Tomatoes & Zucchini Invade!

Yes, is it that time of year again. Someone “gifted” me two huge zucchini – they’re the size of baseball bats and have to weigh five pounds apiece. I’m going to freeze it – half in cubes for minestrone soup, and half grated for bread. And that should take care of our zucchini needs for the next year!

The tomatoes are starting to come on strong as well. So far, I’ve put up two quarts and three pints, and will be doing another batch tomorrow. I’d love it if they would ripen all at once so I could do big canner loads, but I’ve been using my mini canning rack and stock pot for the small batches. We’ve got more cherry tomatoes than we can eat fresh as well, so I’m thinking about freezing them whole – they’ll be nice to toss into wine-poached fish and other dishes.

It seems every day I’ve got something to freeze or can, but all the hard work will pay off this winter when we’ve got a fully stocked larder to feast on.

5 + 85 = 2

5 + 85 = 2

Wait, what? You might think that 5 + 85 = 90, but if you’ve got 5 pounds of tomatoes that you process at 85 minutes in a water bath canner, you’ll actually get 2 quarts of canned tomatoes. So you see, 5 +85 really does equal 2.

That’s exactly what I found out yesterday when I came home from work one to find a big bowl of beefsteak and roma tomatoes sitting on the counter. Way, way too many throw in a salad, we’re still using up last year’s canned tomatoes for sauces and soups, and I wasn’t a big fan of freezing them. So I pulled out my mini canning rack and put up two quarts of tomatoes. It was a nice little project for a weeknight, actually. Prepping the tomatoes (a daunting task indeed when you’ve got a bushel on your hands) was quite a breeze and only took ten minutes or so. And it was really nice to do something a little different in the kitchen. And while two quarts won’t see through us through the whole winter, it’s a start on the year’s tomato canning. The plants at the garden are doing exceptionally well, so we’ll be off to the races any day now. And then how I will long for a simple two quart batch!

Planning for Canning

Well, it’s that time of year again. Summer is in full swing, and there’s loads of fresh produce to be had. We’re fortunate in that what we preserved last year saw us through fairly well, so we still have a bit to use up. This weekend I inventoried what we had left –

– 12 quarts of tomatoes

– 4 quarts of apples

– 4 pints of apricot jam

– 3 pints of blueberry jam

– few bags of frozen blueberries

Not too shabby. I think 28 quarts of tomatoes was just the right amount for us, so I’m going to plan to do the same amount this year. And instead of apple slices canned in water, I think I’m just going to do apple pie filling and apple sauce – that’s really how we consume apples at our house. I’ll probably do a single canner batch of 7 quarts of the pie fillings, and maybe 14 pints of the applesauce. I’ll repeat the apricot jam, but only half as much – 3 or 4 jars will be sufficient. So this year’s Can Plan looks a bit like this –

– 28 quarts of whole tomatoes in their own juices (still debating about doing some of it as pasta sauce)

– 7 quarts of apple pie filling

– 14 pints of applesauce

– 4 pints of apricot jam

Plus, for the freezer we’ll have brussels sprouts and hopefully some sweet and hot peppers if they produce well from the garden. And I’d still like to do a you-pick farm this summer and get a few quarts of berries. The sweet corn didn’t freeze as well as I would’ve like last year, so I think we’ll skip that and just enjoy it fresh while it lasts.

And of course if anything else catches my fancy I’ll just add it to the list…

DIY Beer Mustard – The Mini Canning Rack in Action

I’m so excited – my mini canning rack arrived last week! I was so excited to give it a try, and what better thing to make in early spring than beer mustard? We’re just starting to grill out a bit this season, and home made mustard will be the perfect accompaniment to burgers and bratwursts and all of the other tasty things we’re going to be grilling this season.

Since I’ve never used this recipe, I just did a small half batch over the weekend – two 4-ounce jars. That will be enough to get us started, and we can see how we like the recipe, which is made from brown mustard seeds, beer, malt vinegar, dry mustard, light brown sugar and onion powder. Sounds tasty, and this recipe looks so simple that I’ve got high hopes for a good end result.

The first step is to bring the mustard seeds and beer to a boil, then let them sit off heat for about two hours until the seeds have absorbed most of the beer. Then puree the mustard seeds  –

Then add the remaining ingredients and cook it down until it’s reduced by about a third –

And then into my amazing little canning rack in my standard soup pot, where it needs to be processed for ten minutes –

And here’s my finished mustard – shelf stable until opened, and ready to go for grilling season!

How easy was that? With my mini canning rack, I can do all sorts of small batch preserving in the little snippets of time that I can cobble together every now and again. Proving there’s always time for a little preserving, if you’ve got the right tools and good recipes.

2011 Preservation Tally

Alright, what’s done is done. It’s the last weekend before the baby is due, so I’ve put up everything that I’m going to be able to for this year (with the exception of the apples we’re getting in late October). So, here’s the official tally of all the fruits and veggies that got put up at Apartment Farm this year –

– 19 quarts of canned whole tomatoes with no added liquid

– 5 pints of canned pickled hot peppers

– 24 ears of frozen sweet corn

– 4 pints of frozen blueberries

– 1 gallon of frozen hot peppers

– 6 pints of frozen sweet peppers

– 1 cup frozen pesto

– 2 cups frozen apple pie filling

– 1 quart of black walnuts in dry storage

– 2 gallons of honey (purchased)


Not to shabby with the summer shaping up the way it did. We’re in for some good eating this winter. And of course, I’m already working on the to do list for next year. 🙂

The Woes of Hot Peppers, or How I Learned a Valuable Lesson

Okay, so as I mentioned, yesterday husband and I embarked upon a mission to can 14 quarts of tomatoes as well as a small batch of pickled hot peppers. I was going to post my show and tell photo yesterday, but due to some totally foreseeable and preventable circumstances that I will describe to you shortly, we were delayed slightly on our mission and didn’t pull the last jars out of the canner until after eleven. But we did manage to pull it off and get our self-imposed quota for the day completed –

Aren’t they gorgeous? There is an additional quart of hot peppers in the freezer too, since we purchased an even three pounds of Hungarian Wax hot peppers at the market yesterday, more than we needed for the pickling recipe we were following. And as per my usual experience, even though we tightly crammed the jars full of veg, we still got floaters. Every time! But they are perfectly sealed and processed so while some may say they are not as beautiful as they could be, they will still taste great and also probably not kill us. Bonus.

Now for the sadness. And the worst part is, I know better. There is nothing worse than putting yourself in a situation you know damned well that you could’ve and should’ve avoided. I know that you are supposed to wear gloves while working with hot peppers. I know this. Did I heed this well-known advice? No. No, I did not. Usually handling hot peppers with my bare hands doesn’t bother me at all. I just remember not to touch my eyes, and I’m good to go. Except I forgot that there was bound to be a difference in chopping up one jalepeno every once in a great while and chopping and seeding three entire pounds of Hungarian Wax hot peppers. And I also failed to account for the fact that my body is reacting very differently to things since I’ve been pregnant.

By the end of the batch I was feeling tingly, which I expected. Halfway through bottling the peppers for the canner I was leaning up to the sink choking back tears and refusing to take my hands out of the running water. And we still had fifty pounds of tomatoes to contend with. I spent the next few hours doing spurts of prep work on the tomatoes and plunging my hands into a bowl of ice water for relief. We tried washing my hands with soap and water and dousing them with alcohol, neither of which lessened the pain. Only the ice water dulled the ache. And apparently – prolonged my suffering. We finally figured this out, when I dumped the ice water and sat down in the dining room with husband to try the last remedy we had to make the burning stop – time. I literally felt like my hands were being held in a blue-hot fire for several hours at a stretch. I had a freak out session for the next hour and a half – pacing the living room, husband rubbing my back, ice pack on my neck to cool me down (because at this point I was so worked up I felt overheated, even though husband kept telling me I felt fine) and having husband tell me everything would be okay; with a little time the burning sensation would subside and I would be fine.

It was the longest hour and a half of my life. On the plus side, I feel a little more prepared for labor now. At least contractions start and stop and you get a break in between them. And hour and a half of straight, relentless pain is just unreal. And eventually the pain did lessen. Once I was back to slight burning and tingling, I took a nap for a half hour and then woke up the pain was gone. Of course, I was fine and the baby was fine. We hopped back into the tomato processing, but at this point daylight was a wasting. I avoided water like the plague, but of course when putting up food in the kitchen you can’t avoid it entirely. So I got some more burning in between batches when I had to wash tomatoes or my hands, but it wasn’t nearly as bad at the initial experience. I knew what to expect, what was causing it, and that it would end.

So, lessons for next year. Do not be cocky! Wear gloves when working with hot peppers! And if I’m doing hot peppers on the same day as something else, the hot peppers are the last batch of the day. That way if I do end up getting a hot pepper burn, at least I don’t have to work through another fifty pounds of whatever still and can just take a few Tylenol and go to bed. Learn from my ridiculous mistake, friends.

And, as turns out – this concludes this year’s dance with the canner. Despite my great ambitions and better intentions, we’re putting the waterbath canner to bed for the season. I wanted to squeeze in another 28 quarts of tomatoes this year, but frankly – husband and I are exhausted. He really sprang into action this year to make any canning at all possible and I think we did great. We’ve got 19 quarts of tomatoes and 5 pints of pickled hot peppers to show for our efforts, and I think that’s pretty good for a nine months pregnant lady with a broken ankle and a guy who’s never canned anything before in his life. I’m proud of what we turned out this year. And we’ve compiled an awesome list of things we want to do for next summer – since I won’t be pregnant and we hopefully won’t have any injuries or illnesses in the household, we’re excited about getting some more time next season to spread things out so it’s not so mad cap. And if all else fails, husband can take baby boy out to the park for a few hours every Saturday so Mama can super can without anyone underfoot.

This doesn’t mean our preserving is done for the season now that we have the freezer in the house. This weekend at the farmer’s market we plan on buying a couple dozen ears of what is likely the last sweet corn of the season to blanch and freeze. We’re also going to freeze some blueberries for pies and likely a couple of quarts of sweet peppers. And of course, I’m going to do some baking and cooking of freezer dinners in preparation for the baby’s arrival over the next weekend or two. So we’re not quite done. But I won’t lie and say we aren’t happy to put the lid on the canner for the season. 🙂

Sunday Canning

The excitement builds! Husband will be helping me with another round of canning today. And I’m super excited that I actually got to go to the farmer’s market with him today. The market got relocated this week to the parking lot right in front of our house, due to an art festival happening on the street where it’s usually held. This was a windfall for me, since hobbling across the street for a half hour was actually feasible with husband’s help.

It’s the first time in over a month that I’ve left the house for something other than a doctor’s appointment. The sun was shining, there was a nice breeze, and the market was in full swing. We came home with quite a haul too – three pounds of absolutely gorgeous Hungarian Wax hot peppers from Midnight Sun, a five pound bag of red onions and a five pound bag of red, white and blue mixed potatoes from King’s Hill and a pint of Saturn peaches and four ears of sweet corn from Hardin Family Farms (I wish they had a website, but they do not – they’re from around Eau Claire, Michigan and at our market every Sunday – excellent fruit!). We also picked up some chocolate doughnuts from Bennison’s for breakfast. Toward the end of market, husband is going back to pick up our 50 pounds of tomatoes from Midnight Sun too.

So, the action plan for today – we’re going to can 14 quarts of tomatoes with no added liquid (just like our last batch, only more!) as well as use the Hungarian Wax hot peppers for six pints of pickled peppers. Is this ambitious for someone who’s due to have a baby in about three weeks and still in a cast? Why yes, yes it is. Good thing I have husband here to be my trusty helper.

Stay tuned for a post later today (much later today) where we show off our handiwork. Now, I’ve got to prod husband to get things into high gear. 🙂