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How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Homestead Style Canning

      
    There was a bit of grumbling at the Sunbow planting table this morning. Apparently, a woman had ordered seven pounds of pickling cucumbers. Harry packed them up, put them in a wooden box, and set them out for her. When she came, she dug through the box, turned down half of the fruits, and took the rest in the wooden box. It was not clear, to begin with, which was the more nervy action—the rejection of perfectly healthy food, that was not the exact shape she wanted, or taking the box. The question swirled around the table—why does it matter what the shape of the fruit is? Isn’t canning about putting food by for the winter, taking the surplus—whatever it is—and preserving it in a tasty fashion to liven up that month of cabbage and potatoes that seasonal eaters are staring down in mid-March? If the cucumbers are larger, then why not pickle them in another way?   The Joy of Pickling has all sorts of recipes. I know. Sunbow had a surplus of cucumbers last year and I made five different types of pickles, working with the fruits in all stages of development from delicate to tough.

            There are, we decided, two types of food preservers. There are the artisanal cooks, who choose recipes that look tasty then collect the ingredients needed to create that particular recipe. They use the pretty green glass jars and labels and their preserves are always tasty and tastfully done. And then there are the homesteading, farming types, who take whatever is bursting from the gardens, whatever is falling from the neighbor’s trees, whatever is left over at the end of the market, bring it home, pile it in the basement and think “Now what?” while rummaging through the old canning books.  They can be tempted by phrases like “it’s going to be thrown on the compost pile if you don’t take it,” and “I found that putting them up in simple syrup worked pretty well last year,” or “Have you tried roasting these yet?”

   
         This year, I’ve preserved plums, beets, cabbage, and cucumbers so far, as well as red currant juice—and the season has only just begun. Apples, blueberries, and tomatoes are all waiting in the larder. There are three things that have made this work much easier. The first is my steam canner that I purchased from Territorial Seeds five years ago. Now, rather than putting on the huge canning pot of water that took forever to heat and weighed a ton to dump out when I was finished, I bring out the steam canner, add a quart of water to the bottom, and off we go. I can put up a small batch of something in an hour or so. Canning is a daily occurrence, rather than a weekly production in August. Saves water, time, and energy—and works on everything that the boiling water bath canner does. Second is the huge collection of jars, gathered from friends (Bicentennial canning jars!), Goodwill, and the grocery store over the years. Supplies are in the basement all the time. Third are two books— The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Between the two, whatever I bring home is covered, and Linda Ziedrich’s  discussions of technique and theory are clear and detailed as well. 

            I rode home today loaded with twenty pounds of very ripe tomatoes—the box that no one would buy because they were so ripe and no one at the farm had time to process in the next twenty four hours. I resisted the tiny plums, but did my best to sell them to another woman who was picking up some peppers. Right now, the first round is steaming cheerfully in the canner, the second round is roasting in the oven, and the third round is de-stemmed and waiting to be sliced and arranged on trays. This winter, we will eat them is soups and on pizza and pasta, bringing back hot summer days. Now I just need to find something to do with the zucchini.

Roasting Tomatoes

Gather a bag of paste tomatoes. Slice each in half and lay on a cookie sheet face down. Cover the tray. Place in a 350 degree oven. Roast until wilted and perhaps a bit charred. Slide into half pint jars, cap, and process for twenty five minutes in the steam canner.

            

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