Archives for posts with tag: canning

Autumn Olive…

A.V. Walters —

With olive-like leaves

With olive-like leaves

Also known as Russian Olive, the Autumn Olive is considered a pest species. In the want ads of our local newspaper, guys advertise that they’ll pull it up by its roots, for a fee. Apparently it arrived as a domestic landscaping plant—but escaped into the larger wilds. I don’t know why nobody likes it.

In the spring is has tiny, extremely fragrant, delicate yellow, trumpet–like blooms. Though you have to inspect to see how lovely they are, just walking by smells terrific—like you’d walked into a tropical bouquet. The plant itself is just a shrub, with foliage looking a lot like olive leaves—and so, the name. I suppose some object to the thorns. I haven’t had too much trouble with thorns—even pruning. You just need to be mindful of them to avoid being scratched.

The real surprise is the fruit. It’s ripe in the fall. The plant book describes it as tart, but edible, mostly for migrating birds. I guess I’ll have to leave some for them—I love it. It is a sweet/tart combo that I love. Rick just turns up his nose, thinks I’m crazy. Next year I’ll try making jelly out of it. I think that tartness would be lovely captured in a clear jar of scarlet. I haven’t seen any recipes. Could it be I’m the only one that likes them? (Other than the cedar waxwings.)

But I like the fruit

But I like the fruit

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Country Fresh

A.V. Walters

Even while I lived in the city, I hung onto my rural roots. I gardened and produced most of my summer fare from a postage stamp-sized back yard. I canned jams from the plum tree, and I hung my laundry out in the sun, to dry. So, it should come as no surprise that, when I moved to the farm, not only would I want to continue these patterns, but there’d be some room for expansion. But when I explained my plans to Elmer, he seemed a bit alarmed. Not at the gardening, that made perfect sense. And, like a lot of country folk, he fully supports canning. The problem arose when I asked Elmer to put up a clothesline, of all things!

He squirmed at the notion, “Why the heck would you want to do something like that?” I was ready with my environmentally friendly, power-of-the-sun, low-carbon-footprint, Pollyanna diatribe.

“Well, we have a lot of wind, you know. It whips up the dust, and all. So, you’d want to be sure to bring it in before the afternoon winds start up.” He didn’t sound convincing, and it seemed like a strange response—a little wind would be exactly the ticket. In what better environment could there be to dry laundry? (I’d failed to note the almost-complete absence of clotheslines, in the area.)

Elmer never did help out with getting that line up, and given his reaction, I didn’t press it. After a while, I bought the materials and installed it myself. And, he was right about the wind and the dust. If you left the laundry out, late in the day, you’d have to wash it, again. But our mornings were still, and my line was set up to take advantage of the morning sun.

One morning I pulled a fresh towel from the line and headed into town for a swim. (There’s nothing like a vigorous work-out in chlorinated water to clear your head.) As I walked back into the changing room, I caught the unmistakable stench of cow manure. I laughed to myself and thought, somewhere there’s a farmer in here, for sure.

I’ll have to admit, here, that when you’re exposed to something a lot, you become, well, desensitized and… I live next door to a dairy. So, when I grabbed my towel, I almost choked. That farmer was me! And that certainly explained why they don’t hang their laundry out. Oh my! And that was the end of my energy saving foray with country laundry.

Someday, I’ll live somewhere with a different background aroma—and I’ll go back to the clothesline. (Rick said he thinks he knows the perfect location.)

A.V. Walters

I know I said I was finished canning for the season. And then, there was the threat of frost, so we decided to do one last harvest before the more delicate items perished. We brought in peppers, the last eggplant, basil (but unfortunately, not enough of it), a bunch of late-maturing winter squash (spaghetti, moschata, butternut and one lone delicata that was hiding in the foliage) and then we took a hard look at the tomatoes. Sure enough, many had split and rotted after the rains. But looking closer, there were still a lot of really lovely tomatoes in there, so we harvested.

And harvested, and harvested. We made an ample last harvest delivery to everyone on the farm and still there were over three five-gallon buckets of tomatoes. Eighty-eight pounds of tomatoes—in November, no less. So we pulled out the canning equipment, from its brief rest in storage and set up for one last (no, really) run. Twenty-three quarts later, we are finished. We did extra thick sauce infused with basil (for pizza or spaghetti); we did tomato pieces, most sorted by color—red, orange or yellow, which will be lovely for stews or soups; and we did some fancies—mixed colors in patterns—which are almost too pretty to eat and will probably be gift items. (So if you’re family and you’re reading this, close your eyes on this part.) Then we washed up and put all the gear away again.

It was a welcome reprieve from regular life, which has had some twists of late. Anyone who is the parent of a teenager can relate—a runaway with issues and attitude. As much as you ache for their safety and mental state, you also wish you could can them, too, safely into tidy jars, tucked into the pantry until they’re ready for real life. Once we’d done all that we could do, a little tomato therapy of peeling and dicing and canning was just the ticket. And by the end of the weekend, she was home, safe, and probably already gearing up for her next snit. You wonder, was I ever that young and clueless?

By last evening, the kitchen was clean, the jars in neat rows, cooling, and we relaxed in front of the fire. Winter is coming and the early mornings are decked out in frost. Stupidly, I left a lot of the basil in the garden and the cold burned it to a blackened, limp mess. A day earlier and I could have dried it for winter. Oh well. In the daytime it’s too warm for a fire, but by night the chill is in the air and it’s time for some heat. This morning, I noticed that more tomatoes are ripe. No way. I’m not canning them. I’ve already put the canning stuff away twice. But, I may take some and dehydrate them. I heard from an old Italian friend that the secret of great cooking with canned tomatoes was to dry some too, and then snip bits of the dried tomatoes into the pot twenty minutes before the meal is ready. Supposedly the dried ones bring back the aroma of summer.

Last night, friends called. Their neighbor has an excess of apples—did we want any? Plenty for applesauce or the emus. Applesauce is always a lovely treat in the winter. Oh, on second thought don’t go too far with all that canning equipment; we still have some empty jars. And, more emu news, next time.

A.V. Walters

Last week I said it was a race with the first hard frost, to get the tomatoes in. I was wrong. When you live somewhere where rain doesn’t happen for seven or eight months of the year, it’s easy to forget. If your tomatoes are ripe (or almost) there’s another thing that can be devastating–RAIN.

A growing tomato has the ability to expand its skin. But ripe tomato, having reached its full size, shifts its internal workings to focus on seed maturation, not growth. We take advantage of this by cutting back on watering in the late weeks of the garden–it protects the tomatoes and enhances their sweetness. A ripe tomato, if it gets a heavy dose of water, can suck up the long awaited drink, split its skin, and rot on the vine. So, Sunday’s forecast of rain got my attention–not just a little rain, either, they forecast days of the wet stuff.  So we got busy, stripping the plants of all the ripe or near ripe fruit.

We had to harvest in five-gallon buckets and when those were full, used the largest bowls and pots we had. One hundred forty pounds of tomatoes later, I made another delivery of fresh tomatoes to everybody on the farm, and then we confronted a kitchen that was already being held hostage by our previous efforts.  We canned whole romas (some in yellow tomato sauce), diced tomatoes and sauce, lots of sauce. A year’s worth of tomatoes. Tomatoes in every imaginable color, shape and size–reds, pinks, goldens, bright yellows, oranges, brunos, stripes (both green zebras and chocolate stripes), those multicolored “pineapple” tomatoes, you name it, a veritable rainbow of tomatoes. To make sauce that has enough heft you have to reduce the volume of liquid by more than half. Every large pot we own was simmering away on the stove. There were tomato seeds and spatters, everywhere. I had to stop regularly to clean my eyeglasses. Two days later, we’d canned this year’s quota — 63 quarts of various, tomato products. Another day to clean everything and we are finished. Whew.

We’re picky about this, we taste and blend–making sure that there’s a uniformity of color and flavor. Why else would we go to all this work? After all, store-bought canned tomatoes are cheap, you can buy them by the case at Costco–even organics. Needless to say, it’s not an economic choice we’re making here. We’re opting for taste and an alliance with a rural lifestyle from a bygone era of self-sufficiency. It’s one of the signs that summer is over and that we’re ready for winter. The wood pile is under cover, and the kindling barrel full. Tomatoes and jam are labeled and lining the pantry. So, we’re ready.

There is still a lot of fruit on the vines (our growing season starts late and finishes late) so the garden will continue to produce ripe, fresh tomatoes until frost hits. We’ll continue to use them fresh for salads or tossed in pasta–and deliver them to our friends and neighbors, until then. If they get ahead of us, we’ll take them to the food bank. But, I don’t think we’ll can any more. It starts to get silly at some point, and over sixty quarts is that point, for us.

Who Knew?

A.V. Walters

My last blog addressed the issue of produce theft. Who knew it was a trend? I discovered that community gardens all over the country have been vexed with this garden pilfery. And I thought gophers were bad! Friends sent me the following links.

http://kstp.com/news/stories/s2712848.shtml

http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-garden/2010/08/please-do-not-steal-the-vegetables/#image/1

http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2012/07/27/tomato-thieves-plague-st-paul-minneapolis-community-gardens

Since then, they’ve hit the corn and more tomatoes. Not that I’m left without; I’m still canning and at this rate it’s a question of what will happen first–the last of the tomatoes ripening or the first hard frost. Still, it’s a shock that garden theft is so common. It never occurred to me that the old organic maxim “And a third for the pests,” meant people.

We’re having one of those hot and muggy residual summer weeks. I’m not complaining, it will help to ripen tomatoes (who, so far have kindly not come ripe all at once.) I can only can so much at a whack–earlier this week my stove was simmering at capacity–a pot of sauce on every burner. Fifty pounds of them cooks down to about nine quarts of sauce and whole canned tomatoes. So the rest of October looks like tomatoes–and then NaNoWriMo in November. (What’s that? Oh, next blog I’ll explain and encourage.)

Patience in Small Batches

A.V. Walters

This is the time of year when, as a kid, we picked berries and fruit and my mother made jam and preserves. Mornings were for picking and, after lunch, it was time to do the canning—the already hot, summer kitchen sweating with the aroma of fresh fruit, sugar and paraffin. (Yes, paraffin. We did it the old way.) We’re a large family and a successful summer could be counted in the Mason jars lining the pantry—enough to tide us over until the days lengthened and we’d be at it again.

With so many pickers (there were seven of us and that probably equaled five actual pickers) we brought in gallons of fresh fruit. You could count the season’s progression as the jars filled—strawberry, plum, blackberry, raspberry, thimbleberry, blueberry, peach, pear, and finishing up with apple. . My version of summer includes the bubbling of veritable cauldrons of jam and the jiggling rattle of jars and lids boiling on top of the stove. There were enough of us that we needed to do jam in quart jars.

My dad was in charge of paraffin. As the steaming jars were filled, each got a thin coat of paraffin, followed, after it cooled and turned translucent, with a thicker coat that filled in the deep well that formed in the cooling wax cap. He melted the paraffin in bent tin can, simmering in a pot of water. When he wasn’t looking, we’d quickly dip in our fingers in the hot wax, making perfect, inverted copies which my mother would find later. Canned goods, other than jam, actually still got glass lids with rubber gaskets and bails—the way my great-grandmother did it. When we modernized using the fresh, new, gummed caps and screw top lids, my father’s paraffin job was displaced. He resisted some, until he found out that the post-canning plunk, as the jar cooled,was the sign of yet another perfect seal.

My grandmother dragged us on the annual tour of her old, Finn lady-friends—them all exclaiming at us; a swarm of towheads, lined up in stair-step, chronological order. All of the old Finn ladies baked and canned—it being a measure of one’s housekeeping prowess. When one of them died, the others would assemble to grieve and compare notes. No funeral gathering was complete until they’d made an accounting of preserves in the decedent’s larder. (The old men, when they passed, were judged by the size of their woodpiles—winter’s warmth, split and stacked, ready for the widow.) So summer canning runs deep in my bloodline.

My adult life demanded smaller yields—there was no way that my smaller family could consume at that level. Still, there were gifts to consider and enough to get the two of us through winter, with enough to remember the flavor of summer, but nothing compared to the cornucopia of jars from my childhood. My parents continued to make big batches of jam, especially thimbleberry, which they shipped across the continent (and even across the ocean) to those of us far away from our childhood berry patches.

Eighteen months ago my dad passed away. True to tradition, he left an impressive wood pile, but the loss left a huge hole in our lives and my mom cut way back on her canning. Picking and putting foods by is, in large part, a social experience. Last year she hardly made any jam at all. This year, her berry season came early. It’s been happening a little earlier every year. Climate change isn’t fiction. It’s here—with Northern berries in mid-July, and ticks! (There weren’t ticks back home when I was a kid because the winters were too cold and too long. Now, they have to worry about Lyme disease.) Nobody believed that those early berries were really “the season.” Just some fluke—a smattering of early. My mother went out for just a few minutes, every day, and made small batches of jam, a couple of half pints at a time. Each day she’d report on her progress—she had set herself a summer quota. It worried me, a bit. It was not our normal, marathon method. I was afraid she’d lost heart in it. I thought she might be getting too old. Then, at the end of July, the berries dried up. (Usually that’s peak season!) The annual vacationers came, looking to recharge their own larders, but the berries were already gone! My mother sat smug—she’d reached, and then surpassed, her quota—all in small batches. I had to set aside my concerns. There’s more than one way to fill the pantry.

Thinking of her, I’ve been making small batches of peach jam as they come ripe on the tree (great peaches by the way—this is the tree from which we stripped all the leaves back in May.) But, they’re coming faster now, so I anticipate a large batch of peaches, any day now. Today I made 11 pints of plum jam. Our friend’s tree was laden, and so it all came at once. I still have blackberries to go and of course there’ll be tomatoes to can if they ever decide to ripen. (Still paying the price for our late start.)

I feel as though my dad is there with every jar, hovering— just in case we need paraffin.