Thursday, July 30, 2009

Adventures In Canning - Part 2

The corn is almost ready, but in the meantime I have plenty of other goodies to pick, wash, cook and/or freeze. The guys love pickled banana peppers and jalapenos (awesome on pizza) so I've already got the first batch of those done. We let our first cutting of broccoli wait a day or two longer than we should have, so it was a little past it's time (now we know better), but I have a freezer full of green peppers.

All the tomato plants (we have 26) are loaded, but they're all still green. Hubby asked me about making some relish and after some research I chose a recipe for a green tomato relish, which he thought sounded wonderful (eeeww). We certainly have plenty of tomatoes, and I figured why not use some of them now since there's no way we'd be able to eat them all when they start turning red (or pink actually).

So the plan was laid for green tomato relish.... my recipe called for 24 large tomatoes so I decided to half it (6 pints instead of 12 for the full recipe). A trip to the store yielded a fresh supply of jars and lids, necessary spices (which I had to go to two stores for), and the other few ingredients I needed. While in the first store, I noticed the pretty new pressure canners on the shelf. I've never owned a pressure canner (or pressure cooker) and I really, really wanted one. Do not ask me why I wanted one.... I knew very little about pressure canning veggies, but I did know that it was the only safe way to home preserve vegetables due to their low acid content. I was only really familiar with the boiling water method of canning, and it had been a while since I'd done that. After a whiny moment and lots of made-up reasons why I really needed one, Tommy finally gave in and loaded the shiny new pressure canner in the cart (yay!). I think the part about every "REAL farmer's wife needs a pressure canner" got him. He loves it when I call him my REAL farmer :-)

We got up early this morning and had a yummy breakfast of country ham and home-made biscuits (courtesy of my in-laws who sent them home with us last night). Off to the garden before Tommy had to clock in. It rained again last night so the garden was muddy. Muddy garden=muddy produce. I did not allow that to dampen my spirits. I would simply have to spend a little more time washing everything, no biggie. Tommy did all the picking in the mud and loaded me up with plenty of green tomatoes and peppers. On the way home I psyched myself up for the exciting process of making relish with stuff from our garden and just couldn't wait to get started. I had everything laid out and orderly - kitchen all organized neatly - and sipped on my coffee while the sink filled with cool water. I almost felt like a prairie wife, getting ready to preserve her harvest so her family wouldn't starve over the winter. Well, at least they would have relish.

The process of getting everything washed and laid out on clean towels to dry was just so quick and simple. I was elated at how pretty all those veggies looked, and in my awe, completely forgot to take a picture. Later I will wish I'd taken a picture...

Cutting board and food processor ready.... the mess, large mess begins. I chose to chop the onions first. I spent the rest of the time chopping veggies completely blind. What was I thinking? I finally managed to finish the chopping only to find that the large mixing bowl I was putting everything in was running over (just not large enough). I began to wonder if it would fit in my large (very large), cheesecloth lined colander for the required drain time of 1 hour. No way was it supposed to fit, but I MADE it fit by mounding it up on itself - hopefully it will drain enough this way.... then I realized that if this mess of chopped veggies wouldn't fit into my extra large colander, no way would it fit into my largest stockpot. Now mind you my largest pot isn't huge, but I never dreamed it would be too small for a HALF-recipe of this relish. It was too small.

Quick trip to Kroger to grab another pot - I think I remember seeing them there and it's the closest store to my house. Get there to find the prettiest yellow enamel stockpots. Buy one. Go home THEN read the directions on the pot. DO NOT USE ON GLASS TOP STOVES. Great. I have a glass top stove. Wonder WHY I can't use this pot on a glass top stove? I AM using this pot on a glass top stove. Still 20 minutes left on the drain time so I grab a diet coke and look at the clock again. What? After 11 am? No way is at almost noon already?

Geez, I need to get going here. I thought I'd be done already. I measure the remaining ingredients into the stockpot and very carefully unmound the chopped veggies into the pot. It all fit, but with no room to spare. I sure hope I have a spoon large enough.... YES, a long wooden spoon will be perfect. Add heat slowly so the sugar won't burn and stir constantly.... and then I learn why these pots are not great for glass top stoves. It's a good thing I did not walk away for even a second, because the slightly raised rim around the bottom of the pot was the only part of the pot coming in contact with the stove. It took a while for the heat to distribute throughout the pot and if I'd not been paying very close attention - - well, the entire batch would have been quickly burned. Whew! Disaster averted!

I had several minutes to stand on one place (stirring and stirring) and glance around my kitchen. Oh my goodness! What happened in here! No one warned me how messy canning is. Those of you who know me well are laughing at this point. I have anxiety when my kitchen is out of order. I am one of those who has all the dishes washed BEFORE the last person finishes eating. I don't mind small messes, but I am on top of those messes and clean them before other messes are made. I love to keep a very clean and efficient kitchen. It just makes me feel good. Anyway, I now know this is a notion you must abandon while canning. And I thought my kitchen was a mess at this point, but it got worse, way worse.

Once all the ingredients were hot and blended, I took a breath of relaxation while I finished stirring for the required 5 minutes of simmer time. It's looking pretty and smelling good.... I might make it through this after all. Jars are sterile and being kept hot in the oven (that was a cool tip I read somewhere). When it's time, I gently lift the baking sheet containing my 8 pint jars (I put in 2 extra- just in case) and set them on the counter. So far, so good. Grab the canning funnel and drop it in the first jar. Oh crap. I forgot to boil my lids. Another pan, lids in, scoot stuff around on stove to make room for one more pan (the pressure canner is already on another burner getting hot - and it's a rather large vessel). Tap, tap, tap my foot on the floor.... waiting for the lid water to boil. Hey, the canner water is now starting to boil, so I will just drop the lids in there! They aren't supposed to be in boiling water for very long anyway.... so I pour the lids into the big pot (canner). Oh great. Now I need something to fish them out. Find a large spoon.... don't forget to stir the relish which is still on the heat.... where is a spoon?.... grab a little tongs.... they are small tongs, but I reach in after the first lid and they are deep in the water... fingers and all go in.... drop the tongs in the water while screaming and doing the burned finger dance. Grab more tongs AND a spoon and finally manage to get one lid out. Where do I put the lid? Darn, the jars aren't filled yet, but these lids can't stay in the boiling water. Grab the small pan back from the drainer and dunk it into the canner to half fill with water. Fish the lids out, throw them in the pan and squeeze it onto the stove somewhere. Got to fill these jars now... directions say all the way to the top... make sure all the air is out.... okay right....

All eight jars are full - and there's relish left - enough for probably three more jars. Okay, what now? Eight jars into the canner for their boiling water bath - that's all that will fit - 30 minutes. Get three more jars ready for the rest of this relish. I am laughing OUT LOUD by now.... and my kitchen is covered in sticky relish juice!

I have a new respect for grandmothers and mothers everywhere who do this on a regular basis. I've called and reminded my husband about the Aunt Bee's Pickles (Andy Griffin) episode and warned him that he needs to tell me how wonderful this relish is even if he hates it. And we don't even want to talk about how much each pint actually cost!

FINALLY! 11 pints of relish (see pic above) made by ME, from produce raised by my husband, with my new pressure canner and stock pot. It is well after 2 pm and I haven't even started cleaning the kitchen, but the jars sure do look pretty!

Adventures In Canning - Part 1

Well, it started so innocently.... with a "little garden" that turned into a 3/4 acre playground for my husband and step-son. Yes, I said 3/4 acre. Over one-half is planted in sweet corn, and the remainder in tomatoes, peppers (green, red, banana, jalapenos), butter beans, broccoli, popcorn (yes, popcorn), cantaloupe, watermelon and a few other things I can't think of at the moment.

You see, I am married to a fella who was raised on a farm. His family sold the farm several years ago (and moved to town). I am learning that just because you were raised on a farm, and likely know everything possible about steers (and other cattle types), does not mean you are a gardner. Hubby's planting and growing experience relates strictly to feed corn, soybeans, and tobacco (all of which he grew and harvested for many years). My super amazing mother-in-law however DOES know a lot about gardening (and canning), so when I took a notion to learn how to preserve the goodies from our garden, she's who I went to first for information.

Back to the garden... Tommy (that's my husband) and Taylor (that's my step-son) decided to put to good use a little piece of land I bought about five years ago (a few months before we got married). Right outside the city limits, and next door to the UPS building my husband reports to for work every morning, this four-and-a-half acre lot was just sitting there. We had ideas for this property, but just never had the free time to develop those ideas. One day this spring, and after very little discussion, Tommy and Taylor decided to plant a little patch of sweet corn for Taylor to sell to raise some gas money - he just turned 16 this summer and would be driving soon. My response was "hey, go for it", not thinking at all what MY responsibilities would be.

Remember I said earlier that hubby WAS a farmer? This means that all the ground/dirt working equipment (those attachments that you pull behind the tractor) got sold at the same time the farm did. Well, the ground had to be broken and worked-up properly if we were going to plant a garden, so all that was hired done. I knew at this point there would likely never be a profit in this sweet corn, and that I should just pull out the checkbook and write Taylor a check for a few months worth of gas and be done with it. But nooooo, hubby was like a kid at Christmas - - already telling everyone about his "garden". When the hired guy came to break the garden and disk it, Tommy gave him free reign over the size, basically telling him "give me a couple hundred dollars worth of ground-breaking". Well, that's not really what he said, but it might as well have been.

The next issue that cropped up was that of the actual PLANTING of corn. The garden ended up being about 3/4 acre (how do I know? My daddy-in-law measured it!). It was decided how many varieties of corn to plant (three), and about how many rows to plant as well. Since there was no tractor-with-planter combo at our disposal , and I really couldn't see paying someone to come plant the corn, we decided to buy a little push-behind planter that we could use for a variety of seeds in case we ever wanted to do a garden again. I spent an entire day trying to find one of these little planters, only to be told by every store I called, "we just sold our last one". This is just one of the reasons you don't want to plant a late garden - stores DO NOT restock garden supplies after a certain date in the summer. That date will always be one day after YOU need something.

After exhausting all local options, I phoned hubby (who happens to be the UPS delivery man for a county 40 miles from where we live) and told him to look in some of the hardware and farm supply stores where he delivers. As luck has it, he found one at a Southern States (they actually had two of them left) and brought it home that day. $100 and change for a miniature wheel barrow with a hole in the bottom! Geez! This garden has cost a few hundred already and we don't even have anything planted!

Next on the list:

Buy corn seed (three varieties, random quantities) - CHECK!

Buy some chemical to control johnson grass - CHECK!

Buy some fertilizer - CHECK!

Plant the corn (keeping track of where you plant what) using the little wheel barrow - CHECK!

Decide what else to plant.... this is where it really gets interesting.
A few days later Tommy called to tell me he was bringing me a surprise home! Wow! A surprise for me? Oh goody, goody!

Guess what MY surprise was? Many little plastic containers and trays of plants.... peppers, broccoli, watermelon.... you get the picture. And guess what else? I get to help plant them! That night of course, because the plants can't wait (put dinner in the freezer and we'll grab a burger on the way to the garden). There wasn't a big selection left at the hardware store so he got what he could manage to get home in his UPS truck without crushing everything to bits. Did I mention the cons to planting a late garden?

Plant the rest of the garden - CHECK!

Rain please - CHECK!

More rain - CHECK!

And more - CHECK!

It's been a wet summer and the garden has thrived. Actually, I too have enjoyed the rain we've had and really loved the less than 90 degree days in July for a change. The hottest days were those when the garden needed attention, or the yard needed mowing. Since I am between jobs right now I am the designated lawn mower this summer (push-mowing my yard is one of the best workouts I do). Let's just say I've been very "earthy" the last few months. And I will admit that I like it :-)
More to come....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Time For A Blog?

At an interesting crossroad in life....

Middle aged mom, wife (and oh yes, granny too) who also happens to be a temporarily unemployed nurse (have you ever heard of such?)

Thinking a blog might be fun to try... what a neat place to ramble and show off my family and fabric art (quilts, glorious quilts).

So come back soon....