Preserving Notes: 9/5/10

pesto freeze 2.jpgI have 13 batches of pesto in the freezer.  That’s 13 up from last year.  There were many bone-damp cold winter evenings when I would have given a lot to defrost some pesto to put on hot pasta.  Something so green and fresh tasting never fails to bring warmth to the cold.  I never buy pre-made pesto any more.  It is always such a disappointment compared to my own.  I would like to get 9 more batches in the freezer before basil disappears from the market.

plum tomatoes 2.jpg

This is a terrible year for tomatoes in the Willamette Valley.  All the farmers are saying so.  I managed to pick (maybe) close to 80 lbs this weekend.  It was difficult finding that many ripe ones in the upick fields where I go.  The guy working at the farm stand yesterday said their tomatoes are 7.5 weeks behind from last year.  We don’t generally get hot enough weather to ripen tomatoes reaching into September.  So this is it.

I didn’t put up any tomatoes last year.  All winter I was bummed to have to buy canned tomatoes from the store.  I’ll have to do it again this year.  I have 5 precious quarts of tomato sauce I made yesterday which I will save for the darkest gloomiest days of winter.  I have 40 pounds still waiting for processing in the garage that I picked yesterday and haven’t yet processed and I’m having to ask myself what the best use for them is. 

I don’t buy fresh tomatoes once they disappear from the farmer’s markets.  Two things I’ve learned to make this year that call for fresh tomatoes but which I’ve had to use canned for are Mexican style rice and red enchilada sauce.  So my plan today is to make enchilada sauce and make the tomato/onion/pepper puree that goes into Mexican style rice, portion it out, and freeze them. 

To have one quart of tomatoes a week I would need to put up close to 300 pounds of tomatoes.  The most I’ve ever done were 36 quarts (200 pounds).  I didn’t buy a single fresh tomato or a single can of tomatoes from the store for an entire year.  But I was very careful how I used my tomatoes and realized that I use tomatoes so much in my cooking that I would have done better with a quart a week.

I put up 9 pints of marinated vegetables yesterday and have just as much ready to process today. 

I’ve got one box of peaches for which I must use half to make a peach chutney.  I’m not even sure I like chutney and since I don’t eat meat of any kind I’m unclear on the best use for it in my cooking- BUT – this is a labor of love for my mother who loves chutney.  The rest of the peaches will be jarred with a light sugar syrup.  If I’m lucky and there are some more peaches in at the farm stand next week I’ll put up another box in syrup. 

I also have about ten pounds of summer squash for making into relish and chutney.

There I should stop.  I don’t have time to do all the preserving I wish to do.  I’m squeezing all of this between work and parenting.  I haven’t worked on my book now for a month and I’m getting anxious about it.

I’m squeezing it in because last year I barely did any preserving and I regretted it all year.  Preserving food is generally fairly simple but terribly time consuming.  Why do it?  I love doing it.  I LOVE it.  The truly frantic preserving season is September for most people and this is the turning of the season as well. 

When I’m canning I feel as though my internal clock is being calibrated.  I become very present to the changes of weather which are influencing what’s available to preserve, I become connected to my own nourishment in such a primal way that I often find myself thinking about the history of humans as I peel blanched tomatoes, get sticky up to my elbows in sugar syrup, and think about the evolution of pickling as I fill jars with dill and spices for pickles. 

Whether you preserve your own food or buy commercially canned food this is still the only reason human beings can live in one place all year and get fat in winter instead of thin and feed more babies than you could feed if you still had to hunt and forage all year.  Agriculture and food preserving are the reason we can settle, fight wars, play golf, and mess ourselves up with junk food like Twinkies. 

I like to preserve as much of my own food as I can because it feels good.  It feels essential and keeps me from taking my food for granted.  The raisins I dried myself that I’m about to use in the peach chutney took time (though little effort) to make and came from a friend’s vines.  That’s a lot of interconnectedness with the local earth, friends, labor, and I’ve used very few of them because I didn’t have a lot to begin with and now it’s going to be used to nourish my own mother.

Preserving is a great labor of love. 

Preserving food is life-affirming. 

It makes my hands feel worthy of the life they’ve been given.

I’ve got a lot of work to do today and I couldn’t be happier.

I’ll be thinking of all the rest of you out there today putting up jams and sauces, fruits and vegetables.

Happy canning!

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6 thoughts on “Preserving Notes: 9/5/10

  1. minnie

    would you be willing to share that awesome looking pesto recipe?
    I’m feeling inspired to do canning this season but moving has put everything into such turmoil over here.half the kitchen is here, and the other half is either at the new house or still packed in boxes. UGH!
    Do you use special canning eq? So far i haven’t bought anything special but just use a regular pot and bbq tongs… I’m thinking things might be easier if i had some more canning stuff.

  2. Angelina

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who recalibrates when preserving!
    Minnie- the pesto doesn’t require any canning at all. (In fact, you can’t can it) This is an EASY recipe and you can freeze it in jars or in vacuum sealed bags. Here’s a link to my recipe:
    Pesto freezes remarkably well. I usually freeze it in vacuum sealed bags (this ensures superior quality) but I’m bothered by the use of plastic to store food in long term. So I’m doing some in jars. I’ve read that if you put a thin layer of olive oil across the top it will keep the pesto from getting freezer-burned. so if you try this, fill the jars, freeze the pesto, then pour a little oil over the top.
    I’m so excited for you moving! (Yeah, it’s a lot of upheaval and work- and hard when you have a little kid)
    I would definitely recommend getting at least some jar lifting tongs if you’re canning something. Basic canning equipment is relatively inexpensive. But you also might be able to score some from garage sales or from older relatives who used to can.

  3. Mary

    I don’t think I’m ready to start preserving but you have inspired me to shop locally for produce and buy from responsible local farmers. It’s been fun to go to the farmers market and buy what’s in season, the take it home and find something to make with it! LOL! I picked up some figs on one trip and absolutely loved them.

  4. amy

    It’s the coldest summer in 17 years I read so the tomatoes are puny and if they are ripe they are sad looking. I am going to wait to pull the rest till next weekend. I read you can pull the plant, hang it upside down and they will ripen. Not sure if it works or not?

  5. erin

    Do you can the whole tomatoes or a puree?? Do you can or freeze your tomato sauce. The recipe I just used this year to make canned tomato sauce had a unpleasant taste due to the vinegar, so i’m considering just freezing sauce next year. If you have some tomatoes that you don’t can, consider making sundried tomatoes (in the oven) and freezing. I used the following recipe and made the risotta (but did lots more tomatoes so I could freeze extra, and have them all winter)–caramelized-onion-risotto-with-roasted-tomatoes
    The best thing I made with peaches this year was peach-lavender jam
    Good luck with all your projects!

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