The Relic

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Plain Old Tomato Paste (YAWN)
The item pictured to your immediate right no longer serves any useful purpose. It is covered with dust. It sits in a kitchen cupboard accomplishing nothing at all other than blocking our path from other useful food items. It is as useful as that old television set gathering dust in your garage. If this was the "Utlimate Computer" episode from original Star Trek series fame, the name of this can would be "Captain Dunsel."

It short, it is the "most uninteresting can in the world."

So why keep it around then? That's a good question! Perhaps it serves as a reminder of a different time in our lives.  Perhaps we might need this in a pinch one day in the near future, however I doubt that very much. It has as much use now as that old jar of Herdez brand salsa, which has since been washed out and now contains syrup for pancakes (recycling! It works!).

Recent Garden Harvest-Salsa Anyone?
This is the State of Bird -- 2012. Venus and I haven't purchased a jar of anything containing a tomato product in God-knows-how-long. Purchases of tomato sauce, tomato paste, whole tomatoes, cut up tomatoes, tomatoes with herbs, tomatoes-infused-with-garlic, hot salsa, medium salsa, etc. haven't been on a Bird shopping list for years. This is what it means to garden. Call us snobs, and perhaps we are, but why buy any of these things when we can create an even better product and bottle it up at home?

Snobs we are. Because that's what we do. And, perhaps, it might be the reason why I haven't been blogging much as of late. August means harvest season in the Bird Back 40 -- and what a whopper of a harvest it's been. Although it's petered off somewhat, the garden will continue to produce as long as weather permits. And if the good Lord gives us the kind of weather that pays off in another 15 pint jars of lip smacking Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa, Herb-infused tomato sauce or additional quarts of whole heirloom tomatoes -- I won't complain.

Herbed Picante Tomato Sauce
Our latest project containing garden grown goodies is pictured upper left. Harvests like these were the norm during the months of July and August. And with each and every harvest of peppers, tomatoes, herbs, etc -- a tasty canning project awaited. Would it be fresh cut up tomatoes with herbs and peppers? Pickled peppers perhaps? Sliced and pickled Mucho Nacho Jalapeno peppers? It really depended upon what the garden gave us on that particular harvest day.

If there's one other hard lesson I've learned about home-canning efforts, it's this. One does not make an appointment with the garden to tackle a canning project. The garden doesn't make an appointment with you, either (next Sunday good with you? OK!). The vegetable garden tells you when it's ready. Best be prepared. Miss a day? Miss a lot. When the garden is ready, you're ready. Those fifty ripe tomatoes aren't going to sit around and wait for you forever and a day.

Whole Tomato Canning Project-Summer 2012
Although we're far short from calling ourselves master canners -- or master anything for that matter -- we've done this enough times to know exactly what kind of tools we'll need and what kind of jobs must be accomplished. Putting together a home-canned salsa -- for example -- is far more difficult than a project of whole tomatoes. A simple batch of Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa is far from simple, and requires multiple steps from roasting to peeling to chopping to processing.

Exact measurements are an absolute must for projects like these. If you're not following time-tested canning recipes to the letter, or pushing the envelope a bit, you're risking a trip to your local hospital and a stomach-pump procedure. Although a procedure like this has never been performed on yours truly, it doesn't exactly sound like a fun way to spend a Saturday night!

A Caitlin Contreras Original
Naming rights also come into play when you're tackling a project like this. Who wants to give a home-canned project a name like "tomato sauce" or just plain ol' "salsa." Why confine yourself to terms like "medium" and "hot" on the spicy scale? Why not "volcanic" instead? Or -- hold a Facebook naming contest as we recently did for our last batch of salsa. Although Dan Vierra (former Sacramento Bee garden editor and writer) was on his game with suggestions like "Cremation Mix," it was Caitlin Contreras who knocked it out of the park with her suggestion of "Almost-As-Hot-As-Venus."

The wife that is Venus approved. Caitlin's double-entendre name selection also earned her a free jar of salsa.

The payoff for all this hard work comes in the dead of winter. Grocery stores are selling rocks disguised as red tomatoes for $3 lb. or more.  Although you can pick up two or three cans of off-brand sauce for a buck, there's nothing quite like the feeling or SMELL of opening a jar of heirloom tomatoes that you processed the previous summer. That fresh-from-the-vine harvest smell and experience wafts up and encompasses an entire kitchen.

Summer's Bounty: Heirloom Tomatoes
That, my friends, is the payoff. This is what makes all that hard work worth it and more. Dinner that night will be reminder of those carefree warm summer days.

Snobbery has its rewards.

Did someone say recipes? You can find the recipe for our original Roasted Garlic, Pepper and Heirloom Tomato Salsa here. Another favorite is posted below. All have been tested and are "canning safe."

Herbed Picante Tomato Sauce
(a Sharon Howard original recipe)

NOTE: Food processor or blender required...You will also need canning equipment like this.

24 cups smooshed tomatoes whirred smoothish
4 cups chopped herbs of your choice
1 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (including seeds)
12 TBSP bottled lemon juice
2 TBSP coarse salt.

I use basil, oregano and parsley but you can use only one or two or three and you don't need to use equal amounts, in other words you can go 2/3 basil 1/3 parsley just DON’T increase the amount of herbs or peppers. Bill and Venus use whatever herbs they have in large amounts from the herb garden. This includes basil, oregano, sage, majoram, spicy oregano, thyme, etc.


Fresh Garden Herbs
Add all items together and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat to a high simmer, you want to see some action but not a full boil. After coming to the boil a foam will form, skim it off.

Place your one-pint canning jars in the dishwasher, when the jars are done so is the sauce. I generally cook about an hour, you can go longer. I don't like to cook less than an hour 'cause I want some thickening to take place while canning so it doesn't need to much cook time when I use it.

Place canning lids into a pot of hot water after washing. Bring to a simmer, but not a full boil.

Fill jars as normal. Wipe tops of jars to ensure a tight seal. Seal to finger tight with lids and rings. Hot Water Bath for 45 minutes. Or pressure can at 15 lbs. for 25 minutes.