Tag Archives: preserving

16 Batches of Pesto is Squirrel Behavior

pesto productionIt has begun.

The point in the summer when my squirrel instincts kick in and I start stuffing and storing food in my cheeks and no one notices because I’m really fat.

Wait – no – I mean, the point in the season where I become a squirrel but no one notices because I’m already impressively hirsute.

Gah! What I really mean is —


I can feel it in my bones. The need to sock food away in the pantry and freezer. I look at all produce and wonder what I can do with it to save it. I don’t do it in a small way, either. Food preserving in a small way is great and I encourage everyone to do it on any scale that suits them.

I only do it on a large scale. I’m an inherently lazy person. I really am. I think in some way my spazzy excitement about the things I love has to be balanced out by my dark chronic depression and a damning inertia in order to prevent the world and people around me from being irradiated by my overwhelming excitement over the little things, like when I find basil for $1.25 per bunch from my local farm.

I can’t muster up the energy to make one or two batches of pesto. That would require that I drag out my food processor and all the ingredients for food that will be gone by tomorrow. WASTED USE OF ENERGY. But it’s totally worth getting it out to make 16 batches of pesto.

That’s what I made yesterday. One batch to eat last night and 15 to put in the freezer.

Need a pesto recipe? I have a great one my friend Chelsea and I developed together:

Pesto Recipe

Philip wants me to make at least 10 more batches. It’s hard to refuse when I can get locally grown basil for such a great price. I can’t afford to buy pine nuts so this pesto is made with walnuts.

Walnuts I foraged from the neighborhood for free last fall. I have plenty to use up. Tons. That cost me nothing but the labor of gathering and then cracking them and then freezing them. This makes this pesto the cheapest I’ve ever made. In Oregon one summer I froze 21 batches of pesto but each basil bunch was $2.40 and I used pine nuts which cost $16 per pound (I think we got ours from Trader Joe’s which might have been less but some pine nuts cost up to $32 per pound and eventually I just couldn’t pay it). Anyway, it was much more expensive to make that pesto but it was worth it for how much better home made pesto is than store bought.

This year the pesto is costing about $2 per batch which is just for the oil and Parmesan and garlic. A bargain.

There’s something about food preserving that makes me so excited and energized and deeply satisfied. I look forward to canning season all year just as much as I look forward to eating tomatoes and cucumbers all year. I hope I’ll get a ton of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce in the freezer this year too. Last year I didn’t process many tomatoes in the canner because I have a lot of space to use up in my freezer and if I don’t fill it then it’s wasted energy.

Today is a pickling day. Yesterday was going to be for pickling but then that basil happened and I had to go with it. Today I’m pickling (ripe) cherry tomatoes (new to me – not sure if I’ll like the results) and dilled beans which I love and haven’t made for several years. I’ll do one or two jars with a hot pepper in them for my sister and others who like a spicy pickle.

It’s already almost 1pm and I’m still in my pyjamas so it’s time to get dressed and bicycle to the farm for some dill heads and I may have to go get more vinegar. I’ll be using the burner on the BBQ for the canning today as I’ll be making batches too big for the kitchen stove.


A Great Year for Tomatoes!

tomatoes and VespaThe tomatoes this year are phenomenal! The winner for most prolific is tied between my Sungold cherry tomato plant and the Ananas Noire plant which produces these small green tomatoes. They’re pretty good but not nearly as good as Aunt Ruby’s German Green which I couldn’t find in the nursery. I have a seed packet of them to start next year.

tomato soup and croutons 2This tomato soup with garlic croutons is the best tomato soup I’ve ever made – but I added too much salt so next batch I will be more cautious with the salt.  I made this just as the tomatoes were starting to ripen so it’s half homegrown tomatoes and half canned store bought tomato sauce. I will be making this again and probably actually put the recipe on the blog.

makings for ugly tomato sauceI took color theory at FIDM so I knew this sauce was going to be brownish but it is less pretty than I predicted. In future I will not combine my green tomatoes with my red ones for sauce. Also note how full the pot it. This batch of sauce cooked down to just 2 quarts of sauce.

ugly sauceOrangey brownish sauce.

fancyass chickenPhilip, Max, and Max’s friend Sam made chicken Kiev this past weekend though Sam had to leave before tasting it because it takes FOREVER to make this. Huge success with the kid. He liked the parsley garlic butter sauce. Even ate the big chunks of garlic though it was supposed to be smooth. The kid likes garlic! As it’s turning out, Max is a gourmand. He likes really fancy food. Only freshly made. He loves sushi but only from the restaurant they go to, not from the supermarket. He is still intensely picky about texture so if the salt roasted chicken he usually likes is a tiny bit rubbery or different – he won’t eat it. No leftovers.

I’m having a lot of trouble feeding him from day to day still. Back to Nature seems to have changed their cracker recipes and now they’re all sub-par and Max won’t eat them. So peanut butter and round crackers is suddenly not happening. It’s super frustrating. So everyday eating is still hugely frustrating but meanwhile he’s trying lots of things. Like, I say “hey, try this out, kid” and if what I hand him doesn’t offend him visually he’ll try it. This was not how things used to be. He used to be so suspicious of trying anything new that huge negotiations would have to be undertaken, probably with plenty of warning days in advance, in order to convince him to try things.

So for those people with extreme picky eaters like mine – even once they start trying things – this food thing can be a major uphill climb. Hang in there, (I tell you and remind myself), your kid might actually be a gourmand instead of just a problem eater but it will take a lot of patience and experimentation and time to uncover the food lover.

Today I’m going to make a big pot of experimental salsa to can. The one thing I have to figure out is how much acidity to add to it to make it safe for canning. I’m using a Ball recipe for guidance but changing some flavoring things. For one thing, I will be using my pickled jalapenos in it (which obviously means my salsa will already have higher acidity than if using fresh peppers). Also – way more cilantro. Their recipes always call for a couple of tablespoons but cilantro loses a lot of its flavor when cooked and that small amount adds almost nothing to salsa. I have found a couple of other recipes that use a lot more of it. Anyway, I’m using my green tomatoes for this and I’m pretty excited. I haven’t canned salsa for many years. It will be good to have some jars stashed away.

I spent a couple of hours looking through my extensive collection of preserving books and it got me so excited to do some new preserving projects. The one author I’m missing from my collection is Marisa McClellans two books. I can’t afford to buy them right now but I really want both of her titles: Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint and when I have money for a couple more books I’m getting them. But my collection is pretty fantastic and it’s just about time to rev up for the canning season.

Canning projects I want to try this year:

pickled red onions

pickled cocktail onions

develop new salsa recipe (today!)

bruschetta topping

pickled ripe cherry tomatoes

Old favorites I plan to make:

tomato sauce

dilly beans

marinated summer vegetables

garlic dill pickles

canned peaches

canned vanilla pears

and more pickled jalapenos*

*Those black little dots I’ve seen in the batches this year and last year are weird but apparently not dangerous (Philip and I have been eating the jalapenos anyway with no ill effects) . Needless to say, I can’t give them to friends just to be safe. I’m going to be using a bunch of last year’s in my salsa so they will be cooked again and 100% safe at that point. But I will hold back a jar and take it to the extension office for answers. I meant to do that last year but will do it this time. I need that mystery solved.


How (not) to Cure Olives with Lye

I have wanted to try curing olives for a long time.  Moving back to California where olives are planted all over the place as landscape trees and finding actual clear instructions for curing them (not a lot of information could be found 12 years ago) meant it was time to forage for olives and play with lye.  If you want to play with olives too – always use a source who has lots of personal experience SUCCESSFULLY curing olives.  I recommend Hank Shaw’s instructions for Curing Olives with Lye.  I am writing this post merely to illustrate what NOT to do.

  • The first thing you need to do is pick through your olives and remove any bruised or bitten ones.  What likes to bite into a tongue-numbingly bitter fruit?  Olive fly.  Also remove any blushed olives.  You only want really hard green ones.

I removed all olives with olive fly holes in them and all the bruised ones but I couldn’t bear to remove all the blushed ones.  Which are now an unbecoming shade of grey.

  • Put very cold water in a non-aluminum container.  Put on gloves and safety glasses.  Measure your lye with a non-aluminum measuring device and add it to the cold water.  Stir it up with a non-aluminum spoon.  Now weight the olives down because if the olives are exposed to air while curing they will darken.

This, my friends, is the trickiest part of the whole process: keeping those suckers submerged.  I suggest figuring out what works BEFORE you mix up your lye and mess up your olives.  Even if you think you have a system that works – it might not.  Do not weigh your olives down with anything aluminum.  By now you may have noticed that aluminum should have nothing to do with your lye curing project.  Lye + contact with aluminum = poison.

I had two batches of olives to cure.  So I had two stainless steel pots.  Pickling crocks would work way better.  I haven’t got any pickling crocks because they are so flippin’ expensive.  What’s up with that?!  One of my pots worked pretty well because a smaller lid fit perfectly inside it without letting any of the loose olives float to the top.  But the other pot?  Nothing fit well in it.  I finally found a ceramic pie weight that almost fit.  I got it so the olives weren’t quite able to float up around it to the top.  I walked away for one hour.  ONE hour.

And all of the olives had managed to get around the small space at the sides of the weight like crafty little bastards and were floating at the top.  I think “dicolored” is so gentle sounding.  They were RUDELY discolored.  Check it out:

Angry orange-ish red.

And blackened.  Needless to say I had to throw half of this batch out.  Even if the discoloration wouldn’t have rendered them technically inedible – would you eat that?

Hank has a solution mentioned in his instructions and if I had been smart I would have tried this to begin with.  Tie the olives up in cheese cloth (but make sure the olives are pretty loose inside so liquid can flow freely between them).  Then your weight doesn’t have to match the circumference of your container precisely.  Worked like a charm.  So if you don’t have the perfect container and plate or lid situation: listen to Hank.


  • Let the olives soak in the lye for 12 hours.  No need for more.  This is the perfect amount of time to leach out the bitterness and preserve flavor.

I left mine in for 21 hours.  Because to take them out at 12 hours would have required me to be showered and dressed by 8am with a clean enough kitchen to be dealing with lye and olives.  I think I might have gotten dressed around 11am but then I had to clean the kitchen and then some other random bullshit came up and I didn’t get the olives out of the lye until 1pm.

This is what you’ll see at 21 hours.  The water/lye solution will be a reddish color.  Kind of like deadly punch.

  • Drain the lye solution out and then rinse the olives.  Next you fill your container with water, covering them, and weigh them down again, they can still discolor. You want to rinse the olives and replace the water 3-4 times a day for 2 to 4 days (until the lye is completely rinsed out).

Or if you’re me: 2 times a day for the first 2 days and then once a day for the next 9 days.  Because I am lazy.  And I forget about them.  If you did it like you were supposed to then in 2-4 days your olives will be ready for the next step.  How do you know they’re ready?  The water will look clean when the lye is completely rinsed out of the olives.  How do you make sure the lye is all out?  You  bite into an olive, if it’s soapy tasting then they need more soaking and rinsing.  And no, you won’t get sickened or die if there’s a little lye in your olive at this point.  There’s very little and it’s no longer caustic.  Trust me, I did it.

Lye is in traditional soap.  So the olives will be foamy and slippery like you’ve just slathered them up with some soap.  Because that’s essentially what you’ve done.  See the discoloration of the water in that picture above?

Now there is no discoloration.

The next step after all the soaking and rinsing in plain water is brining the olives.  I just did that last night with my first two batches while putting a whole new crop of olives in lye with a much better container this time.  But as per my usual way of doing things – I picked some olives 9 days ago that only got into the lye last night along with some olives I picked fresh yesterday*.  So I’ll be able to report to you if curing olives that have been off the tree languishing on a warm sunny project table are worth bothering with.

Next up: brining and flavoring the olives Angelina-style.

*I tied up the old ones and new ones separately in cheese cloth so they don’t mix together.  I am very scientific.