Food Archive

Post summer garden thoughts

Posted October 15, 2017 By Ruth

Last summer I massively over planted tomatoes.  I made SO MUCH sauce that I thought we’d never finish it all in a year.  I made ketchup.  I gave away tomatoes, sauce, and tomato puree.

Yesterday, in a quick freezer survey, I realized there are exactly TWO! jars of sauce left from last year.  Wow.  But then it did taste ever so much better than store bought, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Heck, we hardly made pizza too, so most of it went into chili, and marinara, and the like.

I’ve got a pot on the stove right now simmering down most of this summer’s tomato harvest.  After the bounty that was last summer I deliberately under planted tomatoes this year, and then with the screwed up weather we didn’t get as many per plant as usual.  I figure I’ll get 5 or 6 jars of sauce from this years harvest if I’m lucky.

So I guess next summer I’m going to have to “over plant” tomatoes again.  Probably want to kill myself by the time I finish processing them all, but obviously the sauce is worth it.

We’ve still not had a real frost here, though all that’s left in the garden is onions, carrots and covered hot pepper plants.

The Oxheart carrot is getting added to my regular carrot cycle.

We never did get a ripe Green Nutmeg Melon, the one I picked when the vine was dying back smelled really good, but either wasn’t as close to ripe as I’d hoped or else they don’t taste like much.  I’ll have to decide if I want to try them again or not.

The White Leopard Melons are worth growing again.

I’m going to give up on the Melon Pear fruits, even cages the color change to ripe is still very subtle, and the couple I picked I wasn’t a fan of the flavor (but heck, I’m still not sure they were fully ripe).

The corn failed miserably, but I’m pretty sure that had more to do with a combination of things than anything specific.  I’ll try it again, but maybe not next summer.

I was discussing with Husband the possibility of trying a variety of hot peppers again, mostly for the heck of it.

Maybe just go really basic next year.  There’s a different variety of cucumber I want to try, but otherwise just do tomatoes, and hot peppers, and carrots, and a couple melons…..will have to see what catches my eye as I browse catalogs I think.

As I was putting down the plastic sheeting to smother the weeds it occurred to me that now that I have the soaker hoses for the garden watering there’s no reason I couldn’t leave the plastic in place next year and just cut holes to plant stuff in.  With the soaker hose run under it the plants would get plenty of water and the plastic would do wonders to help keep the weeds down.  Might have to try it.

2 Comments so far. Join the Conversation

Saturday Husband decided he was in the mood for chili.  WAY too late to get dried beans going on the stove top and no canned beans in the house.

Well, we have the Instant Pot pressure cooker for a reason, right?

With a little bit of digging we settled on THIS recipe as our cooking instructions.  Downside, it does mean getting a 2nd pan dirty to brown the meat, but then so does regular chili.  Upside, the meat isn’t cooked to mush by an hour in the pressure cooker.  We also used a quart jar of home-made tomato sauce instead of canned tomatoes (I could have pulled fresh from the garden, but I’d JUST gone through and harvested all the ripe ones and froze most of them).  Seasonings we used were chili powder, cumin, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and home-made hot pepper powder.

Start the beans in the IP, start cutting up your pepper, and onion, and browning the meat.  We timed it just about perfectly, as everything was ready to go barely a couple minutes before the IP beeped done.

Add the additional water, scoop in meat/vegi mixture, carefully pour tomato sauce on top (it needs to be on top of everything, not under everything, tomato sauce is too thick, and if it sits on the bottom of the pot it will scorch and the IP won’t come to pressure).  Close the IP back up, set it for another 30 minutes, and walk away.  It took a bit longer to come to pressure the 2nd time, but not horribly so.

When it was done gave it a quick stir and decided the consistency was just about right.  We had to add a bit more seasoning, but that’s typical for pressure cooker cooking, and easily done.

Chili from dried beans in less than 2hrs (and no after affects from undercooked kidney beans!).  Perfect!

General and garden update

Posted July 30, 2017 By Ruth

Its been an oddly busy week for me this week.  I say oddly because I didn’t actually work that many hours, but what I did was frustration filled, plus some stuff here at home, and well, time…..

This past Friday was Inventory day at work.  We’ve known this is coming for a several weeks of course, and as seems par for the course prepping for inventory always finds all sorts of problems.  What really needed to happen was back in February, when the run-up for summer really hit, was to tell everyone that Inventory was this year and so be extra careful making sure those pallets are tagged right…..but of course no one plans that far ahead (and I’m not sure that some folks would bother even if the rest of us did).  And of course there’s limits to how much work you can put into inventory prepping the sales shelves in advance, as customers alone will mess things up.  Course, with our freight crew we don’t need the customers to mess things up.

Monday I worked a 4.5hr shift.  Other than helping customers the only thing I did Monday was to get the first 3 bays of cleaning chemicals inventory ready.  This includes a fair bit of rack diving into cruddy, nasty and dirty areas to pull out stock that’s been pushed hither and yon.

Tuesday I worked a 4hr shift.  My plan was to do basic straightening on those first 3 bays, and start inventory prep on the 4th.  Instead I discovered that freight had unpacked boxes of stock the night before.  Why is this a bad thing?  Because they find the spot where the stock goes and just shove.  There were bottles EVERYWHERE.  This is an ongoing problem that has been complained about all over the store, and it hasn’t changed.  But that close to inventory……I went and found the manager on duty, and informed him that he should be glad my shift didn’t over lap with freight that day, because if it did he’d be writing me up before the end of the day.  Maybe I got through to him just how much of an issue it was this time.  I hope so.  Cause I really was that pissed.  I had to almost completely redo those three bays.

Thursday I worked a full day, and thankfully freight either didn’t unpack any freight, or they actually listened to management this time.  Either way I’ll take it.  Well, they didn’t unpack any freight in cleaning chemicals at any rate.  About two hours into my day that same manager came by and asked me to do BEAR tags in outside garden (BEAR tags are basically inventory tags for pallets that are in the overheads, I have no idea what the abbreviation stands for).  I asked him why, I KNOW my dept supervisory spent all day Monday tagging and verifying tags in outside garden……Wednesday night we received a Pavestone truck, and someone had put the pallets in the overheads without tags.  Yup.

I did actually manage to get most of the cleaning chemicals ready for inventory by the time I left Thursday.  I didn’t have to work Friday, here’s hoping things went smoothly.

Saturday I didn’t have to work at my job.  But it was Open Farm Day in my county.  My county is fairly agricultural, with a large number of small locally owned farms of various types.  Those farms can sign up to be part of the Open Farm Day program, where they basically (for this one day) invite the public to come and visit, see the farm, and buy things right there on location.  This is the 4th year that I helped man a table at the local buffalo farm.  I’ve been one of their customers since they first started selling meat, and so when they needed someone who could help explain how to cook buffalo meat, and flavors, and what not they asked if I’d be willing to help.  Paid for course, though the actual pay varies between cash and meat (which isn’t exactly a hardship!).  Buffalo meat is extremely popular here.  They can’t keep enough animals to keep up with demand.  In addition for Open Farm Day they sell buffalo burgers, and pulled BBQed buffalo brisket (along with local sweet corn and salt potatoes*).  Folks coming out for this event have quickly figured out that the buffalo farm is THE place to hit for lunch, and every year we sell out of food.  I help with the actual selling of the raw, frozen, meat.  Which means spending my day digging meat cuts out of the freezers and repeating myself over and over as to how to cook buffalo meat (its very like beef in many ways, but cooks alot like venison).  Its not especially physically demanding, but I’m always completely blasted by the end of the day.

This morning (Sunday) I hurt more than I ought to.  I guess digging stuff out of freezers is just enough different than my normal work to screw with me.  Oh well.

Our makeshift drainpipe is working well.  Though thankfully the worst of the insane monsoon season seems to have passed.

And with the passing of the crazy rains my garden is finally taking off.

Three nice big purple carrots.  I forget which variety these are off the top of my head (I grow 7 or 8 varieties of carrots, of which 3 are purple).   I’ve picked enough carrots at this point to clear space to plant more, so I put down seed for one of the sweet baby varieties which are quick growing.  Edit: they’re either Cosmic Purple Carrots or Purple Dragon Carrots.  I THINK they’re Cosmics, but it looks like I forgot to record which order I planted them in this year and Cosmics and Dragons look enough alike……

 

 

Baby Honeydew melon

 

Biker Billy Jalapenos

 

Bill Bean Tomatoes, starting to ripen!

 

Chocolate Habaneros

 

2nd planting of lettuce just starting to sprout.

 

Lima Beans (and weeds……)

 

Green Nutmeg melons.  I still haven’t seen any set fruit, but the vines look awesome considering that they were a hugely late start.  Cross fingers for fruit!

 

Sunflowers

 

Black Pearl Peppers.  Even if you don’t care for hot peppers these would be a striking ornamental planting for an annual bed!

 

The insanity that is my Black Plum Tomatoes!  The quick and dirty stacking of tomato cages didn’t work this year.  Oh well.

 

This is the mixed potato and corn bed (and weeds, can’t forget the weeds!).  SOMETHING, bunny sized, as apparently been nesting in it.  Yay.  At least they aren’t munching.

 

Snow Leopard melon, there’s at least a couple more good sized fruit coming along too.

Sugar Baby Watermelon

 

Speaking of munching…..SOMETHING (I’m thinking deer) keep trying to eat my Blazing Star flower stalks.  Apparently they’re not very tasty though, as I keep finding the severed heads next to the stalks.

 

One day’s harvest, my first two Black Gypsy tomatoes, more carrots, a couple Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, and some Black Plum tomatoes.

The bunnies are horrid this year.  I thought I had trouble keeping the new growth un-munched last year.  This year though, OMG.  Plus the damn things are basically LIVING in the garden, even when they aren’t munching!  Thankfully the damage has been minimal, due to weekly applications of Plantskydd.  But jeeeze!

My cantaloupe vines haven’t set fruit yet either, which is unusual for them, but those tires are some of the worst for weeds, and the vines aren’t as big as usual, I’m thinking the weeds are choking them out a bit.  Oh well.

 

*Salt Potatoes are an extremely regional food.  Although they’ve been featured on a couple cooking shows, 9 times out of 10 when I find someone in other parts of the country who knows what salt potatoes are it’s because they have close family from the Central-Upstate NY state area.  The modern version of salt potatoes are sold prepackaged at the grocery store as 1lb of salt and 4lbs of small potatoes (about the size of baby potatoes, but not sold that way).  And no, they do not taste nearly as salty as everyone expects them to.  They’re extremely tasty though!

Instant Pot Ketchup update

Posted May 3, 2017 By Ruth

Husband reports that he REALLY likes the flavor of this batch.

Also, after some discussion with some other IP owners it was suggested that maybe the IP needs to be set to “saute” to force the mixture to reduce better.  Its worth a try.  Will report when I try it again!

Instant Pot Ketchup

Posted April 24, 2017 By Ruth

So, in browsing Instant Pot recipes I happened on THIS recipe.  My biggest issue with the ketchup recipe I use is the cook time.  The IP version eliminates alot of that.  In addition, the two are actually fairly similar, after some recipe comparison I decided to try making my original ketchup recipe using the IP instructions.

I used the saute function to heat the oil and simmer the cloves, turned the IP back off, added the thawed tomates (the extra benefit here is the amount of liquid they produce when thawing means no smushing required to get the liquid level right), added the seasonings, set the IP and let it run.

(a note on the original recipe, though the first time I made it I bought a fresh onion and a can of tomato paste, since then I’ve used tomato powder +water for the paste, and onion powder for the onion.  I generally use frozen garlic from my garden, though once I used powdered garlic and hubby didn’t notice a difference)

After the pressure cycle I did a quick release, opened it, pulled the spice packet temporarily while I pureed everything with the stick blender, then put the spices back in and set it to slow cook – high.  I had to unplug it to run the stick blender, or I’d have just left it on keep warm, as the IP recipe implies.

The IP recipe says that it only needs to simmer there for 10 minutes to reduce by half.  Half an hour after setting it mine had barely reduced at all.  And not because it was plenty thick.  Now admittedly I didn’t use all paste tomatoes or the like, infact it was barely half paste tomatoes, and my recipe calls for a bit more vinegar, but I’d have expected to see a noticeable reduction in volume based on the description in the recipe.  This is not something a bit of cornstarch was going to fix.  I ran it through the food strainer and put it into a pot on the stove to simmer and reduce.

I had to simmer it for close to an hour to get the right consistency.  I might as well just have dirtied the pot in the first place.

Husband hasn’t had a chance to try it yet, I’ll add that in once he does.  But at this point I’m not impressed with the recipe.  Yes, I didn’t follow the ingredients word for word, but I’d have expected to see SOME reduction, and I basically saw none.

Storing tomatoes

Posted January 2, 2017 By Ruth

Ran across an interesting article on long term storage of tomatoes in dry (sifted) wood ash.  Digging around a bit more and it turns out that this isn’t actually a new idea, and that it actually works.  Science abstract here (gotta track down the full text, they tried various levels of moisture).  Additional info here.

Kinda cool.  My problem with trying it here is the moisture content.  I gotta see if I can track down the full article from the testing to see what moisture levels weren’t worth it.  We tend to be pretty damp here through the fall at least.

Jalapeno Jelly

Posted September 18, 2016 By Ruth

As asked, today’s batch of Jalapeno Jelly (with a couple Buena Mulata’s tossed in):

imgb2826 imgb2827

 

As you can see I’m a bit lazy and don’t bother to remove the seeds, but then the point was the hot peppers.  I modified THIS recipe to make this.  I use Ball’s low sugar pectin, so it only requires 4.5 cups of sugar instead of 6 cups, and I always have to use extra pectin (the entire 4.7ounce jar, the recipe tells you to use about 3/4 of the jar anyways if you measure it out) or it doesn’t set up right.  And I replace the pound of green peppers with a pound of red ripe hot peppers.

Bonus to frozen tomatoes

Posted August 24, 2016 By Ruth

When I remember to pull them out of the freezer far enough in advance to actually thaw all the way before trying to cook them down I’m able to drain off a TON of clear liquid!  That ought to help with the cook down time quite a bit!

BTW, this now makes 8.5 gallon ziplocks cooked down.  There’s at least that many still in the freezer, and a ton of tomatoes still on the plants in various stages of ripeness!

Ketchup

Posted August 20, 2016 By Ruth

Since I have an abundance of tomatoes this year I thought I’d try my hand at making ketchup, especially since Husband eats it by the trailer load.  The recipe I used is in THIS cookbook.  Btw, if you’re looking for a series of decent cookbooks for yourself or for giving, I have really liked these America’s Test Kitchen books, at least the ones I’ve picked up so far (I understand the pressure cooking one isn’t so great, but the others I’ve picked up I’ve liked).

The final step of the recipe is to smush the puree through a fine mesh strainer.  I got about halfway through that when it occurred to me that the food mill might have been a better option for my hands (the left hand in particular, which was holding the strainer, was really unhappy with me), but even after switching over my hands were still very unhappy.  I still hurt this morning.  After I griped about it on Facebook my mother offered to buy us a crank food strainer as an anniversary gift.  I won’t be doing ketchup again till that arrives.

Simmering down it didn’t smell all that great to me, but I don’t eat ketchup anyway (and absolutely can’t stand the smell of cloves).  Husband, on the other hand, eats ketchup on damn near everything, and thought it smelled divine.  Final results: he says it needs to be a bit sweeter (easy enough), and, as much as he loves the Black Plums and their smoky flavor in the ketchup, he’s missing that acid bite of the usual tomatoes (he said he’d absolutely eat it as it is though, so it must not be too far off!).  So next batch I’ll add in some of the Blue Berries (maybe 1/4 of the tomatoes?), and see how that goes.

 

Update: after the ketchup sat for a while, and was then properly shook up before he put it on his burger last night, he now says not to change a thing and its perfect the way it is.  I’ll take it!

 

Note: all Amazon links go to Amazon via my Amazon Affiliates account.  If you buy something on Amazon after clicking through one of the above links I might earn a few pennies.

Canning tomato sauce, research and frustration

Posted August 12, 2016 By Ruth

Ever since I started making our own tomato sauce I’ve wanted to can it instead of freezing it (like I do).  And yes, technically you can, safely, can tomato puree.  But the approved as safe recipes all tell you to add extra acid to the mix for safety.  Since part of why we like our homemade sauce is the low acid this didn’t appeal to me.  What I’ve never quite understood is why they tell you to add acid to the pressure canned version too.  After all the whole point of the pressure canner is to do LOW acid stuff.

So this week I emailed the National Center for Home Food Preservation to find out WHY they tell you to add acid to the pressure canned version.  The response was that the listed pressure canner version is just the equivalent of the water bath method (for folks who prefer to pressure can), not a low acid, safe from botulism, method.  Personally if I can safely water bath can it I’m going to do that rather than haul out the pressure canner, but ok, I can see that.

But there’s an approved spaghetti sauce recipe, with very similar proportions, for pressure canning with no added acid.  Is there any reason why I can’t just use those times to pressure can a low acid tomato puree?

The response had two parts, the first stated that since that hadn’t been tested with pure tomato puree she couldn’t say that was safe (which I can understand, after all, if she agrees with me that it’s safe and I do something stupid with it and get sick, or die, from botulism, she doesn’t want to get sued).  But she should have just left it there.  The next part stated that most likely the tomato puree is going to be thicker than the spaghetti sauce so THATS why its not safe, cause the thicker the sauce the harder it is to get the heat to the center of the jar right.

Look, the tomato sauce (which is pure tomato puree if you follow the instructions) recipe calls for 28 pounds of tomatoes to make 9 pints of sauce.  That’s just about 3.11 pounds of tomatoes per pint of finished sauce.

The spaghetti sauce recipe calls for 30 pounds of tomatoes, plus other stuff, to make 9 pints of sauce.  That’s 3.33 pounds of tomatoes, plus other things, per pint of finished sauce.

I highly doubt that the tomato puree is going to end up thicker than the spaghetti sauce……

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try canning my sauce or not this year (though I’m highly tempted).  But I really dislike being given stupid reasons for why I shouldn’t do something…….