It’s harvest time and I spent most of the past two weeks as my Grandma, preserving tomatoes, peaches, peppers and cucumbers for the winter. I sometimes wonder why I do this, since only two of us live in the house. It must be genetic–my Mom did a lot of preserving, too.
I also defrosted the freezer, perhaps the biggest job of all, although this is something Grandma never did because she didn’t have one. Nether did Mom, except for a tiny ice-cube compartment in the old G.E. They both preserved fruits and vegetables in jars, using the traditional water bath method. Freezing things is way easier–and maybe even safer, although no one ever got botulism from Grandma’s peaches or beans.
I believe in the freezer, although I don’t use it for everything. I love Mark Bittman‘s cooked tomato jam; my version of his recipe, which appeared in The New York Times a couple of years ago, is below. It’s so good as a chutney–with samosas, pork tenderloin, on burgers, or as a sauce over a small block of cream cheese for a quick appetizer. I do freeze extra jars, however, if I think I’m not going to use all the recipe within a couple of weeks.
I no longer freeze peaches by themselves because they’re never the same as fresh ones; I make pies instead. It’s great to have a pie in the freezer ready to bake when you’re having company for dinner.
As for tomatoes, my favourite harvest, they can be preserved many ways. Right now I have bags and bags of skinned and quartered San Marzanos, which I buy by the bushel at the farmers’ market early in September, filling space in the freezer. It’s cheaper by far than buying cans of imported, Italian-grown San Marzanos, but of course the Canadian ones don’t match the flavour of those grown at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Freezing also less expensive than buying regular Canadian canned tomatoes
The latest way to preserve tomatoes is to cut them in half and roast them (350 degrees F. for a couple of hours), on a rimmed baking sheet covered with foil and then parchment paper, with oil, herbs like basil and thyme, and a pinch of sugar till they collapse and brown; freeze them in layers (divided with a fold of wax paper) in plastic containers. The taste is reminiscent of sundried tomatoes, with more depth of flavour. Add any herbs you want, plus slices of garlic. Yummy made into pasta sauce or soup or added to stew, on a burger, or as a side with an omelette.
I freeze sweet red peppers in layers, too, after charring off the skin. No herbs this time, just the peppers. They too can be turned into soup, or used any way you want.
Cooked, mashed (and drained) pie pumpkin–the small sweeter ones you see more and more in markets–freezes well too; store in one-cup containers so you have convenient amounts for pies and quick breads.
Garlic can be frozen too, although of course I store lots as whole heads in the coolest part of the basement. But sometimes it’s handy to have chopped cloves frozen in ice cubes, ready to drop into the soup as it’s cooking. Whole cloves freeze well in water as well. Don’t throw out the water when you thaw them–it’s redolent with garlic flavor.
I also make my sister-in -law Bonnie’s excellent refrigerator pickles, shown in the pic above. They’re laughably simple and simply delicious. I learned to make lots of them because a jar is a great hostess gift, and they keep for months in the beer fridge downstairs. I swear they get better as the weeks go by.
Here are a couple of recipes…hurry up, harvest time is slipping by!
1 1/2 lbs Roma tomatoes
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp. grated or finely chopped gingerroot
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tsp salt
1 jalapeno pepper, or cayenne pepper to taste.
Core and chop tomatoes. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is like a thick jam, about an hour and a half, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes. Cook longer for thicker jam with a more pronounced flavour.
Store in jars in fridge, or freeze. Jam keeps about 10 days in the fridge.
BONNIE’S REFRIGERATOR PICKLES
To be honest, I have to guess at the amount of cucumbers I buy. Sometimes I end up with too many and have to make more pickling liquid. Another time I had to go out and buy more cukes. Start with a four-litre basket and see what happens.
4 cups sugar
4 cups pickling vinegar
1/2 cup coarse pickling salt
1 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 tsp mustard seed
1 1/2 tsp celery seed
4-litre basket of medium-sized pickling cucumbers
2 onions, sliced medium thin
3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 bunch dill, with seed heads
Bring sugar, vinegar and salt to a boil. Add spices. Simmer for five minutes, then keep hot.
Slice cukes to desired thickness–1/4 inch works for me. The pickles keep their shape but nicely absorb the brine. Put cucumber slices in a large bowl or dutch oven, layering with onions and garlic and sprigs of dill.
Pour hot brine over cucumbers. Cover bowl or top dutch oven with lid. Cool. When pickles are cool, fill jars, making sure each has some dill, onion slices and garlic. Store in fridge.