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.
We 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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)
- 3 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
- 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.
- 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.