Thursday, August 26, 2010

One potato, two potato....

Three potatoes! That's my entire crop from the potatoes in a bucket. Or in this case, garbage can. And since I actually planted 5 ( 3 purple, 2 banana fingerlings), I say that was a loss. Thankfully the pail didn't take up much in the way of garden real estate and the mountain of soil can now be added to the garden bed but it's still a bit disappointing. I'm not sure why they didn't produce; I had lovely, apparently healthy potato plants until about two weeks ago. They hadn't flowered but I wasn't too worried yet. Then one day I noticed that all the new growth was turning yellow and wilting. I had a closer look and saw millions of sow bugs living in the pail - we've had an unusual amount of those critters this year. They normally live on dead and decaying matter and can be very helpful in composting larger stuff like sticks. But they can and will eat living organic matter if the opportunity arises. They've been nibbling on any beans that touch the soil this summer and I don't know if they were responsible for the original holes in my eggplants but they sure made themselves at home in them.

I can't see what would be appetizing about the roots of a potato plant but when I pulled the plants out yesterday there were no roots to speak of and they were mushy at the soil level. I suspect it may also have been a drainage issue- I used an old metal garbage pail which I thought was already leaky so didn't put drainage holes in it. I lined it with a garbage bag, with holes in the bag and a drainage layer beneath it but when I emptied it there was a fair amount of water and the smell of rot was apparent. So perhaps I am maligning the sow bugs in error and they were actually doing me a service by eating the rotted plants. The three potatoes don't appear to be munched on and I didn't find any half eaten ones. I guess we'll be buying potatoes as usual this winter- thankfully local potatoes are abundant and inexpensive.

On the plus side I have a bumper crop of soybeans this year. We've been eating them fresh all summer and now I'm freezing batches of edamame for snacking all winter. I'm also harvesting lots of peppers, both hot and sweet and a decent crop of tomatillos. The tomatoes are still producing lots but fall is just around the corner so it's time to make salsa and pickled jalapenos and all those spicy preserves that will keep us warm all winter!

Monday, August 16, 2010

CanJam # 8 Tomato Jam

Way back in January when the first CanJam ingredient was citrus, I found a recipe for tomato lemon jam in the Madame Benoit cookbook that looked really interesting. At the time lemons were readily available but the thought of using winter tomatoes wasn't very appealing. But the recipe stuck in the back of my mind as something I wanted to try when tomatoes are at their peak flavour. Well they don't get any more peak than right now!

Madame Benoit's recipe calls for an obscene amount of sugar- 5 lbs sugar to 5 lbs tomatoes! ( I think it may be a misprint.)But Colette found another tomato jam recipe that also called for lemon and a lot less sugar so we used it instead. We also tweaked the spices, adding a few things that weren't originally called for but that we thought would make a great addition.

Tomato Jam ( modified from Company's Coming by Jean Pare)

5 lbs ripe tomatoes ( we used mostly romas)
4 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Peel and dice tomatoes. Place in saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Boil uncovered about 20- 30 minutes, stirring often until liquid is reduced.

Add lemon peel and juice, sugar, vinegar and seasonings. We also added 1 bay leaf and a touch of celery seed. Stir and return to boiling for about 40 minutes until thickened. Test on a chilled saucer for gelling. Pour in 250 ml jars - recipe said 4, we got 5 250 and 2 x 125 so perhaps we didn't cook it down as far. It gelled nicely but not too solid which we prefer.
The taste is lovely and piquante. Sweet enough to enjoy as a jam but savoury enough to enjoy with meat or cheese and fantastic with shrimp!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Salad Days ( and Preserving Nights)

Everything is in full swing around here. The tomatoes are coming in gangbusters and that means non stop salads! I live for these days of walking out on the back deck and picking a rainbow of fresh tomatoes and eating them still warm from the sun.
One of our favourite ways to serve fresh tomatoes is a modified caprese salad, using fresh Ontario peaches, along with tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil. Drizzled with olive oil and a splash of balsamic, the sweet tastes of summer explode in your mouth!

Another popular summer salad is panzanella, or Italian bread salad, using fresh ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and onions from the garden. It's also a good way to use up stale bread.

2-3 cups of heirloom tomatoes chopped ( about 10 small/med tomatoes)
3/4 cup loosely torn basil
3 cloves of garlic minced
2/3 cup of good olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 cups of chopped seeded cucumber
1/2 cup red onion chopped
2 cups of stale bread cut or torn into small chunks -use a good bread!
Salt and Pepper
Shaved Parma cheese

Cut tomatoes in chunks according to size- cherries can be halved, bigger tomatoes in pieces. Place in salad bowl and salt well- this encourages the juices to come out and increase the tomatoes flavour.

Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a frying pan and add garlic. Heat garlic until just starting to brown and removed from oil. I dump the cooked garlic right into the salad bowl but you could put it aside to mix with the dressing.

Allow the oil to heat up till very hot ( if it's smoking it's too hot) Drop in bread chunks and lower heat. Stir chunks rapidly, turning so all sides are lightly brown. Remove from pan and put in salad bowl.

Add torn basil, chopped onions and cukes,

Mix remaining oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and add to salad. Shave cheese on top and mix everything well. Allow to sit for 5- 10 minutes to let bread absorb some of the juices and dressing.

When the Russian and I were first dating, he informed me that he hated tomatoes. He had arrived in Canada after working 10 years on cruise ships so I was pretty sure he'd never actually tasted a ripe tomato. After enjoying them fresh from the vine, he's now converted to tomato love.

Tomatoes are not the only thing taking over the house these days. An early spring and hot summer has everything ripening about two weeks ahead of schedule so the canning season has also come early. Not far From the Tree has been busy so I have a ton of fruit to process as well. With the kitchen being far too hot to cook in I've adapted the back deck into a makeshift cannery, using the side burner on our propane grill as well as a butane portable burner. The preserve shelves are quickly filling but the mountain of produce doesn't seem to be shrinking! When I'm up to my elbows in sticky fruit and sweat is trickling down my face, I remind myself that soon enough it will be January and the fruits of this labour will make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Passing on the Traditions

Last week I taught my first canning workshop. I've been sharing what I know about preserving food with friends for years but this was my first ever paid performance and like most things I wanted to make a good impression. The workshops are part of a CSO ( Community Shared Orchard). People purchase shares of the fruit harvest in advance and receive a share every two weeks from the participating farmers. Giving people the option and ability to preserve the fruit helps everyone make use of the harvest at it's peak! The tricky part is that no one, not even the farmers can be sure what will be ready the day the shares are delivered so half the fun is picking out recipes. For the initial workshop we were expecting the last of this year's cherries and some newly ready peaches. Two days before, we were notified that we were receiving 56 lb of apricots, 26 lbs of plums and 14 lbs of blueberries. So much for cherry jam and peach salsa!

We decided to do apricots in light syrup, slow cook plum jam ( no pectin) and I found a wonderful recipe for Apricot Blueberry jam with basil. (Thanks to Kat of A Good Appetite for sharing this recipe!)

The workshops are being held in a local church that has a commercial grade kitchen. There are 14 participants signed up for the CSO so we decide to do two sessions of 7 people in each to have enough space and time for everyone to actively take part in the canning. In theory this sounded great- what actually happened was almost no one showed for the first session and and a few extras came to the second. The first session was still in full swing when the second group arrived so the was some overlap but no one seemed to mind. Thankfully we had plenty of fruit to process and most of the recipes were designed to be made in smaller batches so it all worked out in the end. I'd love to say that everything went perfectly smoothly but there were a few glitches as one would expect.

At times it was a bit chaotic trying to keep up with three recipes simultaneously. I forgot to tell people to remove the air bubbles in the first batch of apricots in syrup so they came out about 3/4 full once settled- we corrected that in successive batches and it provided a good learning moment for all. The stove we were working on wasn't quite big enough to have 4 large canning pots fit simultaneously so I opted for a tall and narrow pot to cook the plum jam in. It was a slow cook method with the pits left in and the second batch got a bit scorched. Some of the participants suggested that it tasted 'smokey' but that wasn't really what we were aiming for. As with most no pectin recipes it didn't set firmly and will be delicious on many things. But the highlight of the night was definitely the apricot blueberry jam with basil- the recipe was simple and fast, the pectin worked as it should in all 8 batches and the taste is divine.

Three different recipes was probably a bit ambitious but it did give the opportunity to demonstrate 3 different methods of preserving using a hot water bath. All in all it was a successful evening- each participant went home with 3 x 500ml jars of apricots, 2 jars ( 250ml) of each of the jams as well as some fresh fruit. The next batch of fruit arrives Aug 10 - most likely peaches. Peach chutney anyone?

All Photos courtesy of Robin Newman of Not Far From The Tree!