Confessions of an EVERYDAY ECOTARIAN

creative, conscious and conserving ideas, thoughts and solutions

Attack of the Tomatoes! October 21, 2009

Filed under: On Food — adm @ 1:32 am
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I’m finally writing!  I’m finally writing!  It has been several weeks of steamy days in the kitchen canning, drying and putting away the summer’s harvest.  On top of that I seem to have found myself doing work of one sort another for 5 different non-profits.

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Oooh, steamy!

Needless to say, it’s been busy ‘round here.  To further complicate matters we had a very cold and wet

summer.  This caused our tomatoes to ripen very late.  We then had a hard frostand had to move in the tomatoes from our 70 plants in late September.  We had every surface in the basement covered with ripening tomatoes well into this month.  However, the onslaught of tomato preservation is slowing and as always, we’ve learned a few news tricks this year.

When we first started living the gardening, canning, and ever-evolving ecotarian life 9 years ago we did what many new gardeners do.  We planted everything we could think of, lost most of it to inexperience and attempted to preserve the rest.  That first year we had a particularly good crop of tomatoes.  We thought we’d make all kinds of tomato products:  salsa, all kinds of marinara and spaghetti sauce, diced

All colors of tomatoes ripening in the basement after a hard frost

All colors of tomatoes ripening in the basement after a hard frost

tomatoes, barbeque sauce, ketchup and more!  Although we were somewhat successful we burned ourselves out on canning right away.   We’ve learned a few things since that and now we stick to two rules for preserving the harvest:  1. Keep it practical.  2.  Keep it simple

We found that if we preserve the simplest tomato products possible we can then alter those tomatoes for different uses during the year.  Also, when you can you need to be mindful of the acidity of your product.  Tomatoes by themselves are high acid and can be canned in a simple boiling water bath.   However, when you start adding other vegetables it can lower the acidity too much and cause the need for a pressure canner.   So, because we like to keep things as simple as possible, this year we decided to stick to chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and dried tomatoes.   Here is what we did:

Roasted Tomato Sauce

In order to make great, smooth tomato sauce you need to do three things.  Remove the skin, remove the seeds and remove some of the water.  I used to cook the tomatoes down in a stockpot before running them through a food mill to remove the seeds and skin.  Not anymore.  I’ve found a much better way to get a great tasting sauce is to roast the tomatoes first.  Simply wash the tomatoes, cut out any bad spots and quarter them.  You can use any kind of tomato for this –even a surplus of cherry, pear or other small tomatoes.  Just to dispel the long-standing myth,

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Tomatoes ready for roasting!

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Smooth sauce cookin’ away

yellow tomatoes are not any less acidic than red so throw them in there!  Put them on a baking dish lined with foil or better yet a foil roasting pan, (unless you want a huge cleanup job later) and roast them at 275 degrees for about 2 hours.  I even threw a few cloves of garlic in to roast along with the tomatoes.   When the tomatoes are soft and have lost some of their water run them through a food mill to remove the skin

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Roasty Toasty Tomatoes

and seeds.  Put the remaining sauce back into the stockpot and cook it down until it’s as thick as you like it.   Then, just can it in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes.   The end result is a lovely, deep and complex roasted tomato sauce.  When you’re ready to use it, open it up and season it with garlic, peppers, onions or whatever else your recipe calls for.

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Naked little tomatoes

Chopped Tomatoes

Nothing fancy here.  We remove the skins by plunging the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds.

Then we pull them out and give them an immediate dip into an ice bath.  At this point their skins slip right off.  We then chop the tomatoes in our food processor, (the best kitchen tool we’ve ever purchased) for a few pulses.   When the tomatoes are sufficiently chopped we put them into a stockpot and heat them to boiling.  Then, we can them in quart jars in a water bath for 45 minutes.   That’s it.  Then they are chili, enchilada, marinara, even salsa ready!  Just season appropriately when they’re needed.

Dried Tomatoes

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Yellow Pear and Cherry Tomatoes

These are great to have on hand.  This year we had a plethora of small tomatoes including little round cherry tomatoes and adorable tiny yellow pear tomatoes.

You can throw them in with your tomatoes for saucebut what we’ve found is that they make lovely dried tomatoes.  We use a dehydrator and simply wash the tomatoes, cut them in half and place them face up on the trays.  When they are sufficiently dry, (You can’t squeeze a drop of moisture out with your fingers) we

“pasteurize” them in a 175 degree oven for 15 minutes.  This helps take car

e of any little organisms that might decide to cause your tomatoes to spoil.

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Pretty little dried tomatoes

Store them in an airtight glass jar in a cool, dry place.  Or for fun, store them in olive oil. You can also dehydrate tomatoes in the sun and in the oven.

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On Food: Heirloom Vegetables, Healthy Diversity January 29, 2009

Today, in the bleak mid-winter, I received something in the mail that always offers me a glimmer home_catalog091of hope that spring will someday arrive. Where we live, our winters are a good five and a half months long. This year I’m thinking it may be seven. It’s to be expected seeing I live halfway between the equator and the north pole. I don’t complain about the winters too much but by the time February roles around, my body is screaming for some sun-induced vitamin D and fresh local vegetables. Not to mention that we had so much early snow this year that we spent the day after Christmas on the roof, shoveling 3 feet of snow onto the ground, (had to take a ladder up and just stepped onto our pile of snow on the way down). And although I do like the snow, (most of the time) I relish the times when things are green and growing again.
So what is this beacon of hope? The Seed Savors Exchange catalog. Every year we do our best to pack every inch of our nearly 3000 square foot garden, (twice as big as the living space in our house) with a wonderful diversity of heirloom vegetables, fruits, herbs and greens. We rely heavily on Seed Savors for our plant selection. Seed Savers is a non-profit organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. Located in Decorah, Iowa, where 23 acres of gardens are on public display. There you will find an awe-inspiring collection of genetic diversity. In merely 97 pages of their seed catalog is a seemingly infinite variety of vegetables,fruits, herbs, flowers and greens, (and as far as I understand it’s only a sampling of the varieties grown at the farm). The catalog is brimming with an array of full-color pictures of gorgeous and healthy vegetables. Granted, the seeds are a bit more pricey then “conventional” garden seeds but if an ecotarian garden is what you are after then conventional plants may not fit the bill.

Case in point: How many varieties of tomatoes can you find in your grocery store right now? Four? Five? Six? Even in our largest grocery stores we have about four basic types of tomatoes: Beefstake, Roma, Cherry and (if you are lucky) Plum. All of which are basically red and uniform from tomato to tomato.

As a contrast, just moments ago, I counted 72 varieties of tomatoes in the Seed Savers catalog, (and through SS you can actually have acess to 4,495 varieties of tomatoes). In it one will find tomatoes that are round, oblong, small, large, red, pink, green, yellow, purple and orange. -And oh, how wonderful those tomatoes taste. One browse through this catalog and you realize that what we see in the grocery store today is not reflective of the wonderful diversity present in our world. It’s reflective of “big business meets agriculture”. So instead of an unlimited variety of produce that represents our histories and our pasts, we are left with varieties that grow fast, ship well and store long. When big business pairs with agriculture what we are left with is a fraction of our beautiful diversity and a fraction of our history, (one really interesting and eye-opening book on this topic is Fatal Harvest, The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture).

Another fantastic resource for very ecotarian gardening is the WinterSown Educational Organization. This lovely little site gives tips on sowing seeds all winter long, (as the name implies). Here, they show you how to grow cold-hardy plants in recyclables like empty milk jugs, clear cake boxes and cottage cheese tubs. No heating devices, fancy seed-starting sets or energy-wasting, (and in turn money-wasting) lights needed. They also offer free seeds! In my envelope I received 8 different heirloom tomato varieties, rainbow chard and dill seeds. Visit the site and it may just have you digging in the recycle bins for suitable containers today!

So this year, whether you are planning a large garden or you are venturing to grow something in a container for the first time make an effort to plant at least some heirloom varieties. You will be rewarded with wonderful produce, seeds to store and grow for the next year and the knowledge that you are passing a piece of our history on to the next year.

To close, I’m going to list all 72 varieties of heirloom tomatoes listed in the 2009 Seed Savers Exchange catalog. Each variety has a paragraph stating where it came from and how it got to the Seed Savers Exchange. Head to SeedSavers.Org to have your very own beacon of winter hope shipped to your home!

So here I go, 72 varieties of tomatoes in this years SS catalog, (add that to the 17 varieties of garlic and you’ll have a nice start to a marinara sauce).

black sea man

The Black Sea Man

Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Austin’s Red Pear, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Black from Tula, Black Krim, Black Plum, Black Sea Man, (kids love this one), Blondkopfchen, (can you pronounce it?), Brandywine, Brown Berry, Chalk’s Early Jewel, Cherokee Purple, Chery Roma, Cream Sausage, (vegan!) Crnkovic Yugoslavian, Currant, Gold Rush, Currant, Sweat Pea, Czech’s Bush, (I thought he was Texan) Dr. Wyche’s Yellow, Earliana, Eva Purple Ball, Federle, German Pink, Giant Syrian, Gold Medal, Golden Sunray, Gourmet Yellow Stuffer, Green Grape, Green Sausage, Green Zebra, (another kid favorite) Hillbilly Potato Leaf, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry, Hungarian Heart, Italian Heirloom, Isis Candy, Japanese Trifele Black, Juane Flamme, John Baer, Kellogg’s

Green Zebra

Green Zebra

Breakfast, (no, not cornflakes) Large Red Cherry, Long Tom, Martino’s Roma, Mexico Midget, Moonglow, Nebraska Wedding, Nyagous, Plum Lemon, (looks just like a lemon!) Ponderosa Red, Powers Heirloom, Purple Russian, (catalog note: “Original stock came from Irma Henkel in the Ukraine”) Red Fig, Redfield Beauty, Red Zebra, (friend of the Green Zebra) Riesentraube, (German for “giant bunch of grapes” in case you ever need to know…) Roman Candle, Rose, Sheboygan, Siberian, Silvery Fir Tree, Soldacki, Speckled Roman, Striped Cavern, Stupice, Tasty Evergreen, (and you thought evergreen’s weren’t tasty!) Tommy Toe, Trophy, Trucker’s Favorite, Wapsipinicon Peach, (I read this one is actually fuzzy) and last, but not least, Wisconsin 55.