Ah, summer vacation. For me, it’s wrapping up and next week I switch back into prepping for the school year. I’ve spent the past two days in the kitchen making sure that I get as much done as possible before time is up.
David and I just returned from a two week road trip (which explains my blogging absence). I’m going to try to keep this post short, with mostly pictures of food, but there’s a lot that grew while we were gone.
Before we left we majorly trimmed the winter squashes and melons. After being sprayed for powdery mildew, many of the leaves died. I got a bit excited with my pruning shears and took down most of the buttercup and red kuri squash plants. The plants were not looking that healthy to begin with, and did not have any new fruit. We picked what fruit was there, hoping they would set more fruit while we were gone.
We picked our Kazakh melons! (We had one earlier in the season, bringing our grand total from the sprawling vine to three melons.) They were sweet with a honeydew-like consistency.
We also harvested three pinnacle spaghetti squash, two buttercup squash and four red kuri squash (we ate one before heading out of town).
As we don’t have a root cellar, we’ve put them in the hall closet to store for a while. I’m a bit embarrassed about the state of the closet, but I’m sure you all recognize the important tools like a salad spinner, food dehydrator, crock pot and lots of towels! The box under the towels holds the canned goods that don’t fit in our pantry.
Before vacation we decided to try canning whole tomatoes in water (Ball Book recipe). After we make enough sauce and salsa to last the year, we’ll do this again at the end of the season.
I’ve been getting a system down for canning. Whole tomatoes requires skinning them first. I prefer to do this with David’s help, but I think he was outside working in the yard when I did it this time. Yard work is just as important.
We canned three quart jars of mixed tomatoes. I love the mixed colors and hope the mixed flavors work just as well! We used San Marzanos, Indigo Rose, Jaune Flamme and our neighbor’s mystery slicing tomatoes.
Our neighbor helped keep an eye on our cats and garden when we were gone. We returned a couple of days earlier than we originally planned, and he told us that he had planned on mowing our lawn for us before we got back. It’s great to have good neighbors!
The first thing we saw when we got back is two Sugar Baby Watermelons hanging from our A-frame squash/melon trellis! They’re not mature yet, but they look like they’re getting there quickly. I’ve read up on how to tell if a watermelon is ready to pick, but I’d love some advice if anyone has some.
The morning after we returned, I woke up early and went outside to harvest our veggies.
Our Little Leaf pickling cucumbers were the size of normal slicing cucumbers. I wonder if I should have been picking them at this size the entire season. One of the two plants on the ladder held six large cucumbers clustered tightly together. Notice at the top of the plant, there are still more coming. These are an impressive hybrid!
Between the two vines in the front and the three in the back, I picked quite a few cucumbers. We set aside two for salads, and I began slicing and dicing the remaining cucumbers. After weighing it out, I decided to make a three jars of bread and butter pickles, a half batch of Indian relish and a full batch of pickle relish.
Of course, each recipe had a different prep and lots of chopping. I did all of the prep one day, and then the canning the second day. I also sliced up the smaller parts of the zucchini for zucchini pickles.
The bread and butter pickles needed to be salted and iced. Last batch we made was from the Ball Blue Book, this batch was from Put ’em Up! We’re quite excited about this new (to us) cookbook and also used the Indian and Pickle relishes from it.
The bread and butter pickles look so pretty while they’re cooking. This recipe didn’t seem too sweet and seemed to have just the right amount of liquid.
And our three jars!
I’m just getting started now.
The zucchini pickles have a similar process.
They had to salt and ice for two hours.
Then instead of cooking the zucchini in the brine, they were supposed to soak in it for two hours THEN come to a boil.
I decided that these would have to wait until the next day, as I had a lot going on already. So, they went into the fridge while in their brine. Hopefully they won’t be too soggy. To attempt to compensate, we’re going to throw a grape leaf (thanks to our neighbor) in each jar.
The relishes took the most time. We also have the most jars of them!
The Indian Relish (top) contains cucumber, onion, carrot and cauliflower. It is seasoned with cider vinegar, curry powder, turmeric, mustard powder (which I ground myself), and fresh ginger.
We canned six 4 ounce jars and four 8 ounce jars of this fragrant pickle that will be a great addition to our dinners.
I’m having a hard time accepting the pickle relish because of how it looks. Earlier this summer I made a sweet relish that looks bright and colorful in the jar. The pickle relish is brown and dingy with flecks of celery seed.
Our pickle relish is also with cider vinegar. The brown is from ground allspice, peppercorns and celery seed. Typically we grind our own allspice, but I dug around the cabinets and found some pre-ground that I brought back from Belize a few years ago.
I hope that was a smart decision.
And now the tomatoes.
The Indigo Rose are beautiful, a little meaty and not that strong of a flavor. They are consistent in size. All of this makes them perfect for roasting, which will concentrate their flavor.
The amount that we had fit perfectly on two trays. I sliced them, brushed them with olive oil, and then sprinkled them salt, pepper and fresh thyme. They were roasted in the oven at 275 for about 4 hours. After they cooled, I put them in a ziploc and tossed them in the freezer to be used.
I also have one tray of cherry tomatoes to roast. Roasting is perfect for cherry tomatoes that split, and our Isis Candy have been splitting like crazy these days.
The San Marzanos are ready!! They are perfect: large, meaty and very few holes.
These will make a great salsa (later) and make a great tomato sauce (now).
The San Marzanos were added to a sauce pot with a chopped onion and a handful of garlic cloves. We kept the sauce simple so that we can add more to it when we use it. After it cooked for a bit, we used an immersion blender to chop up the chunks. When it was thick enough, we canned the sauce (with a little bit of lemon juice to assure the right acidity) and processed it for 35 minutes.
We figured out that a full bowl makes 8 pints of beautiful sauce. The small jars for when we make pizza. We decided that we need to make one more batch of sauce this summer, and we’ll be good for the year. From looking at the plants, we think that we’ll easily have enough for that and for canning salsa.
While we didn’t make tomato salsa (this time), we did make a salsa verde.
I picked all the large tomatillos that I found out back. There are many more coming from the two plants in the back yard. And our two purple tomatillos in the front yard are finally starting to set fruit.
As we planned on canning the salsa verde, I decided to follow the Ball Book recipe. I also included some green tomatoes that came off the plants while I was tidying them up.
I added onion, garlic, the one jalepeno we had growing, crushed red pepper, vinegar,and lime juice.
After it cooked down a bit, we used the immersion blender to chop it up. When we tasted it, we decided to put in a little sugar also.
We made three pints and two half pints. The sauce is a little thin for a dipping salsa, but will be perfect for enchiladas!
Our dining room table is full of jars. My next step is trying to make space in that closet for more jars. I’m also working on arranging a food swap in my town. We tried to register for the Los Angeles one, and it “sold out” in 4 minutes!! We figure that means it’s time to start another one. With all of our food that we just made, it’s hard to think about parting with any of it, but it’s exciting to think about exchanging it for things we haven’t made.
As I look at the window, I see a cucumber that needs to be picked. Looks like it’s time to think about the next round of canning. Oh wait, I mean it’s time to think about heading back to teaching.