One of our family’s homemade gifts this Christmas was my Red Hot Sauce. In “A Peck of Peppers“, I wrote about preparing the sauce from Fresno Chiles fresh from the garden, which I did at the end of September. Then I put the sauce in a charred oak barrel and let it sit until the week before Christmas. I strained it and put it in bottles. I was particularly pleased with the deep red color of the sauce.
This is a fermented sauce — the only thing added to the peppers is salt. The smell is strong, and it has a slightly smoky, sour taste. In addition to making gifts, I used the sauce in a marinade for elk steaks that we had at Christmas dinner. I also added it to baked beans I made. I think of this red hot sauce less as a table condiment and more as a set of rich flavors that can enhance any number of dishes — it’s earthy, yet with a call-to-attention bright flavor, just like a pepper. It stays with you.
We have a new reason to do canning this year — baby Henry! Katie came by and we made applesauce from red Gravensteins. She wants to have fresh applesauce in the pantry for when Henry starts to eat real food. I am glad to see that Katie wants to learn canning and she said it was easier than she thought. Like many things, the more you do it, the process gets to be familiar, which makes it easier. Still I have my copy of the book “Putting Food By” nearby.
We used the Italian food mill that I regular use to make tomato sauce. We cook the apples enough to soften them and then put them through the mill, which removes the seeds and skin. What came out was applesauce with a tint of red. We had more than enough for a dozen half-cup jars. I can’t wait until Henry gets to taste it for himself.
Tomatoes are coming in by the bushel basket and plastic bins. I need to can as many as I can today before heading out tomorrow for Maker Faire NYC. Not enough time in the day…
A bushel, according to Wikipedia, is a measure of dry volume, the equivalent of eight gallons or four pecks.
By Labor Day weekend, there are more than enough tomatoes to start canning but more will come in September, especially the Roma and San Marzano varieties. The cold fog of August seems to delay ripening. Elsewhere I would expect that Labor Day would be closer to the end of season for tomatoes. Here at Pillow Road it is not quite peak season but there’s certainly a good mix of varieties to do things with.
I first made salsa because a lot of peppers are ripe. For me, one of the keys to salsa is getting the right texture, as well as taste. I use a food processor but instead of throwing everything in at once, I like to do peppers and onions together and then do the tomatoes separately. The tomatoes need only a few presses of the pulse button. Tomatillos are also ready so I made a green salsa as well.
I had enough tomatoes to can seven quarts of sauce. I use an Italian food mill to process the tomatoes. I filled a 12 quart pot with the raw sauce and I cook it for several hours to reduce it. (The raw sauce froths initially and you have to watch for that, and then it settles down to a simmering boil.) Boiling off water gives me a sauce that has more body to it.
I had never studied the ratio before: 12 quarts reducing down to seven. Seven is also the number of quart jars that fit in the pot I use for the boiling water bath. Things do get easier when you know the capacity of the related equipment you have.
I had maybe a quarter cup of sauce leftover after canning. I added some balsamic vinegar, salt and thyme to make a sauce for grilled pork chops.
The basil plants in the garden in midsummer are large — over three feet tall. It is time to pick them and make pesto. I made a double-batch last night. Our time-tested recipe comes from The Moosewood Cookbook, which practically opens to that page. Because I was also making plum jelly, I looked up pesto in another favorite old cookbook, Putting Foods By. It didn’t have a pesto recipe but the book offered a great tip. It suggested that a way to store fresh pesto was to spoon it on to a cookie sheet, and stick it into the freezer for about twenty minutes. Then wrap up the mounds of pesto individually and place them in a freezer bag. This gives us single or double portions of pesto, full of fresh summer basil and garlic, safely packed away for future meals.
The boysenberries are ripe and it looks like a great year for them. The boysenberry is a cross between a raspberry, blackberry and logan berry. The berries are usually large, bigger than an ordinary blackberry. While they turn black when ripe, they are much redder inside, like a raspberry. In my garden, they ripen at the same time as the raspberries in early June, a month or so before blackberries. They have a distinctive flavor as well as color.
The Boysenberry is a true California product, developed in Napa by Rudolph Boysen who was unsuccessful commercializing it and then Walter Knott brought it to Southern California and established it at Knott’s Berry Farm. Here’s the Rudolph Boysen story from Wikipedia:
Rudolph Boysen experimented with various berry crosses in Napa, California in the 1920s. In 1923, his hybrid successfully grew and bore fruit. However, unable to make his new berry a commercial success, Boysen abandoned his crop after breaking his back in an accident. When Boysen moved to Orange County, he brought with him what was described by the consulted Coolidge Rare Plant Nursery of Altedena as “the sensation berry of the 20th Century.” Years later, a fellow grower named Walter Knott heard about the berry and tracked down Boysen. Walter Knott was able to bring a few dying vines back to life at his farm, now known as Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. Knott named the fruit after Boysen.
I remember going to Knott’s Berry Farm maybe fifty years ago with my family.
I made boysenberry jam from the first batch of berries this season. I picked about four pounds of berries. I crushed them, strained about half of the batch to reduce the number of seeds that end up in the jam, recombined the juice with the other half of pulp, and then cooked the jam. I used a new pressure cooker to process the seven half-pint jars in just a couple of minutes time. Always a sticky process but satisfying to finish.
I pickled lemon cucumbers in turmeric and honey with cider vinegar. I also pickled Armenian cucumbers in cider vinegar and dill. Both are a little different than standard pickling cukes.
I also had dinner at Zazu restaurant this weekend. They had small pickled grapes, which were deliciously sweet and sour.
I got started on the end of summer tasks such as canning and pickling over Labor Day. I also baked a loaf of sourdough bread from a starter I’d been nursing for weeks. I was particularly pleased to get the first batch of tomatoes canned. The tomatoes are coming in late this year. I also made a batch of fresh chevre. Since I had the tomato sauce on the stove, I made a delicious tomato soup, adding fresh corn and chives.
It’s kind of a triple play for the kitchen — pickling, canning and baking.
I planted Concord grapes this year and it will take a couple of years before they become productive. I bought four pounds of Concord grapes and made jelly — because I couldn’t wait until next year. The flavor is so sweet and satisfying.
I processed the grapes in a food mill, the same one I’m using to process tomatoes and applesauce. Then I made the jam from the juice, which I let sit overnight. I followed the traditional recipe for liquid pectin and it worked. I’m always tempted to try making jelly without pectin or without pectin, but it seldom turns out right. I have found that a failed jelly can be turned into a nice glazed sauce for chicken or pork.
I put about eight half-pint jars of grape jelly in the pantry.
Some people have a certain fear of canning. Or it seems like a fussy process. My favorite reference on the subject is “Putting Food By.” Even this book could make one reticent to start canning — with all of its cautions and cautionary tales. Yet canning is quite simple and reliable. Like many things, you have to do enough of it to really get comfortable with it.
I’ve been canning lots of tomato sauce this fall. I use a food mill to process the tomatoes and then I cook down the sauce for four or five hours. I started filling a 12 qt. with tomato sauce pan and when I was finished cooking it, I canned 5 quarts total (in ten pint jars.) That’s reducing it by more than half. I can tell that the sauce has been reduced enough when the surface has texture instead of being smooth and glassy, as it is when it’s watery.
I also made another batch of tomatoes into a chili sauce, which is more like ketchup. I include cider vinegar and red peppers. This has a snappy taste but it is also smooth.
Finally, I made chutney on the weekend, combining apples and tomatoes as the main ingredients. It also requires cider vinegar plus some brown sugar and raisins. It’s quite pungent. I packed the chutney into a dozen 1/2 pint jars and still had enough left to fill four pint jars. (BTW, there are a few tools that are useful in canning: one is a wide-mouth funnel, good for ladling the sauce into the jars; the other is special grip for moving the hot jars into and out of the water bath.)
All of these were cooked in a boiling water bath and all of the jars sealed perfectly. I have a pressure canner and will use it on quart jars of tomato sauce.
Now to find room in the pantry for all these jars.