Saturday, October 22, 2011

I'm a canning freak!

There are two reasons that I haven't done alot of blog posts lately. First is, my life isn't all that exciting at this point so there's not much to write about, and the second reason is that I can't stop canning! So it's either: write a bunch of blog posts on canning (snooze), or hang up the blog for awhile. I decided that I could do a bit of both; I didn't blog last weekend because all I did was can, and it turns out all I did this weekend is can, too, but I just have to write about it! It's those darn green tomatoes, really, that have taken me completely by surprise, something totally unexpected in the grand scheme of my summer, our gardening effort, and life in general.

In August, when we realized that there were going to be lots (and I mean LOTS!!!) of tomatoes that simply were not going to ripen before the freeze came, I was so disappointed. I wanted ripe tomatoes, darn it (and, turns out, we have more than enough of those, too). But now, I know that there will always be a spot in our garden that I will keep especially for late-growing tomatoes, because I became enamored by them a few weeks ago when I made green tomato salsa verde (see my previous blog post). My salsa verde seems to be a hit, and the green tomato-apple chutney I also made from a recipe I found on the web is simply and elegantly delicious.

Last Saturday, I spent the entire day, from 7:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m., in the kitchen canning more green tomato salsa and trying out the chutney. It's the preparation of the ingredients and the time it takes to complete the canning bath process that is so time-consuming, but I ended up with pints and half-pints of both, as well as those cute little 4-oz jars of chutney. And it took a bunch of tomatoes, let me tell you.

So when Bruce called me at my office Friday to tell me he picked the last of the green tomatoes, I knew I had to make a run to the store to pick up some fixings to can some more this weekend. He said he had "nearly a box full" of green tomatoes, but I had no idea what size box (shoe box? bigger?). I knew we had a number of tomatoes on the vine, but I figured there was only enough for one batch of something. I thought I'd focus on the salsa, so I picked up ingredients for that at the store. This errand-running included hitting more than one place to find more jars. I'm finding out that not many stores have jars in stock by late October, but I found them at Ace.

Turns out it was a BIG box. Oh my. Definitely way too many tomatoes for just salsa, so more chutney had to be made. Back to the store(s); everything for more salsa and for a batch of chutney as well. Oh, and more jars. 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night and I'm running around picking up jars and apples at the store.

As a result, today, I was in the kitchen making more salsa verde and chutney. I have to say, I am pretty pround of myself! And, as a result of the last two Saturdays of canning, plus past canning weekends, we have lots of jars full of garden goodies. We've given a number of jars away as gifts, we've eaten a couple jars of pickles, one of salsa...but all told as of right now, here is what is on our dining room table:

Pickles: 10 quarts, 5 pints

Dilly beans: 15 pints

Zucchini relish: 18 half-pints

Chutney: 3 pints, 18 half-pints, 14 12-oz jars, and 22 4-oz jars

Salsa: 23 pints, 9 half-pints, 10 12-oz jars

No dining room table is complete unless you have a
furminator next to the salt and pepper shaker...

That's where it stands. I am enamored with canning, and am thrilled that we have food from our summer to share and to eat in the dark depths of winter.

Since I provided the salsa verde recipe in a previous post, why not post the chutney recipe. The original recipe, found on the web and provided by "Gayla" (thank you, whoever you are), called for a relatively small batch of tomatoes, whereas I had a ton. So I at least tripled it, but really, I have no idea of the quantities, I throw them all together until it looks and tastes right, and then add a bunch of apple cider vinegar to make sure it's acidic enough for canning. But you can also make this recipe in a small batch a saucepan and serve it with one meal and keep the remainder in the fridge for awhile, no canning involved:

Green Tomato - Apple Chutney, from "Gayla":

Green tomatoes, chopped
An equal amount of good tart cooking apples, I use Granny Smiths and a big Honey Crisp, chopped
Shallots, diced
Garlic, minced
Ginger, recipe calls for fresh, minced, but I just used the stuff in a jar, so sue me
Raisins (I used a mix of regular, golden, and I also added currants, and in one batch I added some chopped dates I had on hand)
Brown sugar to taste
Hot peppers; I used a half-can of jalapenos per batch, but the batch filled up a large mixing bowl
Salt to taste
Apple cider vinegar

Chop the tomatoes and let them sit over a strainer to drain some of their juices. You may not need to do this if you're just making a stovetop version, but for canning, I wanted to add more vinegar to get the acidity up, but not have it too liquidy, so I drained the tomatoes for a couple hours.

Put the tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the chopped apples, shallots, garlic, ginger, raisins, brown sugar, salt (not much) and hot pepper (don't go heavy on the hot pepper, you just want a bit of a tang). Mix well. Pour into a saucepan, and add cider vinegar until you get a good consistency. For canning, I tend to add quite a bit so there's enough liquid in the jars to reach the top of the solid food. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Either serve as is, or do your canning, and put jars in a canning bath at least 15 minutes (where I am, at 7000 feet elevation, I boil in a bath for more than 30 minutes).

I don't have a picture of the chutney, but the picture of the salsa in my previous entry looks alot like it, only there are brown and gold raisins peeking through. It is simply divine with pork, and would be equally good with grilled chicken. And, I think it'd be great as an ice cream topping, or as a topping for plain Greek yogurt??? I'm open to ideas...I have enough to try it on just about anything!!!

I promise, no more canning posts for the rest of the season, I am done! Next year, though, I'll be looking for new recipes and will likely bore you all again with more canning stories. Thanks for bearing with me!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall Productions

It's been a short summer; we're already deep into fall, and I don't know where it all went. Three more weeks until November? Say it ain't so!!! But when I look at what I have been creating with my own two little paws over the past six weeks, I guess you could say it's been a productive season for me. So, this is a relatively short blog entry as I'll mostly be recording, for posterity, a few hand-made creations that define the season. 
Starting at the top, about 3 weeks ago, we picked our first carrot from our garden. It was lovely:

The rest of our carrots since then have been these two- to three-pronged genetic mutants. They taste good but look really weird. I can deal with that. What both Bruce and I can barely deal with, though, is looking at the plethora--dozens upon dozens--of green tomatoes on the vine, knowing every day is one day closer until THE FIRST FREEZE.

Which happened about two weeks before we thought it would. That means it happened this past week, the first week of October. We were given plenty of weather warnings. Mentally I wasn't ready, but I had to suck it up. Mother Nature waits for no one.

Here are our tomatoes outnumbering our
Co-op squash and garlic
First, it was time to pick most of our crop. Cucumbers, squash, green beans, and the most ripe tomatoes had to be harvested. Here is a sampling of just some of the tomatoes we got before the freeze, and yes, we left dozens of greenies on the vine. Frustrated and a bit chagrined, we knew that after this freezing storm system passed, it was going to warm back up to the balmy seventies. So, we only picked the ripest tomatoes, hoping to squeak by the predicted three nights of below-freezing temperatures by wrapping our green lovelies in blankets, sheets, and tarps. 

With more cukes, squash, and green beans, I went through the canning process again, making 12 more pints of dilly beans, 12 half-pints of zucchini relish, and this time, 12 QUARTS (not pints!) of pickles. Here is my second batch of canned goods, and I thank my friend and neighbor Julie (Sky Island Woman) for helping me out this time. I think I did my mother-in-law proud:

In the meantime during evenings and the few minutes I could capture on weekends, I also spent time knitting and crocheting, eventually making a crocheted cotton shawl:

And, with the varied green yarn I dyed this past summer (entry here), a smaller triangular lace scarf:

Then, we waited for the freeze. Three nights ago it got down to 25 degrees. The results of wrapping, tarping, and blanketing our tomatoes (and our lettuce) were mixed. The lettuce was fine. Some tops of the tomato plants froze, some tomatoes got freezer-skin, but others looked okay. It scared me enough to realize I had to pick as many green tomatoes as possible. What does one do with several pounds of green tomatoes? I know you can let them ripen by boxing them up and leaving them in a cool, dry place, but that just didn't appeal to me.

Off to the web to find some green tomato recipes, preferably for canning. Score! Green tomato salsa verde. I merged a few recipes together, and came up with mine:

Sue's Green Tomato Salsa Verde

"X" pounds of green tomatoes (I'm guessing 3 to 4?), cored and sliced into quarters; it filled a large mixing bowl
"Y" green chiles, probably about 8 medium to large chiles
A few cans of store-bought green chiles to add
One small can of diced jalapenos
2 onions, chopped
2 heads (not cloves, use alot!!!) garlic
1 bunch cilantro, leaves only
Cumin to taste
Salt to taste
3/4-Cup lime juice
1/4-Cup lemon juice
1/3 C. white sugar
1/4 C. or a bit less brown sugar
1/2 C. white distilled vinegar

Place cored, quartered tomatoes on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Spray with oil, and roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Cut and de-seed the green chiles, lay cut side down (skin side up), and broil for several minutes until skin is blackened. When the chiles cool a bit, peel the skin off. Prep the cilantro, peel a bunch of garlic, and peel the skin/ends off the onion and chop into large segments.

Using a food processor, process onions, garlic, roasted tomatoes, cilantro, and chiles until you're happy with the consistency. Place in a large bowl. I didn't think I had enough chiles, and my fresh ones were pretty mild, so I added three cans of diced green chiles and one small can of jalapenos (both store bought). Add cumin, salt, lime and lemon juice, sugar, and vinegar and stir well. Taste and add seasonings as you see fit. Set over stove, bring to a boil, and cook a few minutes as you prepare your canning jars. Fill jars, secure the lids, and boil in a water bath for 20 minutes.

There are still more green tomatoes on the vine. In a few days, I'll pick another batch, and this time I'll be making "Green Tomato Chutney" with apples, raisins, ginger, and some spices. I'll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, preparations for winter begin. Summer clothes get moved to the back of the closet, winter ones to the front. Hats, mittens, and scarves are moved to front and center in our coat closet. My next knitting projects are determined: I think I'll start my first sweater, and I need to finish a hat and some mittens from last year. The pellet stove gets turned on and warms our house in the mornings and evenings. My corn bags (if you know what a corn bag is, you know how great they are) are pulled out and are microwaved nightly to heat my bed.

This is all on top of the re-model going on in this house. A new garage is being built, and the old garage, pantry, and laundry area will be transformed into a new pantry, an enclosed laundry area, and a third bedroom complete with new bathroom and a place to corral all my crafty goodies (yarn, beads, and oh, so much more). Days of packing, moving stuff, cleaning things out, and general chaos will be in store for us very, very soon.