Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Preserving Summer

I didn't make good use of my early summer, and failed to take advantage of one of the main advantages of living in Oregon's Willamette Valley: cheap and amazingly local produce (especially if you u-pick, which we normally do). Still, I have a bumper crop of late tomatoes, and have been preserving as fast as I can the last week or so, as we're clearly headed towards an early freeze this year. I may just start throwing tomatoes into freezer bags whole, and call it good.

I was up until 1:00 in the morning yesterday canning. Here's how it went:
-7:00 or so, come home from riding. Stop and buy 36 ears of corn from the little farmstand on Bodenhammer Road near my house. It's supposed to be $12 for the corn (corn is expensive this year. Yay, biofuels) but I realize later she only charged me $6. Also buy peaches and plums (only $1 a pound).
-8:00 Finally serve dinner-BLTs with avocado and basil mayonnaise. Insanely good.
-9:00 Mary shucks the corn for me and girls and husband head to bed.
-10:00 I realize how late it is. I also realize that I have to get the corn dealt with tonight, now that it's huskless. Start cutting it off the cobs. Think "Since it will take the corn an hour to roast anyway, I might as well can the apple butter that I made, while I'm waiting". Then think "If I have to heat up the canning kettle anyway, I might as well make a quick batch of peach jam, so don't have to do it tomorrow and heat the water twice. I'll be done by 11:00." I am pleased by my brilliance.
-10:45 Finally get the corn in the oven. Am realizing that my 11:00 prediction may have been overly optimistic. Set up the laptop in the kitchen and start watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadephia" on Start heating jars and lids.
-11:15 Finally get apple butter in the boiling water bath and start making peach jam. Things are getting progressively stickier. Morning and my hour long commute to work look too damn close.
-12:45 Finished.

But there isn't anything quite as satisfying as knowing that your shelves and freezer are full of good food. As hearing the "pop" of sealing jar lids as you set the jars on a towel to cool. As those satisfyingly flat quart bags of frozen sauces and vegetables that join the bean soups and stews in the freezer already. We're doing our modern-day version of hunkering down for winter.

Here's what I have so far:
*4 pints of fabulous Ginger Apple Butter, made in the crockpot. I've never thought of myself as an apple butter fan, but this was an easy way to use up the bag of apples I picked at my grandma's house a few weeks back. The girls both love this, and would eat it by the bowl. I would never stoop so low. Ha.
*4 pints of basic freezer strawberry jam. Nothing exciting, but the girls love it and it's going fast. I didn't u-pick any berries this year, but am finally using up the bunches I have in the freezer from past, more productive summers.
*4 1/2 pints of peach jam. Made from the indispensable Ball Blue Book, and my first attempt at jam without pectin. Jelled up very well, but the flavor isn't fabulous. Good, but not fabulous.
*6 quarts of Roasted Freezer Corn. Also good beyond belief.*
*4 pints of Tomato Basil Preserves. Good, but not great. Sweet, with a little tang from the tomato and lemon. I'd add some spicy peppers next time. The author says to serve with cream cheese; goat cheese was better because it added some tang. Great to bring as an easy appetizer to a party.
*4 pints of Pinot Noir Jelly. Designed, like the above, to be served with cream cheese and crackers. Again, I'd like it best with goat cheese instead. It does make a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich: sharp Tillamook white cheddar, whole wheat bread, a touch of this here jelly, and some Dijon. It's a great use for bottles of mediocre wine you might have around, and it's also very easy; one of those things you can do to help make it worth the bother of getting the canning kettle boiling and the jars sterilized.
*2 1/2 quarts of plain canned tomatoes. Not exciting, but I'll appreciate them later, I am sure.
*A couple of frozen quart bags of roasted tomatoes.
*3 quart bags of frozen tomato pasta sauce with shredded zucchini.
*3 quarts of puttanesca sauce, made in a crock pot.

Still to come:
-More jam, another batch of strawberry and some blackberry, I hope.
-Blueberry vanilla bean syrup, from the berries in my freezer.
-Infused vodkas! Definitely concord grape-maybe ginger?
-Dried apples and fruit leather
-Apple cider making at Grandma's house. Our first year without Grandma, and probably the last year of cider. It will be precious this year (and it's a fabulous year for apples here)
-more apple butter
-shredded zucchini in the freezer for later baking
-and something to use up all these damn tomatoes

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Miscellaneous Update

Watching now:
The Fringe. Hadn't heard anything about it until someone in my sci fi book club (mock if you must! you know you're really jealous) mentioned. Thanks to, we caught it last night. Pretty darn good, in the tradition of X Files and Lost. And..

Almost done with disc two; sadly enough it turns out, that's all there is. I do have a genius for falling in love with shows that have long-since been canceled (see also Firefly, Veronica Mars, Buffy).


Yeah, I'm definitely in a science fiction theme right now. This book is a fabulous read.


Spent a fabulous three nights at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego last weekend, courtesy of Debi, who was there for a manager's convention for Trader Joe's.

Missing even more:
Free hotel stay + frequent flier ticket = extra money to use on a spontaneous trip to Disneyland with her that Friday. The trip was fabulous; no children, no crowds, and lots of pants-wetting fun. Is it creepy that I woke her up at 6:00 am standing over her side of the bed in the dark hotel room whispering "disneyland disneyland disneyland"?


Fabulous. In a close race with the Toasted Sesame Brittle flavor. Must try again to try and decide.

Feels Like Fall-Roasted tomatoes and more

Even though it's approaching 90 right now, it's obvious we're nearing the end of summer. The nights are getting chilly, the trees are (barely) turning, kids are back in school, and I feel like canning. Raised in a family with the motto "Better make two batches for the potluck or we might all die because there won't be enough food", I feel driven to freeze and preserve food (which I then leave in the freezer or the jar all winter, waiting for the perfect occasion to eat it, which never arrives, especially as winter approaches.

More recipes will follow later, as I see how things work out. I'm contemplating wine jelly, tomato basil preserves (I picked 15 pounds of tomatoes yesterday alone), blueberry vanilla bean syrup, and frozen creamed corn.

Here's the basic roasted tomato technique I tried yesterday. I made two batches, each consisting of two 9x13" pans (about five pounds of tomatoes per batch). It's one of the simplest ways to preserve tomatoes I've found, short of just throwing them whole in ziploc bags in the freezer. It does ensure you get a rich tomato flavor in your finished product; I think sometimes freezing tomatoes damages their flavor in the same way refrigerating them is guaranteed to do. I used three or four big cloves of garlic per pan, just a little rosemary (because I had very little; more would've been good), olive oil, salt and pepper.

But, to be honest, I don't fully love the finished product. David pointed out that it tastes similar to sun-dried tomatoes, something neither of us really love. I made one batch with romas, that I froze, and then a batch with some unknown Beefsteak-like variety, that we pureed into sauce and ate with pasta last night. I added a bunch of fresh oregano and basil, then tossed with noodles and cubes of parmesan. I also added a little sugar, as this batch was very, very tart. I'm not sure if it was the variety or the recipe, and will do some more experimentation. And if I was going to make the recipe again for sauce, I'd throw some chunks of onion in to roast with the tomatoes, as tomato sauce without onion is just plain wrong.