Enrolling in home canning 101

Well, here we are. I have a blog, “Keepin’ Up with the Joneses” (clever title, right?). It’s about my house mostly. More recently this summer, it’s been more about cooking and eating. Two of my favorite hobbies, that actually come before fixing up my house on my list of hobbies. Anyway, I thought why mix it all up? This is cyberspace, afterall, and a person can have as many blogs as they like. So, this is my blog about growing food, cooking it, eating it, and all things related.

All summer, I’ve been on an eating fresh/farmer’s market/local “kick.” Probably because fresh veggies have been so cheap and easy to come by. (And because this spring, I read Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, too. She made it sound like it wasn’t too hard.) But if I continue through the fall and winter, maybe it won’t be a “kick,” anymore. I’ve been trying to hang onto all these wonderful fresh fruits and veggies now that they aren’t as abundant, which is why I decided to really try my hand at canning.

I’m no stranger to canning. I remember when I was little, my mom canned what seemed like mountains of tomatoes, green beans, apples, you name it. She grew up in the country, and “Pawpaw” raised a huge garden even in the late years of his life (Seriously, why do country people feel the need to raise a garden that could feed an army?). So, canning with my mom is sort of nostaglic.

The other thing is, this year, I actually got enough from my garden to can some of it. This spring, I doubled the size of my vegetable garden (it went from 6 feet by 6 feet to about 10 by 6, so don’t get too excited) and really set about trying to grow some good stuff that I like. How did I fare? Not too shabby considering I’m a novice at this. I had 7 tomato plants that were planted too close together to bear much. I have 7 bell pepper plants that are still loaded with peppers. My cabbage did not come up. I got about 2 pounds of carrots, a handful each of beets and raddishes (below). My eggplant plants did not bear (again). I got 3 or 4 zucchinis and a few yellow squashes and a really pretty jack-o-lantern. The cucumbers were a different story. I had about a bazillion from the “picklers” I planted, AND I had a volunteer vine from the “Straight 8s” I planted last year. Last year, they were what I called “Fat 4s” but this year, we had so many cucumbers we didn’t know what to do with them. My mom and I canned about a Kroger bag’s worth of both sweet and dill pickles earlier this summer.

 

Last week, I made more pickles (ALL BY MYSELF!!) with my remaining cucumbers. Actually, I made Polish dill pickes by adding a clove of garlic and a hot pepper to each jar of cucumbers. And, last night, I made blackberry jam and pickled the remaining green tomatoes from my garden! Yay! I am getting the hang of this. Next weekend, I’m onto tomatoes and apples. I just hope no one gets botulism from my goods.

 

I found a good website for beginners, the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning with lots of “how to” and “why” information.

On a side note, I was cleaning out my fridge last night while canning and used the last three ripe tomatoes from my garden to make tomato sauce. They were about to go bad, and I figured tomato sauce would freeze well. It was delicious. Here’s the recipe:

Classic tomato sauce:
3 large tomatoes, diced (I remove some of the seeds)
2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
about 1/4 a large onion (or 1 small onion), diced small
2 Tb balsalmic vinegar
1/4 c. red wine
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 Tb softened butter blended to a paste with 1Tb flour
handful of chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil for about a minute in a skillet. Add the garlic and onion. (If you want diced bell peper, add it with the onion and garlic.) Cook for a few minutes until the onion softens a bit. Add tomatoes, red wine, balsalmic vinegar, salt, bay leaf and basil. Let simmer about 20 minutes until tomatoes begin to break down. Take off heat, add butter/flour paste, and stir to blend completely. Put back on heat and bring to a simmer for about 1 minute until thickened. Makes about 1 pint.

I think I’ll put mine over gnocchi. BTW, I have decided to do the Eat Local Challenge in October. This is the fifth year in a row for the project, and I am actually excited to be participating. I plan to post my progress here and on the Eat Local Challenge website. It really will be a challenge, but I’ve been thinking about it for a couple weeks, and I think I can actually do it, with some parameters I set myself. So, anyway, I’m saving the tomato sauce for October with the gnocchi I make from the potatoes from my father-in-law’s garden. Stay tuned!

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