Thursday, October 3, 2013

Keeping Myself Busy

"Oh, hey, how are you doing?" asks another member of my church on any given Sunday.

"Pretty good, you know, just keeping myself busy!" has become my usual response.

Busy may be a slight understatement for this time I'm at in my life.  I've gone back to school, and am about halfway to an Associate's RN, and work as a CNA.  I like to bake our bread instead of buy it, and this time of the year, "keeping myself busy," is never a problem.

My neighbor has a fence that is full of grapes, so I have made some jam and and some wine.  I've gone back to Thompson's Strawberry Farm and picked raspberries - I made regular raspberry jam and something I'm calling Raspberry Limeade jam.  My parents were out of the country when their pear trees were ready, so I harvested and canned most of them (I'm saving the non-can-able bits for pear cider, also called perry, but that will be a later project).  I've canned up peaches from the farmer's market, and over the summer made 5 different kinds of pickles (fermented, dill, bread-n-butter, beets, and dilly beans).
16 pints of pears - that's the same as 2 gallons!
Monday, I canned the last of the pears, and started making my tomato sauce, then finished and canned it Tuesday afternoon.  I usually can it up in quarts, because it's just my hubby and I, and we hardly ever need more than that for a meal.  I also decided to cook it up in the crock pot, since I am keeping pretty busy, and crock pots are fairly hands-off cooking.
I started with all the fresh tomatoes we had on hand that were ripe and not cherry tomatoes.
I love having quality knives.

Quarter the tomatoes, then place them in your crock pot (I did 8ths for the larger tomatoes).  I did take the stem ends off, but left on the blossom ends, especially on the roma (paste) tomatoes.  We have a lot this year, so I'll probably be doing this a few times.

Stir, then put a lid on it.
Once I added in all the tomatoes - probably about 10 lbs worth, I then started grabbing spices.  Now this is how I usually make up my spaghetti sauce, so you can adjust to your own taste.  In this batch is fresh rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, 3 large cloves garlic (minced) and fennel seeds.  I like to season heavy, so there was probably a good tablespoon of most spices - with the notable exception of the red pepper flakes and fennel seeds, those just had a few shakes tossed in.

Set your crock pot to low overnight.

In the morning, the tomatoes won't actually look too different, but the liquid around them should be bubbling a little, and they will all be soft and squishy.  Then you know its time to mill.  What I use is technically called a chinois strainer (pronounced sheen-wah), but its what my mother had, coupled with a fitted jelly bag, to make jelly or jam when I was a kid.  No, seriously - this is her strainer.  It works well to separate out the pulp and juice from the skins and seeds (also worked great last year for making apple butter). 

You will get sauce all over your counter doing this.  Sorry.
Then its time to put all that good-smelling, clothes-staining mess back in the crock pot.  If you wanted, you could just make up some dinner here - chicken Cacciatore, spaghetti, whatever.  Its up to you, really.  I wanted to can it, so I simmered it some more, this time on high, in the crock pot.  I'd also suggest this further reduction if you plan to freeze the sauce for use.  When I canned it I got 4 pints.  I may try to get a larger batch going, it looks like I should be able to double this without running out of space.   

...and it's saucy
A note if you decide to can it - the current USDA guidelines suggest that home canners add 1/4 tsp per pint of ascorbic acid or 1 tbsp of bottled lemon juice to up the acidity to a point where spoilage is unlikely.  If you have any canning books or materials from before 1986, it is strongly suggested that you get new books, with safer recipes.  My parents' cookbooks were from the mid 70's, and we did fine, no one got sick, but we were lucky and my parents were fastidious about how clean the cans had to be. (Good thing too, we downed quantities of my mom's stewed tomatoes!)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Storing the Harvest: Part 1

I settled onto my knees in the sun-warmed ground, and took in the brambled rows around me.  The wind played in my hair and tugged at my shirt, but did little to cool .  I picked up a long branch, peeked underneath its spiky leaves, and smiled.  This wouldn't take long at all.

For about an hour I peeked under leaves, between stems and through brambles, taking the tiny ruby gems from where they were hanging.  For that hour, I was rewarded for my efforts (and occasional scratches); four heaping pints of red raspberries, freshly picked and incredibly fragrant.

I tucked my beauties into the car, settled safely for travel.  We hurried home, where I double-checked my recipes, washed my new treasure and started to work.

Six, or maybe seven, just in case, freshly boiled jars - those that are cut to sparkle and dazzle, showing off the beauty of the prize stored within.  Six full cups of the washed then drained sun-rubies, along with six cups of the ever-familiar granulated sugar.  All mashed together into a fragrant mixture of fruit and sunshine.

For yet another hour, I boiled, stirred, added and mashed until I got just what I desired.  Sweet perfection.

Carefully, my concoction went into those jars, then they all took a quick boiling water bath.  After the bath, I lined up my prize on the counter to cool, and savor every tiny "ping" that signals a can well-made.  Once the evening is done, they are cool enough to label and enjoy.  And I have summer red, stored in jars.

What a sweet afternoon it's been.

Note: I wrote and cooked this last year (if you can read the date on the jars, you can see that!), but I never got around to getting anything done in the past year. :(  Maybe I'll do better, but maybe when school starts again, I'll fall off the face of the planet again. Who knows?