Aug 072011

We use a lot of tomatoes – Italian is our favorite cuisine, so our tomatoes are used in everything from pizza and sauce to rustic stews and soups. We have never yet grown enough to meet our need, even though the tomato garden usually looks like this:

The Tomato Forest
Okay – down to it. Our favorite way to preserve the tomato harvest is to make crushed tomatoes and can them. These are perfect to throw into a soup or stew, easy to cook down into sauce, and easy enough to make.
Step 1 – Pick your tomatoes.
Pick your tomatoes nice and ripe – this is a mixture of Roma, Pompeii, San Marzano, Pompadoro, Beefsteak, and Brandywine. We mix every ripe tomato into these. Wash your tomatoes well and drain on a towel.
Step 2 – Ready the tomatoes for skinning and seeding. With a sharp paring knife, carefully remove the core from each tomato, then cut a small x on the bottom. This is to aid in removing the skins. Also remove any insect damage, disease, or soft parts of the tomato.
Step 3 – Skin and Seed the Tomatoes. For this you will need:
  • large pot of boiling water
  • bowl of ice water
  • container for refuse (which we put into the compost)
  • very large bowl for the tomatoes
  • sharp knife
  • slotted spoon
Put several tomatoes into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, or until you see the skins beginning to slip. You will not need to keep the water at a boil for this, but it must be very hot.
When the skins begin to separate from the tomato, carefully lift it from the hot water and plunge into ice water. The tomato will cool quickly.
Slip the skin from the tomato and cut the tomato in halves or quarters, depending on the size. Remove all seeds into your refuse container (along with the skins). If you find any additional blemishes after blanching, cut these out as well.
Put your cleaned tomato halves and quarters into the big bowl. If you want to keep the tomatoes as liquid free as possible, place a colander in the big bowl and put the tomatoes in this. The bowl will then catch any extra moisture, which you can pour away before adding the tomatoes.
Step 4 – Making the Crushed Tomatoes. Put a large soup/sauce pot on the stove over medium high heat. Add about 2 cups of your tomato pieces and mash them with a potato masher.
When these begin to boil, start adding your tomatoes, about a cup at a time. There is no need to mash these, they will break up as the tomatoes boil. When all of your tomatoes (or as many as fit in the pot) are  in the pot, allow them to boil for about 5 minutes.
Step 5 – Canning your scrumptious crushed tomatoes. For this you will need:
  • Water bath canner (or pressure canner with the plug removed from the lid)
  • Canning jars
  • Lids and Rings for the jars
  • Jar lifter
  • Magnetic lid lifter (nice to have)
  • Small pot
  • Ladle
  • Clean damp cloth
  • Jar funnel
Fill your canner about halfway with water and set on the burner at about medium high heat.
Put your lids into the small pot and cover with boiling water, set the burner on low to keep them hot.
Place 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice in each pint jar, 2 Tablespoons in each quart. (You can also use 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint, 1/2 teaspoon per quart)
Begin filling your jars. A jar funnel will really help in this process. Fill each jar to within 1/2 inch of the top. Carefully wipe the top of the jar with the damp cloth. Lift a lid from the pot and center on the jar, then add a ring and twist finger-tight.
Carefully lower the jars into the canner.
Add boiling water as necessary to 2 inches above jars. Add canner lid and bring to a boil.
Step 6 – The Waiting. Process according to instructions for your canner – here’s what we do:
When the water boils in the canner, we turn the heat down just a bit to maintain a moderate boil (medium high on our stove). Process pints for 35 minutes, quarts for 45 minutes.
Step 7 – You’ve Got Tomatoes! When the time is up – immediately turn off the stove and remove the canner from the stove. Take the lid off and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Remove the jars to a towel and allow to cool. You should hear popping – one for each jar you filled.
This is the first year we tried the Italian way – Basil leaves in the jars. We did two jars this way and we’ll let you know how they turned out :)
From the tomatoes pictured at the top, we got 10 pints of crushed tomatoes – PLUS, the following:
We removed the little San Marzanos from the mix before the de-skinning process, cut them in half and seeded them, and put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. We drizzled them with olive oil and salted lightly.
We put these in a 375 degree oven for about an hour – and got these:
ALSO, we added several minced cloves of garlic and some oregano and crushed red pepper to the remaining tomatoes in the pot (rather than processing another canner full) and cooked it down further into a quart of yummy sauce (that will likely be on our pizza tonight and pasta one day this week).
There you have it – three options for preserving that yummy organic tomato harvest you worked so hard to achieve.
Dharma Dogs Farm
Aug 072011

Every year, my vacation days from work are spread out to care for the garden. In the early spring, days are spent cleaning up the garden and planting the early vegetables (peas, radish, lettuce, beets, onions, carrots, spinach, broccoli, rapini, cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, cucumbers). Late spring is for early harvest and preserving, and planting the summer vegetables. Late summer finds me in the busiest harvest of the year – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer squashes, beets, beans, corn, summer greens. It’s also time to plant the fall vegetables (2nd round of tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuce and greens, beets) and the greenhouse veggies for winter. Autumn will be time to put away apples, peanuts, and potatoes, onions, winter squash, and any second sowings of summer veggies. Winter is not only time to plan the garden, but also to tend to the greenhouse garden.

So, here I am with four days of vacation. The first day was spent in the garden, harvesting and planting the autumn sowing.

The second day, we were canning. Here’s the take:

This is 7 jars of No Sugar Blueberry Jam – something I sort of made up from reading no sugar jars of fruit. It’s pretty good, I opened a jar for breakfast.
4 jars of Dill Relish
5 jars of Dill Pickle Chips
8 jars of Dill Sandwich Stackers – including two with a hot pepper (see jar on left)
9 jars of Pickled Beets
4 jars of plain Red Beets
5 jars of Salsa (yes, that really was 5 jars – we ate 1 already and opened number 2 :)
There is only one problem -
There is nowhere left for Vacation Day 3
THE TOMATOES, oh my!  :)  Read on for step-by-step crushed tomato instructions!
Dharma Dogs Farm
Jul 162011

We could can green beans, but we like the texture and flavor of freezing them a lot more. We do our best to can and dry much of the harvest so we use as little energy as possible (none) to store it. There are some things though, like beans, that just taste better frozen.

Wash your beans. De-stem and snap, if desired. If it has been a muddy harvest, wash again.

Set a large pot of water to boil. When you are happy with the cleanliness of your green beans, submerge them into the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes (depending on the size of the beans).

Remove beans to a towel and allow to cool completely.

Divide into amounts you will need for a meal and place in heavy freezer bags (we’ve not been able to come up with a more ecological solution for this). Squeeze out as much air as you can and zip closed.

Label and freeze.

Another vegetable that is surprisingly good this way is beets. Wash and roast beets in a 350-degree oven or a grill. Peel, de-stem/root, and cut into the size you would like. Cool completely and freeze in heavy freezer bags. When you want these in the middle of winter, remove from freezer bag and place in 350-degree oven. They will taste like you just roasted them in about 20 minutes!

Corn is usually best frozen, as are cole crops – broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts. I steam all sorts of greens, from spinach and chard, to beet greens and dandelions, and be sure to press all of the water out and freeze in small batches.


Jul 112010

Admit it, those first few little zucchini that point proudly at you every year are a delicacy. You can’t wait to saute those gorgeous little nutritious nuggets and enjoy them for dinner.

But then something happens, that little zucchini plant becomes Audrey, Jr, screaming ‘Feed me Seymour‘ while belching zucchini at you. When you’ve eaten all the zucchini lasagna, zucchini parmesan, zucchini bread, zucchini fritters, and sauteed zucchini you can stomach – you do the unthinkable – ignore little Audrey Jr – just for a day. Hey, we all need a break – we have a life, right? Just a day, and there it is, the 8 lb zucchini that was hiding under those monstrous leaves just two days ago.
Well, here is a tasty way to preserve that bumper crop of zucchini we all seem to have every year. This relish makes a very tasty complement to burgers, hot dogs, or sausages. It also makes an interesting meatloaf addition. If you like Jamaican jerk dishes, this is a good relish to have on the side also. We adapted this recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
This is a two-day process.
Zucchini Relish
Day 1
12 cups chopped zucchini
4 cups chopped onion
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
The size you make these chopped vegetables is dependent on how you would like to use it. If you like very fine relish to use as a condiment, you may want to use a food processor to make quick work of this. If you like relish on the side, you might want a larger dice.

When chopping large zucchini, you will likely want to scoop the inner seeds and membrane. If you happen to have chickens, they love this!

Put all of the above in a large glass or stainless steel bowl and mix with 1/3 cup canning/pickling salt. Cover and allow this to sit overnight.

Day 2
In the morning, place the zucchini mixture in a colander in the sink or over a bowl and allow to drain for an hour or two.
Wring all the moisture you can out of the vegetables and place in a large pot, then add:
2 cups granulated sugar (original recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups, but we find this too sweet)
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 Tablespoon ground Allspice (original recipe calls for Nutmeg)
1 Tablespoon ground Turmeric
4 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 chopped chili pepper (any you have on hand: wax, cayenne, jalapeno, serrano, fresno)
Mix all together in the large pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Reduce heat and boil this gently until it is the consistency you’d like – I usually cook it down for about an hour.

Prepare your jars, lids, rings and set the canner on the stove filled with water and heat to boiling.
Ladle the relish into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Place lids and finger-tight rings and carefully place jars into canner, making sure jars are covered with at least 1/2 inch of water.
Bring to boil and process for 15 minutes. Leave in canner for 5 minutes, then remove to towel and allow to seal.

Happy relish making!
Jul 062010

We’re doing things a little backwards since so much has gone on that we haven’t had a chance to post the beginnings of the gardens. It is now time to begin harvesting – along with weeding and watering. Today, let’s harvest and preserve the beets.

Begin by pulling the beets from the ground and holding the beet in one hand, twist the greens from the top and place the beet in a container you’ve brought along for the harvest. At this point, the greens can be put in the compost pile, fed to the chickens, or – my favorite – preserved also. Beet greens are very nutritious and can be simply torn into a salad, lightly sauteed in olive oil or butter with a little garlic, or lightly steamed, cooled, and frozen for winter soups and stews.

Wash the beets with a stiff brush and set aside.

Before going any further, you will want to assemble the following:

A large pot filled with water and placed on the stove to boil. This pot is to heat the beets through and aid in removing the skins. When the water is near boiling, place all of your beets in and allow to cook for 15 to 25 minutes. Check the beets regularly, smallest first. You don’t want them to be mush – just cooked until a knife can be gently inserted.

A pressure canner – be sure to check that the steam vent is clear and the gauge is securely attached before every use.

A kettle set on the stove with water to boil. You will likely fill this a few times.

Clean canning jars – when choosing the size of the jar, think about how many beets (or other harvest) your family will eat at a meal. We rarely would use more than a pint of beets at a time, so this is what we are using. When reusing jars, be sure to check for cracks or chips before every canning session. Wash your jars in warm soapy water, rinse well and set aside.

Clean screw bands – check these regularly and do not use those with any signs of rust for canning.

New canning lids – these come in two sizes, be sure to get the ones that match the opening of your jar – regular or wide-mouth. Place the lids and bands into a pot and cover with boiling water – keep these on low until needed.

A jar lifter.

A magnetic lid lifter comes in handy.

A large slotted spoon to lift beets from the cooking water.

Place the pressure canner on the stove and add 3 and 1/2 quarts of water. Turn the heat to about medium and allow the canner and water to warm.

Pour boiling water into empty jars to warm them.

As beets are ready, remove from boiling water and carefully trim off root, stem, and peel (these will come off pretty easily after cooking). Leave small beets whole if you’d like, and slice or cube larger beets as desired. Pour water from hot jars one at a time and fill, leaving one inch of headspace – this is about to the first band at the top of the jar or just above the shoulders of the jar. When the jar is full of beets, fill the jar with boiling water from the kettle – only to the one-inch mark.

The beet trimmings are awesome compost material!

Clean the top of the jar with a clean cloth, place a lid on the jar, then a band and tighten just until band is snug. You want to be sure the jar is tight enough to not allow liquid to escape in processing, but not overly tight.

When all jars are full, place in pressure canner and allow water to come to a boil.

At this point, you will want to be sure to follow the instructions that come with your particular pressure canner. This is what we do:

Place lid on pressure canner and lock. Keep canner on a relatively high heat and watch for steam to flow freely from vent. When this occurs, set the timer for 10 minutes. This gives you a little time to clean up – the rush is over – now is the waiting.

After 10 minutes of free steam flow – it is time to pop the pressure regulator on the vent pipe, leave the heat relatively high and carefully watch the pressure gauge.

For beets, we want the pressure to reach 11 lbs. At this point, we can begin timing. The heat should be turned down to maintain 11 lbs of pressure. From experience with an electric stove, this means turn the heat WAY DOWN and watch the gauge. Adjust as necessary to maintain the proper pressure throughout the processing time. For our pint jars, this will be 30 minutes; for quarts, 35 minutes. (at high altitudes, all of this information changes-read instructions carefully)

While you are nervously (or otherwise) pacing the kitchen watching the pressure gauge, get yourself a clean dry towel and lay out on a counter with the jar lifter.

After 30 minutes processing time, we remove the pressure canner from the heat and place aside to cool. Do NOT remove the lid. Allow the pressure to drop naturally and remove pressure regulator and lid only when pressure gauge reads 0.

When pressure has dropped and lid is removed, we allow another 15 minutes or so before removing the jars.

Remove jars carefully and place on clean dry towel. We cover the jars with the towel to further regulate the slow cooling process.

Now the music of your harvest begins – all of your hard work glorified in the popping and pinging of the food you and Mother Earth brought to the pantry. Leave jars overnight and check in the morning to be sure each lid is securely sealed. The lid should pull down into the jar and seat fimly, no popping noise when carefully pressed. Any that have not sealed can be refrigerated and eaten within a week or two, depending on the veggie.

We do not add salt to canned vegetables. If you’d like to, you may add 1/2 teaspoon to each pint, or 1 teaspoon to each quart before adding beets, water, and lids.

Most vegetables can be processed in this manner. Here is the timing for a few:

Green Beans – 20 min pints; 25 min quarts
Pinto Beans – 40 min pints; 50 min quarts
Corn – 55 min pints; 85 min quarts
Carrots – 25 min pints; 30 min quarts
Peas – 40 min pints and quarts

We highly recommend the book – Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. This book has all of the basic canning information you will need as a beginner. Recipes for pantry items you can make with your own produce, such as mustards, ketchup, tomato sauce, and salsa, are a a big help when growing and producing your own food. There are also some very creative recipes to help you preserve your produce as gifts and special treats.

Happy Harvesting!
Dharma Dogs Farm