Thursday, August 16, 2012

We CAN Do It!

An Experiment with Canning Fresh Produce

Robert and I were lucky enough to house sit for the Fosters again last week.  We did the standard water the plants, feed the dogs, get the mail and keep the place tidy.  It’s a nice break from the “micro urban” surroundings of Champaign, and we get to relax in the country.  I got some writing done, had quiet runs down the country roads, and as payment for our “work,” they let us take home about 3 pounds of banana peppers, 5 pounds of huge tomatoes, about 3 gallon size bags of blackberries, and 2 bell peppers. 

It’s wonderful having fresh from the garden produce.  Robert’s mom has a large garden she harvests for months, and growing up, my mother and grandmother both gardened a great deal, so we both are used to the privilege of growing and eating our own fruits and veggies.  Weeding the garden, no problem.  Picking the produce, no problem.  Processing the produce… new experience.  We decided we wanted to can some of the tomatoes, pickle some of the banana peppers, process the blackberries and make salsa.  Lots to do.  Lots to learn.

Here are some pictures from our adventure in the garden.

The weather for picking blackberries barefoot in the garden was perfect!  These were wild blackberry vines that had been domesticated and developed to grow without thorns, so no scratches!!  My fingers got stained purple from the juices, but it was so worth it.  Check out everything the garden yielded.  We took home all of that except for the low acid cherry tomatoes, because they love them and we were taking so much else. 

When we got back to our apartment (which felt like a shoebox after staying at their huge country home), we were too sleepy to start the canning process.  So, the next day, we researched online, got advice from both of our mothers, bought all of the necessary ingredients and went to work!

Let's begin the canning process, shall we?

First, rinse your tomatoes thoroughly.  Check out how huge these are!

Wash all of your jars, then dry.  We just used the dishwasher.

Core the tomatoes, then make a small "X" shaped slit on the bottom or core the bottom if there's too much stem like these big ones had. This will help with the peeling.

Rinse the rings with some hot, soapy water.

Simmer the jar lids in a little water so that they are sterile.

Bring a large pot halfway full of water to boil, then carefully, add a few tomatoes at a time.

After about 30 seconds, remove tomatoes from boiling water using a large spoon, and place them in an ice bath.  Once they are cool, gently remove the peels.

Loosely pack the peeled tomatoes into the jars.  Ladle the boiling tomato water into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch from the top of the jar.  Place the lid and ring on the jar and close "finger tight."  Place them in a pot of fresh boiling water full enough to completely submerge the jars.  Let them boil gently for 45 minutes.

Using a jar lifter (available at Walmart for a few dollars), pull the jars out of the water CAREFULLY, and set them on a folded dish towel to cool.  The lids will softly "pop" or "ping" when they are sealed.  It takes a while, so be patient.  We didn't even hear it.  We also let them cool overnight, then put them in our cupboard where they'll last for a couple of YEARS.  How awesome is that??

 Next, we pickled banana peppers. Just like Peter Piper, right? Oh, wait... hehe.

Just a few of our many, many peppers.

Cut off the stems.

Core the peppers.

Dump out the seeds.

Cut the peppers into rings.
Rinse your beautiful banana pepper rings!
This is the most important part! Preparing the pickling brine! 

 You will need:
2 pounds of banana peppers
7.5 cups of white vinegar
1.5 cups of water
6 teaspoons of canning and pickling salt
3 tablespoons of sugar
5 cloves of garlic

Bring the brine to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  

Pack the banana peppers into the jars.  Then, using a funnel, ladle the brine 
into the jars until they are 1/2 inch from the top.  Sound familiar? :)
Place the lids on the jars, submerge in water, then bring to a boil.  Boil for 15 minutes. 

Remove the jars using the jar lifter, and place them on a folded dishtowel to cool.  They also will softly "ping" when sealed.  You will then have beautiful jars of canned tomatoes and pickled peppers.  So excited!

Feel like you've learned a lot? So did we! But wait, there's more!

Member how I said we wanted to make salsa with the tomatoes?  Well, we did!  Here's what we used:

5 large, cored tomatoes
1/2 one large yellow onion
2 handfuls of sliced banana peppers
4 serano peppers, with stems cut off
1 bell pepper 
1/2 bunch of cilantro
2 garlic cloves
the juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

Boil the tomatoes, onion, and all of the peppers for 10 minutes.  While they boil, pull off all of the cilantro leaves and set aside.  Once the veggies are done boiling, put them all in a blender or food processor, along with the rest of the ingredients.  Squeeze lime juice onto the ingredients and pulse on a low setting until the are all chopped and thoroughly blended.  Break out the chips and margarita's and you're golden!!

These are all of the wonderful ingredients we used for our salsa.

Yeah, we made two jars, and we're already part way into the second jar and out of chips.  SO.  GOOD.

After finishing with all of the veggies, I still had a ton of blackberries to deal with!  So far, we had eaten some raw, stirred some into an drink, dropped a few in our cereal and mashed some on toast.  A few bags are in the freezer, but I had about 20 cups left in the fridge.  I processed them about 5 cups at a time, rinsing them carefully, and putting them in a large skillet.  I set the burner on medium heat and sprinkled 1/2 cup of Splenda on them, and mashed them gently as they cooked.  I drizzled a couple tablespoons of honey on them as well for a different dimension of sweetness.  After 5-7 minutes, I reduced the heat to low and allowed them to simmer.  After another few minutes of simmering and stirring, I added about 1.5 tbsp of cornstarch to thicken it up.  I turned off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes to thicken.  I spooned it into the jar, closed the lid and let it cool.  Now I have lots of blackberry filling ready for cobblers and topping ready for waffles or french toast.  I'm so stoked!  It's delicious!

*Note: This is not the same as jelly, jam, or preserves.  It must be refrigerated and used within a month or two.

Jar of ready to use blackberries!

I feel like such a little hippie earth-child picking, canning and eating all of these fresh fruits and veggies!  It's a lot of work, but so rewarding!  I highly recommend looking into gardening, or canning fresh produce you buy at a local farmer's market.  You can't imagine anything fresher.  And I feel more connected to history because this process has been used for centuries!  All you need is produce, a pot, water and a fire!  So, basically, if there's an apocalypse, we'll be fine.  ;)  Give it a try!

Learning new skills.  One day at a time.

1 comment:

  1. This is so great! I'm impressed with all your projects. Your dress is super cute, and very nice job adding cilantro to your salsa! Delish :)