Friday, October 2, 2009
preserving the last of the summer bounty
when i was growing up, in the late summer my mom canned massive amounts of tomatoes produced by dad's garden full of tomato plants. he always had at least 50 and i seem to recall upwards of 70 plants some years. she canned quart jars of whole, peeled tomatoes and quarts and quarts of luscious, liquid summer, in the form of homemade tomato juice. i remember using the hand-juicer--it was a big funnel-shaped colander with a wooden "bat" that fit perfectly inside of it and we squeezed all the goodness out of the tomatoes, juicing them into a big bowl. i also remember her lifting metal baskets of steaming quarts of ruby goodness out of the big canner and helping her check to see that all of them had sealed properly. i loved hearing the jars making that popping sound as they sealed.
even more, i remember standing at the fridge, drinking directly from the jar that cold beautiful salty tomato juice that tasted of liquid summer even in the midst of the darkest winter day. dad was always cussing us out for drinking the last of it and not putting a new jar in to get cold, but beating him to it was part of the fun.
i think it was with that in mind that i gathered the last of the produce from my little vegetable garden a couple of weeks ago. i wanted to hold onto a bit of summer for the cold, winter months. we have about six tomato plants in our greenhouse (due to our climate, they don't do that well outside of the greenhouse, it's simply never hot enough for tomatoes). i had a couple of plants that seeded themselves in in my herb bed, due to some dirt from last year that we had removed from the greenhouse that went into that bed. the tomato plants got big and are loaded with green tomatoes that won't ever have a chance to ripen in our short growing season, so i picked the green ones too.
i had green and red tomatoes, several eggplants, several zucchini (courgettes), some zucchini flowers, borlotti beans, some zingy little peppers in black and red and loads of herbs. my herb garden has done very well this year and even the basil we planted in the greenhouse did well. our climate doesn't let us grow basil outside the greenhouse, but thyme, sage, rosemary, tarragon and mint do very well, even into the colder months, due to our relatively mild winters. i had parsley and cilantro both inside the greenhouse and outdoors and they did well too. the parsley is still going, but my cilantro has gone to seed and it's nearly time to harvest those pungent seeds for winter curries.
we've been watching a wonderful cooking program with camilla plum on methods of preservation on DR2. so i was inspired to preserve my mixed veggies in olive oil and a light vinegar for use later this winter, when we need to remember the growing season that was. (note: links are in danish.)
it was very easy to do and it's quite simply difficult to describe how satisfying it was. inspired by camilla's recipe, i did as follows:
2 kg. mixed veggies - you can use whatever you have on hand in your own garden or what you can get in a green market or at the late season farmer's markets. i used:
3 med. zucchini, diced into bite-sized pieces
2 small eggplants, diced into bite-sized pieces
a few small red and green tomatoes, which i left whole
5-6 small red and black chili peppers
6 shallots, peeled and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 head of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
1 organic lemon, scrubbed clean and sliced into thin slices
handfuls of herbs - i used thyme, sage, parsley, tarragon and basil
6 zucchini flowers, rinsed carefully (bugs like to hide in them)
6 leaves from the grape plant that's growing in the greenhouse
1 C borlotti beans (happened to be the ones i had in the garden, but any beans will do)
toss the zucchini, eggplant, shallots and garlic together in a collander with a good handful of salt and allow them to drip a bit (any bitterness the eggplant has escapes this way).
heat to a boil:
3 dl of cider vinegar
2 liters of water
dip all of veggies (not the lemons and not the herbs) into the boiling vinegar/water bath for about a minute (the beans need a bit more than that, maybe 3-4 minutes) to blanch them. i dipped the zucchini flowers, but they really wilted, so i'm not sure i would do that the next time. reserve your vinegar mixture.
remove the hot veggies and put them into your prepared jars - your jars must be sterilized before you begin (you can do it by sending them on a tour in the dishwasher or by rinsing them with boiling water). i laid a lemon disc in the bottom of each jar, both for prettiness and so that the lemon would be able to pervade everything from the bottom up. don't forget to put a few sprigs of the herbs here and there as you layer the veggies into the jars. i tried to make it as pretty as i could as i went along, imagining that some of them might be given as hostess gifts at some point. stick in a zucchini flower on the edge where you can see it. the same with the grape leaves. i also threw 12-15 peppercorns into the bottom of each jar for good measure
once the jars are as full as you'd like them to be, fill up to about 3/4 with the hot vinegar/water mixture you used to blanch the veggies. then fill to the top, so all your veggies are covered, with a good, tasty, high quality extra virgin olive oil. i used a wonderful, very strong organic one called rumi tree from palestinian fair trade. put another slice of lemon at the top and a grape leaf to cover. make sure everything is under the olive oil layer and then close your jar.
it should keep on a shelf in a dry, relatively dark place all winter long. you can eat this with good bread, cheese and sausage on an evening when you don't feel like cooking. it would be lovely in a salad or as a salad on its own.
once you open the jar, if you don't use it all, do refrigerate because of the low salt content and diluted vinegar it won't keep that long after opening if you don't refrigerate. use a clean utensil to retrieve what you're using from the jar and you'll be fine. the olive oil layer can used for salad dressings or a marinade, as it gets all pervaded with the herbs. delicious. my batch made two of the large-sized jar pictured above and one small. i had enough of the vinegar solution left over to have had one more jar, but ran out of veggies. camilla plum recommends putting in mushrooms as well and i only didn't because i didn't have any on hand and this was at least partially an exercise in using what i had from the garden.