October 2010 Archives

So Much Abundance

best fennel 2.jpgI think it's funny that when I'm in the middle of canning it's almost impossible to prepare actual meals.  I end up eating a lot of sandwiches and easy food.  Back when we had more money it was a great excuse to order in from restaurants.  This week the best thing I ate was this pan of roasted vegetables all of which I got from the two organic farms I buy from.  The tofu isn't organic and came from the regular market. 

I cut up two sweet potatoes, a few small Yukon potatoes, an enormous fennel bulb cut into six wedges, one whole block of tofu, and an entire head of garlic on my roasting pan.  I cut everything into (roughly) 1.5" size pieces.  I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and drizzled a generous amount of olive oil over the whole thing.  I cooked them at 400 degrees, turning them about every ten or fifteen minutes for an hour.

Best meal I've had all week!  I'm not usually a huge fan of fennel but I have to say that eaten this way has changed my mind.  I can no longer remember how I've fixed them in the past.

The best thing I ate the previous week was a pasta sauce I made with chanterelles and caramelized onions added to a sharp white cheddar cheese sauce.  The sauce was so thick it worked well to spread on toast and broil. 

All my other meals have been breakfasts of eggs, cheese, and tomatoes or lunches of cheese tomato sandwiches. 

best roasted tomatoes 2.jpgI did make (and freeze) some tomato soup.  I consulted friends for herb ideas and everyone has something different to suggest.  I ended up using fresh thyme from the garden and the very last of the fresh local basil.  I thought it was really nice but Philip preferred it as a dip for a grilled cheese.  He didn't love it on it's own merit, which is why I didn't bother posting my recipe here.  It needs work.  All soups should be worthy of standing alone. 

Vespa pack mule 2.jpgI made my annual trip to the local farm Bernard's this year for tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant - all upick.  I ended up getting some jalapenos even though I promised myself I wouldn't.  Here's what I packed on my scooter:

74 eggplants
3.5 pounds jalapenos
34 pounds green and red tomatoes

All of this food cost only $36.95.  I am not kidding.  The eggplants were 25 cents each, the tomatoes were 47 cents a pound, and the jalapenos were comparatively expensive at 99 cents a pound.

free walnuts 2.jpgLast year my friend Laurie brought me a box of walnuts she'd collected from her mother's tree.  I put them in the freezer and only just cracked them all open in the last few weeks.  I portioned them into vacuum sealed bags and put them back in the freezer.  Walnuts are expensive to buy and I can go through a lot making this recipe for walnut pesto sauce.

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The pickles.  This was not my year for pickles.  There weren't any pickling cucumbers available for upick so I decided I'd make dilled beans.  When I tried picking at the farm it was not a great moment for them either.  So I resolved to just make extra cauliflower pickles.  I love dill cauliflower pickles so I figured I'd be just as happy eating these as the usual cucumber dills.

The day I brought home my giant bunch of dill-heads I was so giddy with excitement that I got chatty with the Rite-aid check-out guy who could be expected to have no interest at all in pickles.  To my surprise I was wrong.  I said "Dill!!" and he said "Pickles!" and I spazzed out at him when I found out his grandmother makes cauliflower pickles and it turns out this barely-twenty-something kid is a fan of cooking blogs and home canning

Those dill-heads would turn out to be a grim* reminder of the superiority of insects.  For anyone who doesn't know, it is generally best not to wash herbs any time you can get away with it.  I have been pickling for 4 years and have never had any problems with my dill.  I've grown complacent and careless, apparently.  I canned 17 quarts of pickles and every single one of those jars has a few tiny floating pickled aphids in them. 

I thought I was going to have to dump the jars out and cry over a very large beer.  Luckily my husband and my mother are more intrepid eaters than I am and have declared that they are perfectly happy to rinse the pickles before eating. 

I obviously had to make some aphid-free cauliflower pickles for myself.  I got more dill heads, really nice looking ones that didn't seem to have any aphids on them.  But I wasn't going to take any risks so I soaked my fresh dill heads in vinegar for a few hours thinking this might make all the aphids die and let go.  It worked!  (Yes, there were aphids on these ones too.)  But then I made the mistake of taking them out of the vinegar and waiting to use them the next day by which time they had developed a truly suspect odor.

In the end my last 14 quarts of pickles had no dill-heads.  Instead I used a quarter teaspoon of dill seeds and a quarter teaspoon of dried dill leaves.  I have no idea how they will turn out.

I am now done with my preserving season!  I am ready to concentrate on actual cooking, curtain making, and writing. 

*Possibly an overstatement.
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Thoughts on Fitting Food Preserving into a Busy Life

organic apple 2.jpgI have been doing a lot of preserving in the past month.  It has been my intention for weeks to hang up the jar tongs and get back to seriously writing the second draft of my book.  I have this goal that I will have the second draft finished by January 1, 2011.  Instead of writing I've been making batches of pesto (I'm up to a little over 20 batches in the freezer), canning stewed tomatoes (17 quarts this weekend), making quadruple batches of enchilada sauce to freeze, and yesterday I made an enormous batch of soup using the last of the summer vegetables (corn, green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, new potatoes, and fresh basil).

The elderberries are winding down now.  I've got 11.25 cups of elderberries getting sauced in 2,250 ml of 100 proof vodka in the pantry.  I have at least another 6 pounds of foraged elderberries in the freezer.

I could be done now.   I could throw the towel down and leave the ring.  But if I did that I wouldn't have any dill pickles.  There weren't enough pickling cucumbers for me to make cucumber pickles but right now there are these giant locally grown cauliflowers and cabbages that I can pickle the same way I do the cucumbers.  I made the cauliflower last year and it was an enormous success- not only between myself and my husband but all of our friends who tried them loved them also.   

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I have another nagging ambition: I want to make a green tomato salsa.  I want to do it just like the tomatillo salsa I made a couple of years ago.  Tomatilloes, like tomatoes, had a rough year and I didn't manage to get any through u-pick.  But I have a Mexican cookbook that mentions that green enchilada sauce can be made with either tomatillos or green tomatoes.

I want to try it!

There's more.  I saw a recipe for dill pickled green tomatoes that I think I'll regret not trying all year if I don't make them.

And what about the eggplants?  They're 4 for a dollar at Bernard's and I wanted to grill a huge bucket of them for the freezer...

I keep telling myself to stop, but the truth is that doing these preserving activities makes me feel good.  It makes me feel more hopeful and excited about the coming months during which time anything good or bad might happen but one thing's for sure: I'll be eating home pickles and making soups from tomatoes that have no pesticides on them.  When I'm feeling low I can make a pasta with grilled eggplant and pesto. 

So the book takes a little longer to write.  I've been thinking a lot about my characters as I preserve, thinking about how important these same activities are to them.  More so since they can't just buy things from a grocery store the way we can today.  The inspiration for the story originally came from doing urban homesteading activities and asking "What if oil didn't completely run out but became so limited and so costly that the average person couldn't drive a car because they couldn't get oil and what if they couldn't buy anything plastic?  What if no one could afford to buy imported foods except on rare and special occasions?  What would you have to know how to do in order to survive being more isolated in the community you're in?

These are the things I think about while processing 50 pounds of tomatoes. 

What I've realized is that preserving as much food every year as I can, at least in the fall, isn't just a silly little project I enjoy doing, it's a big project that I feel a deep need to participate in.  I need to know how to preserve food I have now so I can eat it later.  Because I already mostly eat seasonally my choices in produce are about to become much more limited.  I buy a few things out of season, but not much.  No green beans, no corn, no out of season fruit (except for Max), no summer squash, no tomatoes, no eggplant, no asparagus, no peas, and no fresh herbs I can't still get out of my garden.

It isn't a fancy rich person's hobby.

I'm not rich and I'm not fancy.

It isn't an indulgence as I've been telling myself it is just because I know I have other things to do.  It's one of the most important things I do for myself and my family every year.

So I'm reminding myself, and anyone else who needs a similar nudge, that preserving your own food (no matter how much or how little you do) is using the kind of knowledge that allowed humans to cross the ocean.  Practicing this knowledge is what allowed humans to settle down in one place.  Unfortunately it's also what allowed armies to march far enough to conquer and oppress other countries.  Food preserving is responsible for so many huge changes in human history.

It's something I look forward to every year.

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Marinated Summer Vegetables: a canning recipe

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closer marinated veg 2.jpg l love marinated three bean salad, so when I found a canning recipe for it I was really excited to try it.  The only problem was it called for green peppers which I don't care for, and which aren't traditionally found in a three bean salad.  I've noticed that a lot of canning recipes call for green peppers where I wouldn't normally suspect them and I'm sure this is because everyone grows them and then doesn't know what to do with them.  Toss them in the pickle!  Toss them in the sauce!  Put them in the piccalilli!. 

If you ask your local extension service about substitutions in canning recipes you are almost guaranteed to be told: NEVER MAKE SUBSTITUTIONS! and then they'll fall into a dead faint.  They take this subject very seriously, and rightly so.  The danger of making substitutions in a canning recipe is that you  might alter the acidity level of the food which may possibly make it unsafe to can. 

I chose to call my local extension office for advice and I ended up having to talk to the head master canner because the other ones were too scared to answer my question: can I safely replace the bell peppers in this recipe with more of some of the other items such as the green beans?  She looked into it and came back with the answer that it was safe.  She went on to explain that there was no reason other vegetables couldn't be used in this recipe in place of what's already in it, that the kidney beans and the chick peas were the lowest acidity items in the recipe and as long as I don't skip the over night marinating step, I can make substitutions in this recipe.

Why is marinating this recipe for at least twelve hours important?  Because you need to allow the beans, which have the lowest acidity level of all the vegetables in this recipe to become well saturated with the marinating liquid which ensures that the beans are at the proper acidity level.

I'm offering two versions here: Marinated Summer Vegetables and Marinated 3 Bean Salad.  What I love about these recipes is that when it's the middle of winter and there isn't a lot to put on a salad I can drain a jar of these and add half a cup to a bed of lettuce and enjoy summer vegetables in winter. 

marinated veg in pot.jpg
Marinated Summer Vegetables
yield approximately 6 half pints

5 cups equal parts corn, green bean, and summer squash
1/2 onion, quartered and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp pickling salt
2 tsp dried oregano


Wash the vegetables and cut so that the pieces are all between one and two inches.  For example: I cut my zucchini in half lengthwise and then into 1/2" thick slices except for the really small ones which I sliced into 1/2" thick rounds.  Add the celery and onion and mix them all together.

In a big nonreactive pot mix the water, vinegar, and lemon juice and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.  Add the oil, salt, and oregano and mix well.  Add all the vegetables to the solution and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and let it cool down before adding it to the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours.  I let mine marinate for almost 24 hours because that's when I could get back into the kitchen to process them.

Once the vegetables have marinated, bring them back to a boil and fill clean hot jars with the vegetables, topping each jar up with marinating liquid, leaving 1/2" head-space.  Adjust the lids and process for 15 minutes in a water bath canner.


Marinated 3 Bean Salad

yield approximately 6 half pints


2 cups green beans, cut into 1-2" pieces
1 1/2 cups red kidney beans, cooked and drained
1 1/2 cups chick peas, cooked and drained
1/2 onion, quartered and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp pickling salt
2 tsp dried oregano

Method:  Follow the same instructions for the Marinated Summer Vegetables (given above).

Recipe notes:  If you are one of those people with lots of green peppers to use up, reduce the green bean quantity by 1/2 cup and add 1/2 cup thinly sliced peppers if you're making the 3 Bean, or you can add them in equal parts to the other summer vegetables in the Marinated Summer Vegetables recipe.  Another safe variation is to do all green beans for the vegetables. 

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