Preparing for Winter

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

There's no getting around it now. That "smell" of fall is in the air. You know that "smell," don't you? Cold weather in the mornings? The sun going down at 7:30 PM instead of the normal 9 PM? The urge to switch on the fireplace? Cats that no longer want to race around outside, and prefer the company of a warm lap instead?

It can mean only one thing. Summer is drawing to a close.

And the end is coming a bit faster this year than it did last year, much to my chagrin. Thanks to warmer than average temperatures, I nursed heirloom tomato plants well into December. That won't be happening this year. In fact, a three day windstorm pretty much tore everything into shreds.

As I gazed upon the damage caused by the wind last week, it suddenly hit me. I had a massive harvest still on the vine. Our choices were few. We could either gather up what we had left and just give it away to family, friends or neighbors, or we could save it for winter-time use.

We chose the second option.

Venus and I are first time canners. But we're getting better with every project. We put up more than three dozen quarts of garlic-dill pickles this summer using cucumbers from the garden. After one particularly large harvest in August, we canned the now famous "Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa."

But this latest project was to save what heirloom tomatoes we could for winter-time use. In past years we had simply taken tomatoes from the vine, washed them, put them in baggies and threw them into the freezer. And that worked well enough. But it also took up a lot of room. And frozen tomato skins get really TOUGH when defrosted. Plus, they're impossible to remove at that point.

So -- by using a new canning recipe -- Venus and I canned about 14 pints of heirloom tomatoes this past weekend. It wasn't easy. The windstorm had caused absolute carnage in the backyard garden -- and not with just the plants. Many ripe tomatoes split under the pressure, or were blown to the ground, bruising them beyond use or repair. We would up dumping about a third of the crop.

Plus, some of these heirlooms just do not have the acid content that some canning types do. And acid content is very important in the canning process. If your pH levels are off, you could get into a bit of trouble by breaking into one of these jars during the dead of winter. To combat that problem, Venus and I not only added two and one-half tablespoons of lemon juice to each jar, the remaining liquid was a mix of water and white vinegar.

It might have been overkill, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

14 pints of heirloom tomatoes won't keep us going all winter. We can use that much in a month. But there are still a lot of green tomatoes on the vine, and here's hoping for a change in the weather and a return of somewhat warmer temps during the latter part of October and early November.