Summer sunshine saved in seconds
For many people, late summer means canning season. It's time to stop stuffing our faces with all of this glorious seasonal bounty and stuff it into jars so we can enjoy it come winter instead. It's a wonderful time of year—except for the actual canning part.
When I moved from urban Northern California to a rural Missouri farm 14 years ago, I planted an enormous kitchen garden and looked forward to my first official canning season with gleeful anticipation.
I admired my inexpensive new boiling water bath canner, stockpiled cases and cases of jars, made sure I had the correct number and type of the special two-part lids, and even bought a handy accessories kit that promised to make my canning adventures a thousand times easier (which it did).
I earmarked nearly all the pages in my trusty home preserving book for beginners and cleared off shelves to store my stash. And then I started canning everything in sight.
I put up dozens of quarts of dill pickles and enough red and yellow tomatoes to make pizza and pasta sauce for at least a couple of years. I made vats of tomato salsa and tomatillo enchilada sauce, and when frost threatened in fall I turned my unripe tomato bounty into this salsa-like green tomato relish, which is one of my most popular recipes.
I bought peaches by the bushel and cooked up enough filling to fill more peach pies and cobblers than I knew I would ever eat. I gathered feed sacks full of apples and pears from a friend of a friend's neglected fruit trees using one of those long-handled grabber thingies, then spent the next couple of weeks cooking up big batches of applesauce, apple pie filling, and several cases of a special creation I christened Autumn Harvest Chutney.
This I bestowed upon friends and family during the holidays until I realized nobody had a clue what to do with it. (I mostly ate it straight from the jar.) I even processed half-pints of homemade lemon curd before I figured out I could polish off an entire batch long before it went bad in the fridge.
One year I turned an eggplant overflow in the garden (my first and last) into caponata, but when I called the 800 canning hotline for processing directions I was sternly informed that I couldn't put up jars of caponata. "Oh yes I can!" I said, hanging up and taking my chances. (I lived.)
After a surprising purple cabbage bounty one spring, I made four pints of pickled purple cabbage. When I fed some to my foodie mother she said, "It tastes something you'd get in an English pub." I was afraid to ask if she meant it as a compliment.
I reveled in my self-sufficiency and would sneak into the crowded pantry (also known as the spare bedroom, the office, my graphic design work area, and the recording studio) to admire the rows and rows of glistening jars that were—unlike the green beans and sweet red peppers and blueberries I'd put in the freezer—safe from spoilage even if there was an extended power outage. I sliced and diced and peeled and parboiled and sweated to within an inch of my life.
And then I got tired of canning.
The truth is, as much as I loved having all those jars of food around, I don't really miss them that much. Over the years I've started doing more year round eating straight from the kitchen garden rather than by way of the pantry.
Last fall I grew several types of hardy greens that lasted well into December, and after they were gone I proceeded to enjoy salads of freshly picked arugula and Swiss chard and from my homemade greenhouse for much of the winter.
I eat my fill of fresh peaches in summer and slice up apples for pies in fall. And besides, I've probably had enough dill pickles and Autumn Harvest Chutney to last me for the rest of my life.
I love knowing how to can, and I'm glad I have the option, but these days I don't let it overwhelm me.
What I'll never stop doing, however, is preserving tomatoes, although now I usually take my chances with the freezer. But it takes an amazing amount of paste tomatoes to fill a quart container, so when I don't have enough to make the whole blanching, peeling, and seeding process worthwhile—or if I'm feeling particularly lazy—I simply stick the tomatoes in a zipper bag, toss it into the freezer, and I'm done. Yep, that's it.
In a pinch you can even freeze big old round tomatoes, but they do take up a lot of space.
Frozen whole tomatoes are the slow cook's winter friend
Whole frozen tomatoes will not, of course, defrost into the sturdy slicers they once were, but they're perfect for cooking down later into sauce or tossing into soups, stews and cozy Dutch oven dinners, such as these slow-cooked lamb shoulder roasts (lamb shanks will work great, too).
If you don't feel like waiting until winter to try this recipe and have some fresh tomatoes on hand, by all means toss them in.
So how do you preserve the harvest? Canning? Freezing? Digging up memories of summer while living on winter root vegetables? Do you have any time-saving secrets to share?
© FarmgirlFare.com, the seasonal foodie farm blog where over the years I may have become a little lazy in the canning department, but the freezers and our tummies always stay happily full.