First Frost: Pickled Tomatoes

There is always something exciting about the first frost.  While the leaves have been changing for a while, the oranges and reds have come to dominate the tree-lined avenues.  The air turned from the heavy humidity of summer to the dry crisp of autumn seemingly overnight (well, actually it was the other day – started out about 8,000% humidity in the morning and gave way to a dry, cool breeze by the afternoon).  It is, perhaps, my favorite time of year.  There is a sense of relief when the intense heat of summer finally desists.

For me, the first frost signifies the true beginning of autumn.  The summer plants, tomatoes, peppers, and annual herbs, all “bit it” last night, leaves curling and turning dark.  Unpicked fruits soon to pucker, soon to be chicken food.

It is also the harbinger of quieter times ahead – the end of fall sports, and all of the running around inherent in being the parent of two athletes, involved in two different sports, at two different schools.  I know many of you feel my pain!

So out I went this afternoon, to pick all of the green tomatoes. They are some of our favorite pickles. The small cherry or grape tomatoes I leave whole and the larger ones are cut into halves.

 

Lacto-Fermented Pickled Green Tomatoes

Pack jars with green tomatoes, keeping like varieties together. If you have some cherry tomatoes and some larger tomatoes that you are going to cut, put them in separate jars as whole fruits will last longer than cut fruits.

Per jar, add:

¼ t black pepper corns

¼ t dill seed

1 or 2 cloves of garlic

1 dried chili (optional)

Cover the tomatoes with brine in the proportion of

1 T salt

1 C water

Put lids on the jars and leave on the counter until bubbles start to form, usually 2 or 3 days. Once there are bubbles, move them to cold storage. These are NOT shelf stable because they have not been hot processed.

Ketchup: Fact, Fiction & Control

One of those staple ingredients that it is very difficult to replicate is commercial ketchup. My children, when they were small, all loved ketchup, the oldest especially, who would eat apples dipped in it. Nowadays, it has taken its place as a condiment for burgers, fries, or a breakfast favorite: egg, cheese, salt, pepper, ketchup on a Kaiser roll (which must be rolled off the tongue as one word). For years, I have been messing around with ketchup recipes in order to have a condiment I could be confident was not full of hidden ingredients. The problem was that none of them tasted like commercial ketchup, so the kids, being ketchup connoisseurs, would reject them. I am not going to say that I have solved the riddle, and it maybe that I just wore them down, but at the end of the post there are two recipes that work quite well.

Let’s face it – ketchup is tasty, kids love it because it is sweet (most commercial ketchup is 25% sweetener), and it is an ingredient in so many other recipes that it has become a “must have” in most American homes.

But have you ever read the ingredients list on a bottle of ketchup? It may include things like high fructose corn syrup, and the ubiquitous “natural flavor.” What is that? According to the FDA, the definition of natural flavor is “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22). For those of you who speak only English, and did not take Legal Obfuscation As A Second Language, it means anything extracted from a natural (not man-made) source counts as natural flavoring. Potentially, that includes things like autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed soy protein, which are both other names for MSG. If you want to know exactly what is in your food, avoid “natural flavor” as an ingredient.

The first year I made ketchup, I used the overabundance of cherry tomatoes that were growing all over my property. I used to look at volunteer plants as gifts and would let them grow and because I accidentally put rotted tomatoes in my compost pile, I had tomato plants everywhere that year. I cooked down 10 quarts of fresh cherry tomatoes to 3 quarts of “crushed tomatoes” that I cooked down further to ketchup consistency. The next year, I used paste tomatoes and that same 10 quarts cooked down to 6 quarts to get that same spaghetti sauce consistency. And every year, with different weather conditions, also affects the consistency. When you cook down the tomatoes, the idea is to cook off a majority of the water. They should be about the thickness of commercial crushed tomatoes.

Both of these recipes can up very well.

ketchupKetchup I

2 quarts of tomato puree

2 anchovy fillets

1 ½ t salt

2 T sugar

½ t mustard

½ t paprika

½ t onion power

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t ground pepper

¼ t ground allspice

2/3 C apple cider vinegar

 

  1. Run the tomatoes through the finest plate of a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Return the puree to the pot. Add anchovy fillets, salt, sugar, mustard, onion power, garlic powder, ground pepper, and allspice. Allow to simmer until it is very thick, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Keep a close eye on it after an hour, because this is very thick and will scorch.

 

  1. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Return to the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and run an immersion blender (wand or stick blender) through it.

 

Taste for sweet and salt and adjust to your liking.

 

Ketchup II (tastes more like commercial ketchup)

1 quart of tomato puree

1 T salt

1 t onion power

1/2 t garlic powder

1 C white vinegar

3/4 C evaporated cane juice

 

  1. Combine tomato, salt, onion powder, garlic and vinegar in a heavy bottom sauce pan and simmer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Keep a close eye on it because it will burn on the bottom.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and run an immersion blender (wand or stick blender) through it.

 

  1. Return to the heat. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. When it has reached a boil that cannot be stirred down, boil for a full minute. Add the sugar. Bring it back up to a boil that cannot be stirred down and boil for a full minute. Remove from heat.

 

Taste for sweet and salt and adjust to your liking.

If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, just use caution when blending hot foods. I recommend waiting for the ketchup to cool a bit before using a conventional blender.

 

On Canning Tomatoes

Repetitive tasks appear to be what we must avoid.  I remember a college professor telling a story about a writer who worked in a factory, twisting caps on toothpaste, or something equally mundane, day after day, week after week, month after month.  Selling poetry is no way to earn a living wage, so poets need to work outside of their own minds in order to be sure there isn’t too much month left at the end of the money.  This writer loved his job because the physical monotony of his work allowed his mind to be free to work on poems.  He kept a small spiral-bound notebook in his back pocket and pulled it out to write down ideas as they occurred to him.  Most of us could not get away with that! We have jobs that require incredible attention to what is in front of us.  I think this is part of why I enjoy canning, especially these next couple of weeks when the tomatoes are just going crazy, and all I seem to be doing is cooking, straining, and canning.  Canning tomatoes, and canning tomatoes, and canning tomatoes may seem mundane and monotonous, but the task provides the opportunity to be mentally active on one task, like what I am going to be teaching the first week of school, while I am being physically productive preserving tomatoes.

CSA Tomatoes
CSA Tomatoes

Another reason I love canning tomatoes is because, in a sense, this is where all of this food stuff began for me.  Canning tomatoes.  It brings me back to my beginning.  In a weird way, it’s like looking at pictures of my children when they were infants, a sort of loving nostalgia.  And to be quite frank, it isn’t very difficult and you don’t need any special equipment outside of proper canning jars and lids, and a pot that is large enough for the jars to stand upright and have enough water to cover.

Easiest procedure using the least amount of equipment:  Cut and core the tomatoes and put them in a pot.  Cook over a medium heat until they have reduced in volume by a little over 1/2.  So if you start out with 4 quarts of tomatoes, cook them down to 2 quarts.  Let them cool a little and puree in a blender, or run a stick blender through them.  While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the jars by boiling them in your boiling water bath, and prepare the lids according to package directions.  Ladle prepared tomatoes into jars, adding 1T lemon juice per pint, 2 T lemon juice per quart, affix the lids, and process (20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts).

Squeezo
Squeezo

If you want to remove the seeds and skins entirely, you will need to run the tomatoes through a sieve, food mill or Squeezo-type extractor.

Summer Herbs for Winter Use

Black Swallowtail caterpillars feasting on dill
Black Swallowtail caterpillars feasting on dill

A while back, I wrote a post about what to do when you have Basil in Abundance.  One of the suggestions is to make pesto and freeze it in ice-cube trays, pop out the cubes and store them in bags in the freezer for later use.  Not too long ago, I was watching TV and a commercial came on for a wonderful new product to help home cooks speed up dinner making by combining butter, olive oil, spices, and herbs.  We’ve been doing something similar for years: making what is called compound butters and freezing them in little balls or the cubes of ice-cube trays,  preserving herbs of summer for winter use.  While many of the green leafy herbs discolored (they turn dark), the flavor was excellent.  I am not going to say that they all tasted like we just picked them, because they didn’t, but they did taste more summery than dried herbs.  As mid-August approaches, many of the annual herbs are going begin their decline.  Before the summer herbs completely bite the dust, go cut them down and salvage as much as you can.  Here are some of our best combinations:

Cilantro: Make a “pesto” of cilantro leaves and stems, black pepper corns, garlic, toasted sesame oil, and salt to taste.  Freeze in ice-cube trays.

Dill: Snip the feathery dill leaves and mix with butter and salt.  Using a melon-baller, make little balls to freeze.

Oregano:  Pull the tiny leaves from the stems and add to ice-cube trays 1/2 filled with olive oil.  Freeze.

Tarragon:  Combine equal parts butter and olive oil in a bowl.  Add torn tarragon leaves and mix thoroughly.  Chill overnight.  Using a melon-baller, make little balls to freeze.

We also did some mixes, like cilantro and oregano, frozen in a neutral oil, like avocado, and oregano and basil frozen in olive oil.

Shout Out to a Friend: Beet Kvass

A friend of mine has many health issues, and because this was too much to send in a Facebook PM, and there may be others out there who might benefit from this, here’s some information on Lacto-fermented beets.  First of all, the humble beet packs a major nutritional wallop: it is an excellent source of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorous, vitamins A and C, niacin, and fiber.  It is high in folic acid and folate and has been proven to help prevent heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. When a vegetable is lacto-fermented, the nutritional value is increased because in addition to adding probiotics, the nutrients in the beet become more bioavailable, more easily and readily absorbed by the digestive system.

This is so incredibly easy, it is almost painful:

Coarsely chop 2 or 3 beets and place in a clean quart-sized jar.  Cover with a brine of 1 tablespoon of salt per pint of water .  Make sure the beets are covered by the brine.  If you need to add more liquid to cover, do so.  Be sure to use filtered water because any level of chlorine content will prevent fermentation.  Leave the jar on the counter for 2-5 days, looking for little bubbles forming in the liquid.  You must check beets everyday because they have a high sugar content and will mold in a heartbeat.  If you see any mold forming, skim it off.

Once you see the bubbles, strain the liquid to a clean jar and add more brine and begin the process again. Drinking some beet kvass everyday is really healthy.

After the second batch, I strain the beets, reserve the liquid for drinking and add the beets to some beef stock and call it borscht, even though my grandmother would have scoffed at it.