A ROAD TRIP TO THE GARDEN STATE

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We drove to New Jersey last weekend to pick peaches and plums and spend the weekend with Denise’s family.  Denise grew up in New Jersey and I spent a lot of my adult life there.  I suppose it’s no surprise that the Jersey girls who met in Virginia became fast friends.

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We missed the plums by a week.  We moaned and groaned for a bit. But there would be peaches and cream donuts.  Subs and fresh bread.  Good company and good conversation. There’s no room for disappointment in that mix.

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Denise’s dad is an avid picker.  He loves to be in the fields in the quiet of the morning.   50 pounds of blueberries, 50 pounds of strawberries, 100 pounds of peaches with apples yet to come.   Picking is his moment of Zen.  He is, undoubtedly, the most popular guy on the block on picking days.

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We were in the orchard by 9:00.  The farm was enormous.  Fields of grapes, nectarines, apples, peaches, blueberries-it seemed to go on forever.  We were alone-the silence broken only by a rooster who got up late and a donkey who seemed mad to be awake at all.   The three of us picked close to 70 pounds of peaches in less than an hour.

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Before we knew it, it was time to leave.  We gently loaded the peaches into the car, in single layers, in boxes we’d brought from home.  They took up every inch of space. Denise wanted to stop for hard rolls on the way out of town.  I don’t know what I expected, but when we walked in, I was stunned by the sight and the smell.  There was bread everywhere-fresh from the ovens, rolling down conveyor belts, stacked on rolling shelves. The whole way home the car smelled of fresh bread and peaches.

THE FRONT OF THE BAKERY

THE FRONT OF THE BAKERY

Driving more than five hours to pick peaches may seem eccentric, but New Jersey peaches are the best peaches we’ve tasted.  There is a reason it’s called the Garden State. Back home, the peaches took over the dining room and the kitchen.  We watched over them, waiting for the moment they’d be ready to be canned.  None touching, no bruises.  I was off Monday.  Denise called mid morning.  “How are you?” she asked.  What she was really asking was “how are the peaches?”

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Tuesday afternoon they were ready.  The first thing we learned is that peaches don’t blanch like tomatoes.  The skin does not slide off.  We peeled and cut pounds and pounds of peaches that afternoon.  We canned 10 quarts and 10 pints of sliced peaches (about 40 pounds).  We froze about 10 pounds and used 16 pounds to make peach butter in a slow cooker.  The rest we ate.  And they were magnificent-worth every mile.

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PEACH BUTTER IN A SLOW COOKER  – based on the recipe from smittenkitchen

We found recipe for peach butter that used very little sugar and no spices. We made a small test batch, further reducing the sugar and it was very good-peaches pure and simple. We then made a triple batch, reducing the sugar even further.  What we didn’t allow for was the additional time it would require in the slow cooker and had our first experience of midnight canning.   That won’t happen again-ever.

  • 8 pounds peaches, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 cups of sugar or to taste – the sugar is added after you make the pulp so you can taste as you go
  • 4 tablespoons organic lemon juice

Place peaches in a large pot and add the water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until peaches are soft.  Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree to desired consistency.  Pour pulp in to slow cooker.  Add the sugar and lemon juice.  Set slow cooker on low.  The process now can take anywhere from 6-12 hours.  Stir occasionally to avoid scorching.  We test for doneness by using small plates we’ve placed in the freezer.  Put a small amount on the plate, let the plate come to room temperature. When it reaches the consistency desired, pour in to 4 ounce or 8 ounce jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace and process in a hot water canner for ten minutes.  If you want to try to make it but you don’t want to can it, it will keep for about a month in the refrigerator.

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DISAPPOINTMENT AND UNEXPECTED TREASURE IN THE EMPTY NEST

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It has been an odd summer.  Lots of rain.  Temperatures rising, falling and rising again.  And there has been the humidity. 89%, day after day, for weeks, yet, it doesn’t rain.  We’ve had cleaner breaths standing over the canners.

Saturday started out as such a day, humid and hot.  We were on our way to pick blueberries or so we thought.  The past two summers the blackberries and blueberries were ripe at at the same time.  This year the blackberries were ripe a month before the blueberries even thought about turning from pink to blue.  This year the blueberries occupied the small window of availability usually occupied by the blackberries.  When we got to the farm, that window was shut.  Tight.  There were more on the ground than there were on the bushes.  We walked every row-assessed the situation and returned to the car, our little white buckets empty.  We take these things hard, comically so.  Silence and big sighs in the car.  We could never be farmers.  Farmers are stoics.  In their lives, nothing is certain.  No matter how hard they work, their livelihood depends on the will and the whims of the weather.  We practically take to our beds when our canning plans are thwarted.

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There is only one organic farm in our area.  This is not California or New York or Chicago.  If you want a daikon radish, you have to drive three hours to find one.  Around here, ramps are how we get on the interstate.  But now, we do have this one organic farm and it is very successful.  Maybe that one farm will be the farm that changes everything here.  We stopped at their stand and bought four cantaloupes to make another batch of vanilla melon jam.  Our jams need work.

our canning  companion

our canning companion

While we were cutting the melons, Denise got a call from a friend who was cleaning out her mother-in-law’s house.  She’d found some boxes of canning jars, if we were interested. The word “some” is subjective.  Denise drove over to pick them up while I started on the jam.  I heard her car and I heard her laughing.  In the back of the car were 11 boxes of jars. Some never used-the motherlode.  We piled them on the porch.

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So far the count is 60 wide mouth quarts, 14 8 oz jam jars, 16 pint jars and we have 5 boxes to go.  There are some treasures in these boxes. Somewhere along the line, someone thought “fancy” and “beautiful” were synonymous.  They are not.  In one of the boxes, we found clear jars – no pattern, no “quilting”, plain jars with only the word “mason” on them and they are beautiful.  We might not have blueberries but the jars were more than good enough.

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We are driving to New Jersey this weekend to pick peaches and plums with Denise’s dad. The goal is 50 pounds of peaches and 20 pounds of plums.  We’re going to can most of what we pick in a light simple syrup.  You can can plums, whole, skin on.  It will be a treat to open jars of peaches and plums in the middle of the winter.  There may be some low sugar peach butter and a plum riesling jam for our pantries as well.   Looks like those large mouth quarts showed up just in time.

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THE MENU:  STEAKS ON THE GRILL, MUSHROOMS BERKELY, BAKED POTATOES, SALAD & CHOCOLATE MARQUISE WITH HOMEMADE STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

MUSHROOMS BERKELEY:

  • l lb fresh mushrooms, washed and cut in half
  • 2 medium green peppers, diced in to small pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tblsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • fresh ground pepper
  • saltIMG_1891

In a separate bowl, mix the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, wine and salt & pepper to taste.

Melt butter in saute pan over medium heat.  Add onions, stirring until soft and transparent.  Add the mushrooms and peppers stirring until the mushrooms begin to brown.  Add the sauce.  Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce has been absorbed.

We also canned some peppers and tomatoes from our little garden.  We had enough for three jars-not much but still ours.

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CONGRATULATIONS FROM THE EMPTY NEST

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Some time ago, a blogger called TBM left a comment on our site.   Of course, we visited her site and this is what we found.  One day she made a decision to change her life.  She wanted it to be full and she wanted it to be happy.  She set three goals:  Visit 192 countries.  Watch the 100 top movies, in order.  Read 1001 books.  She didn’t just visit countries, she climbed mountains.  Her travel photos are amazing and make us feel as if our feet are on the ground in those same places.  She’s working her way through the movie list and sharing her reviews.  But most of all,  she didn’t just start reading 1001 books, she wrote one:  A Woman Lost.   We are very excited for her.  Visit her site 50yearproject and buy her book on Amazon.  You won’t be disappointed in either.  She is one of those people who come in to your life and make it just a little bit better than it was before.  She’s what my grandmother used to call a “gem”.

We aren’t cooking this week because we hit the tomato motherlode at the produce auction.  Five pounds of romas to dry in the oven.  18 pounds of chocolate cherry tomatoes to pickle and 20 pound of Black Krim heirloom tomatoes.  Oh and four cantalope.   This is what we did.  33 jars total and two full bags of dried tomatoes for the winter.

SALSA:

Black Krim heirloom tomatoes

Black Krim heirloom tomatoes

Black Krim tomatoes becoming salsa

Black Krim tomatoes becoming salsa

finished salsa

finished salsa

PICKLED SWEET CHERRY TOMATOES THREE WAYS:  DILL, BAY LEAF & ROSEMARY & WITH PEPPERS FROM OUR GARDEN (recipe from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook)

chocolate cherry tomatoes

chocolate cherry tomatoes

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VANILLA MELON JAM (recipe from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook)

This isn’t a thick jam but it is wonderful.  Mixed with yogurt, on ice cream, on crostini with goat cheese and soppresatta. It’s amazing

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THE AUCTIONEER AND THE FARMERS AT THE PRODUCE AUCTION

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THE AUCTIONEER:  The Auctioneer of the produce auction is Gene Daniels.  He has impressive credentials-former president of the Virginia Beach farm bureau, former president of the Ruritan Club, former president of the Tidewater Pork Producers, former Farm Bureau farmer of the year-the list goes on.  Beyond the obvious ability to speak at supersonic speed, an auctioneer has to have eagle eyes to ensure that he sees every card raised and every nod of the head, in the correct order.  He is accompanied by his two grandsons and the four women who handle the nuts and bolts of the operation.  Two of the women keep running tallies of who bought what on legal sized pads of yellow paper.  Two are in the office.  Every so often, they run the tallies in to the office where the items are entered into a small computer by bidding number.  It is a true computer – all it does is compute.  When it’s time to settle up, your number goes in to the computer and an invoice spits out of the printer.  The grandsons help showcase the produce and move the crates around as the winners pick the one they think is the best of the lot.  Each farmer is assigned a row number at the beginning of the summer.  Once the produce is lined up under peppersthe tent top, Gene has someone pick a number from a jar.  That determines which row will be auctioned first.  The row number, along with the bidding numbers, and the tally sheets, allow the women in the office to ensure each farmer gets paid for what is sold.  The way it works is this:  say the bidding is for 10 crates of corn.  The winning bidder gets the choice of which crate and how many.   The auctioneer then says:  “who else?”.  If you want a crate at that price, you raise your card as fast as possible and then the choice is yours.  If no one raises a card, he starts again at a lower price.  At the lower price, you might have to take two.  Sometimes, it’s smart to let the bidding go and count on picking it up at the lower price.  But sometimes, the winning bidder takes it all and you’re out of luck and full of “we should’ve’s”.  Then it’s on to the next item.  He’s a nice man – funny and self deprecating.  He cements the relationship between producer and procurer.  But he watches out for the farmers.  Should the bidding go low, he has no qualms about throwing some shame around the room, reminding us that this is someone’s life’s work.  If the bids go too low, he stops the auction with a shake of his head and throws a little more shame in our direction.

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THE FARMERS:   They arrive in pickup trucks, old and new.  They unload the beds and move pallets of produce under the tent top to their assigned rows.  The older men in overalls and weathered baseball hats with John Deere logos or freshly pressed khakis held up with suspenders.  The younger in jeans and t-shirts.  Some bring their wives, some have lost their wives and some are just starting to look.  Some take seats and watch.  Some wander around, visiting with neighbors.  Some will tell you stories of their farms and their lives.  Others seem too shy to approach.  There is a handsomeness that comes from a lifetime of working a farm.  You can read the weather, the worry and the years of good harvests in their faces and their demeanor.

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The produce auction is fun.  It is also a conundrum.  We want a good price but we want the farmers to thrive as well.  Small farms are thriving in other parts of the country and we want them to thrive here.  We don’t want the few that are left to grow only feed corn and soybeans because that’s where the money is.  We don’t want them to sell out to developers to accommodate the sprawl that is overtaking this part of Virginia.  We want them to expand their fields and grow more of the produce we want on our table and in our canners.   It must be hard to watch people haggle over what you have worked so hard to produce.  It is their work, no different than an artist, a musician or a writer.  And, while they would argue the point, they are, when all is said and done, artists of the soil.

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THE MENU:  SHRIMP BASTED IN TOMATO JAM ON THE GRILL, OVEN ROASTED RED POTATOES, GREEN SALAD, TAPIOCA PUDDING WITH ORANGE SECTIONS

grilled shrimp basted in Preservation Kitchen tomato jam

grilled shrimp basted in Preservation Kitchen tomato jam

We canned the tomato jam from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook.  You can make this jam without canning it.  It will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator and a jar or two to friends and family will be appreciated.  Like every recipe in this book so far, it is amazing.  It is a savory jam.  Spread it on crostini and top with goat cheese.  Brush it on a roast chicken or pork.  Spread lightly on bite sized pieces of red or new potatoes and roast in the oven.  The possibilities are limited only by the number of jars in the pantry.

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  • 5 lbs roma tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt (or 1/3 ounce) kosher salts have different weights which can change the taste – we use Diamond Chrystal and used a tablespoon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white wine

We had small tomatoes to work with – too small to core.  But we did score an edge in the bottom and blanched for 1 minute.  Peel and discard the skins.  Over a bowl, remove as many seeds as possible – easier with bigger tomatoes so our advice would be bigger Romas than those we used.  Dice the tomatoes in to small pieces.

In a large pot, over medium heat, warm the olive oil.  Stir in the onion and season with the salt and pepper.  Cook until the onions begin to brown, stir in the sugar. Don’t take your eyes on the pot.  The onions and sugar can burn quickly.  Once the sugar has dissolved, stir in the wine.  Simmer over medium heat until pot is nearly dry, 15-20 minutes.  Pour in the tomatoes.  Simmer until the tomatoes have softened and the temperature reaches 212 or the jam is thick enough to coat a spoon-30-45 minutes.

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Scald 4 pint jars, fill allowing 1/2″ space from the rim of the jar.  Wipe the tops of the jars clean.  At this point, you can either process for 10 minutes in a hot water canner or just cap the jars and refrigerate once cooled.

tomato jam from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook

tomato jam from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook

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RINGERS, EXPERTS AND AMATEURS AT THE PRODUCE AUCTION

what we wanted

what we wanted

what we bought

what we bought

This is our second year at the produce auction.  We have a permanent number: 274.  We go every other week so we are regulars now.  We are two of the faces the auctioneer looks for when he’s watching for bids.  There is a “usual crowd” and we are becoming part of that crowd.  This week one of the older women greeted us saying: “Here come the girls!”.  We laughed.  At our age, the only thing we have in common with “girls” is gender.  But it felt nice to be remembered and to be welcomed.

Over time, it’s become apparent that there are three groups of people circling around the produce: ringers, experts and amateurs.

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RINGERS:  The ringers are men who have produce stands elsewhere.  They may have a farm, but they buy a lot of what they sell at the produce auction and they drive up the prices.  Their stands are in spots where the demographic will pay top dollar for produce. These men hold court.  The farmers who bring their produce to the auction stop by to shake a hand and pay their respects.  We know who they are now and if they raise their cards, we don’t bother bidding, because they will always raise that card one more time and out bid us. But we’ve also come to understand how important they are to the farmers.  A fair price for 20 crates of corn or tomatoes or squash is a fair price.  The farmers depend on it.

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THE EXPERTS:  These people stride through the auction floor with pads of paper at the ready.  They’re always writing.  What they’re writing is a mystery to us.  They can copious amounts of produce and they all own pressure canners.  They can small and they can large.  They can things we’ve never thought of and they can things we’d never want to. Their pantries must be the stuff of legend.  The first year, we eavesdropped.  When they lingered over a flat and scribbled on their pads, we took note.  They knew the score.  This year our faces are familiar.  We don’t have to eavesdrop.  Now we can ask.  But we still listen too.

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THE AMATEURS:  We include ourselves in this category.  We’ve come a long way since our first visit.  We arrive confident that our minds are open and we’re going to let price and availability determine our purchase and our project.  Once or twice down the rows of beautiful fruits and vegetables and we’re befuddled again.  This week we let crates of sweet corn go for $10 a crate because we weren’t sure if we’d have the patience to shuck it all.   We didn’t take a crate of onions, fresh from the ground because it wasn’t in our mental roladex of recipes. We then suffer buyers remorse in reverse-the whole way home-ad infinitum.  But we are also hampered by the fact that we have to work.  Most of the people who leave with crates and flats are going to start canning and preserving the next day.  We have two more days of work.  That is a big factor in determining what we load in to the back of the car.  We’ll probably be amateurs until next year – or at least until we figure out what those experts are scribbling on those pads of paper and we are scribbling on one of our own.

TOMATOES THREE WAYS:  

tomato jam from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook

tomato jam from the Preservation Kitchen cookbook

We walked away this week with 10 pounds of small Roma tomatoes and 25 pounds of canning tomatoes.  We divided the plum tomatoes up and used five pounds to make a savory tomato jam and we slow roasted the other five pounds.  We have two canners now, thanks to Ace Reward points (never though we’d write that phrase) and we bought an additional burner. IMG_1688 We canned in four hours what had taken us almost eight hours last summer.  We are very pleased.

Roma tomatoes on baking sheet - drizzle with oil

Roma tomatoes on baking sheet – drizzle with oil

THE MENU:   PORK LOIN MARINATED IN FIG AND VIDALIA ONION SAUCE, SAUTEED CHARD, OVEN BROWED POTATOES, AND BLACKBERRY COBBLER ala THE AD HOC COOKBOOK

PORK LOIN MARINATED IN FIG AND VIDALIA ONION WITH OVEN BROWNED POTATOES

  • 2-3 lb pork loin
  • one bottle Stonewall Farms Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce (this we will try to replicate when figs are available at the produce auction)
  • 1 pound small red potatoes, cut in bite sized pieces

Marinate pork loin in the Vidalia Onion Fig Sauce for 6 hours or longer.

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Coat potatoes in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, arrange in baking dish around the pork loin.  Cook at 425 for about 45 minutes or until meat thermometer registers 150. IMG_1730 Remove pork loin from oven and tent for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to keep potatoes warm.

SAUTEED CHARD:

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  • one bunch chard-ours came from our garden
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tblsp. olive oil
  • two tablespoons vinegar – we used a cucumber infused balsamic.

Wash chard.  Cut stems in small pieces, remove rib from leaves, cut in small pieces and put aside with stems.  Cut leaves into bite sized pieces.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in saute’ pan over medium heat, until soft.  Add stems and ribs, cook until tender.  Add leaves and lemon zest, stir until the leaves are wilted.  Remove from heat and add vinegar and stir. 

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BLACKBERRY COBBLER – We used the recipe from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook.  It calls for eggs so it is more of a cake-like cobbler than a traditional cobbler but it is perfect with blackberries.

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THUNDERSTORMS AND BLACKBERRIES IN THE EMPTY NEST

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The message on the answering machine of  Pungo Blueberries, said “blackberries are plentiful”.  We were in the car by 7AM, hoping it wasn’t an old message.

It wasn’t.  The blackberries were everywhere. They were ripe and they were sweet.

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There were grey clouds on the horizon.  It had been that way all week but the rain had been intermittent, so we didn’t give it much thought.  Then there were rumblings of thunder.  We pretended we didn’t hear it and kept picking.  We ignored the first lightning strike but the second one sent us to the car.

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It was a hike and it was raining big fat buckets of rain.  It was the kind of rain where it makes no sense to run because it’s coming down so hard and so fast, you’re soaked through in the first 3o seconds.  It was raining so hard, the tailgate became a bowl. When we shut it, we got a bath.  IMG_1651 We sat in the car and waited.  As soon as the thunder and lightning stopped, we went back out.  We had each picked about half a pail when the rain started again.  We decided to go back to the car.  We took a couple of steps in that direction.  But we just kept picking, in the rain, in our soaking wet clothes.  We just kept picking.

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Once the pails were full, we headed back.  It’s a family farm so the whole family was working-blackberry season is only three weeks long.  They were anticipating a big crowd. It was all hands on deck-grandmother, her daughters and their children, all working.  We weren’t the only ones who picked on in the deluge.  Most of the pickers were under the overhang of the stand where you pay for what you picked.  We were a sight.  Clothes sopping wet, stained with blackberry juice, sneakers caked in muck.  As we looked around, we couldn’t help but think the teenage grandsons of the matriarch of the farm would probably have nightmares about the inadvertent wet t-shirt contest they were privy to this day.

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As soon as we paid for our 21 pounds of blackberries, the sun came out.  We thought about picking one more box, but one would have led to another and 21 pounds might end up being more than we think.  If not, there’s always next week.

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CANNED BLACKBERRIES IN EXTRA LIGHT SYRUP:

We canned 20 pints of blackberries and froze 20 cups.

EXTRA LIGHT SYRUP:

  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 4 cups water
we bought another canner

we bought another canner

Bring sugar and water to a boil in saucepan.  Stir for 5 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup syrup to hot pint jars.  Fill with blackberries.  Top with syrup, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Process in hot water canner for 15 minutes.

We were amazed at how delicious these berries were when we opened them last winter.  We’ve used them as a topping for ice cream, with a limoncello marscapone cream, right out of the jar, and used the syrup in cocktails or sparkling water.

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VITAMIN C IN THE EMPTY NEST – FRIEND OR FOE?

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This year’s challenge is, of course, about canning and preserving.  We are going to attempt to cook only with what we preserve and to use what we preserve in creative, unexpected ways.  Hoping the “unexpected” is the pleasant sort of unexpected and not the spit it in the napkin sort.

champagne vinegar

champagne vinegar

IMG_1604We are hoping to can 100 pounds of tomatoes.  That means no buying canned tomatoes, catsup or tomato paste. We’ll can assorted pickles, relishes, chutneys and jams.  We’ll can our own mustards and make our own mayonnaise.  We’ll make vanilla extract.  We’ll dry the herbs that survive our in our Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree like garden to use through the winter.  And we’ll can lots and lots of assorted aigre doux.

We’ll substitute a making stock day for a canning day.  No more buying stock, even if it is organic.  We won’t can it as we don’t own a pressure canner.  We’ve contemplated buying one but the gadgets and the dials on the lid alone, make us think, for us, it will be safer to buy a vacuum sealer.  What we don’t can, we’ll freeze.  

Aug. 26 - making stock

We won’t grow our own wheat, rice or grains.  Nor raise chickens, cows or pigs.  Although, when we get carried away with our “we could’s”, anything seems possible until one of says “remember the great bacon debacle” and we calm down.

The second challenge will be to cook with what we’ve canned in ways we hadn’t thought of before.  Every Sunday dinner will center around something we’ve preserved.  We’re already thinking of shrimp on the grill brushed with tomato jam.  Lately we haven’t spent much time searching out new recipes and we’re both suffering the consequences of straying from the Empty Nest Diet.  Time to get back to it.  Picking enough blackberries and blueberries to fill the pantry in 90 degree heat with 90% humidity takes stamina.

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So that’s this year’s challenge.  Here’s what happened the first week.

We made our first trip to the produce auction.  While it’s early, there were crates of corn, baskets of young green beans, tomatoes, figs, onions, peaches, peppers and squash. IMG_1602 We planned on canning on the 4th but we both had to work on Friday.  So while we were tempted to think of multiple projects, we resisted.  It was a hot and humid night-even standing still, we were sweating.  When the auctioneer went first to the row of tomatoes and the price was fair, we bought a 25 lb box and went home.

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In 1973, a less acidic tomato was developed.  In canning fruits or vegetables with high pH, acid is everything unless you use a pressure canner.  Anything with a pH above 4.5 can be deadly.  There was no big announcement about these less acidic tomatoes and that year 56 people died of botulism from home canned tomatoes.  You must add acid.  You can use lemon juice but if you don’t want the added flavor of lemon juice, you use citric acid-Vitamin C.  We canned 6 quarts and 9 pints of tomatoes.  As we were putting things away, we realized that we’d been using ascorbic acid.  We Googled, just in case.  The first entry said ascorbic acid and citric acid were both pure vitamin C.  Then we added two words to our search: “in canning”.  After 20 frantic minutes looking at a dozen sites, hoping for the answer that would ease our minds, we learned this:  ascorbic acid is used to make an anti-browning solution for peaches or apples.  It does not lower the pH of tomatoes-citric acid, however, does.  In capital letters, italics, in bold print, every site said the same thing:  Ascorbic acid and citric acid are not interchangeable when canning tomatoes.  Yes, we probably should have wondered before we canned 25 pounds of tomatoes, but we tend to do things backwards.  Now we have to buy a pH meter to test one jar from each batch.  We do have hope though.  These were early tomatoes and the pH should be in the safe range.  If not, the great bacon debacle of 2012 will be replaced by the great tomato debacle of 2013 and in to the trash those tomatoes will go.

our helper

our helper

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Saturday was to be the blueberry, blackberry picking marathon.  The farm is about 45 minutes away.  As we pulled in to park, we were told that the blackberries had been picked out on the 4th and the blueberries weren’t really ready.  We picked three blueberries and they were so sour, we could have probably used those for acid in the tomatoes.  We tried two more farms with the same results.

So the first week of our new project was kind of a bust.  But there’s always next week and here’s one more picture of the artichoke.

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THE MENU:  BURGERS AND BRATS ON THE GRILL, QUINOA SALAD, SAUTEED SUMMER SQUASH, CORN ON THE COB, TAPIOCA PUDDING

RECIPE:  Tapioca Pudding from Chow (makes 4-6 servings)

tapioca pearls

tapioca pearls

  • IMG_16393 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup small-pearl tapioca (not instant)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  1. Place 1 cup of the milk and the tapioca pearls in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Let the pearls soak uncovered at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Add the remaining 2 cups of milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla seeds, and salt and stir to combine. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture just comes to a simmer, about 10 minutes (do not let the mixture boil). Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture thickens and the tapioca pearls are softened and translucent, about 15 minutes. Serve warm (the pudding will thicken as it cools). Place any leftovers in a bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding to keep a skin from forming, and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
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