  I will probably have to come back for my big package of yet-to-be refined lard–I don’t think it’s going to fit in the combined fridge-freezer in Minnesota.

All the details!  I’ve ground enough coffee to hopefully last us most of the rest of the week, so the bag of beans and the grinder can be packed away without fear of a desperate box-rummaging–though maybe I should grind just a little more to help caffeinate anyone who comes to help tomorrow.

And yes–if you were wondering if I’d like some extra hands to load the truck or pack boxes tomorrow–please feel free to drop by!  Free coffee!  Free bouquets!

End of summer flowers

Chutney-Pickle-Relish Things

I have a pickle forming in my brain.  Not a pickle as in, “I’m in a pickle” (which I could very well be), but as in, what am I gonna do with all these lunker yellow squashes?

Papaya Pear Overload

Add to that the late blight in the gardens, which is fast taking down all the tomato plants, and well, I’ve got to do something to fill those quart jars and save some of those tomatoes and deal with all those squashes–preferably all at the same time.

So, the pickle starts to form in my brain.  Or the chutney.  Or relish.  Or whatever you want to call it.  It started with green tomatoes and yellow squash.  I thought maybe ginger and brown sugar and cider vinegar would be good with those things–that starts sounding like chutney, doesn’t it?

Then I went to Jones’ and I saw they had those little mesh bags of organic lemons at a decent price.  I love lemon slices with the peel intact simmered in a sweet/sour syrup!

And then I thought of some of those onions in my basement.  There are some jalapeños starting to size up again in the gardens–that could add a nice heat element.

What about cinnamon sticks?  Whole allspice?  Can I get away with cumin in all that?  By golly, I think I can!

Of course, the first item on the agenda is to get the half pints of “special sauce” in and out of the canner–just noticed I’m low on small lids, so H offered (OK, I sweet-talked the poor guy) to go back out in the heat to pick some up.

The chutney-pickle-relish will have to wait until tomorrow to take its final shape.  Who knows–I might find something else out in the garden that seems a good addition–bronze fennel seems like it could be interesting….

Special Sauce

Casting about for today’s canning project, I remembered the peach lug full of ripening tomatoes that I’d left sitting for a few days after my last harvest (not yesterday’s, but the one before that).

There were a number that needed discarding–having developed the tell-tale sunken black splotches of late blight, but there were quite a few decent ones as well–mostly Old Pink Plums and Principe Borgheses.

Trimmed up and cooked down with a chopped onion, hot and sweet peppers, garlic, white vinegar, plus a bit of salt and pepper and maybe a pinch of sugar, they make a great spicy sauce for the pantry.

I’ve been making a version of this sauce for a few years now–the base is always the red ripe paste tomatoes with garlic and onions and sweet red peppers–and then the hot peppers vary depending on the year and what’s ready.

I cook all the veggies together until soft, then cool and put them through the strainer and cook down the resulting pulp some more before adding the vinegar and seasoning and canning in half-pints.

The first year it was called “Naughty Taco”–a spicy but not-too-hot taco sauce.  Last year’s was “Hungarian Hot Sauce” because the heat was all from ripe Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, and that one had a bit of parsley minced into the finished product as well.

This year, all my hot peppers are still green, so I am cheating a little and adding heat by simmering the rest of the veggies with Thai Dragon flakes dried from last season’s harvest.  I’m going for a reprise on the parsley because that added such a yummy element.

I don’t try to make the sauce super-hot.  The point is spicy rich flavor because that’s what I like, and unlike many other things I can, this recipe–this concoction–is really for me.

You see, it’s great on eggs and tacos and the like, but as you may know, it takes an awful lot of macs n’ cheese to raise up a little boy.  The only way my protein-preferring system can handle that many carbs and dairy is through a liberal dose of spicy-tomato-y home-canned special sauce on top!

Moving it back a bit

I went up again to NE South Dakota/SW Minnesota in the last couple of days to secure a place to live (at last!) and to meet with my employers.  We decided with so many key people on vacation (or about to take one) and the relative difficulty I’ve had in finding housing that we’d push back my start date to after the Labor Day weekend.

While I’m rarin’ to get up there and start work, there’s so much to do with getting the house down here packed and cleaned, finding a renter, having a market board meeting, and just getting my head (and the rest of me) into the new space (which can’t happen ’til the 1st of September anyway), that I’m breathing a little sigh of relief.

I got back yesterday a little before noon and then headed out to the gardens to harvest.  I was only gone two days, so it wasn’t too bad (some lunkers in the squash and cuke patches, as usual)–not too bad, that is, except for the tomatoes.

Late blight is in full progression in the tomato patch–many fruits are developing those black, sunken patches and the foliage dying off exposes the rest of the fruits to sunburn.  It ain’t pretty.

Last week I got a full 11-gallon tub of good fruit from the patch (had to have H help me load it in the truck); this week it was about half that.  I should at least have enough to make a decent final delivery of tomatoes to the CSA members in the coming week.

Maybe the plants know I’m leaving, but they’re pretty much all going to be dead and gone by the time I make my Vermillion exit.  We’ll have to build a big burn pile and dispose of the carnage that way.  Maybe I’ll pick a few decent-looking green ones first and see if they ripen without rotting.

Not knowing I was leaving, I laid landscape fabric on all those rows before planting, thinking it could be kept in place and used again next year for winter squash or melons–but I think it’s probably wiser to tear it all up and dispose of it rather than risk the blight fungus hanging out in the covered soil.

The cherry tomatoes are in a different spot and are doing well enough.  There’s leaf spot in that patch, but the plants are hanging on.  The peppers are fine.  The eggplant plants themselves look OK, but a lot of the fruits are developing brown patches, so besides flying tomatoes, there’s plenty of flying eggplant.

Winter and summer squash patches are great, though.  There’s a number of spaghetti squash starting to cure in the field and those summer “Papaya Pear” squash just keep pumping out those sunny yellow fruits.  Delicata also look decent.

Cukes have been found by the beetles, but they haven’t done irreparable damage as yet.  I’m still pulling quite a few slicers out of the patch (though nothing like the two dozen a day in the height of their vigor), and the little picklers keep pumping out a respectable number of cukes for the crock.

Of the crops that will be staying in the ground for now, I’ve got a lovely double row of parsnips that can be dug either in the late autumn after the frosts, in in the spring after the thaw (or both). The shell beans, which looked none-too-healthy when they first came up, are starting to form pods, but it’ll be a small harvest.

There’s melons in a couple of spots, and I don’t know that any of them will be ready by the time I go–perhaps there will be enough ready on one of my return visits to bring one or two to each CSA member.  The Peruvian Purple potato plants are still green and lively, so it’ll be later September, I think, before I get a chance to dig them.

Leeks are happily sizing up–two rows of them.  There’s still some badly-munched kale that, if it survives, will put on some much cleaner leaves after frosts kill the cabbage worms.  There’s a few chard plants, too, and a ton of sweet and lemon basil–some of which I’ll harvest for drying and for pureeing and freezing before I go.

Not sure exactly how I’ll be filling those last few cases of canning jars, but I’m hoping to at least get one more batch of tomato soup before the plants go south (and I head north).

After that, it’ll be a matter of whatever falls on my lap–certainly some of those Papaya Pears and green tomatoes can go in a pickle, but the sweet corn season is just about done, so what I’ve got of that is probably what I’ll have. It’d be nice to find some pears or apples…

While the rest of my books are already packed, Putting Food By and the other food preservation guides are still on the shelf, so  I’ll spend a little time between packing and cleaning sessions to peruse those books for jar-filling inspiration.

Ker-Bopple! (Crab Apple Jelly)

So, I was helping some friends load a bunch of seed-starting supplies they bought off me last night, and I noticed some very nice-looking crab apples lying on their trailer.  Picking one up, I inhaled its fragrance, thought it good, and asked if those little apples came from a tree of theirs.

They said their tree’s fruit was ripe and ready to pick–NOW.  And that I should come and take as much as I wanted.

So, having a few cases of canning jars left to fill, I decided perhaps this afternoon’s canning project could be crabapple jelly.  A triple batch of crab apple jelly.

Bubbling little aromatic apples

I magically managed to pick exactly the right amount–10 1/2 lbs of little apples–about 1/4 of them under-ripe to make up for a pectin-free recipe. I had to really look for those unripe ones!

Dean and Vikki’s crab apples are the perfect kind–not those whimpy little flowering crab fruits that are tinier than a pie cherry, but the big ones off a tree that was bred for good fruit–not fancy flowers.  They’re not quite as aromatic as the ones I got from a friend last year, but they’re still very nice–a little perfume-y.

I got them home, pared off the blossom and stem ends, and simmered them down to mush before straining the juice through a linen napkin (the cheesecloth sold in stores is pretty worthless for these types of projects–bits of pulp escape into the juice through the wide holes).

It’s always the juice-straining that takes forever.  You think making a batch of jelly’s going to be quick and easy–certainly the BWB processing time is short–but straining a couple of cups of pulp at a time for the juice–then going back and re-straining because you don’t have quite enough–that’s the part that gets you.

But I got my twelve cups of juice and blended it with twelve cups of sugar (yeah, that’s why I hardly ever make–or eat–jelly), brought it to a boil, watched it start to gel off the edge of the spoon, then skimmed, jarred, and processed.

More jars filled!

Now there are nineteen half-pints of jelly sitting like garnet gems on the kitchen table.  I’ve still got a case of half-pints left that I’d like to fill with a savory hot sauce.  Then four cases of quarts (Uff-da!), one more case of pints, and the jars are all filled!

Unless, of course, some doubtless well-meaning soul shows up at my door with armloads of empty jars from canned goods I’ve given them over the years–wanting to be sure to get them all back to me before I go.

If you’re that well-meaning soul and you are reading this–it’s OK.  There’s lots of folks needier for jars than I cruising the Civic Council aisles.  I’m sure a donation will be greatly appreciated!

Filling the Jars

Yesterday, my friend Jami came over again for part two of canning lessons (one that, thankfully–this time, did not include electrocuting stove-burners).  I already had the first batch of tomato sauce pints in the canner, so we started washing and chopping squashes for the zucchini relish.

Tomato sauce and the rest...We ended up with just a little more than a case of tomato sauce–the excess over that went home with Jami–including the jar that wasn’t quite full enough to can.  I gave her that one and a sealed one, so she wouldn’t be tempted to open the sealed one just yet.  I’m a little superstitious about opening jars of food right away once they’re processed.

I also cleaned up the latest batch of little cukes for the crock, which will be an interesting thing to move–they won’t be done enough to can before I head out, so they’ll probably just have to ride on the floor of the truck cab.

Jami and I chopped twenty cups of yellow squash, eight cups of onions, and a few Jimmy Nardello peppers in various stages of ripe/redness before salting down the whole deal and mixing it with our bare hands (which is, of course, the fun part).

We used our respective favorite cutting boards and knives, and I taught her how to sharpen her blade, and gave her the bit of philosophy about knives having only one master (or, in the case, mistress).

If you let anyone else sharpen your favorite knife, you’ll end up with a duller tool for it–they’ll sharpen at a different angle than you do and bung it all up.  That’s not to say that you can’t let your sweetie use your fancy knife; they just shouldn’t sharpen it.  Once you take mastery (miss-tery?) of your knife, it’s really yours.

Relish prep

This morning, after attending the Lions Club Fly-in Breakfast down at the airport, it was time to rinse the chopped vegetables of their salted water and cook them all down with the vinegar, spices and sugar.

I ended up just short of a case–though the twelfth jar did get about half-filled.  That takes me down to four cases of quarts, one case of pints, three cases of half-pints, and one case of assorted-size jars to fill in the next couple of weeks.

Gadzukes! Summer squash relish from the canner

I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to try!

P.S.–I will be starting a new blog once I relocate to Minnesota, so this one will be updated less often.  The blog will be “Big Stone Bounty,” but I’m not giving you a link because there’s nothing there yet!

Keep checking in here for the next couple of weeks–I’ll be posting more, and I’ll let you know when I make the switch!

Roosters on the Brain

Woke early again this morning, despite the fact that we are back in Vermillion and there are no roosters crowing us out of bed.  I might have a phantom rooster on the brain–or it might just be the measure of all that needs accomplishing in the next couple of weeks that propelled me out of bed so early.

We returned from Minnesota at about 2 yesterday afternoon, and an hour later I was out at the farm harvesting whatever vegetables ripened in my two-day absence.  There were a few lunker cukes and a few summer squash bigger than the size at which I prefer to pick them, but otherwise it wasn’t too outrageous.

After a shower and some time listening to “the boys” down at Carey’s (I will miss their Friday night shows enormously), I returned home to process about thirty pounds of tomatoes that needed saucing.  That kept me up ’til past eleven–it was good to have a friend come over and chat to keep me awake!

I tried a new cook-down technique wherein the sauce goes into the crockpot (the lid slightly askew) overnight to cook down, but at the last minute I chickened out and put it on the low setting, so it didn’t cook down much. I just couldn’t bear the thought of cleaning up massive tomato splatter in the wee morning hours.

So, now I am cooking down the sauce on the stove-top to can later on today while boxing up cherry tomatoes, bagging potatoes, and figuring what else I should bring down to the Saturday farmers market.

This latest Big Stone County trip was to look at some housing options and meet a slew of community members I’ll be working with up there, as well as to survey some of the projects that are underway already.

I’m really impressed with the groundwork that has been laid there–the community gardens and plans to build a greenhouse on the Graceville school and the openness of the community grocery store owners toward carrying local foods.

It’s got to be hard to be the owner, operator, and main employee of a little store in a little town like Clinton and have so many requests for better, fresher produce, but know that ordering a case of anything as perishable as produce will result in half of it spoiling before it sells. How can you charge a reasonable price when half will go to waste?

These hard-working people don’t have time to search all over the county for farmers to fill their produce sections–they hardly have time for an afternoon off once a week (if that).  So, solving that puzzle is one of my first priorities there.

I also met an older couple who came back to the area to care for an ailing relative and ended up building something beautiful–a garden that supplies produce to the senior citizens and assisted living facilities and also serves as a living laboratory for the school kids.

Bill and Carol had been talked up a lot by my main contact there in BSC, and I can see why they are a treasure in their community.  They are in the process of moving away, and I hope I can maintain even a portion of their legacy. Just spending part of an afternoon talking and touring with them was a blessing.

In Beardsley, where the little community grocery is also set up to process meat, a local organic farmer has bought the old middle school building and has filled the athletic field with sweet corn–basketball-sized cabbages bloom in the old schoolyard.

We topped off the Wednesday tour with a local foods dinner at the home of another couple who’ve been active in the local foods movement in the region–our small contribution a bottle of Valiant Vineyards wine brought up with us on the trip.

The spread of delicious dishes was definitely the main attraction–that, and the conversation around the farmhouse table about local foods and local affairs.

My phone doesn’t ring in BSC (I need to switch cell companies), so it was through e-mail that I was reminded I’d tentatively agreed to travel to Montrose, CO to speak about local foods at the Western Colorado Congress’ annual meeting in October.  I hadn’t heard anything on it in a couple of months, so it kind of slipped my brain.

They are wanting to get my travel arrangements in order and get going on their promotional materials as well, so I am checking in with my new employers about taking off during that time (which is also during the Meander–Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl).  It’s hard to figure how to be in two places at once!

I’m already feeling a bit like I’m in two places–we looked at a farmstead outside Clinton where I hope to live at least through the winter months, and I am anxiously awaiting a call to cement those plans, so I can start packing up the truck and getting this show on the road, so to speak.

In the meantime–the tomato sauce is bubbling away, and I’ve got afternoon plans to can it, and also to chop vegetables and salt them down for another canning project tomorrow–zucchini relish. I’ll spend at least a couple hours at market this morning before tackling all of that.

So, I’m filling the jars and filling the boxes, and my brain is full of details and ideas and inspiration for the new job up north.

I hope to get some images of the new homeland posted soon–I was so busy meeting people and listening and writing and thinking and asking questions on this trip that picture-taking was just not a priority.  Soon!