Category Archives: gleaning

Canning tomatoes…again

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Original post:

God, I love a rainstorm paired with a day of roasting and canning tomatoes. Especially after a few days of traveling.  

roastingtomatoes

The day before I left for a reading in Madison, Wisconsin (for a report on that, see Farm City News), Bill and I went to Ned and Ryan’s farm, Blue House Farm in Pescadero, to glean our annual crop of dry-farmed Early Girls. For the past three years now we make the hour drive south, pick unsold fruit, then can it up for next year. It’s a gift to our future selves, future selves which will be cold and snotty in the winter, tomato-less in the spring, and food snobbish when it comes to store-bought, tinned tomatoes.  

Of course, it took us all day to pick the tomatoes. Blue House had suffered from late-blight, just as so many other farms around the country. Late blight is a fungus that can kill the entire plant, capable of hitting when the fruit is big and full of promise. The fields were filled with ravaged, dead tomato plants, two acres-worth. Some of the fruit looked okay–red, shiny–until you turned it upside down and saw the strange wrinkled pattern that marks blight. Some were green and black, covered with warts. In year’s past, these dry-farmed beauties were the best tomatoes I’ve ever had. So seeing the carnage of such deliciousness was supremely heart-breaking. All that work to plant, then stake and tie so many tomatoes. My poor farmer friends! Poor blighted farmers everywhere!

Lucky for gleaners, though. About one tomato in 20 were totally fine. It was too much work (and probably too depressing) for Ned and Ryan to salvage these, so Bill and I walked down all the aisles of tomatoes, pausing to check each one, picking the good, abandoning the bad. As we walked down the rows and rows, we could hear fruit thudding to the earth on their own accord. 

Still: happy day for these salvaged tomatoes! We took five buckets filled with yummy red tomatoes. You might never guess at the blight that had affected their siblings. Because the picking took so long, Bill and I didn’t start canning until 8pm. I had a flight to catch at 8am the next day, so I just stayed up all night, canning 50 jars of lusciousness to last all winter. Luckily, there were some unripe, greenish/orange tomatoes left over. When I came back from Madison five days later, they were ready.

lastoftomatoes

Since I had more time, I remembered what I learned last year: roasting them makes them even more incredibly delicious! So on this crazy windy, stormy day where everything is wet and tousled, I’m roasting tomatoes (added bonus that this then heats my house), canning them in the pressure canner, and I’ll be thanking farmers Ned and Ryan for their crop all winter and spring long. And next visit, I’ll be sure to bring them a jar of the good, roasted stuff. 

jarredtomatoes

Recipe: 

Wash and cut tomatoes in half, place cut side down on baking sheet (noticed glass pans work better), drizzle with olive oil. put in oven at 300 degrees. bake until collapsed and slightly brown on top. meantime, sterilize glass wide-mouth quart jars, either in the oven or microwave with some water in them. let the tomatoes cool slightly then add hot tomatoes to hot jar (if the tomatoes are too hot, the jar will crack). meanwhile also sterilize lids in boiling water. place a lid on each quart jar then screw the lid on with the collar (aka the other part of the lid–doesn’t have to be sterilized). if you have a pressure canner, process the tomatoes at 11 pounds of pressure/250 degrees for 20 minutes. If you have a water bath canner, you might need to add 1 tb lemon juice to be on the safe side and get the acid balance right. Process under 2 inches of boiling water for about an hour. Once the jars are done processing, take them out of the water and line them up where they can remain undisturbed for 12 hours (this is so they seal correctly). Store in a dark place. Caveats: i never peel or seed my tomatoes because i’m lazy and i think they taste better intact (i’m probably wrong). Freezing tomatoes is a great way to go, so don’t feel bad if you don’t want to can!

OPEN Restaurant

amaranthFood–it’s so boring.  I mean, yes, it should be delicious, and lovingly prepared. And plucked fresh from the earth. But with the economic crisis exploding around us, all of a sudden our (my) food geek tendencies seem a little trivial. During the fat years, we all had more time and money to natter on and on about what we were eating, and making food consumption into a meta experience. I remember checking out a book called Food Is Culture at the library at UC Berkeley, and the librarian couldn’t help himself when he snarled, “No, food is just food!”

Well, that’s one way to look at it. But. There’s a group of food world folks who know how to geek out on food in a way that isn’t annoying. They are called OPEN, a group of food professionals who host awesome events in the name of food. They aren’t caterers, mind you, but more like storytellers. For instance, they did an event at SFMOMA where they deconstructed a pig before the eyes of the eaters. After what sounded like an amazing porky dinner, everyone took home a bit of pancetta to cure at home. They sometimes make donuts in parks and give them away, for free.

Now they’re hosting an event at Yerba Buena that sounds really fun. Here’s the scoop, from the YB website: “Participants will share a simple meal while chewing on the question: How can the urban landscape be productive? …enjoy dinner and a glass of wine while learning more about urban farming, foraging and gleaning from people directly involved in these practices. Entry to discussion is open to everyone.

The menu includes a stew made of white beans, greens and pork (there will also be a vegetarian stew), pork rillette, dessert (not yet determined) and a glass of wine.”

I’m going to be there–I hope some of you can make it. Here’s more info:

YBCAlive!: OPENrestaurant with Slow Food Nation
Tue, Jan 6, 7pm • Grand Lobby
Meal Ticket is: $20 General / $15 YBCA Members
Discussion is FREE
For tickets, please call our Box Office at 415.978.2787.

Canning tomatoes

My friend W is taking classes to become a Waldorf teacher. It’s an amazing curriculum based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies about childhood development. For kindergartners, Waldorf teaching emphasizes learning by doing seasonal activities–this teaches the kids that life is a cycle and humans have developed rituals to connect them to the seasons. Children at that age like to feel like there is a plan, that there is a consistent thing going on.

I can’t help but to feel the same way about canning tomatoes. Going on three years now, Bill and I make our pilgrimage to the lovely Blue House Farm, where our friends Ned and Ryan grow the best dry-farmed tomatoes ever. Since the tomatoes aren’t watered during the summer, the flesh is quite sturdy and the fruit taste is concentrated. Once canned, the tomatoes remain whole and, dare I say it? taste better than the fresh fruit. It’s some kind of alchemy, canning.

This year, Bill went to Pescadero solo (I had to work) in October and picked several buckets and boxes of tomatoes. Enough to share with our friends even. And so I began the ritual, once again, of putting up a year’s worth of tomatoes (about 52 jars, one for every week). This year was different in that I used the pressure canner for about half of the jars. My friend W came over and we processed tomatoes late into the night. She even stayed up until 2am and ended up sleeping in our guest room.

Usually I do water bath canning. I sterilize the jars in the oven, then pack as many raw tomatoes into the jar as possible. I top off the jars with leftover jars of already processed tomatoes from the year before, or make a tomato juice by putting a bunch of the less than perfect tomatoes into the blender. Then I add lemon juice to the tomatoes (just to make sure they are acid enough and to retain color), screw on the lids, and process for an hour and a half. Yes, that takes forever. Even with a huge canning cauldron, I can only fit 9 jars.

Enter the pressure canner. Same exact process with the jars, except I don’t *have* to add the lemon juice. The temperature gets to 250 degrees, so any botulism is killed by this high temp. I closed the lid to the pressure canner, let it vent steam for about 10 minutes, then put on the stopper and process for 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes to let the canner lose pressure. So, effectively, the p.c. cuts the processing time in half. And it gives me peace of mind.

But how do the tomatoes taste? you ask.

Bill and I did a blind taste test and found that…drum roll…the p.c. canned tomatoes taste better, more tomatoe-y, richer, and more perky. Of course the water bath toms are great too. The canned tomatoes are wonderful pantry items to use in soups and stews, pasta sauces, pizza sauce.

But the real show-stealer this year was some slow-roasted tomatoes from our garden. I picked all those pesky cherry tomatoes–the sungolds, the currants, the volunteers–drizzled olive oil over them, then stuck them in a slow oven (230) to cook for a few hours. The result is a candy-sweet, smoky tomato paste. Some people might call it a confit. This I jarred up and canned as well. It works great to add a small jar of the oven-roasted tomatoes to a regular jar of tomatoes to make pasta sauce. As a pizza sauce, these slow-roasted cherry tomatoes are the best thing ever. Next year I plan to roast the dry-farmed tomatoes as well. Every year, the tomato canning process is being perfected. It is wonderful to learn something new while keeping the ritual intact.

Which goat?

I’ve been staring at the goatlings’ backsides lately. They have little tiny udders. I simply can’t believe it! They’re only two months old, but they’re becoming little ladies.

which goat has better milking potential?

Anyway, I had a bit of a Rumpelstiltskin moment when Bebe’s former owner emailed me, asking for photos of the doelings–front, side, and back. They were taking their doe from the buy-back agreement we had made when I bought Bebe, all preggers. I thought the family only wanted a doeling who was polled (without horns) but it turned out they wanted to take Orla or Georgina, dependent on their backsides, because the family wants to show the goats in 4H and other Nigerian Dwarf shows.

When I look at Orla and Georgina, I guess I know that Georgina is a better looking goat–she’s got a straight back and long legs. So it wasn’t a surprise when the family decided they wanted Georgina. The mom explained:

“She is a lot more level across her topline, her rump is less steep, she has more width accross her chest, and she has a wider escutchen.” The escutcheon is an index for milking–the wider the better milk production.

But Orla is (truth be told) my favorite because she’s so docile and sweet. So we are all happy! The mom said it was a hard choice because both of the girls turned out really nice. And she predicted that next year, after I breed Orla, I’ll have more milk that I can handle. She said Bebe’s offspring often milk out 3.5 pound of milk! That’s almost a gallon! And, Orla’s got a suitor with blue eyes just waiting for her.

Plum season

It’s that time again–red juice dripping down the chin, sticky fingers, jam-making inspiring-plum season. This year William and I head to our friend Linton’s house where we picked a bucket of Santa Rosa, yellow, and red plums. It only took 20 minutes to fill the bucket. It was a lovely scene, with Linton’s chickens clucking around us and a top bar beehive in his neighbor’s yard to keep us company. When we got home, I cooked the plums with some water until they boiled down. Then I removed the pits (harder than it sounds, next year I’m going to pit them first) and cooked the jam with some pectin and honey. The jam is very sour, but William insisted on no sugar. I cooked some of it some more and added brown sugar but then promptly burned it. Shit. The good news? Once again, the pigs love burnt plum jam. We have about 20 jars of the unburnt but sour jam. Next up will be apricots….