Canning, pickling, preserving, drying…these tried and true methods of ‘putting up’ the harvest have recently come back into vogue. You can’t swing a turnip without hitting someone holding a pickling seminar or dehydrating workshop. This is a good thing. Our dependence on grocery store produce is both contributing to global warming and dulling our taste buds. Have you tried a tomato in February? I figure I could just draw a tomato on a piece of cardboard and stick that in my sandwich instead, it would save me money and taste the same. Also, and this is maybe most important, we are killing the magic embodied by seasonal foods. Have you ever looked forward to the taste of Grandma’s Christmas shortbread? Or Auntie Lorraine’s rumballs? Would you feel the same sense of anticipation if you munched on gingerbread year round? Of course not. That’s why when I see shrink-wrapped corn on the cob in April on the supermarket shelves, I want to cry. Why desecrate the sacred act of crunching into August’s first harvest of corn, butter dripping down your fingers and heaven dancing across your tongue?
Alright, you may say, but what about when it’s not August? It’s freezing, snowing, ain’t-nothin’-growing WINTERTIME here 8 months of the year? What then? Well, aside from ODing on the aforementioned rumballs, winter is the time to crack open a jar of summertime preserves, or stomp down into the root cellar to pull out carrots and rutabagas that are as crisp as the day they were picked. I heard a fantastic saying yesterday “An aching back in autumn, and a full stomach in winter”. Well, I’ve got the aching back from the never-ending potato harvest, we may as well spend some time putting up all this food for a deep-winter reward.
So today I’m hiding from the rain (and my harvesting duties for tomorrow’s market!) and putting up some preserves. I’ve been up to my ears in tomatoes lately, ever since I harvested about 90lbs from my canning tomato plants. I’ve done everything from roasted vegetable marinara to hot pepper salsa, with quarts and quarts of plain old crushed tomatoes in between.
Today, I’m making grape jelly for the first time. My lovely neighbour, Leslie, gave me about 7 lbs of Concord grapes yesterday, so there was really only one thing to do with them, other than wrestle them away from my kids, who have a much higher tolerance for tart than I do. I generally try to stick to preserving things that will actually translate into a meal over the winter, there’s really only so much chutney and fruit butter one can eat. However, the grapes were looking at me with sad little grape faces, just begging to be turned into a high-sugar treat that my husband and kids will go gaga over, and who can say no to a grape with a cute purple pout? Well, the end result was delicious, even for a bit of a snob like me, and it will be great to open a jar in January, and be reminded of the aromatic experience of driving back form Leslie’s house with 12 quarts of grapes perfuming my hot, summertime car.
I heard from one of our CSA members that she was a bit overwhelmed by the bounty of the garden lately (not a bad problem to have!), and her comment was what prompted me to write this post. I’m not going to give out any preserving instructions here, there are so many fantastic books and other resources out there, plus this new-fangled thing called the “internet” that will teach you basically everything you need to know instantly. I am, however, going to recommend some books and give you a fantabulous recipe for salsa that I’ve been experimenting with. All of the vegetable ingredients will be available at the market this week, most notably the tomatoes. Since many of our tomatoes have developed cracks with the uneven moisture levels of this season, they are cheap, cheap, cheap. Not so pretty to look at, but perfect for canning or freezing. Ask for “seconds”, this goes for any farmers’ market wherever you are reading this in the world.
Is preserving food difficult, dangerous, not worth the bother? No, no and certainly not. At the very least, sit in an armchair and lob baggies of vegetables into your freezer. You can do that! Or if you want to get a bit more involved, check out these books:
Put ‘em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling by Sherri Brooks Vinton – This is a trendy recipe book with recipes that are a bit more gourmet than the relishes and pickles you remember Grandma making.
The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-Packed Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market by Linda Ziedrich – I LOVE this book, it covers absolutely every possible pickle, from garlic dills to sauerkraut to pickled eggs. I have learned so much from this book, I feel really grateful to have stumbled across it.
The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar: Canning, Freezing, Drying, Smoking and Preserving the Harvest by Jennifer Megyesi – Hmm, bit of a theme developing here. This book is unrelated to the one above, but also fantastic. It gives a very comprehensive look at the best ways to put up each kind of food. I can tell you from experience, just because you can dehydrate kale, doesn’t mean you should. You definitely don’t need a root cellar to get a lot out of this book.
Okay, here’s the recipe I promised. It doesn’t have the syrupy, unpleasantly-viscous quality that many recipes for salsa seem to produce. You can make it as hot as you like by scaling up the hot peppers. The recipe will make about 8 cups, so you’ll need around 4 quart jars, but feel free cut make more or less, just halve or double it as you see fit. As for me – the blog post is over, the jelly is happily sitting on my countertop, but the rain is pounding down more relentlessly than ever! I’ll have to get my wellies and tromp out there soon. Was it really me begging for rain back in July?
12 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 3 lbs)
3 medium onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 or more jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
9 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
1 ½ cups red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, etc.)
¾ cup cilantro, chopped
6 tsp honey or cane sugar
1 ½ tsp pickling or kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 35 minutes, or when the desired thickness is reached. Stir often, and check the finished result for salt and adjust of necessary.
Fill sterilized jars to ½ inch of rim. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.