Thank you to everyone who submitted a story and/or photos to our “Preserving the Harvest” Contest! All the names were entered in a draw. And our lucky winners are… (Drum roll please)
Grand Prize: Elisabeth Bailey
Runners up: Cory Mooney & Jennifer Naugler
Enjoy your preserving books, ladies!
The stories and photos I received were too good not to share. Here’s a smattering of what I received:
(More to follow in the coming weeks.)
Here are a few preserving pics to share–drying a variety of heritage tomatoes from the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market, and blueberries packed in lemon syrup for the freezer. Enjoy!
This is a photo from the first time I made jam. Strawberry jam. I was so proud of myself…that lined the jars up on the kitchen windowsill….and stared at them all day. 🙂 I would never dream of buying jam again.
Around this time last year, three of my friends and I decided that we would try canning tomato sauce. One of us had canned with other people once before, one had made jam, and the other two of us were complete newbies. We figured that by doing it together we could combine our collective knowledge, help each other, and learn how to do it together. Little did we know that we’d learn most lessons the hard way.
Lesson 1: Don’t Over-Do It.
We also figured that we’d save money: the greater bulk we purchased, the cheaper the tomato sauce would be. We all wanted to walk away with enough tomato sauce to last us through the winter. During one of our planning sessions, we sat around my kitchen with a calculator, price quotes from various local farmers, and an Excel spreadsheet open. We made lists that would have been incomprehensible to anyone else, with things like:
Tomato Sauce – Pare (4.5 lbs – 3.5 pints) (40 lbs for 7 jars each)
(6.5 lbs – 12 cups 3 L 6 pints)
(1 L 2 pints 6 lbs)
Roasted Tomato Sauce – Small Batch
When my roommates wandered into the kitchen and saw the mathematics and heard our conversation, they looked at us like we had lost our minds. But we were sure we weren’t crazy; in fact, it would be crazy NOT to buy a massive amount of tomatoes and can them ourselves! We continued crunching the numbers and finally settled on an amount: we would buy 50 pounds of tomatoes.
We made arrangements with a farmer at the market, and on the designated Saturday, we took my station wagon down to the market to pick up our tomatoes. It was only then that we got an idea of what 50 pounds of tomatoes looks like. This was the first time we wondered whether perhaps we’d gone a little overboard.
Lesson #2: Know Thy Tomato.
We had four large boxes of tomatoes. And they weren’t exactly the tomatoes we wanted. We had ordered plum tomatoes: solid, oval-shaped tomatoes that have fewer seeds and are ideal for making sauce and packing. But when we went to pick them up, the farmer told us that those tomatoes weren’t ready yet, so instead he’d brought us 50 pounds of field tomatoes. Field tomatoes are rounder and juicier, with more seeds and liquid. We should have turned down the tomatoes right then and there. But it’s hard to say no to somebody who has boxed up 50 pounds of tomatoes for you and is carting them out to your car. Plus, we’d all set aside this weekend for doing the canning; when would be able to align our schedules again? So we decided to carry on and make the best of our field tomatoes.
Lesson #4: Don’t Over-Do It. I repeat: Don’t Over-Do It.
We got back to my place and started working: boiling water, dropping the tomatoes in the hot water and then submerging them in cold water; cutting up vegetables; measuring herbs. We had picked three different recipes to use, so we’d have a variety of sauces to enjoy.
The first recipe was from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and was designed for large quantities. The other two recipes were from a book on small-batch preserving. Since we weren’t preserving a small batch, this meant we had to multiply the recipes by 16. One of them called for balsamic vinegar, and while it seemed like 16 times the amount called for was just too much vinegar, we were afraid of botulism, so we went for it. The other recipe called for roasted onions, peppers, and garlic, so we had to rotate trays and trays of vegetables through the oven to roast.
The hours wore on and soon it was past dinner time. My roommates had to snatch whatever morsels of prepared food they could get from the fridge or cupboards before escaping the kitchen. Squashed tomatoes and puddles of tomato juice were everywhere. The kitchen looked like a war zone. We had finished the first batch earlier in the day, and it had turned out pretty well: it was Kingsolver’s recipe, and though the herbs were very present, it wasn’t bad. We named it Herby. It was the most basic of the recipes, and we had high hopes for the other two. But when the second batch was finished, it had an overpowering flavour of balsamic vinegar. The tomatoes were very juicy, so the sauce was a watery, vinegary liquid. We tried to see the vinegar flavour as a positive, and brainstormed ideas for a name – things like “zesty” and “tangy.” In the end we settled on Zingy. Everything was now riding on the final batch: the roasted vegetable sauce.
Lesson #5: Work in a Good Space.
Before we knew it, it was past two o’clock in the morning. We’d been roasting vegetables for hours, and the sauce was finally simmering on the stove. As we sat exhausted and drooping around the kitchen, one of us suddenly perked up. “Does anyone else smell burning?” It turned out that our spoon wasn’t reaching the very bottom of the massive pot, and a thick layer at the bottom – about 3/4″ – had burned. We were so exhausted, we weren’t in a good mental space, and so we began stirring strenuously, trying to scrape the burned bits off the bottom. When we sampled the sauce, we realized that now the entire pot tasted of burn. “It’s like eating a cigarette,” I declared, despondent. Exhausted, we decided to can it anyway and figure out what to do with it later. We named it Smokey. One of my friends, too tired to bike home, slept on my couch that night. We finished at around 3:30 am.
It was several months before any of us tried our sauces – not because we were saving them for winter (we’d canned enough for 18 jars each) – but because we could hardly bear to even look at them. But eventually we started trying them, and finding creative ways to use them. “Zingy is great as a base for a stir fry!” someone would email. Surprisingly, Smokey became a favourite, as a base for chilli.
A few weeks ago, we got together to enjoy one of the last jars of sauce. Loaded up with black beans and veggies and seasoned with cumin and paprika, it was a pretty delicious chilli – with that distinctive smokey flavour. Sure, we hadn’t produced the most tasty batch of sauces ever canned, but we had fun and certainly learned a lot along the way. This year, we’re taking a different approach to canning. We’re sticking to basics, like whole tomatoes, and we’re doing our canning independently. In very small batches.
Thanks for sharing your photos and stories with us…
(More to come!)
Yours in food,