Tomato Roasting Season

Mystery Chiles

Mystery Chiles

It’s been a busy couple of weeks holidaying out west and at the farm, so I’ve been a little preoccupied. When we got back to the city from each trip I had a huge cache of tomatoes to deal with (even though I only planted four tomatoes this year!). The first batch became roasted tomato salsa, quickly canned after the munchkin went to bed. The second batch was also roasted and turned into passata, also canned after bedtime.

The passata is amazing. I love that recipe, from the River Cottage Handbook No.2 Preserves by Pam Corbin. It’s pretty simple: roughly chop your tomatoes, put them into an oiled roasting pan with your choice of herbs, some garlic (peeled or not) and if you want, some chiles and onions (we’re thrilled to be growing our mystery chile that I was growing ten years ago the summer Chris and I met, which we’ve saved seeds from). Sprinkle the tomatoes with a teaspoon each of sugar and coarse salt, and a few glugs of olive oil. Roast at 350ºF for about an hour. If you have watery tomatoes you might need to do it a little longer to help evaporate off the extra liquid and intensify the flavours of your sauce. Cool your tomatoes and then put them through a tomato press if you have one. If not, you can use a sieve, but if you like to make your own tomato sauce I highly recommend investing in one of these presses — they are the bomb.

To ensure they’re acidic enough for preservation, I added a 1/4 tsp of citric acid to each 500ml jar of sauce and processed in a boiling water canner for 35 minutes. This sauce is a bit labour intensive, but so worth it, and perfect for doing in relatively small batches as your tomatoes ripen.

If you’re a bit lazy and don’t feel like going through with pressing the sauce, you can always roast the tomatoes as per the above directions and then just bag and freeze them to add to your favourite soups, stews and sauces. They’ll still be just as awesome.

Jamming

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One of my favourite jam recipes is Canadian Living’s Strawberry Vanilla Jam. It’s been a couple years since I made a batch, due to our renovations and such, so I was really craving getting some going this year before strawberry season is done for the year. But of course I now have an infant, so canning anything seemed like a bit of a stretch.

However, I managed to get a few quarts of Ontario strawberries (the ONLY strawberries I buy!) yesterday for $4 each, and so my 2 hours of free evening time were booked!

Instead of using pectin with this batch however, I tried out the Redpath Quick Set Sugar from the grocery store. And boy did it set in a hurry — almost before I got it into the jars!

Anyway, this is an amazing jam if you’re so inclined. My photo above is inspired by paintings by Mary Pratt. Don’t you just love that red glow?

Nesting

Pressure Canning

Pressure canned chicken stock for the pantry.

Now that the holidays are over (which I mostly missed due to the cold from hell) I’m chipping away at my maternity prep to-do list. One of the biggies was to devote a weekend to cooking a whole bunch of meals for the freezer, to help ensure we have lots of food easily ready to go when little baby chaos arrives on the scene.

Among the items to be prepared was a new batch of pressure canned chicken stock, using the carcasses of roasted chickens past that I’d kept in the freezer. It’s the first time I’ve used my pressure canner at the new house, and let me tell you once again I appreciate the design decisions we made in my new kitchen.

I’ve posted about pressure canning stock before, so I won’t repeat myself. It just takes a bit of planning and the right equipment. While some people think it’s a lot of work, the only real extra work is the time pressure canning takes. It takes much longer to process pressure canned goods, but the benefits are so worth it. I love that my stock doesn’t need to take up space in my freezer, and that I don’t need to thaw it before I use it. It’s just there and ready to go. If my energy levels keep up with my ambitions, I’ll try doing some full on soups, perhaps in some 500ml jars (meals just for mama). So far I’ve only pressure canned stock and tomato sauce.

In addition to the stock, I cranked out four large lasagnes, four cabbage roll casseroles, seven chicken pot pies, and a half dozen calzones.

Lasagnes for the Freezer

Lasagnes for the Freezer

 

Chicken Pot Pies

Chicken Pot Pies (pre-pastry lids), including one for dinner this week.

All of these meals lend themselves really well to doing in large batches. Make a giant pot of  meat sauce and turn it into lasagnes. Make a giant pot of chicken pot pie filling, divvy it up and let it cool before adding pastry lids and then freezing. I almost got worried that I wasn’t going to have enough room for all these in my freezers!

Planning my time was key here — I started the chicken stock as soon as I got home on Friday night, and by the time I went to bed it was ready to go into the fridge to cool. I also washed my jars and got all my equipment ready. First thing Saturday I strained the stock and got it heating again on the stovetop, along with my jars sterilizing in another pot. Since I can only get 5 1-L jars into the pressure canner at a time, I did two batches, which admittedly took the better half of the day. I got some pizza dough going in my bread maker for the calzones, and filled and then baked those in between canning duties.

By late afternoon I was prepping for the next day: chopping veggies for the pot pies, shredding cabbage for the casseroles, and I even had time to cook the meat sauce. This meant that Sunday was basically just assembly and baking (or in the case of the pot pies, cooking the filling). I was pooped by the end of the day but it felt great to stock up on all these meals.

My friend Angie, expert new mom that she is, suggested a couple of burrito recipes that look like they’d make for great breakfasts and lunches for a busy new mom. I’m planning to stock up on these a little closer to my due date.

 

It’s official…I’m finally home

Vanilla Pear Butter

Vanilla Pear Butter

So I’ve been living in my new home and cooking with my new kitchen for oh, about 10 months now, and I only just got around to canning my first batch of anything: Vanilla Pear Butter. And now I finally feel like I’ve arrived.

Fresh Bartlett Pears

Fresh Bartlett Pears

We were away most weekends throughout the summer and early fall, and in the event we spent the odd one at home, I had a to-do list as long as my arm. It’s a lot of work to settle into a new house, especially one that’s still got the odd bit of renovation work yet to be completed, not to mention the massive landscaping job that took place (that is in fact, still taking place). I hung my first pictures on the walls just a few weeks ago. Part of the problem is that every time the workers are here to do something they generate a whole new round of dust that needs attention, so I’ve held back on the decor bits until just recently. I may yet regret hanging up the things I did. I hate dusting.

To be fair to myself, it’s hard to get motivated to can anything when I don’t really have a garden for inspiration. I finally decided a few weeks ago to hit up the grocery store in my old hood to see if by chance they had any bushels of roma tomatoes still kicking around, with faint hope of canning a couple batches of tomatoes and tomato sauce. I was too late, although if I’d wanted to buy a few bushels of red shepherd peppers for roasting and canning I would have been well stocked. Gotta love neighbourhoods with lots of old ladies from “the old country.”

Cooking down the pears

Cooking down the pears

While the tomato hunt turned up short, they had a couple baskets of ripe Bartlett pears, and I happened to have a stock pile of vanilla beans waiting for some love. This pear butter is perhaps my favourite recipe in the jam/jelly/butter category. It’s deliciously comforting spread simply on toast, or fancied up with some of your favourite sharp cheese on some fresh baguette.

Space to can!

Space to can!

And while I was involved in designing my kitchen and I’ve been reaping the joys of it ever since we moved in, I don’t think I fully appreciated the gift I’d given myself until I set out to can. Imagine the freedom of having room on both sides of your stove to have your tools and supplies ready! No more carrying steaming, dripping incredibly hot glass jars precariously gripped between tongs across the kitchen! I don’t even have to take the saucepan off the stove! Amazing! I’m not missing that old awkward L-shaped kitchen with no countertops around the stove at all.

Pureed Butter

Pureed butter with vanilla bean

In the end this was a rather small batch resulting in just 5 250 ml jars. It’s hardly enough to give away, and this would be a stellar holiday gift. I’m not sure I’ll be able to carve out time enough to do more but I sure hope so. If I do, I just might have to make use of my little 125 ml jars to stretch it out. These 5 are staying in my pantry, at least until they end up in my belly!

What was I thinking??

I’m a beaten and battered locavore foodie tonight. As is my Virgoan tendency, I bit off more than I could chew. With Chris away on his San Diego bachelor party adventure (so jealous!) I decided to make the most of some new equipment I invested in recently, and get down to business canning.

First on the list was the beets I’ve been neglecting in the garden all summer. This is what happens when you neglect beets for months and months. They mutate into hideous beasts. Those suckers weighed 2 lbs each!!

Overgrown beets

Overgrown beets

One of the pieces of equipment I recently bought is an outdoor propane burner meant for canning. I had actually bought one from Bass Pro Shop a few weeks ago designed for fish frying, but when I found this one at my local Fortinos grocery store of all places this week (on sale!), I had to buy it (sorry — I put it away and forgot to take a photo but this is the one, by Aurora). It’s incredibly sturdy and much better value than the one from Bass Pro.  It was tucked away among all the canning supplies and the bushels of tomatoes at Fortinos, and it performed beautifully — even after a thunderstorm swept through and I had to run for cover and leave it out in the rain.

The first thing I tested on the burner was running the canning bath for a bunch of the beets. I often have problems getting the seals to go down on wide mouth jars, but processing them on the propane burner seemed to help with that. Maybe it was because I wasn’t fudging with the heat/burner to ensure that my pot didn’t boil over (I used my biggest stock pot, 16L, outside on the burner).

Pickled Detroit Goldens and Detroit Reds

Pickled Detroit Goldens and Detroit Reds

Next, was to tackle the bushel of tomatoes I bought last night. Last year I turned a bushel of tomatoes into sauce, but for some reason this year the task seemed monumental, but only after I got started and realized just how insane this decision was. Next time — must invite friends and get bigger pots.

With the sauce though, I wanted to try out the nifty new 22 QT Mirro Pressure Canner that Chris bought me (he’s such an enabler. I adore him!). The canner has three pressure control valves, each designed to hold pressure at 5, 10 and 15 PSI. Problem was that the diagram in the manual is a joke, and the valves aren’t labeled. I decided to wing it and chose the middle size to hopefully achieve the 10 PSI I needed.

So… the theory is that, for tomatoes anyway, the pressure canner reduces the amount of processing time required. Instead of 40 mins in a hot water bath you can do them for 15 mins in the pressure canner at 10 PSI (for 1L jars). Problem is that you have to let the pressure reduce after that 15 mins before you can open the canner, which takes 45 mins to an hour! And the canner only holds 5 1L jars, which was about a third of what I needed to process. Because of that aforementioned thunderstorm, I finished most of the sauce canning indoors but I did try out the pressure canner (scary at first!) and I’m pretty happy with it, despite the fact that it doesn’t really speed things up for me in the way I’d thought. I might have to make a video sometime to show how to use it (I was stumped for about an hour, trying to comprehend the horrible manual; and there don’t seem to be any ‘how to’ videos of this model online). I love the idea of being able to can low acid items like my stocks — it will save room in the freezer and save on having to microwave or wait for them to thaw. I also love that you can stack pint jars in it, so that makes processing quicker for the smaller types of jars anyway. And perhaps knowing that I can process a limited amount of tomatoes in it, but faster, will lead to me not buying such ridiculous amounts of tomatoes in the first place. It would be far less stressful on my constitution if I just did things in moderation. But then maybe I wouldn’t be me. Ha!

 

17L of tomato sauce!

17L of tomato sauce!

Now for the really crazy part? What I processed today doesn’t represent any of the tomatoes in my garden. Those are late this year and just barely starting to ripen. But remember how I made my garden bigger this year? Yeah. I’m in trouble. There’s this little thing called a wedding coming up. What was I thinking?!

 

Beets galore

Last week after getting home from a weekend at the cottage I inspected the beet patch to see how things are going. Low and behold I had gargantuan Chioggias coming out of my ears. I should have known, as they are the earliest of the beets I like to grow. I also have some Detroit Reds and some Detroit Goldens on the go. I’m afraid to see how big they are. Between the very gregarious patch of Rainbow Swiss Chard I have going (I am so sick of chard!!) and the beets, I can barely keep up.

Pickled Chioggia Beets

Pickled Chioggia Beets

Chioggias (aka candy cane beets) are a little unconventional for pickling as they tend to bleed out all their lovely candy cane striping, but I love their unusual look all the same. As you can see each jar is a little different depending on which jar got the beets with more red in them.

I’ll probably can some more pickled beets with the Detroit Reds to get some more traditional looking ones. I eat these things like candy. Its the one pickle I make that I can be sure I will always eat tons of. I might try pickling some of the Goldens too — I’m curious how they’ll look in the jar.

Read my pickled beets recipe

Positively pickled

I think my house smelled like dill pickles for a week after this.

Dilly beans

Dilly beans

It started with garlic dills and dilly beans.

Garlic dills

Garlic dills

And then I bought more cucumbers for making relish. But I had way, way too many. So they became sliced garlic dills, with some added chili to kick them up a notch.

Spicy sliced garlic dills

Spicy sliced garlic dills

I made only a half batch of relish last year to see how we liked it. It was so great I made a full batch this year.

Homemade cucumber relish

Homemade cucumber relish

And for the first time this year I’ve had success with chard. I have no idea why it didn’t cooperate in the past. But this summer there is an abundance of this lovely stuff.

Rainbow Swiss Chard

Rainbow Swiss Chard

Summer is wonderful.

Welcome Ecoholic readers!

Thanks to NOW magazine’s Ecoholic, Adria Vasil, and her story this week about canning foods using BPA-free products. At the end of Adria’s article she mentions my Pear Butter recipe. I hope to make some this week actually, if this cold I’ve gotten doesn’t keep me down for too long. I picked up some pears at the last Nathan Phillips Square Farmers’ Market of the season. So sad to see the market end for the year. Enjoy!

Canning quickie

I know after all those posts last week I’ve kind of disappeared again this week, but it’s because I bit off a bit more than I could chew with the canning and the sewing this week. Bought a bushel of roma tomatoes on Monday and set to work making tomato sauce, and holy cow was that a nutty thing to do. NEVER AGAIN ON A WEEKNIGHT. A bushel is a lot of tomatoes. I got 11 litres of sauce out of them, and that was after draining off a lot of water in the hopes to make it a thicker sauce than last year’s.

And then there were the two baskets of peaches sitting on my counter since Sunday, waiting to become peach salsa. So that was Tuesday night’s project. Almost 5 litres of salsa right there.

Last night I tried to take apart my sewing machine’s tension knob and basically drove myself into a tizzy because I couldn’t get it to go back together right. I was ready to check myself into a psych ward by the time I gave up and walked away. I later found a tension repair manual for download for $5 and a schematic for my sewing machine online for free. So we’ll see what tonight brings in the sewing machine repair department.

In the meantime, here is a snapshot of some of my canning adventures from earlier in August: pickled beets from my garden, pickled onions made from pearl onions I found in the grocery store at the cottage near Haliburton, and pickled dilled beans:

Adventures in Pickling

Adventures in pickling

Yum Yum Yum!

Did I mention my right arm/wrist are shot? Tendinitis and repetitive strain injury through the roof.

Pear Butter featured by Canning Across America

Canning Across America's Photo of the Week!

Canning Across America's Photo of the Week!

How cool is this? Be sure to check out Canning Across America’s blog and Flickr pool — great stuff. Long live the canvolution!!