Posts Tagged ‘canning salsa’

Saturday, October 1:

The weather is unseasonably cold today; if the temperature has risen above fifty degrees, we couldn’t tell. The men who were working outside wore lined jackets all day; S-3, who was mowing at the TOR’s, came in shivering, and with his fingers still clenched as they had been on the steering wheel of the Sisters’ Kubota. S-4 finished building the cages for broody hens which are now installed in the chicken palace. There being no broody hens at present, we have put in them a dozen of the young pullets — the replacements for the Speckled Sussex pullets slaughtered over the summer by our marauding fox – to keep them out of the way of aggressive Rhode Island Reds, but let them get used to thinking of the hen house as home.

The last planting of green beans – made in July with the beautiful Sarah (one of our nieces from Illinois) – is justifying itself, and we have canned nineteen and a half quarts, with buckets more to process when the Sabbath is past. These late plants are just beautiful, vigorous, and with far higher germination than the early and mid-season plantings. They are also much less bothered by our unwelcome visitors from the south, the Mexican bean beetles, which have left only skeletons of leaves on the old bean plants. These we have pulled up, and fed with vindictive pleasure to the ever-hungry pigs; but the July beans, although they have a few beetles on them, are so thick and flourishing it is hard to find where to put your foot as you wade in to pick them.

They are also, we take this occaision to admit, a living evidence of the axiom that a single moment of carelessness may be redeemable only by hours, months, or even years of hard labor. We have the truth of this rule before us in palpable form more often than Mamma, who is its most devoted acolyte, likes to admit. This year, for example, our sauce-making and salsa-making, and we make gallons and gallons of sauce and salsa, have taken more than the normal amount of time due to the fact that, somehow, the tomato plants we started in the greenhouse this year were not, as Mamma planned and expected, Romas and beefsteaks, but romas and cherry tomatoes. Just try peeling and seeding cherry tomatoes by the five-gallon bucket-full, if you want to know what incidental labor is like.

Similarly, the green beans she planted this year, expecting to get all bush varieties, include at least one variety of pole bean. These are the beans in the July planting and despite being trellised, rather late – and that was a bit of extra work – they sprawl pretty freely over the three long beds allotted to them, making it something of a chore to pick the pods.

Last weekend Mamma and Papa went to Pennsylvania to attend the Mother Earth News fair at Seven Springs. Funny – we don’t take the Mother Earth News, associating it as we do with articles on how to save on your electric bill by installing a fifty-thousand dollar solar plant, and we never visit resorts, having no reason in the normal way of things to do so. But we heard good things of this event last year, and when we saw that several of the workshops were cheese-making related, we decided to give the thing a whirl. As an effort to learn more about home cheese-making, the trip was a failure; but as date with spouse, it was a great success.

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Thursday, August 25:

We woke up at three-thirty this morning to a peal of thunder, and our first thought was of the laundry which was undoubtedly still on the line, undoubtedly because each of us was sure the other had not taken it down. Second thought was a determination not to get out of bed and race the rain to get the laundry in. The knowledge that it was out there getting soaked reasserted itself for the next two-and-a-half hours, every time a roll of thunder broke into our sleep, detracting a little from the satisfaction of the warm bedclothes and the knowledge that we were getting much-needed rain — but only a little.

Isabel is giving a bit more milk now that the pasture is greening up. The dozen or so cornstalks we carry to her each day is probably having its effect, too, and we get about six gallons per diem. Of these, four have been going to the summer calves; but last week we began the process of weaning two of them, cutting both their morning and evening milkings by a pint or so. The extra half-gallon makes all the difference in the kitchen. Coupled with her increased yield, it means there is adequate cream for butter, skim milk for mozzarella, ample drinking milk, and milk for yogurt. The butter and mozzarella we had frozen in times of plenty just barely held out over her dry time and the ten weeks of starting the summer calves; in truth, we had to buy three pounds of butter, at various times when yield could not keep up with demand. But last Monday, a baking day, we had three pounds of mozz for our pizzas, and enough butter for the twenty or so pounds of dough that went to make eight loaves of wheat meal-and-potato bread, and six dozen whole wheat sandwich rolls.

The garden is giving us buckets of tomatoes, albeit not entirely of the varieties we intended. There’s always a slip somewhere. Whether the fault was in Mom’s planning, or the marking of her seedling flats, we do not know, but somehow what should have been twenty beefsteak tomato plants have turned out, in fact, to be about two beefsteaks and eighteen or so large cherry tomatoes. Did she order the wrong seeds? Or were the dozens of seedlings we gave away this spring, thinking we were parting with extra cherry tomato plants, actually the desired beefsteaks? At present, we are too embarassed to ask the people who received the seedlings. Skinning and seeding cherry tomatoes takes time, but it can be done.

And, as we say, the garden is giving lots of tomatoes. We have to date canned some two and a half dozen quarts of salsa, and about one and a half quarts of pasta/pizza sauce. That may not sound like much to the big operators, and in fact it doesn’t sound like a lot to us, who have in our less carnivorous days gone through gallons of pasta sauce, but the fact is that now the meat we raise is one of the cheapest things we eat, and we eat a lot of it. Hamburgers, steaks, chicken, chile con carne, ham, bacon, sausage. Meat. We don’t have to put up as much sauce, just enough for tomato soup on Fridays, and pizza, and the occaisional spaghetti and meatballs or lasagne. With another couple dozen quarts of sauce, some plain tomato sauce, and maybe some rotelle tomatoes, we will have all we need for a year of good eating.

S-3 worked for the TOR’s this morning, so S-4 and S-5 worked on the pigpen. The drop-in wall on the east side is complete, and looks sturdy enough even for three big pigs, as these will be in six months or so. S-4 is building the gate now, a simple board door framed and braced. S-5, when he was not needed in the barn, had pity on Mom and took over the job of freezing corn, putting up six pounds of cut corn, and cooking on the cob what we would want for dinner.

Mom, released after dinner from the daunting task of preparing for her nineteenth year of homeschooling, weeded the raised beds and picked what we from the South call “a mess” of beans. We wonder what the origin of that term might be. Southerners also, when circumstances seem to require it, “cuss”, and it was a man from Honduras whose first language, naturally, is not English, who pointed out to us that this word is simply “curse”, pronounced in a Southern drawl. Delightful. When colloquial differences are so delicious, why are we engaged in a race to cultural homogeneity?

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Thursday, August 18:

We are reading Eliot Coleman and dream at night of crushed limestone and greensand.  Compost and manure have always had a big role in our gardening, but we have shied away from what required bought inputs.  Coleman is making us rethink this prejudice; even more, vagaries in our gardening success are making us look for answers.  The Golden Bantam corn we grow every year for the table is as good as ever, but the ears are fewer; a good many of our cornstalks had no ears at all.  That early windstorm that knocked over our three and five foot stalks (first and second planting) may have had something to do with the poor pollination that results in spotty ears, but we don’t know how it could have caused no ear to form at all.  A too-acid soil might be part of the answer.

All day in the kitchen.  Salsa is a labor-intensive product because of all the peeling, seeding, and chopping that is required; even with a food processor (courtesy of Shawn’s mamma) we spent from mid-morning to about four in the afternoon getting a large batch (about four gallons) of salsa into the canners.  Many pounds of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, hot peppers, and garlic go to make a batch of our salsa, but we use a lot of it:  it is not only to be eaten on chips and in burritos, it is a significant ingredient in many dishes, such as chile con carne, “spanish” rice, okra gumbo, and taco salad.  We try to put up at least forty quarts of salsa every year.   This year, so far, is a good one for salsa ingredients.

We are concerned about the potato crop.  As we do every year, we have sorted out those potatoes which were spiked with a garden fork in the digging, and they will be used first.  The rate of spoilage has been extremely high for some of these; in the week the potatoes spent on the garage floor curing, almost a five-gallon bucket (thirty percent of the spiked potatoes)were completely rotten.  Now we are finding small brown lesions on some of the remaining damaged potatoes, lesions which look suspiciously like blight.  Years we have had blight in potatoes or tomatoes, it has usually destroyed the whole crop.  We will watch the stored potatoes closely; if at all possible, we will prevent rotting potatoes from infecting the rest of the harvest.

Trimmed and cooked, the spiked potatoes are very good indeed; as roast potatoes last night, hash this morning, and mashed potatoes this evening for dinner.  God preserve our potato crop.

We have been learning a valuable and probably obvious lesson lately.                 NEVER BE WITHOUT PIGS IN LATE SUMMER.  There are so many things available to feed a pig, and in quantities the chickens can’t even begin to deal with.  In the first place, there are all the sprouted potatoes in the root cellar, left over from last year’s crop, perfect to be boiled and offered as pig ration.  There are all the trimmings of the things we are eating ourselves, of course.  And there are the plant residues generated as a result of all the canning and freezing that is just beginning to consume our lives, all the corn cobs, tomato skins and seeds, green bean ends, onion tops; later there will be the apple mash, and grape skins, peach skins, cabbage leaves, carrot tops.  In the late fall there will be all the vines and stalks we pull out of the gardens before the ground freezes.

And what about all those immature pumpkins we had to pull out of our bug-infested pumpkin patch, pumpkins which will never form the nice hard rind that would protect them for winter storage, nor develop the sugars and starches which make a pumpkin worth eating?  We can cut these small and feed some to the cow and steers, some to the chickens; but pigs would make the best use of it, converting the poor harvest into firm porcine flesh.  We have spoken with C. F., and should be putting three small pigs in the white barn pigstye tomorrow or the next day.  That’ll be one thing done right, anyway.

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