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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pizza and a Good Book

We had to let this cook down for hours and hours. 
For years, we've been searching to find a thick, flavorful pizza sauce to make and to can. Lo' and behold if my favorite author didn't include the very recipe in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Throughout the book, Barbara Kingsolver's family writes personal narratives about food, and so this pizza sauce recipe actually comes from Camille, her oldest daughter. She shared the family's secret recipe in a chapter entitled, Living In a Red State ~ both to imply the political leanings of Kentucky at the time and the fact that they harvested nearly a ton of tomatoes the summer about which they wrote the book.

Anyway, our tomato crop has been hit or miss this year, so we ended up purchasing two 25 lbs boxes from our CSA farm, Harmony Valley. Combined with our own tomato crops, we have put quite a lot of work in . . . and we have quite a lot of work ahead of us.

On Sunday evening, we prepared the sauce, using some of our tomatoes and one of the boxes. The house smelled great, our cats acted as if they were about to die from heat stroke (see photo of Tucker to the right), and we ended up with 5 pints and 9 half-pints of pizza sauce. Between those and our freezer pesto, I think Andy's pizza addiction should be covered throughout the winter and spring.                        

Here's the amazing recipe, Family Secret Tomato Sauce, from the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Our assembly line. L to R: boiling for 2-3 seconds, ice bath, and then skinning/de-seeding.

Look at all of those onions!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wow! Stuffed Peppers=Amazing!

Dinner tonight was, in one word, amazing. Andy stopped at the co-op on the way home tonight to get Smart Ground Original, a meat substitute. While I fully embrace the vegetarian lifestyle and philosophy, another alternative is to buy local and as-humanely-as-possible-reared-and-slaughtered meat. It's hard for me to put the words "humane" and "slaughtered" in the same sentence, but I realize that there are benefits to a non-veg, local carnivorous meal: supporting local farmers, less gas mileage for the product, and more local food, in point is that this meal can be veg or non-veg...and both can be ethical in their own ways.

Here's the ingredients and instructions for this truly delectable dinner. Try it! It's so yummy!

Ingredients: (Spanish rice)
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 long grain rice
1 quart canned tomato halves with juice
vegetable broth (enough that when combined with tomato juice equals 3 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
Mexican seasoning (cumin, chili powder, achiote, anything that feels/tastes right)

Ingredients: (soy/beef crumbles)
1 LB soy crumbles or ground beef
1 small onion diced
1 Jalapeno pepper
Mexican seasoning (cumin, chili powder, achiote, anything that feels/tastes right)
water (3-4 TBS)


To make rice:
Heat oil in a deep sauce pan. Add onion, garlic, pepper, and rice. Stir and cook until onions are translucent and rice is a little bit browned.  Add seasoning, tomatoes and all liquids.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Once at a simmer, reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook approximately 30 minutes or until majority of liquid is absorbed.

To make soy/beef:
Heat oil in shallow sauce pan.  Add onion and pepper; cook until pepper is almost translucent.  Add soy/beef and cook until browned (soy: approx 3-5 minutes). Add seasoning and water.  Cook until water is absorbed.
Add soy/beef to the rice and mix until combined.

To make stuffed peppers:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut tops off of peppers and take seeds out.  Drizzle the inside of the peppers with olive oil and salt.  Stuff peppers with rice and soy mixture.  Arrange stuffed peppers in a shallow baking dish.  Cook in over for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, remove from oven and add cheese to the tops of all the peppers.  Return peppers to oven and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is browned or to your personal liking.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dilly Beans

Carmen's opinion of canning in 90+ degree weather. Hehe.
For the last several years, we've bought a 10 pound box of beans from Harmony Valley Farm. This year we canned 6 quart jars of dilly beans and froze the rest of the beans for fall and winter casseroles and soups.

Dilly beans are great accessories to a Bloody Mary and fabulous snacks for any time you're craving something salty.

4 pounds of green beans
8-16 heads of fresh dill
8 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup canning salt
4 cups white vinegar
4 cups water
hot pepper flakes -- optional (we used approx. 6 dried peppers' worth)

6 quart jars or 12 pint jars
jar grabber
large pot

The process is as follows:

1. Snap the ends off of the beans. (This is a fun step. My parents usually come over, and we gossip over wine while bean-snapping like crazy people. Now the chickens run around, scavenging for bean butts.)
2. Put beans into a sink full of water to get them clean. 
3. Sterilize quart jars and lids by placing them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Or if your dish washer has a sterilize cycle, use that.

4. Prepare the brine by combining salt, vinegar, dill, water, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil.

5. Put the garlic, dill, and hot peppers (optional) into the steralized jars.

6. Tightly pack the beans into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space.

7. Pour brine over the beans, again leaving the 1/2-inch head space on the jar.

8. Put the lids on the jars.
9. Put the jars into the canner and process for five minutes - though depending on your altitude, times can vary.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What to do with all of those tomatoes? Can 'em!

Tomatoes chilling in an ice bath.
Canning can be a looming task to food preservation/gardening newbies. This blog entry is to reassure those of you nervous ladies and gents out there that it really is quite a simple process that's well worth the effort.

The first food that we ever canned was a batch of diced tomatoes. So versatile, we used them in winter spaghetti dishes, as pizza toppings, and in soups. Since year one, they've been a staple item in our pantry.

Lemon Juice
Salt (optional)
Sugar (optional)


1. Sterilize quart jars and lids by placing them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Or if your dish washer has a sterilize cycle, use that.

2. Prepare tomatoes for processing. Cut an X onto the bottom of the fruit. This will help make peeling super easy.

3. Prepare an ice bath. We usually fill our sink with cold water and ice, but a large pot or bowl works too. 

4. Boil water on the stove. Put the fruit into the boiling water for a few seconds (and no longer than a minute) to loosen the skin. When you see the skin split and loosen, remove the tomatoes.

5. Immediately after removing from the boiling water, put the fruit into the ice bath.

6. Take the fruit out of the ice bath. The skin should slip right off  (I like to save the skins for the freezer to make broth later and/or to give the warm tomato skins to my chickens.)

7.If desired, remove the guts from the center. Simply cut the tomato lengthwise, and with your fingers or a spoon, remove the seeds and pulp from the center.

8. Dice the fruit to desired size.

9. To ensure non-spoilage, add 2 Tbs. of lemon juice to each quart jar. Sometimes, we add sugar to make sure that the tomatoes don't have a lemony flavor. If desired, add a pinch of salt here.

10.Pack the jars with the fruit, leaving 1/2-inch head space at the top of the jars. Be sure that the jar lids are dry to ensure a tight, secure seal.

11. Process using a water bath or a steam canner.

 If doing pints, process for 40 minutes. If doing quarts, process for 45 minutes. Specific times are below (taken from: source):
Recommended process time for Crushed Tomatoes in a boiling-water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 - 1,000 ft 1,001 - 3,000 ft 3,001 - 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Hot Pints 35 min 40 45 50
Quarts 45 50 55 60

For you novice canners, a word of caution: canning is touchy. You have to follow a recipe exactly to avoid potential spoilage. Read the directions for your specific canner, and cross-check other sources for processing times to ensure a good, healthy, safe, product. We like:

With that said, please do can! It's a wonderful way to preserve farm-fresh produce for the fall, winter, and early spring months. Nature has seasons. Here, in Wisconsin, we're not meant to go to the store in December and find red, ripe tomatoes. It's not possible to grow them anywhere around here at that time. Duh, right?

One way to embrace the seasons (and avoid blindly trekking food across the country or world via excess petroleum, while dishing out money to Dole fruits or some other big name) is by eating fresh, yummy tomatoes in the summer, and then embracing in the delight and beauty of your Ball jar filled with prepared tomatoes in the winter. It's amazing how great both can taste when you give yourself time to miss them. Plus, you'd be amazed as to how beautiful a pantry full of a variety of canned food looks.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Dump Garden

My creature empathy extends itself to plant empathy. I can't help it. We plant little seeds in trays, take care of them, nurture them, feed them, love them, put our hopes into them, and then, when it's time to plant them into the ground outside, inevitably, Andy says, "We don't have room for ALL of them."

This is how our Dump  Garden originated. Getting its name both from ritualistically receiving my extra mismatch of seedlings and because the land used was actually a dump of sorts when we first moved in, the Dump Garden is thriving and bountiful.

We've come up with a balance of extras, permanents, and new curiosities over the years. Last year, we planted quite a few perennial herbs and flowers into the garden, including: chamomile, summer savory, oregano, Brown-Eyed Susans and Butterfly Weed. Those are all still thriving.

Ground Cherries in front; Sunberries in back
We tried Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries last year and were  happy with the results, so we planted those again. This year, Sunberries were a new adventure, and the jury is still out as to whether or not they'll be planted again next year.

This summer, the "dumped" seedlings included two cherry tomato plants, some extra bean seedlings, and a mound of cucumber pickles. Additionally, we planted the herb pack we got as part of our CSA, which included: basil, parsley, and sage. My parents also gave us the basil plant that their CSA gave them (can you say PESTO?).  
Basil (among other things)
I went crazy buying herbs at the Farmer's Market one day ~ pineapple mint, peppermint, and more oregano ended up getting added to the edges the Dump Garden.

For now, all the plants are doing well, enjoying bee and butterfly company, living happy little plant lives in the fresh summer air.

Cucumbers, beans, and Brown-eyed Susans        

L to R: Sage, Chamomile (after  harvest), Parsley in front, and Spearmint    

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Curious Fruits: Sunberries and Ground Cherries

We are always on a quest to grow new fruit. Since we live in a climate with such a short growing season, fruit growing feels challenging. This  year, we planted ground cherries for the second time, and sunberries for the first.

What are these, you may ask?

Probably the more popular of the two is the ground cherry (shown on the right). I remember eating these as a child at Grandpa Lapp's house, though I didn't recall this fruit until reading parts of This Organic Life. In this book, Joan Dye Gussow writes of the papery skin that encloses the fruit, making it perfect for longer storage. The papery-skin thing brought me back to my childhood, scrounging through close-to-the-ground bushes for citrusy treats. Ground cherries are very easy to grow - the plants take off, and the fruits are always in abundance. When the fruit is ripe, the husk becomes golden and drops to the ground (perhaps that is why they are called ground cherries?!). We have several rouge plants growing in what we affectionately call our "dump garden"  - the space where we grow extra vegetable plants, fruits and vegetable plants which we just want to try out, and some perennial herbs.

As for using ground cherries, we mostly eat them fresh (the chickens like them too!). But we also have substituted them for other fruits like cherries or berries in recipes. I've heard ground cherry pie is super yummy, but have yet to make it. Hopefully, I'll find time this summer.

So now, what are sunberries? They are left in the above photo. Leafing through the Seed Savers catalog is one of my favorite winter activities, and I've always been curious to order sunberry seeds. Seed Savers writes, "Sunberry’s fruits are blue, slightly sweet and slightly larger than a pea. Said by its admirers to rival and even surpass blueberries. Truly historic variety." 

We planted one seed this year. It took off! We put the plant in the dump garden, where it has grown exponentially. I picked a significant amount yesterday, and there were plenty more berries to ripen left on the vine. 

We decided to make Sunberry-Ade with the first harvest. It was sweet and slightly tart. The fruits didn't juice exceptionally well though, so I don't predict we'll use our next gathering in the same way. I'm thinking we may dry some for our winter oatmeal. Or perhaps we'll make a "blueberry" pie.

So, have any of you made any stellar recipes with either of the above fruits?

What other unique and exciting fruits have you tried growing? Please share!

Ground cherry plants spilling their fruit everywhere.