Monday, August 30, 2010

Saving Some Summer

I’ve been canning again. The counter is littered with lids, rings, towels, and jars. 26 quarts of tomato sauce, 15 pints of pizza sauce, and 10 quarts of peach sauce are now crammed in the cupboard. Round two is on the horizon as hot weather is predicted this week and the next several thousand tomatoes are likely to ripen. I love canning, but it can consume my day, trash my kitchen, and inevitably includes at least one panic stricken moment when a pot boils over or I forget some crucial step. This weekend I only dumped half a jar of minced garlic in the pizza sauce (forgot I’d removed the shaker lid) and broke a quart jar trying to cram it in to a full canner of boiling water. Not bad, especially for me.

I love the Laura Ingalls feeling of seeing all the jars lined up on the shelf. Very satisfying. This year I was even interviewed for a canning article in Hobby Farm Magazine, so now I’m an expert (as far as they know). If you’ve never canned, give it a shot. It doesn’t take much to get started and the pay off is huge – self sufficiency, self confidence, and self satisfaction. You can do this. Plus, you’ll open a jar of tomato sauce in February and it will bring back summer (or at least that moment when the tomato sauce boiled over the edge and poured in to the jenn air vent).

This morning as I lined up the equipment to get going on the peaches, a guy who is helping us with a dry wall project walked through the kitchen. He remarked that so few people can anymore. He doesn’t know anyone who does except his Grandma. He laughed and said, “It’s like they made us all forget how to grow things and can, and now we’re all going organic but we have to pay other people big bucks to grow and can our food for us.” So true, but we don’t really have to pay other people for it. You can do it.

Here are two easy projects you can do if you have ten minutes or two hours. First the quick one. Did someone give you a pot of basil? Sure you might use a few leaves in a recipe here and there, maybe even whip up a batch of fresh basil, but what do you do with the rest? Before a frost threatens – cut down your basil and harvest the leaves (it won’t survive the winter, really it won’t). If you don’t have a basil plant, check out the farmers market for fresh basil or ask your friends and neighbors. Basil is so easy to grow many people have it, and this time of year it’s leggy and everyone’s over the novelty of it.

Take as many leaves as you can, wash them, and toss them in a food processor. Next add about 1/3 as much pine nuts as basil to the processor – fresh, toasted, whatever kind you like. Add about the same amount of fresh grated parmesan cheese. Then pour in a few tablespoons olive oil (best to start out conservative with the oil and add more if you need it to fix the consistency). Process your ingredients until you have pesto. Add more oil if needed. Save some to eat fresh, but with the rest, fill ice cube trays and freeze. After the pesto is frozen, pop the cubes out and fill a plastic bag. Keep these in your freezer to add to soups and sauces. You can even just melt one with some butter to pour over noodles or veggies in the dead of winter when you need some summer.

Peach Sauce is very simple to make and can. If you’re not buying my rant about the joy of canning, you can also freeze it. Head to a farm market and buy a half bushel of peach seconds. No sense in spending the money for firsts when you’re only going to peel and crush them anyway. You’ll spend less and usually get riper peaches to start with.

When you get your peaches home, leave them out to ripen. It’s much easier to make peach sauce with ripe peaches. Unripe ones are hard to peel. Before you start you’ll need four pots – one to boil water in to loosen the skins, one to cool the peaches, one to put the peel and pits in, and one to put the good peach meat in. If you’re canning, you’ll want to start your canner at the same time. I fill my canner with water and the jars I’m planning to use. You can read the basics by clicking here.

Step one is to boil water and keep it on a low boil on the stove. Working with a few peaches at a time, drop them in to the hot water for 30seconds to a minute. Then remove them and plunge them in to the cold water to cool them. I leave a bowl in the sink with cold water that I change periodically to keep the peaches clean.

Once the peaches have cooled, you can slip the skins off. Then take the peach and crush it with your hands, pulling out the pit. Repeat this process until you have a full pot of peaches ready to cook. You’ll want to squirt some lemon juice in the pot periodically to keep the peaches from turning brown. As you heat the peaches, use a potato masher to break up the peaches. I usually crush them pretty well with my hands as I go (great for working out your frustrations), but a potato masher helps make the whole mess a little more uniform. Add sugar if you’d like. I add about 1 cup for a big 7 quart pot. But you do it to your taste.

Heat the peaches, stirring frequently until you get a nice, quiet boil going. Then boil for about 10 minutes, again stirring frequently. (this is one of those pots that MUST be watched – it’s a mess when it boils over, trust me I know) Now they’re ready to go in the jars and be processed. If you’re not canning, you can put the lid on the pot and let the peach sauce cool before serving or freezing. Yum. My kids love peach sauce and we eat it all year long as a switch from applesauce. It goes great for a snack, served on the side with a pork meal or warmed up over ice cream.

Right about now the peaches are going fast – so get moving on this project. It’s almost fall. Time to collect the harvest. Time to fill the pantry and get ready for the winter that will be here in no time. Be sure to save some summer by canning, freezing, or preserving. If this winter is anything like the last, you’ll need it!

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