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Cooking up a good harvest

This month we'll take a down-to-earth look at preserving your fruits and vegetables by freezing, canning and dehydrating.  Also a few simple recipes for our local cooks to use up their garden bounty.

CORN:  The Mayans worshipped the corn God in their fields.  There are a few rules to freezing and canning your corn.  First of all, frozen corn is not as sweet or crisp as fresh corn.  You should only freeze perfect ears of corn.  Freeze small ears whole.  Freeze the kernels only of larger corn.  Blanch corn four minutes.  Chill in ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain.  Wrap in foil or freezer paper.  Freeze kernels in empty margarine tubs for meal size.  Do not add salt to the blanching water as it hardens the kernels.  Corn must be canned in a pressure cooker.  Pints for 55 minutes and quarts for 85 minutes under 10 pound pressure.  Do not try to water bath.

TOMATOES:  Tomatoes are native to Peru.  Thomas Jefferson raised tomatoes when many people considered them poisonous. You should raise tomatoes that are resistant to verticillum wilt and fusarium wilt.  Seed and plants are marked V-F resistant.  Do not overheat water.  Keep ripe tomatoes picked to give you a higher yield.  The easiest method of preserving the tomatoes is to freeze them whole.  When your determinate tomato plant produces 10 pounds of ripe tomatoes at one time, don't panic!

Frozen tomatoes can be used the same as canned tomatoes.  You can put fresh whole tomatoes in plastic bags whole and peel them when you take them out to use.  they can't be used as you would fresh ones in a salad.  They will be soft when defrosted, but can be used for cooking and sauces.  To save space in your freezer, make tomatoes sauce to  freeze.  Cut them in half and core.  You don't have to peel them using them this way. Just put them in a blender or food processor and package the sauce in freezer cartons.  Very ripe tomatoes make the best sauce.  Try this:

  • 2 large chopped onions, sauté until golden in 1/3 cup olive oil.  

  • 5 pints of blended tomatoes

  • 1 or 2 cups of red wine

  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoons of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper

  • 3 teaspoons dried basil

  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

  • cook on low to thicken.

In 1960 there was a problem with home canned tomatoes spoiling. The cause was tomatoes being grown with low acid content.  The tomatoes were developed for table use.  The solution was to add one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to each quart.  You may see recipes today with that addition.  

We had reports from some of our Valley gardeners who had ripe tomatoes by the Fourth of July.  Tom Laranjo, Kris Klibo, Ed Kushman, Sally Jones and Rosemary Krug all reported in.  I send my thanks to Rosemary for sharing her precious first tomatoes with me.  I'm sure there were many others who have a green thumb to grow early tomatoes.  You all get an 'atta boy from Farmer Ed.

For the Danish community:  Danish Red Cabbage

  • 1 head of red cabbage, shredded

  • 1/4 pound butter

  • 1 10-ounce jar of red currant jelly

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

  • Salt to taste.

  • Mix all but vinegar and salt in saucepan and cook over very low heat about 40 minutes.  Add vinegar and salt just before serving.

For the Hungarian community:  Hungarian Meatball Soup

  • 6 cups water

  • 2 cups tomatoes

  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

  • 6 chopped green onion, 3 sliced carrots,  2 or 3 sliced celery stalks

  • 2 teaspoons salt, ground peppercorns

  • combine and simmer 30 minutes.

  • Prepare meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef

  • 1 cup uncooked rice

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 cup flour

  • Combine meatball mixture and dredge in the 1/4 cup flour and brown in salad oil.  Add to soup and simmer 20 minutes.  This is a soup with an old country flavor.

Fermented Dill Pickles.  My Grandfather's recipe is over 100 years old.  He made his in a 20-gallon oak barrel.  This is a smaller version:

  • 16 pounds of medium pickles (or green tomatoes or pickling cucumbers)

  • 3/4 cup mixed pickling spices

  • Fresh dill

  • 2 cups salt

  • 2 gallons water

  • 2 grape leaves

  • Wash and drain vegetables.  Place half the pickling spices and a good layer of dill in a five-gallon crock or five-gallon plastic food-quality bucket can be used.  Fill the crock with pickles (cucumbers) or vegetables to within four (4) inches of the top.  dissolve the salt in the water and pour over pickles.  Add remaining spices and layer of dill over the top and add grape leaves.  The grape leaves make a crisper pickle.   Cover with a large plate that just fits within the top of the crock and weigh it down.  (You can use a well washed stone)  Be sure all vegetables are submerged at all times.  Keep at room temperature for two to four weeks, removing any scum that forms each day.

  • The pickles are ready to use when they are clear if cut and no white shows inside.  The addition of whey or buttermilk speeds  the process.  For garlic dills, add 1/2 pound of peeled garlic cloves to the curing crock.  Or try adding cloves, bay leaves or 1/2 pound of horseradish.  My grandparents were great cooks from Hungary.

What does your garden vegetable mean to you and your family in dollars and cents?  Besides the personal enjoyment and good food, we save money.  After taxes, food is the next largest category on which we spend our money.  If you can set aside 200 square feet for your garden, you can produce $1,000. worth of vegetables a year.

Also it is a lot easier to take your kids into your garden than it is to take them to the supermarket.  A lot less expensive, too.  Going to the store involves driving, walking, parking, shopping ... all taking lots of time and money.  Gathering food in your garden saves you time for yourself, your garden and other activities.  Better nutrition from fresh vegetables can reduce the risk of everything from cancer to the common cold.

While working with your plants, you can lower your blood pressure.  Talking to them also does wonders.  They don't care who you are or what you say.  They charge nothing for daily consultations.  If life means a lot to you, then your garden is making you millions.