Preserve and Protect

Preserve and Protect

So, my garden didn’t perform the way I had expected or necessarily hoped this year.  I’m the only person I know who can plant 12 zucchini plants and get 3 zucchini. My pickling cucumbers went nowhere, but the slicing ones went MAD.  Do you know how much use there is for slicing cukes?  Outside of a salad, not much. I got a couple of nice stir fries from the pea pods, and the carrots loved the new bed, but the winter squash were decimated by vine borers.  I have to get more aggressive next year.  All learning opportunities, right?

But as fall settles in, I get the urge to can.  I know it’s from watching my folks do it when I was a kid.  Even though half the time I didn’t like what was in those jars (dilly beans, bleah!), I just loved the way they looked.  And now that I have both a water bath and a pressure canner, I can can just about anything.

A couple of weeks ago, I did.  I think the cat was getting nervous that he would be next.

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It started with the end of my tomatoes.  They were looking scraggly and brown no matter how much I watered them, so I picked them all.  Even the green ones.  Honestly, the biggest reason I grow tomatoes is to be able to make green tomato relish.  But then we were running around to this and that, and by the time I got back to it, half the green ones had ripened and suddenly I didn’t have enough to make my relish!  Lucky for me, Jen in my running club was sick of her tomatoes and said I could help myself to green ones.  So I went over with a shopping bag and did just that.

I got a little carried away.

Turns out less than half of that would have been enough for a double batch of relish.  But never mind.  I had a long weekend, and I was going to put up food for the winter.

First I cleaned out the freezer and did a full freezer cook.  Well, I say cook.  Most of it was dump this, layer that.  I didn’t even cook the chicken I needed, instead buying precooked chickens from Costco. (They’ll be back in the story later).  I got about 30 dinners squared away in the freezer.  That was Saturday.  Sunday would be can all the things.

I started with my creole recipe.  This is the base for a shrimp creole recipe my mom gave me, and really it’s stupidly easy.  You chop up a lot of tomatoes, onions, green peppers and garlic and cook it all down, then can it.  Water bath canning seems to work fine for this, or at least I haven’t had any problems.  When it’s time to eat, heat it through, add a pound of shrimp and a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, heat until the shrimp is cooked, and serve over rice.  Easy peasy!  With all the tomatoes from my garden and some of the ones I’d gotten from Jen the ripened in the week since I got them, I got 18 pints.

Then I started on the green tomato relish.

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I doubled the recipe and got nine and a half pints, in full and half pint jars.  Happy!

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But I still had a lot of green tomatoes left.  I vaguely remembered from the Little House on the Prairie books Ma making a green tomato pie, so I grabbed my LHotP cookbook to look it up.  The filling was good for fresh tomatoes, but wouldn’t work for canning.  So I went to the internet and found over and over again the same recipe for green tomato and apple pie filling.  Okay, well, how bad could it be?  I got the apples and raisins and started peeling and chopping away.

By now, the fever had started to kick in.

Look at all those jars.  Aren’t they pretty?  Don’t they make you feel like you’ve done a good job taking care of your family?  (Who cares if they won’t actually eat the stuff.)  Surely there’s more that you could do.  I looked down at the apple peels and cores.  Hrm.  I bet I could make jelly out of this.  Do I have any half pint jars left?

I didn’t.  In a fit of sanity, instead of going out to buy MOAR JARS, I just put all the cores and peels in a freezer bag in the freezer.  Maybe later.

I got the dutch oven full of tomatoes, apples and raisins and was just starting to add the seasoning when it suddenly hit me.

I think this is my mom’s mincemeat recipe.

The mincemeat that I HATED as a kid.

And I had a vat of it.

I called my mother then and there to confirm.  She laughed.  Longer and louder than was probably necessary.

I ended up with 6 quarts of it.  (Although after the fact she said I only need a pint for a pie.  But all the recipes said can it up in quarts, so that’s what I did!)

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But I still wasn’t done!  Remember those chickens?  Yeah, they spent all day Sunday in the stockpot, and Sunday they got their turn in the canner, this time the pressure canner.  11 more quarts.  I would have liked to have done them up in pints, but by then I was out of jars.

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So now I have everything neatly stashed in my basement, just waiting to be used.  I may not be quite done.  I have beets in the garden yet that may or may not get big enough to do another batch of pickled beets with (I did the first back in July).  And if I can find cheap apples, I may do up some applesauce or apple pie filling.

But I’ll have to stock up on jars first.