Saturday, September 29, 2012

Channeling my inner Portlandia

Last Friday I went to get beets and beans to pickle on Saturday with my friend Sarah.

But, once again I could not resist the allure of the 10 pound bag of baby cucumbers. At home I also had two Tomboncino squash and about five pounds of green tomatoes from a friend's garden.

The result? 36 jars of pickles: 14 pints of dilled green tomatoes, 8 quarts of baby dills, 5 pints of curried squash spears, and 9 half pints of cornichons.

Here are some snapshots of the day's work:

Squash spears and cubes salted for several hours to wick away extra liquid before being canned.


Beautifully hued brine for curried squash pickles.

I just could not let these beauties go to waste. Who knows, this might become a recipe favorite for years to come?

Some of Friday's haul.

Saturday I introduced Sarah to my version of canning mania by setting out to can 40 pounds of tomatoes, 15 pounds of green beans, and 25 pounds of beets.

Fortunately our friend Kate also joined us for a little while, almost single handedly peeling all of the beets.


Kate taking a break from beets to blanch some tomatoes. (Sorry Kate, I know this is not a great photo, but it is the only one I have!)

Sarah taking a turn at peeling the beets after many pounds of tomatoes.

Every year I forget what a labor of love each of these items are to can. Each has several preparation steps to complete before putting anything into a jar, let alone the water bath!

The tomatoes must be peeled (and deseeded if that is your preference), the beets cooked and then peeled, and the green bean's ends removed. The beans also have the challenge that they float in the jars unless you really cram them in - the process of which is a bit of an art form that I have to re-learn each year I can them.

Altogether we had about 80 pounds of food to can which took about 8 hours to complete. The result? About 18 quarts of canned tomatoes, 24 quarts of pickled beets, and 10-12 quarts of Zydeco dilly beans.

Here are some more photos from the mayhem, er, day's work:

Blanched tomatoes awaiting peeling.

Peeled tomatoes with lemon juice and salt await hot water which is added to the jars. Before the tops are placed on the jars the air bubbles must be removed and the rims of the jars swiped to remove anything that would compromise making a seal.

We used two pots, one on Sarah's stove indoors and one on a crab pot burner outside. What an adventure!

 Some of the finished product.

At the end of the process Sarah said to me something along the lines of "Well, that was fun. AND, a lot of hard work! I am not sure if I would do it again."

That made me think.

I tend to can large amounts at a time with the thought that it makes sense once you have everything out. In addition, I can put away enough food in 3-5 days a year for most of our holiday gifts plus a good amount for us to pull from for the rest of the year.

But, that is not for everyone.

When I think about it, my main reason for canning with friends is to spend time with them and to have fun. So, next time I might just start of small and do one recipe. That way, everyone has fun, and hopefully so much so that they get the canning bug too - well, at least once a year so we can make it an annual thing!

When on my own? Time, energy and having enough jars can be the limit.

As I have started saying to friends, "If you hold still long enough around me, I am liable to pickle you. Can it, Portland!"

Monday, September 24, 2012

Holy tomato Batman!

Last night I harvested the the bigun' from the garden.

This is the Gold Medal variety
that I mentioned in this post
earlier this spring.

While it does not measure up
size wise to some of the
veggies at the Harrogate
Flower Show, and it was not
the 3 4 pounds I predicted in
the last post, it is still one
heck of a tomato!

I had another Gold Medal (and Black Krim and Cocolate Cherry) today for lunch and it tastes great too! For that reason, along with the fact that it regularly grows beautiful, large fruit and does well with cooler night time temperatures, I think it is a keeper.

Gold medal indeed.

I also harvested two Tromboncino squash last night. While you can eat them like any summer squash when they are smaller, I like to reserve these guys for pickling.

Last year we make some refrigerator pickles with one and then canned the rest spicy Italian and curry flavored.

I think that we will have to do curry again this year and then if we get another few later this month we will also make some Italian.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Late summer bounty

Well, it's September and tonight I harvested a late summer bounty of eggplants, eggplants, and more eggplants.

Oh, and a modest pile of lovely yellow beans, a ton of basil (third batch of the summer!), and a handful of cherry tomatoes. The latter did not make it inside - god, how I LOVE those!

I got the egg plants on a lark at the beginning of the summer hoping we would have a warmer summer than the last two. The descriptions spoke of the white, lavender and purple hues of the fruits. I know from past experience that Portland, Oregon is not the best spot to grow egg plants, but I thought I would probably just get one or two Asian eggplants.

Boy was I wrong! This summer has been warm and dry - perfect for growing many summer vegetables.

Here's a preview of what else is to come soon:

Our tomatoes seem to be a little later coming in than most other folks this year, but all indications are that September's, and possibly October's, bounty will include a variety of lovely tomatoes.

Here is my prize tomato that found a perch on the one of the top tiers of the tomato cage. It is a whopper, and surely will weigh in at 3-4 pounds. The variety is called gold medal. Indeed.

I also took a chance this year and planted a melon called Minnesota midget. I know, melons don't typically do well in our climate.

But, I thought I would take a chance on this one anyhow. The caption in the seed catalog said something about this variety being the only one that regularly bore fruit in the author's northern Montana garden. Sold!

Despite having to replant the little bugger three times due to voracious slugs last spring, it looks like we might have three to try out this fall.

Last weekend I ripped out the cursed zucchini, patty pan and yellow crook neck from the west side raised bed.

Good riddance! One delicious four inch zucchini and one two inch patty pan was the yield this year.

Oh and a horrible rash on my arm that is thankfully almost healed almost two months later. 

Lest you think I am completely inept at growing squash here is a picture of my fabulous tromboncino squash. It is going gang busters in the same bed as the others mentions above.

I also have a butternut and another winter variety that seem to be coming along nicely too.

Last weekend, I also harvested potatoes that I had willy nilly stuck in the ground on the west side of the house. We had a small harvest of potatoes (about 10), but I only planted two so I feel like that was a modest win.

Next year I think that I will clear out my compost bin and try growing some there. Another experiment!

In place of the squash and potatoes I planted two types of kale and chard to over winter. 

Here are some scenes of what is going on elsewhere in the garden right now:

A view of the troughs on the driveway. At the moment they contain: a tomatillo, two tomatoes, two winter squash, four eggplants, french beans (see above), golden beans, basil, carrots, dill, and the Minnesota midget.

I am trying a new experiment this year and filling the space between the troughs and my neighbor's house with a winter planting. Thus far this section has brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale. I also have a patch of broccoli by the front door and one of brussel sprouts in the back west corner in the back patio.

I figure, why not? At the very least they will provide some winter color interest, and hopefully some yummy veg in the rainy winter months.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Watering while you are away

I am off to point Reyes, CA to visit my parents and siblings this weekend!

It has been a whirlwind of activity leading to this point - family in town, canning projects, work, etc.

But, one of the most important tasks to me in prepping for going away is to make sure that my plants are ready for a few days of neglect. I also try to make sure that it is easy for who ever needs to water in my stead while I am gone.

I think I hit on a winning combination this time. I deeply soaked the front bed and the troughs on the driveway this morning. Then I set it up so that all Mark has to do to water the raised bed and two troughs is to turn the spigot on Monday night when he gets home and then remember to turn it off an hour or so later. The three soaker hoses cost about $30 and I think are well worth that for the ease of care and peace of mind!

I also watered all the pots and then moved them close together in hopes that they can't possibly be missed when Mark waters Monday night. Included in the potted category are the new seedlings (kale, chard, and leeks) for this fall-winter garden.

We shall see how well it worked when I arrive home on Friday!