Tomatoes: Stage 52 and Beyond

Sink Full of Tomatoes

For the past few weeks, I have been very busy. The new semester started at the school I teach for, I have been working on my dissertation, I planted my Fall plants, and my tomatoes came into their harvest period! That means that my weekends have been filled with lesson-planning and tomato processing. I thought I would share some of this year’s wonderful tomato adventures with you.

Once or twice per week, I pick a double sink full of beautiful tomatoes. The first few weeks are always devoted to making my delicious Italian pasta sauce. My goal is to always can a minimum of 52 quarts, so my family can have enough to eat pasta dishes, once per week all year. So far, this year, I have 68 quarts finished and may make more to give as gifts and share wth family.

Once the pasta sauce reaches “Stage 52,” as I call it, I start canning other products that my family uses throughout the year. I usually make some soup and salsas, as well as a few other things; however, this year, I planted a couple of hybrid tomato types which are touted as offering much larger Roma-style tomatoes than the standard Roma. That equates to much more tomato pulp available to use.

Supersauce versus Roma

The tomatoes in the photo, from left to right, are Super Sauce, Roma, Super Sauce, and Big Mama. The Big Mama tomatoes turned out to be 2-3 times the size of the Romas, but this year due to a very rainy early season, they suffered from blossom end rot which ruined approximately half of the crop. The Super Sauce tomatoes, however, thrived, this year. As you can see, the typical Super Sauce can be 10-20 times the size of a typical Roma. I even had one weigh in at 3.5 pounds! I think that would be heavy weight class.

What does that mean for me? It means less work: fewer tomatoes to blanch and peel, fewer tomatoes to remove seeds and liquid from, and more meat available to work with per fruit. In addition, they taste really good.

I grew all of my Super Sauce tomato plants from seed. The tomatoes came ripened only two weeks after the 8-inch tall tomato plants that I bought at the store and planted. The seed-started plants were also stronger, more vigorous, and highly productive. It turns out that in the same amount of space, I was able to get much more usable tomato from Super Sauce than the other Roma-style plants that I planted. I will definitely be planting Super Sauce, again!

So what have I done with all of that tomato? So far I have 68 quarts of pasta sauce, 13 pints of stewed tomatoes, 10 pints of stewed tomatoes with green chilis, 15 pint and a half jars of honey barbeque sauce, 18 jars of 4-alarm super hot salsa, 15 jars of mild salsa, 8 jars of medium salsa, a dozen jars of tomato-basil soup, and two quarts of tomato soup base (for vegetable-beef soup). This weekend, I am making and canning hot sauces, chili, and dried Italian tomato slices.

I predict 3-4 more weeks of sauce-style tomato canning, since all of my plants have started producing another abundance of fruit. Did I say that none of this has anything to do with my table tomatoes? Yes, it is true: We get to eat sliced, diced, or wedged fresh tomatoes, every day, as well. Well, that’s anbother story!

mmmmm mmmmm mmmmm It’s all so yummy: Tomato goodness, all year long.

 

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Wascally Wabbits

I need some advice from the gardening gurus out there.

I have planted vining Blue lLke green beans. Those dog gone rabbits keep eating the leaves off, so the plants are not growing like they should be. I have sprayed the plants with soapy water, garlic spray, and cayenne pepper. I have also posted the plastic forks which have worked well with all of my other plants. For some reason, none of these things is working with my vining beans.

Does anyone have any other great ideas?    Garden Granny

harvest

This past week, I attended the International Leadership Association’s (ILA) Leadership Education Academy (LEA). It was an amazing event, a cross between a conference and a work development program, created specifically for leadership educators. I met some creative, inspiring leadership professors, people who teach leadership skills to youth and young adults, and leadership professionals who teach within their organizations. The staff, all leadership professors, was fantastic, and the content of knowledge we learned is extremely helpful. You know… It was information that I will use, and use often in my career. I was so inspired and leadership focused… until I got home.

As you can imagine, in Indiana, the most important time of the harvesting season starts mid-July and runs throughSeptember, or even October… and even sometimes into November, if the weather holds out! I made sure that I had harvested everything available the day before I left for Denver.

I was gone for five days, and I was shocked at what needed to be done to get the garden caught up. As you can see, I had a boatload of green beans and peppers, as well as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and blackberries to harvest. Before taking that photo, I gave away two dozen peppers, a dozen tomatoes, and six cucumbers, and I cooked down enough blackberries to freeze two gallons of juice. I also set a few dozen tomatoes on my ripening table that you don’t see here. It never seems like so much is ready when I work on it, every day, but skip a week, and WOW!

Now, it’s time to decide what to do with it all. Wednesday, I will be teaching a certification class in YOUTH Mental Health First Aid, so I will be able to serve some of the peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes with our lunch. I have a boatload of kale ready to be harvested, too, so I will also take some of it to the class. I have been pickling sweet yellow and banana peppers, lately, and I have enough for a year’s worth of my family’s use. I recently saw a recipe for sweet and hot peppers which I might try, though, and I will start canning my jalapeno peppers, since they started producing. The red Cayenne peppers will be dried and used by my son on all kinds of yummy (and spicy) foods.

The tomatoes that I grew from plants are ripening, nicely, but they are mostly table tomatoes. Since my family eats a lot of fresh tomatoes, we are using them up or giving them away to friends and family. My parents could eat fresh tomatoes, especially the german- or beefsteak-style tomatoes, at every meal, so yes, they get used up, quickly. I also like to make some of the extras into stewed tomatoes or salsas.

The tomatoes that I planted from seed are a week or so behind the other tomato plants, even though they were planted at least six weeks after the others. They are they types that I turn into pasta sauce, salsa, and soups. They have very little liquid and very few seeds, so they are easy to process and have lots of meaty flesh to use. The breeds I planted were a Roma-style called “Big Mama” and “Super Sauce.”

Super Sauce is, by far, my favorite saucing tomato, because it is huge (up to 2.5 pounds each) and tasty, which make less work for me. I have made tomato sauce that fits in one quart-sized jar with just two Super Sauce tomatoes! The ones in the garden are so big on some plants that the stems started bending over, because the plant couldn’t hold them up without help. As you can imagine, I have been outside tying the heavier stems up on the stakes I use to support the plants.

Well, I guess I need to stop gushing about this harvest, because I need to go can some green beans! I have a lot to do. Anyway.. I wish you Happy Harvesting and Preserving!

Pickle Your Red Cabbage

Red Cabbage

My mother, who emigrated from Germany, has always served some of the best tasting food in the world. One of my favorites is pickled red cabbage. There are several variations, but my favorite is a very simple brine-based type. I grow red cabbage for one reason and one reason only: to make this fabulous, beautiful dish.

Now, I have to tell you that I tried to adapt the recipe a few times in order to eliminate the sugar component, and it was disasterous! The fermenting of the cabbage requires the sugar, so don’t leave it out. Also, for all of you who lack patience: You must let your jars of red cabbage sit for around three months before it will be ready to eat. Otherwise, you will be eating cooked cabage and pure vinegar! Since I pick my cabbage in small batches, I use a small batch recipe.

2015 Garden 4

If you start canning now, you will have pickled red cabbage ready to serve or give in time for the holidays!!

2013 Garden 4

Pickled Red Cabbage

Step One: Wash, remove the core, then chop or shred one large head of red cabbage. I prefer a large chop, since I like to eat it with a fork as a side dish. Place it in a large bowl and mix in 1/8 cup of pickling or kosher salt. Rub the salt into the leaves of the cabbage. You will notice that the cabbage will start to release liquid. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it stand for about 24 hours.

Step Two: Put the cabbage into a colander. Rinse the cabbage with water, then let it drain. You want most of the liquid to be dried off, so you can either let it sit in the colander for an hour or two, or you can use paper towel to press out as much water as possible. When mostly dried, the cabbage is ready to be pickled.

Step Three: Pack the prepared cabbage into your canning jars. Depending upon the size of your cabbage, you will need 2-3 quart or 4-6 pint jars. I suggest using the size of jar which will best accommodate your family for one meal. At this point in life, that is the pint-sized jar for me. Prepare your jars, like you usually do, and while the jars are still hot, tightly pack them with the prepared cabbage. Add 1/4 t. mustard seeds to pint jars or 1/2 t. to quart jars. Make sure you leave at least an one of head space, and set aside while you make the pickling brine.

Step Four: To make a brine, you will cook some vinegar with some spices. Some of the spices will flavor the vinegar mixture, but you don’t want them to be in your jars, so you will put them in a piece of cheesecloth or spice ball which will be lowered into the brine while it cooks. Here is the recipe:

  • In a piece of cheesecloth combine the follow, then tie it with a piece of string:
    • 1 T. whole Cloves
    • 1 T. Peppercorns
    • 1T. whole Allspice
    • 1/4 t. Mace
    • 1 T. Celery Seeds
  • Cook 4 cups of white vinegar and and 1/2 c. brown sugar on medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, completely. Add the spice-filled cheesecloth and bring the mixture back up to a boil. Boil for about 4 minutes, then turn off the heat. Remove the spice bag. What is left is your brine!

Step Five: Pour your brine into each jar, remove air bubbles by sliding a flat knife down the sides, and adjust the brine until your brine barely covers the cabbage and is one inch from the rim of the jar. Cover the jars with your lids and rings, and you are ready to can!

Step Six: This is important: DO NOT PRESSURE CAN! Pressure canning your cabbage could results in mushy, discolored cabbage which your family might disown you for. I suggest using a water bath method. It’s quick and easy. Just put your jars into the prepared canner of hot water, and add boiling water to ensure that each jar is covered by about three inches of water. Cover the pot. Turn the heat on high. When the water comes to a boil, start timing: 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

Step Seven: Remove the jars from the canner. Put them on a towel-covered surface and let them cool without further touching them. As the jars cool, a vacuum will occur, and you will hear the lids ping and pop to indicate that they have properly sealed (It is like music to the ears of people who preserve their own food). When cool, place the jars in a cool, dry, somewhat dark place for a few months to let the cabbage ferment into a scrumptious, beautiful product. YUM! Happy Canning!

 

 

 

 

Ketchup & Fries Plant Update

I thought you might like to see the progress our ketchup and fries plant is making. The plant is about double the size it was when I showed it to you, previously. It’sbeautiful and healthy, filled with flowers and some cherry-sized tomatoes.

DSC_0113

We won’t be looking at the roots for potatoes until Autumn, but I can tell you that the tomatoes that I have eaten from this plant, so far, are very tasty and acidic. I can’t wait to share if we actually get potatoes or not, this Fall! Stay tuned!

An Eggplant Gift from Janet

Janet's eggplant and tomato

I just wanted to share the beautiful gift I received from my friend, Janet, today. During a conversation, last week, I mentioned that Japanese beetles were nipping off the flowers on my eggplant, so the flowers were falling to the ground instead of producing fruit. Janet suggested that I apply a soap wash to the plants to deter the hungry little buggers, and it seems to have worked. Today, Janet paid me a visit and brought me a little gift: her first eggplant of the year and a tomato called a Granny Smith which grows to a beautiful shade of green. Thank you for your generosity, Janet!

first eggplant

You can see the damage caused by the Japanese beetles on the leaves of this plant. Since spraying the plant with the soap wash and sprinkling some cayenne papper on the ground around the plant, the insects have fled, and I now have my first eggplant fruit on the stalk! Since I want to avoid using insecticides, I am happy that the soap wash worked!

The Story Inn Garden

Story Inn 5

Out in the middle of nowhere along old State Road 135 in Nashville, Indiana… if you don’t blink your eyes for more than a second… you will find the tiny town of Story, a lovingly restored town of maybe a dozen buildings. The main building, the old general store, has been converted into a fantastic restaurant with bed-and-breakfast style accommodations in its four upper rooms. most of the rest of the buildings in town are also restored in the B&B style. This is one of my favorite places on earth for one reason: the garden at the Story Inn is one of the most wonderful working kitchen gardens I have ever been in.

The trip to the Story Inn is one of the most inconvenient, anguishing road trips I have been on. It doesn’t help that it already takes me two hours to drive from Tipton County to the turn-off on State Road 46. It’s the rest of the trip that causes me anxiety. I turn south onto 135 and drive for what seems like… well… forever… before I finally get to Story. It is a jaunt, but it isn’t really that bad. My anxiety sets in when I drive for so long that I start thinking that I may have blinked and passed the town right up! I have been making the trip, each year, since 2008, and I have had that same feeling, each and every time. If you like good food and love great gardens, though, it is well worth the trip.

Story Inn 7

The Story Inn has one of the best kitchen gardens that I have been in. The owners grow some vegetables, salad greens, and herbs which can be used in the kitchen, and they built a fantastic outdoor stone oven and grill which, if the weather is good, you just might be able to talk the chef into using to grill your scrumptious steaks and seafood. Better yet, they have outdoor seating in the garden, and occasional live entertainment from the back porch. Imagine my joy at being able to eat one of the best meals prepared in the state of Indiana in my favorite kitchen garden listening to live music on a warm summer night.

Story Inn 1

There are a lot of interesting stories about the Story Inn, as well. One of them is about a ghost called, The Blue Lady, which frequents one of the upper rooms at the Story Inn. Paranormal investigators have investigated, and some say there is ample evidence that she is more than a figment of the imagination. I always laugh when I hear the waiters talk about how the ghost sightings quadrupled after the management started leaving complimentary bottles of wine in the guest rooms. Could this be the case of a wine-loving ghost? Could it be that the wine makes people see things that may not be there? Whatever the case, Guests who have visited the Story Inn say that The Blue Lady has been nothing but welcoming and accommodating when they have seen her. I am happy to say that I have not seen her in the garden during any of my visits!

Yes, my friends, the long trip to the boondocks, through a state park and around a national forest, on the old road which used to be the dirt path to Kentucky during the days of pioneers, to a town, which all but died and was resurrected by self-proclaimed hippies and is inhabited by ghosts, which you might miss if you blink on the way there, is one of the best, most worthwhile, ventures to make in Indiana. If you love great food or just a great garden, you will love the Story Inn. Just sayin’