Nightshades: What To Do With Too Many Tomatoes

Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes

tying up tomatoes

In winter, I dream of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I go through my seed file, smiling fondly as I pull out last year’s successes and failures, new seeds from places we have visited, trades and gifts, deciding what to grow in the rising year. The fact is that I eventually can’t choose and I grow them all, and then I can’t bear to compost the hundreds of extra plants, so I take them to the farmer’s market, and then I still have bazillions, so I end up growing about half a football field of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. It is kind of a nightshade nightmare. I must be crazy. Anyway. These are solanums; what people call nightshades, because they, -and potatoes, granadillas, groundcherries, henbane, etc., are in the same family as the mildly poisonous hedge growing plant nightshade. Some people think with a name like that they must be bad for your health. Well, imagine life without pizza, mashed potatoes, gazpacho, chili, eggplant parmigiana. Seriously. So now, if you are like me, you are drowning in tomatoes and something must be done, or you will be up to your eyeballs in rotten vegetables and your good work will be wasted.

Yes, We Can!

Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes

Seriously, canning is very easy. Today’s instructions make it sound very complex and dangerous. They just don’t want to be sued. Look at the older copies of Rodale’s Stocking Up. The newer versions are much more cautious. Just don’t eat anything out of a jar with a bad seal. Freezing is nice if you have the freezer space and you don’t mind risking a power outage. Dehydrating is fun, especially if you have a solar dehydrator, but I haven’t really been successful in producing really nice reconstituted vegetables. Dried tomatoes are like candy, but it’s really a sideline for me. Canning puts produce in glass jars which will be stable at a wide temperature range on your shelves for years, which makes them a favorite for preppers.

Equipment

Glass jars about the size of mayonnaise jars: Mason, Kerr, or Ball jars mainly- but you can reuse any clean glass jar, any size, that the disposable lids and rings fit. I recycle just about every glass jar that has a lid I can trust for one thing or another, and I have always scavenged spaghetti sauce jars and mayonnaise jars for tomatoes. You can buy new canning jars at the dollar store, but people are always throwing them out. Let your friends and family know to save them for you.

A really big pot for submerging Mason jars in boiling water. (If you want to go whole hog and get a pressure canner, you can still use it to do the easy open water bath canning for things like tomatoes and applesauce.)

Canning lids and rings The button in the middle of the lid is how you check if your seal is good. The rubber gasket, usually red, built into the lid, should be smooth and soft.

Funnels, especially a wide mouthed canning funnel.

Jar grabber/lifter– Like a big set of bottle grabbing tongs-totally essential for lifting hot jars out of boiling water.Trust me.

Tongs and a magnetic lid lifter are nice too. You can get all this stuff cheaply in five and dime or hardware stores, online, etc.

Glass jars are reusable and non-reactive. I have some Mason jars that are older than me, so I just run my finger around the edge to make sure there are no chips, and reuse them. (The blue ones are collector’s items, but I think they make the tomatoes look sickly.)The metal sealing rings are reusable but rust easily, and lids are risky to reuse, because although the rubber seal might reseal, the plastic film on the inside of the lid is easily damaged and then the underlying metal will corrode into your food.  I have heard of reuseable lids, and then there are glass jars with wire bails, glass lids and reusable rubber gaskets. They are expensive so I just try to find them in thrift stores. The gaskets last years.

Processing

I put my jars in the dishwasher, but I also check very carefully that each jar is clean and has no chips or cracks. Set up enough lids and rings in a separate pot of water to boil and sterilize for 15 minutes when you are getting ready to fill jars.  Put the wide mouth funnel in the mouth of the jar you are filling – it will be an exact fit so the mouth of the jar stays clean. Fill the jar until you have a half inch of space left- this is for the air that will exhaust and create your vaccuum seal. Remove the funnel, dip a clean cloth or paper towel in the water of the lids and make sure the rim of the jar is food-free, as little microorganism threads will climb up on food and break the seal, like weeds in a sidewalk, if you don’t. Using your jar lifter or tongs, put a lid on the jar, add the ring, and finger tighten, repeat.

boiling lids for canning

boiling lids-this was from a jam jar but it was late and I had no pictures….

When you have about seven jars filled, if you have the canning pot I think you do, put them in the pot, fill to cover with at least a half an inch of water over the top of the jars, and allow to boil until bubbles have been exhausting from the jars for 25 minutes. Many canning books quibble about the time, but my garden mentor, Steve Moaney, told me to just submerge the jars in water  and count 25 minutes from when it boils.Then use the jar lifter/grabber to carefully place the jars on a mat to cool. Make sure you have a secure grip before lifting clear of the water. You could make a serious mess and get badly scalded if you hurry.

As they cool, you will hear the lids suck down with a clicking sound. Check the “button” in the center of the lid and make sure it is down. If it didn’t go down or pops up, throw the contents out, unless you just canned it and it hasn’t had time to spoil. In that case you can eat or refrigerate it.

When the jars are cool, remove the rings, wipe, label, and store someplace they won’t freeze. Dry the rings so they don’t rust and put them away for reuse.The lids will stay on from the vaccuum seal until you pry them off with the side of a butter knife this winter. Some people like to cap the lids with a square or pinking shears circle of cloth- old clothes are fine- and tie a string around the top to hold the cloth cap in place. This is cute and keeps dust off the lid, plus if your seal is bad and the contents spoil the cloth will stain and show it. Not necessary and a time consumer, but it looks nice at the county fair. You can get cute labels and alll that. I know what tomatoes look like and only label my jams, jellies, and pepper sauces using plain white adhesive labels.

Labor Saving

sphaghetti sauce from summer tomatoesI used to skin and seed my tomatoes, pile them neatly into sterilized jars, and cover them with strained tomato juice. Later I would open the jar, chop the tomatoes, and add them to fried onions, peppers, eggplants, etc.  Lots of work. Why not make my own convenience foods? Tomatoes are acid, like applesauce, another easy canner. So what if I just made huge pots of the mixture I would usually make? I start with fried onions, add herbs, garlic, salt, peppers, eggplants- what ever I have- even okra or zucchini, and then pile in chunks of tomatoes. Each tomato that ripens gets quickly cored, bad parts cut out, and tossed into the big iron pot. It sears and melts into red deliciousness. Eventually it gets too watery, so I ladle off juice into a seive over a funnel over a mason jar or a sealable bottle. That way, when I open the jars, if I decide to make lasagna or spaghetti, it is thick enough. The tomato juice can be drunk, thrown into rice, or used as a soup base. I don’t peel anything but the onions and garlic, and I only slice the zucchini, if I have it. I get through my work a lot faster, and we eat our own tomatoes all year.

Just the Recipe

2 onions chopped

6 cloves garlic

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

2 green peppers

4 Asian eggplants (long skinny, don’t have to be peeled or drained)

2 medium zucchini

8 large tomatoes

small bunch basil

1/2 tsp italian herbs

Slice and brown onions until nicely caramelized, add salt, garlic, chopped, Italian herbs ( just something dried and aromatic- I have oregano) add chopped peppers, chunked Asian eggplants, cook until softened, add zukes, sliced, and tomatoes, chunked. Cook until liquefied, add chopped basil. This is a way oversimplified recipe. I just put things in in a logical order, and use up what I have, in a basic tomato sauce so it is acid enough to can. Add whatever, mushrooms, okra, etc., except meat. Meat has to be pressure canned, and that is a whole ‘nother deal. Make sure it is still mostly tomatoes, especially if you are using low-acid tomatoes, because the acidity, as in vinegar pickles, is what makes the open bath bath canning technique safe.

In winter, when you look at your rows of gleaming tomato sauces, you will be pleased. They are like a meal in a jar. You can throw them on pizza, spaghetti, rice, or make soup, and the blissful taste of the summer garden is still there.

 

Jams and Jellies

How to make jam/jelly:

Plum pulp ready to make jam with no added pectin
Plum pulp ready to make jam with no added pectin

Jelly is just jam without pulp. It is easier to have jam come out right because the fruit can cover for you if it didn’t jell properly, but it’s really pretty easy. You make the juice by straining the cooked fruit through muslin- or an old t-shirt stretched over an upside down chair. Put a chair upside down on the table, stretch thin, clean white fabric over it- we used to have all these old fashioned diapers- I swear they were clean- and attach the corners firmly to the legs with strip of rag, rubber bands, what have you. Make sure it is very firmly tied or you will have boiling hot fruit splashed everywhere. Set a large bowl under the cloth on the bottom of the chair seat. Cook the fruit with water just peeking through the layer below the top layer When it is properly soft dump it carefully into your cloth strainer and let it drip overnight. Don’t squeeze the bag unless you aren’t worried about the clarity of the jelly.

Pectin:

Making plum jam

Making plum jam

Some fruit has pectin; some does not. Pectin is what makes jams and jellies become firm. There is a lot of pectin in apples, the greener the better. It is possible to make your own liquid pectin from green apples, especially what we call the drops- the smaller apples that fall early and don’t really ripen. However I find I am not good at producing a consistent product so I don’t always do it. Yes, it is the right thing to do- we should not be dependent on a bought product if we can make it ourselves. But if my jelly turns out really tough or really runny, it is sort of a waste of my fruit and labor. I need to improve, but in the meantime, if you don’t mix apple juice with a non-pectin fruit like elderberry or suncherries or even hot peppers, there is Surejel and Ball Pectin, Dutch Jel (sold in bulk at Amish type bulk food stores), or many other brands. Follow the recipe, although I often try to reduce the sugar just a little and generally it is fine. If not, either use the runny jam on pancakes or follow the instructions on the pectin instructions for “if your jelly fails…..”

So, procedure wise:cukes and razz jam 004

Have your jars all ready: wash them with very hot water, set them to dry on a clean folder dish towel or thick cloth. Boil the lids for 15 minutes. There are magnetic lid lifters to get them out of the boiling water, or you can use tongs. Have more ready than you think you will need.

Measure your fruit or juice into a very large pot. It has to boil up a lot and you don’t want to boil over. Have your sugar measured out and ready. Bring your fruit or juice to a boil, with or without the pectin, boil for a minute, then add the sugar and bring to a boil. My female ancestors always skimmed the “scum” off, which was delicious foam to little me, but I don’t see why. Some people put a teaspoon of butter in to stop it scumming. I don’t think it matters to the end result. Maybe if you are making a very clear, pretty jelly you need to worry about skimming scum. The important part is to watch for sheeting. If you boil it too long first it will cool tough and stringy, with less fruity taste, and then it will be tough and brown, and pull like candy. Still yummy, but we’re making something to spread on bread here. Get a large wooden spoon. Spoon up a little of the liquid after it has boiled hard 1 minute. Let it cool about 10 seconds, then, turn the spoon over so that the jelly runs off the edge of the spoon. I prefer to let it roll over the back of the spoon. It seems to show the sheeting better. Watch the drips. What you see before it sheets is two  drips running off the spoon separately.  Stir and try again. Now the drips might start to run into each other but still become one normal shaped drip. Try again. Don’t leave it. Finally the two drips will run together but stay wide, like a flat blob, and fall off in a sheet. This is the perfect time to jar. If it never happens, perhaps your fruit was too ripe, you changed the recipe too much, or you went to the bathroom and it overboiled. In this case you can either reprocess your jam according to the “if your jam fails” directions on the package insert, you can just let it be runny and label it pancake syrup, and actually, some pectin added jellies will firm up over time. But it’s not that hard. Usually it is fine. Check out the raspberry jam recipe. That one needs only sugar.

raspberry jam

raspberry jam

I haven’t really experimented with methoxy and other low sugar options. I don’t use that much sugar normally and I am an old stick in the mud about new ideas that involve long words. It took me a long time to give in to pectin. My maiden name is Dabney; an old Virginia name. Did you ever hear this one? How many Virginians does it take to change a lightbulb? Oh, I’d say four or five. One to change it; the others to sit around and talk about how much better the old one was.

When you pour your boiling hot jam or jelly into the clean jars, having them on an old towel prevents damage to the tabletop.  Use a funnel to prevent drips. Make sure your funnel is clean by upending it in the boiling water you have the lids in. Check the edges of the jars for drips as that can prevent a good seal.

Two ways to seal:

Put the lids on finger tight. I invert the jars for 7 seconds and then set them up right-ways again. You will hear a soft hiss as air superheated by the hot jam exhausts  out of the jar. Then tighten it a bit more- as it is hotter you can do that. If I do this I find I don’t usually have to process in a hot water bath and I don’t get mold.

Or you can put on the lids finger tight and submerge them in a pot of hot water, boil for 15 minutes, then pull out and allow to cool. You can get jar lifters cheaply in the dollar store or many hardware stores. This will allow you to safely remove the jar to a clean towel where it can cool. It will be nice and clean to label and put in the pantry.

no knead bread
This is the “no knead” bread made famous by Mark Bittman.

Yum. Now, you need to make some proper bread to put that on, seriously. Remember I told you

Real Egg Nog

Real Egg Nog

Will fell an ox

As my first act of rebellion in the New Year I have decided to give out this very reactionary traditional Southern recipe. This is not the yellow sludge they sell in cartons at the grocery store around Christmas. This is the real deal; the Dabney infamous Nog. I love egg nog; I love making it, and I love to watch people drink it after I make it. It is most definitely only for grownups who are not getting behind the wheel of a car.

My good friend’s husband, a big and tall man of a certain gravitas, liked it and, fooled by the airy sweetness, innocently imbibed five small tumblers of it. He came to the door of the house, smiled pleasantly at me, and went over like a pine tree. Be warned.

Real Egg Nog

Divide 12 good eggs

Beat the whites to soft peaks

Add 1/2 c. sugar, gradually so as not to crush the bubbles.

Beat the yolks with 1/2 c. sugar until pale and thick.

Add 1 quart good milk

Dump egg whites on top

Beat 1 quart good cream as stiff as the egg whites

Add 3 c. Bourbon whiskey

1 c. sherry

1 c. rum

Fold everything carefully together and either pour into a nice silver punch bowl and serve with a grating of fresh nutmeg, or bottle in mason jars for holiday gifts to special friends. It will collapse by tomorrow, whereupon just shake it up, but it will keep for a year. I’m not even kidding.

Groundcherries, Native and Peruvian, and skimming the jam….

Husk tomatoes

Sexier than our native groundcherries

Groundcherries are a native plant in the Physalis family which is often overlooked as a forage food. They make those cute little Chinese lanterns which are sometimes sprayed orange and sold by florists at Halloween. They actually look like tomatillos as well. The plant is about 2 feet tall and the leaves are dull green, oval and pointed. Find ripe fruit by squeezing the lanterns. The best ones to squeeze may look a bit faded. When you find a small marble pick it and pop off the jacket. It will be sort of olive green. Taste it. It should be sweet tart. They can be dried, eaten fresh, or made into jam.

To be honest, I have been growing a more abundant and delicious version from seeds I was given by our Peruvian friend Leon in Yarinacocha. He told me that the husks could be made into a tea which is a treatment for the cough which accompanies congestive heart failure. It is also known to Guatemalan friends as Tomate de Sope, and is a favorite of children in South America. The Peruvian ones are sold dried as Inkaberries for an exorbitant sum in our local health food store. They make a lovely snack for hiking as they are so mall and concentrated. I find them hard to dry without a dehydrator because they have a slightly resinous surface, but to me they taste like extra-sweet yellow raisins.  The silver lining to that is that the Peruvian ones fall on the ground, rather than persisting as the North American ones do, but you can still collect them because they are in a little wrapping and they take a long time to rot. They create a carpet of fruit, and I gather buckets, then sit and husk them when I have to sit somewhere for a while.husk tomatoes

I throw them in the blender, then make jam using any ground cherry jam recipe on the internet. It needs pectin, and I have sometimes added a grate of lemon peel, but it has a sort of mild, luscious tropical flavor and a nice golden color.  Very seedy, but the seeds are tiny. They have become a weed in my garden, but a delicious one. I ended up cutting them all down to start the fall garden, but I will hang a bunch upside down in the shed for winter snacks.

The  Jam Recipe, (and how to do all that stuff)

The jam is so yummy- a bit like yellow plum jam but a hint of something tropical. I grated a bit of lemon peel into it. Here’s how I did it.

4 cups husked fruit

3 c. sugar

3 tbsp pectin

1/2 tsp grated lemon or lime peel, organic if available, or just scrub really well and offer a quick blessing…

1/4 cup lemon juice

Throw the fruit in the food processor and chop. Dump in pot, stir in pectin and lemon, bring to a rolling boil for one minute, add sugar, bring back to boil 1 minute, check for sheeting, pour into sterilized jars and cap when sheets.

“Sheeting?” OK, for those to whom all this jam making stuff is new, go to Jams and Jellies. Don’t be scared. You need to know this.

 

Cider time again- and apple cake

Homemade cider

Homemade cider

Well, looks like I’ve been at this a year. The first pictures I took were apples and chestnuts. There is so much more to cover than I thought, and if I’m doing, I’m not writing and vice versa . But here I sit with a fine glass of cider, aged one year, with a perfect head and dry crisp flavor.  Here is the link to last year when we pressed it.

Apples this year are less plentiful. The excessive rain fostered the fungus, and many apples fell before they got any size to them. The watermelons didn’t like it either- they are a peri-Kalahari fruit and after the rainy season they expect a dry season. Nonetheless we persevere. My father and I went out and got a few buckets of apples. I selected the nicest for cakes and we ran the rest through the press. We got about two gallons. This is the first year I had to remind him about Keats’s Ode to Autumn, but he did rally with a few words. My heart breaks. Do not go gentle into that good night.

The best apple cake is this one. Yes, apple pie is a showcase, and if it rains I can elaborate on pie crust technique, but right now I need simple, and this recipe pushes all the apple pie buttons in a tenth the time. You can find it in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, a fine old classic we referred to in our house as the Fatty Farmer. She has lots of grand old American farm classics, like Blackberry Flapdoodle, which is essentially a big roll of rich biscuit dough surrounding and surrounded by blackberries mashed with sugar. Baked in a casserole and basted with butter it has all the calories you need to milk cows at four in the morning. I can cut the sugar by a third and it’s still sweet. Mighty fine with ice cream though. Anyway, back to Apple Cottage Pudding. This is a basic 1-2-3-4 dough. Peel and cut into fat slices, like 8ths of an apple, about 16 apples. I never count. I just process what I have and use them somehow. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and flour a giant lasagna pan. Find another pan about coffee cake size and do that one too.

Apple Cottage Pudding

The best apple cake

Apple Cottage Pudding Recipe

Mix dry

3 c.flour (definitely throw in part whole wheat or spelt as you like- makes a nuttier flavor)

1 tsp. salt.

1 c. sugar

4 tsp baking powder

Mix wet

2 eggs, beaten

1 c. milk

2 sticks butter (1c.), melted

1 tsp. vanilla

mix all up together until smooth, dump into pans.

This is a bit tricky. The reason I say that is that you will be pressing the apple slices into the dough in rows, as tightly as possible, since this cake is better the higher the ratio of apple to cake. Over time I have developed a sense of how little cake dough I can get away with, see below. You can do a pie pan with a dough spoonful. I realize that is subjective. Anyway, I start in the middle with a line and march them out in both directions, pushing the dough as I go. Occasionally I have to take a knife and cheat a little, flicking a little dough from here to there. When you are finished:

Mix 1 c. sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 8 tbsp raisins, nuts if you like.   Hazelnuts absolutely rock. Walnuts are also a natural. I have even scattered on wineberries, which I had frozen in season, for color. Mix and sprinkle evenly, getting sugar over all the dough. I know sugar is White Death, but you have a lot of surface area, and the covering of granules creates a very nice crisp surface. Bake until brown and the raisins are puffing. That will take at least 40 minutes. Touch the apples to see if they are soft. As long as the cake doesn’t burn, especially underneath, the puffed raisins give it that bitter burnt raisin flavor which balances the sweetness of sugary apple cake.

I tend to gain weight around this time of year and I finally made the connection. This cake is so delicious and it works all day, starting with breakfast. I also make it if I am going to a potluck, or helping with a bake sale, or a church supper. You can’t beat it with a stick.

Got Raspberries?

Red Heritage Raspberries

Red Heritage Raspberries

I think God really hit the nail on the head when He made raspberries. How could anything be more delicious?  And they are really not hard to grow. Once you have them established it’s easy to develop a big patch and keep them forever and ever, amen.

Raspberries like the edge of the woods, so dappled sunshine is better than shade or blast heat.  I find that Purple Emperor, which has more rugose (wrinkly/ridgy ) leaves, seems more tolerant of full sun than Red Heritage, which seems to develop more yellowish leaves and less abundant fruit in those conditions.  Purple Emperor has huge purple berries that look incredible on a cake, and bears heavily in June, then no more. I like Red Heritage though, because it has a better flavor and, beyond the two flushes- summer and fall- seems to usually have a few berries on it, even in warm patches of winter. It is a kid magnet beyond compare.

Red Heritage Raspberries

My niece in the razzes

I worked up a rich, fairly well-drained bed for mine years ago and planted them not too deep, as they are subject to crown rot. I put down landscape fabric and mulched them with wood chips, again, not too deep around the canes. I pounded in heavy metal stakes at either end and strung wire at three levels, with turnbuckles to tighten them as the wire stretched. A turnbuckle is a small, inexpensive tightener which you can get at the hardware store. Loop the wire at each end and it will be easy to keep your wires taut. I use the wires to keep the raspberry canes in some kind of order and up off the grass, using quick twists.

In winter I prune the canes to 2-3 feet, weeding and removing dead canes. These canes will produce berries in June. in zone 7. As those canes peter out, new, taller canes will emerge and bloom. I am tying those up right now. After a while the first canes will turn yellow and you will be able to remove them. Notice that established bushes will produce offsets- baby plants that come up  short distance from the parent plant. You can dig these up and replant them. The best way to do this, as they are at first not well rooted, is to drive a shovel into the dirt between the parent and child plants without digging it up. This severs the runner and forces the new plant to develop a more independent root system before you dig it up. In any case, plant it in line with the other plants, approximately 2-3 feet from the next bush, and definitely keep it well watered until it is established. This takes longer than you think. You aren’t out of the woods until the fall rains come. But once established, your raspberry bushes will be there for good, barring a serious crown rot epidemic.

stem borere damage on a raspberry bush

stem borere damage on a raspberry bush

Stem borers are a nuisance, as they take out the growing tip, and Japanese beetles  eat the leaves.  I remove and burn parts of the stem with borers in them, and crush Japanese beetles with my fingers as I see them.

Pick raspberries that are darker pinkish red and pull easily off the cluster. The soft ones are still good but may have lots of little beetles in them. These can be easily blown or rinsed away if you like. If the berry is too squishy I usually toss them somewhere inhospitable. Keep bushes well picked as unpicked bushes encourage beetles and a rotten raspberry is a tragic waste.

I eat them fresh, in a bowl of milk, cream or yoghurt, with granola, scattered in a salad, crushed in a drink over ice, cooked into a jam or a sauce, or made into a syrup that can be canned and diluted into a drink. Today I poured some ginger ale my kids bought into a glass of raspberry flavored plum juice with ice cubes. Yummy.

raspberry jam

raspberry jam

Raspberry Jam, conventional

Prepare 6 jam jars and boil the lids in water for 15 minutes. Take 4 or 5 c. raspberries and crush them thoroughly with a potato masher. Measure the lovely slop. Boil without lid for 5 minutes. Measure and add an equal amount of sugar. Boil without lid 5 minutes or less if it sheets before that.  No need to skim, really. Just don’t let it boil over- big mess! I know it’s a lot of sugar but if you use less it won’t gel so well, and the raspberries are very tart, especially if you pick a few under ripe ones- not white but just a little lighter and firmer.

Don’t bother with seedless raspberry jelly unless you are dealing with a dietary condition like diverticulitis. The pectin is in the seeds, and the crunch is nice. I haven’t even tried making it. I’m guessing you would strain it after boiling 5 minutes, which would give you the pectin.

What is sheeting? My mother had a cookbook that showed a picture of sheeting. Joy of Cooking, I think. Here’s what to do. Stir the cooking jelly or jam with a wooden spoon that has a smooth shape. Scoop up a little and spin the spoon so that the liquid runs around on the spoon and cools a little but doesn’t spill. A few seconds. Then hold the spoon sideways with the edge down in front of you. Watch the drips coming down the face or back of the wooden spoon. Two drips will run down and drip into the pot, sometimes running together at the end. As the jam or jelly begins to jell, the quality of the drip will change, and eventually the two drips will run together in a sort of small sheet, rather than one running into the other. That’s it. Turn off the heat, fill the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and seal with the clean, boiled lids. Process in an open water bath for 15 minutes. Cool and label. Awesome.

A tarter jam: Now, you can also just sweeten your crushed, cooked raspberries to taste and can them. It won’t gel, but there is enough thickness that it is still useable on toast. It just sort of soaks into the bread more the less sugar you use.That is more to my husband’s taste, You can also make a syrup of raspberries and sieve out the seeds, and can that. Easy, if you know how to can. Or you can just put it in the refrigerator and eat it before mold sets in. Awesome.

What I don’t know about: I haven’t used honey because I love to eat all my honey, which has such a delicate flavor. Also sugar interferes less with the taste of the berries. I know sugar is death, but we use it so rarely, and we try to afford the raw sugar in bulk. I just want to put all my prejudices aside and show gratitude for the berries by making sure we have them all year! I haven’t tried yellow raspberries. They say they are less attractive to birds. I don’t have a bird problem so far knock on wood. My experience with pigment lacking fruits and vegetables is that they are sweeter because they lack a counterbalancing strong flavor. This isn’t all bad- white sweet potatoes are heavenly- sugar sweet and delicate, almost vanilla. White tomatoes are subacid and very sweet- highly attractive to bugs, I found. White peaches are very pretty and slightly more delicate tasting. I don’t remember if I’ve tasted a yellow raspberry, but I am suspicious that they would lack oomph. I’ll let you know when I do. But remember I am of Virginian descent, and you know how many Virginians it takes to change a lightbulb.

Easy 1-2-3-4 Old Fashioned Kosher Dill Pickles

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

A good trellis makes the cucumber vines more productive and keeps your cukes off the ground.

These are the easiest pickles, and they are utterly delicious. I have a lot of cucumbers growing, so I try to pick every day. There are always some hiding. For pickling you want to use smaller cukes. They stay firm better. I like them 3-5 inches, no ore than 6. I only grow the pickling cukes- those are the little grayish green warty ones; the Kirby types. You can use them for salad and gazpacho, so what else do you want? There are lots of fun cukes to grow, but I like to save seeds so I mostly grow one at a time.

OK, here is where I originally got the recipe. Thanks, Glora. I added something and I also can (groans) elaborate, since I do, snort, have a degree in English…..

Wash your cukes, trim off the blossom ends by about a 16th of an inch with a paring knife (removes possible bacteria),

remove 1/16th inch of blossom end to avoid bacterial contamination

pare off blossom end of cuke

004  and soak for 30 minutes in a bowl of ice water.Get a crock or big glass jar that will accommodate your pickles. Actually, get a pickle jar. Clean it well. On the bottom, put a 1 layer of grape leaves, 2 sprigs of dill, and 3 big garlic cloves. Trim the bottom end off of your garlic cloves. Pack in the cukes tightly. then repeat the stuff you put on the bottom on the top, finishing with the grape leaves.

dill, garlic, and grape leaves

dill, garlic, and grape leaves

Mix water in the following proportions: 3 c. water, 2 tbsp vinegar. 1 tbsp kosher salt. One two three. Fill your pickle jar to the top, put on the lid, and set outside for 4 days. One two three four. Little white flakes will form on top. You can skim this off or simply wash the top grape leaf. This is the old-fashioned lactic fermentation, same as kimchee and sauerkraut. It is really magical, and very good for you as well.

After 4 days I put them in the fridge to cool. They will get more sour over time and eventually you will start getting soft ones. They still taste fantastic, and you can use the brine to inoculate other batches.

The grape leaves were my addition. They help the pickles stay crisp. Who needs pickling lime!

I fill the fridge with these. I really need a cold European cellar and some barrels. They are so addictive. I am going to go make some right now!

Stuffing the Wild Grape Leaves

Fox grapes and lunaria

Fox grapes and lunaria

Euell Gibbons I’m not, but I am really pleased about this one. When I saw the tender shining wild fox grape leaves in the hedgerow  they looked so nice I thought I’d try stuffing them. Turns out it’s not hard. Here’s how to do it.

First, go pick 50-60 grape leaves. You want to do this when they are in active growth, like May around here. Get leaves about the size of the palm of your hand or bigger, but not too mature. Look for a vine tip and go back 2-3 nodes to a larger size, but a leaf that is still lighter in color than further towards the root. If you get some that are too dark colored or otherwise unsuitable you can still use them for lining the pan.

Prepare your leaves by cutting off the stem and any thickish veins. I didn’t see any veins worth worrying over. Lay them in a stack.

Bring a medium sized pan of water to a boil, cut it off, and plunge your leaves into it. Cover and let it sit 5-7 minutes. Interestingly the smell is somewhat grapey. I actually use the infused water for tea, and it is delicious; rather like regular chinese black tea. It makes great ice tea. Grape leaves are a delicious green and a wonderful liver tonic but also a good poultice for bug bites.

Drain, roll, and set where it can’t dry out. Pick your filling.

dolmades filling

dolmades filling

You can wrap all kinds of stuff in grape leaves for what Greeks call dolmadakia. You can even wrap several leaves around grilling foods like fish. You can freeze the leaves, dry them, or pickle them in brine.  But here we are talking about the cute little rolls sold n salad bars. You can wrap them around a traditional rice based filling, and here is the recipe I like best, adapted from Caroline Cummins on www.culinate.com:

olive oil

1 onion

3-4 garlic cloves

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1 1/2 c. rice

2 1/2 c chicken or veg stock

1 organic lemon juiced and zested (grate off the skin)

3 handfuls of herbs such as fennel, dill, mint, and parsley, chopped

Fry the onions and garlic in 3 tbs olive oil, 5-7 minutes.  Add the walnuts and rice and stir until rice is lightly toasted. Add stock and simmer on low about 15 minutes until absorbed. It will not be quite enough water. Add the lemon zest, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Let cool so you can handle it.

Get a pot about 12 inches across the bottom, fairly sturdy and thick bottomed. Put a few skewers or chopsticks across the bottom to prevent stickage and then put 2-3 layers of grape leaves across the bottom. Now start rolling dolmadakia.

Rolling dolmadakia

Rolling dolmadakia

Lay a leaf out flat, and put about a teaspoon sized blob of filling just above where you sliced off the stem. More if you can fit it.  Fold in the bottom side points towards the center,

Rolling dolmadakia

in some leaves there are 5 points

then the top side points,Rolling dolmadakia and then roll the whole thing up into a neat little roll. Rolling dolmadakiaThe tip of the leaf sort of seals the envelope. Lay it in the pot. Rolling dolmadakiaRepeat until the pot has 2-3 layers, then cover the dolmadakia with another layer of leaves. Add the lemon juice and another cup of water to the pot, cover, bring to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer about 20 minutes. Watch it doesn’t boil dry as the rice is supposed to soak up the water, which is now wonderfully infused with grape leaf flavor. Let cool and arrange  on a plate with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and pretty rounds of lemon. Rolling dolmadakiaThis is called a meze in Greek- something to have on the table. (Interesting- mez is table in Hindi) We took some out on the river one night, anyway. Delicious!

What to do with Plums

Plums!

Plums!

A rich, sweet, juicy, tender ripe plum is an amazing experience.  You may remember the  William Carlos Williams poem
This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-William Carlos Williams

Well, I guess he isn’t too descriptive about the actual plum, beyond cold and sweet, but for me it connects the flavor and texture of a plum with the pleasure of a poem- classic imagist. If you follow my blog, you know how much work I do to get my Methley plum tree to produce usable fruit in a region that is very bug- and fungal pathogen- friendly. This is a classic gardener thing- the harder it is to get something to grow, the more you want it. Methley is a Satsuma type Japanese plum. Satsuma apparently means “cherry,” and the smallish purple- red plums do have the cherry look. The skins are very tender and the juice is delicious and very red.

At this writing I do have a lot of fruit, rapidly perishing from Japanese beetle damage, rain splitting, and brown rot.  Nonetheless I did get a few gallons preserved today. I made plum jam. plum juice, plum ice cream, and plums in syrup. Easy. This is how you do it:

Not too sweet Plum Jam:

Stirring plums through a coarse colander

The coarse colander is the thing

First, you will need a coarse colander, mixing bowl, and a wooden spoon. The coarse colander makes your job so easy.

You will also need clean jars for the jam and clean bottles for the juice. I usually keep mine in the boiling hot attic in bags so they are clean. If I weren’t sure I would run them through the dishwasher. Put the lids in a pot and boil them 15 minutes. Mind they don’t boil dry. Make sure you have tongs to hand to get them out.

plumsPick plums, throwing away rotten ones. If there are little rotten spots or bug chomps, remember, you are going to wash and boil these, so it’s ok to rub away rot and bug chomps in water and use. The plum flesh is so soft that you can rub away anything gross with your thumb in the water. I spray with Surround clay emulsion, which is completely ok to eat but I wash it off anyway. Drain and fill a stockpot with them. You can put in a little water in if you like to prevent sticking but I don’t. The plums will cover with condensation and then dissolve into juicy red loveliness in minutes once you turn on the burner.

Plum Juice: In about 15 minutes you should see the plums sitting in red juice, skins peeled off and yellowish flesh tender. You can go longer- it will only make your plums go through the colander faster. We aren’t trying to preserve texture here. Put your colander in a big mixing bowl and carefully dump the contents of the stockpot into it. Once the juice has drained, put the colander on top of the stockpot while you pour the hot juice carefully into clean bottles. Get the tops out of the boiled water and cap them. Set them to cool. You could sweeten the juice if you like first. We mix it with water or sparkling water unsweetened for us, sweetened with honey for kids. It’s also wonderful in a wine cooler mix. A drop of lemon juice brightens it- selzter turns it dull- remember acid/base indicators in high school chemistry?

Making plum jam

Making plum jam

Plum Jam: Once your juice is bottled, return the colander to the mixing bowl and stir the plums through it. Stir until the pits click in the colander. The longer you stir, the thicker your puree will be and the easier it will be to make a thick jam. Discard the pits. Put the puree in a large pot so you can stir it and cook it down just a little;5 minutes boil Sweeten to taste. Honey is great, but sugar doesn’t interfere with the plum taste. You can use anything, though. The jam is thick enough that you won’t need it to jell. I use a cup of sugar to 4-5 c. pulp and boil it another 5 minutes. I’m sure you can use Stevia.  I use a funnel to put it in the jars so I won’t have to wipe the rims. If you don’t wipe the rims and you have food on them you can’t get a good seal. Put the lids on and tighten.

If you can comfortably and safely do so, invert them for 7 seconds, then quickly unscrew the tops for a fraction of an instant, then tighten again quickly. Don’t burn yourself. This scalds the lids and causes a quick burst of hot air to force its way out, sealing the jar. I have often done no more than this for jams and jellies, skipping the canning step altogether. Nobody recommends this anymore, so I won’t either. Canning is more reliable and it’s not too hard. My grandmother used paraffin- she would pour a 1/4 inch layer of melted wax on the surface of the jam. I remember saving the discs for remelting the next year- yes, I’m sick, I know. Folks used to seal preserves with brown paper soaked in whiskey….

Processing: I use an open hot water bath for acid or sugary things like jams, jellies, preserves, apple sauce, tomatoes, and pickles. I really only get out the pressure canner for low acid foods like beans, meats, and mushrooms. Plum products are acid so the official word is 30 minutes boiling. With jams and jellies which are also preserved with sugar and really don’t need processing at all, 15 minutes. We really are only looking to heat up the airspace  and exhaust some air so that we will have a good seal. If you have a clean jar with no nicks on the rim, a good lid, and hot, sterile contents, and you seal it well, it will keep as long as you can conceivably want it to. I shouldn’t say this, but I have eaten my grandmother’s preserves 15 years old. Don’t try that at home, kids. Of course we are talking about stuff with maximum sugar and/or rum content…..

Plum Ice Cream: I have an ice cream maker that is the easiest thing- no salt or ice. It has a gel canister that is sealed. I leave it in the freezer all the time and just take it out to make ice cream. They ave a recipe book but you can seriously just toss whatever you want in there and it will turn into ice cream or sorbet. Since I make my own yoghurt, this works easily. I just put 2 cups of yoghurt, 2 cups of plum pulp, and honey to taste and switch the thing on. This makes a very tart, plummy ice cream with a wonderful pink color. It is pretty tart but you can add more sweetener during the process since the top is open.

Plum Juice: You will need clean mason jars, lids and rings. Select perfect plums as you work and fit them tightly into the jars. Make a 1/1 sugar syrup, or lighter if you want, bring it to a boil, fill the jars with it, seal and process. A syrup of half honey, half water is wonderful, and lighter than a sugar syrup. I label it as such if I had honey to spare, because it is really special. The fruit skins color the syrup a lovely red. I like to put one in the window. When you open these, you will have a lot of syrup. The fruit rises in it. Spoon out the fruit with some of the syrup and eat with cream or vanilla pudding…..save the rest of syrup to mix with water for a delicious juice drink, or with wine…..mmm.

I have made pickled plums with a sweet vinegar syrup and spices, the way you make pickled peaches, but after a while I thought the spice overwhelmed the plums. On the whole it was a bit medicinal. I prefer honey syrup. The delicate flavors are amazing. Poetical.