Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Canning Season

Sense of Home Kitchen

Canning season is upon us and that means other things are put aside, the dust begins to build up on the shelves, spills bake hard onto the stove top, and the book we were reading sits waiting for us to have a quiet moment. Canning season is a very busy time of year, especially tomato canning, once they start ripening I am harvesting and canning nearly every day.  Monday I canned 7 quarts of tomatoes and Tuesday 9 pints of salsa were canned.  I always pressure can my tomatoes, it is fast, easy, and I don't need to check on the acidity of the mixture of tomatoes I am using.

With today's haul of tomatoes I will be canning whole tomatoes again tomorrow.  I can all my tomatoes whole, mixing yellow right in with the red, Beaverlodge Plum in with the Brandywine and Purple Cherokee.  I have always canned my tomatoes this way, the variety only enhances the flavor and results in a quart of delicious whole tomatoes which I can then turn into marinara or pizza sauce, put in a chili, stew, or soup, and any recipe calling for tomato sauce or whole tomatoes.  Last year I canned 25 quarts of whole tomatoes and we just ate our last quart a week ago, my goal this year is closer to 30 quarts since this season's tomato harvest and canning is about a month earlier than normal. I also canned 14 pints of salsa last year, which only took us through until March, so I would like to be able to get closer to 24 pints, that would provide us two a month.  I canned 9 quarts of tomato soup last year and hope to do at least that many this year, so August will be another busy month.

I have a good start on the pantry, but if our garden is to sustain us through the year I will need to do add several more jars of fruits and vegetables.  Our strawberries are producing for the second time this summer and better than the first, I will need to be quick to pick before the slugs get them.  Soon there will be apples to juice and can, chickens will be butchered and more stock made and canned, grapes to harvest, juice and can, corn, pumpkins, more peppers, and whatever else I have forgotten at the moment.  Tomorrow we will take stock of the freezer and determine what else we need before winter.  We have several pints of blueberries, but I know we are short on strawberries.  We will need to have my father-in-law haul a cow in to be butchered, chickens will be butchered, and my husband will hunt deer this fall.

Sense of Home Kitchen / Homemade Living / Kitchen and Pantry

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Preserving Zucchini

Sense of Home Kitchen

We have four zucchini plants that are producing heavily causing us to sneak zucchini in all kinds of dishes.  This week we had a tasty ratatouille, with not only zucchini, but also eggplant, celery, pepper, tomato, onion, and several herbs from our garden, I love cooking from the garden in summer.  There was the tomato, zucchini, and beef soup I threw together that we slurped up and wished for more, we ate a very good Southwest zucchini chili today and, of course, I have been preserving zucchini for later use.

I have used the smaller zucchini not only for stir-frying, but also for dehydrating.  Sliced thin and dried, these zucchini will be terrific in soups, stews, and casseroles this winter, I dry green beans to be used in the same way.  The beauty of dehydrated fruits or vegetables is the length of time which they will keep, if I don't get around to using all the dehydrated zucchini this year, it will be just as good next year.  Unlike deep freezing vegetables, which are best eaten within 6 to 8 months, or even canned vegetables which can lose some of their quality after a year to two years. As long as vegetables or fruits are dried completely and kept in a cool dry place, they will keep for years.

Zucchini has to be pressure canned, unless it is pickled, by itself it does not have enough acid to be canned using the water bath method.  This is the case with all squash, however, unlike pumpkin and other winter squash varieties which can take 90 minutes at 11 pounds pressure, summer squash, like zucchini, only takes 40 minutes at 11 pounds pressure.  Like all squash and pumpkin, it needs to be cubed, not mashed so that it does not explode.  Canned zucchini is cooked and ready to use in dishes like the ratatouille and chili I mentioned above, as well as, stews and casseroles.  Leaving the skin on helps to retain some texture.  Zucchini gets a bad rap, perhaps because of the lack of flavor, but that just means you need to put them in dishes that are packed with flavor and then the zucchini can act as a support for the surrounding flavors, a filler if you will, stretching the dish to provide more food and still stay within budget.

I use the zucchini that has hidden from me and grown to mammoth proportions to shred for winter sweet breads. After slicing in half I scrap out the seeds, shred and place two cup measurements in freezer containers for bread to eat with our tea or coffee.

There are several more blossoms so I will be canning, drying, and freezing more.  I welcome this productive plant, we have made some major changes this summer which will mean we are living even more off our garden.  The health store is closed, my husband quit his job and we work together part time so that we can focus on more important things. We have been working toward this goal, our bills are paid off, and we live very simply, sustainably.  At the beginning of summer we gave up TV, expanded our gardens, we are outside more, reading more, and I noticed we sit at the table to eat and converse more.  The garden produce is really starting to come in fast now and tomorrow I will be canning tomatoes.

Sense of Home Kitchen / Homemade Living / Kitchen and Pantry