The Last of the Summer Tomatoes

I feel like I’ve spent all of my time over the last few weeks canning. One thing in my garden will become ripe all at the same time, meaning that I have to either eat or can it all (generally a combination of both) before it goes bad. Most of the food that I grow will go bad faster than I can eat it, with the exception of my potatoes and shallots, which have a great shelf life if kept in a cool, dark place.


Tomatoes in the sink being washed.

The biggest issue for about a week was my tomatoes, because we were starting to get the occasional frost at night. It was only a light frost and the damage was primarily to the plant’s inedible leaves, but here those light frosts are a warning of deeply freezing night temperatures coming soon, so they must not be ignored. I pulled out all of my tomato plants and picked every single fruit, whether they were ripe or not. Actually, most of what was left was green, but I didn’t mind too much since I have lots of dishes that work well with green tomatoes.

I separated the ripe tomatoes from the green ones, and made my last batch of homegrown Blender Salsa until next year. (The recipe can be found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014).) I also included tomatoes from a friend’s garden in this batch, but I still only ended up with about two litres of the end product.

I thawed some of the rhubarb from earlier in the season, and I cooked up about 1.5L of Tomato-Rhubarb Chutney (page 132, You Can Can: A Guide to Canning, Preserving, and Pickling from Better Homes and Gardens (2010)). This chutney was a big hit with my in-laws last year, so I knew I had to make some more.

I really hope that I got the recipe right for this last one, because I made almost five litres of it. I got a huge number of compliments last time I made Green Tomato Chutney, and many requests that I make more. I would have done so immediately, but it calls for green tomatoes and they’re really only available at a very specific time of year. Imported or hothouse tomatoes are never sold green around here. The thing is, the last time I made this preserve was before I started recording my cooking in this blog, and I didn’t write down what book the recipe came from. (I can’t tell you how useful this blog has been for keeping track of what I made, when, with what recipe, and with what changes. The fact that it’s searchable has made my life so much easier.)

This year, when trying to recreate my success, I realized that I own five different preserving cookbooks with five slightly different versions of this recipe — and that’s without going into any of my “big fat cookbooks that tell you everything about everything”, as they call them in the I Hate to Cook Book. At any rate, I think I found the correct recipe, since it’s the only one in my library that calls for golden raisins, and I distinctly remember putting golden raisins in the last batch. The Green Tomato Chutney recipe that I used can be found on page 208 of The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (2012). I have my fingers crossed that I remembered correctly and that it will be enjoyed as much as the previous batch!

Harvest

Even though the days have been lovely, it is now the beginning of October, so the nights are getting colder and there is often the threat of frost. This means it’s time to bring in the harvest. I dug up about half of my garden last week, and it wasn’t all mutant carrots!

Please excuse the long grass. My plants were hanging over the sides of the wooden garden border, so I figured I should pull them all up before mowing.

I picked the last of the hot peppers and dug up the few shallots that survived the season. For some reason, most of my shallots didn’t sprout this year. I will freeze the hot peppers with the intention of making hot sauce at a later date.

I tried growing lemongrass this year, which was very pretty but didn’t yield a huge amount of edible parts. It’s supposedly a perennial, but the root ball may not survive the harsh Canadian winter. We shall see if it sprouts in the spring.

I’m still harvesting ripe cherry tomatoes, much to my surprise. Last week’s heat wave meant that the plants haven’t started to die down as much as usual by this time of year.

I had a total yield of about 30lbs of Prince of Orange potatoes. These potatoes are apparently a pretty new breed. They have reddish skins and a dark yellow interior (actually pretty close to my Creampak carrots when cooked). They also have a stronger flavour than traditional white-fleshed potatoes, which I really like. I may plant these again next year, or may be I’ll alternate with Violet Queens, which have purple skins and flesh. I figure hey, if I’m going to grow it myself, why be satisfied with the few varieties that are available at the average grocery store?

Carrots

I love both cooking with and eating carrots, so I’ve been planting them in my garden for a couple of years. I haven’t had great success, though. Last year, one of my carrots looked like this:

(That’s a dime for size reference.)

So when I planted my carrots this year, I didn’t have any great expectations. Instead of growing them from seeds like I’d tried in previous years, I bought pre-started seedlings from Laporte Gardens. I hoped I’d get a few decent-sized carrots and probably some finger-sized ones as well. Little did I know that I was growing MONSTERS.


Thing 1 helping me harvest the carrots.

I left lots of space between each planted seedling (so I never had to thin them), made sure they got lots of water (not a problem this year) and that they weren’t being eaten alive by pests or crowded out by weeds. I also fertilized the entire garden with sheep manure compost early in the spring. And that was all I did. I’d learned the hard way that you really just have to leave root vegetables alone for as long as possible so that they develop fully. Um… Mission accomplished, I guess?

(Yes, I know now that I probably should have re-buried the carrots as they began to poke out of the ground so they didn’t discolor, but I didn’t know that back when it mattered. My carrots have never before grown so large.)

So yeah, that’s Thing 1 holding up one of the carrots/carrot clusters that she pulled up for me. It’s almost as big as her head.

Instead of the roots growing long and straight, they looped back upon themselves multiple times, creating gnarled, mutant bunches. Even in the spots where there was only one top, the roots looked like this.

These are creampak carrots, by the way. They’re supposed to be yellow instead of the more common orange.

All in all, my small planting of carrots yielded a root harvest that overfills a 11″ x 15″ x 7¾” IKEA GLES box.

Washed and untangled, the carrots looked more like the vegetables I’m used to. The photo above is of only one of the root balls. I kept giggling as I washed and separated, since it all seemed so absurd to me. This is honestly the funniest plant I have ever grown… And I have grown some weird-looking plants.

Thing 1 washed and cut up some of the smaller bits, then harvested a few cherry tomatoes from the garden to make her own carrot and tomato salad. I was very proud of her for taking the initiative to make a dish out of the food she’d helped harvest. She insisted that I photograph her creation and put it on “the blog”.

I included part of the harvest in yesterday’s dinner, which was steamed carrots, whipped potatoes (which are Prince of Orange potatoes and almost the same colour as the Creampak carrots when cooked), and maple & cinnamon sausages. After spending the afternoon in the garden, the whole family cleaned their plates.

Dealing With the Autumn Harvest

Yesterday I spent most of the day and well into the evening trying to use up some of the produce from my garden before it went bad. This time of year can be a real challenge when everything needs to be harvested, cleaned, prepared, and often canned or frozen all at once. And I haven’t even started dealing with my root vegetables, which are starting to pop out of the soil they’re getting so big!

I harvested the four pears that were growing on my tiny little pear tree. The three on the left were of one type, and the one on the right is another. The tree has four different kinds of pears grafted onto the main trunk, but I stupidly removed the labels and now I can’t remember what varieties there were. I’m pretty sure the odd one out on the right is a Bartlett, though. I considered trying to bake something with the pears, but my kids claimed them for their lunches.

My black sweet pepper plants only yielded one black pepper; unfortunately, the others all died or turned out to be green peppers. I really only grew these as an experiment anyway, since I’m not a huge pepper fan, so I gave them to my mother.

My apple tree is starting to drop its fruit; sadly, the poor tree suffers from a nasty case of apple scab despite my care, and a lot of the fruit aren’t good to eat. Apple scab itself is safe (although it’s ugly), but it does mean that the fruit often ends up cracked and rotting on the tree, or creates areas where it’s easier for pests to crawl inside. Even so, I have lots of apples to use up in recipes — this variety is very tart, so it’s best cooked.

I’m still harvesting a lot of tomatoes; although I feared frost a few weeks ago, this past week has been one of summer-like heat, so my tomatoes are actually still flowering! What fruit is on the vine is ripening nicely, so I may not have too many green tomatoes to deal with this year (even though I have a few great recipes for those too). Last night I made up another batch of Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), since my husband likes that version so much. The above photo was taken immediately after removing the jars from the hot water canner.

The basil plant in my mom’s garden needed to be cut back for the season, so she let me have all of the leaves in exchange for some of the pesto I made with them. Pesto is one of my favourite sauces to make because it’s so darned easy and can be made with so many leafy greens. I’ve made pesto before out of beet leaves, nasturtium leaves, and garlic scapes. The one that I made last night was the most common type: basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Before I made the salsa and the pesto, I set aside two large tomatoes and a tablespoon of basil so that I could bake Fresh Tomato and Basil Loaf. The recipe is found on page 156 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002). This bread is started in the bread machine, which mixes, kneads, and proofs the dough. Then the dough is removed from the machine and additional ingredients are kneaded in by hand, the dough is left to rise in a loaf pan, and then the bread is baked in the oven. The addition of the tomatoes made this dough really sticky and unpleasant to knead, and I made an enormous mess, but it was totally worth it since this bread is delicious. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Autumn Produce & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks Recipe

A friend came by this past weekend to hang out and chat, and also to gift me with some of the excessive produce from his family’s garden. Apparently zucchini has really liked this year’s rainy summer, and tomatoes weren’t far behind in the production department.


Zucchinis and tomatoes in cardboard boxes from my friend’s garden; tomatoes and cherry tomatoes from my garden in the green bowls.

I didn’t try to grow zucchinis this year, but my tomatoes are ripening up nicely as well, so I ended up with much more fresh garden produce this weekend than we could eat before it went bad. So I’ve found myself spending the majority of the last few days in the kitchen, cooking as much of these fruits and veggies as I can.

Since my freezer is getting pretty full so I wanted something shelf-stable, and my husband (the main salsa consumer in our house) really likes the Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), making another big batch was a no-brainer. Once my hubby had snacked on some of the lovely cherry tomatoes, I cooked up the remainder into about four liters of salsa. That’s not nearly enough to get us through the winter, but there are still more tomatoes on the vine to ripen, after all.

I baked a loaf of Chocolate Zucchini Bread (page 104 of 125 Best Quick Bread Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt (2002)). This is a heavy, rich bread that is satisfying either as a dessert or as a snack. I opted for semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, which makes this dish almost bitter, since it doesn’t include all that much added sugar. You can also use dark chocolate chips for an even deeper flavour, or switch it up with butterscotch, raspberry, or white chocolate chips. I was a little worried about the texture that the grated zucchini might have created, so I used the same technique as when I rebaked the chocolate fudge zucchini cookies and precooked the zucchini, then ran it through the blender. This added a bit of extra moisture to the bread, so I omitted the vegetable oil entirely. I was quite happy with how it turned out, both in flavour and in texture.

For dinner yesterday I also made baked chicken with my usual sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and salt as topping. As a side I made baked zucchini sticks, which my kids couldn’t get enough of, so I think I’ll be making them a few more times until I use up all of this zucchini (there’s still lots left). Instead of the more common (around here) seasoned bread crumbs, I went with panko, which is a much lighter style of Japanese bread crumb. I also baked the sticks instead of the more traditional deep-frying, for health reasons and because I just don’t particularly enjoy deep-frying. Here’s the very simple recipe that I used:

Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks
Serves 4 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Wash and slice into thick sticks, leaving peel on:
400g zucchini
In a small mixing bowl, beat:
1 large egg
In a second small mixing bowl, combine:
3/4 cup panko
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp Kraft 100% Parmesan grated cheese*
Grease a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.
Dry the zucchini on paper towel, then dip it into the egg until coated, then into the panko mixture until coated. Place the coated zucchini sticks in a single layer on the greased cookie sheet. Sticks will cook most evenly and be most crunchy if they are not touching.
Bake the zucchini sticks for 15-20 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
Serve plain, or with ranch dressing or marinara sauce as a dipping sauce.

*Parmesan cheese may be omitted, but if so, double the amount of salt.

Blender Salsa

The other day I brought Thing 1 and Thing 2 out to the garden and enlisted their help to find all of the ripe tomatoes. Between us, we picked 10lbs of tomatoes, which seems like a lot for the size of garden that I have, but in the end that only yielded…

…Five 500mL jars of canned salsa, with a bit left over for immediate consumption. It’s always a bit disappointing to see how much ingredients can shrink down when you cook them, especially when you grew said ingredients yourself. However, this time I was much happier with the taste of the end result than I was with my last batch. This time I used the Blender Salsa recipe found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014). Like most salsas, this preserve is both vegan and vegetarian. It’s a really easy recipe, which appeals to me. I liked that it used lime juice and citric acid to increase the acidity, instead of using vinegar. I also liked that the recipe was free of added sugar, which is healthier anyway, but sugar’s unnecessary for flavour when cooking with cherry tomatoes. I did have to boil down the salsa a bit to obtain the desired consistency, but I’m beginning to think that that’s just a consequence of using predominantly cherry tomatoes. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce Recipe

Back in February I made a massive batch of Kerryann’s hidden vegetable pasta sauce, most of which I stuck in the freezer and thawed periodically to make spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza. We ran out near the start of the summer, at which point I decided to try to perfect my own tomato sauce recipe.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored the flavour of Kerryann’s, but I never got over the weird brownish-green that my attempts at the recipe ended up. I think that my previous suspicious were correct and that’s just because the proportions of fruits and vegetables are different here in Canada than they are in Britain, from whence the recipe originates.


Right now my little garden is yielding about 6lbs of tomatoes (mostly cherry tomatoes) every four or five days, so I need to keep up with the harvest.

For example, Kerryann’s recipe calls for eggplants (or rather, aubergines), among other ingredients. In my local grocery store, which does not specialize in particular kinds of produce, I was able to find four kinds of eggplant, all of which are extremely different sizes. So what is considered a “medium aubergine” in Britain? The video helps narrow the criteria down a bit, but I think that the produce here is just bigger. (I know that our leeks are freaking enormous.) Canada is a country that is very driven by agriculture, after all.


Top left — Indian eggplant (max 3″ long); top right — Thai eggplant (max 2″ long); bottom left — Chinese eggplant (about 12″ long); bottom right — American/globe eggplant (14″+ long, very wide at one end)

There were some other problems with importing this recipe. I’ve never found tomato puree in tubes here, although canned tomato paste is commonplace. I’m not sure if substituting the latter for the former would effect the colour or flavour, as I can’t get my hands on the kind in tubes to compare. I also had a hard time finding sieved tomatoes (passata), although it’s possible to find cans with tomatoes that have been crushed, small cut, diced, diced with herbs, left whole, stewed, or preserved without added salt.

So I’ve made my own tomato sauce recipe with added vegetables. I’ve measured everything out by weight, which should mean that this recipe will come out more or less the same no matter how big your local vegetables grow. I’ve left out the leeks and the celery, as well as peeled the eggplant and the zucchini, which should correct the colour of the sauce. Last but not least, I run my sauce through a blender after it is all cooked so that it is all the same consistency, which is perfect for sneaking veggies into the diets of picky eaters (a lot of people have problems with textures more than they do with flavours).


Tomato sauce simmering on the stove.

Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce
Yields about 5Kg (11lbs), or about 22 cups sauce

In deep, heavy-bottomed skillet or frying pan, preheat:
4 Tbsp olive oil
Add to pan:
225g yellow onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, chopped fine
Cook on medium heat until onions have started to turn clear. Do not brown.
Add to the pan:
550g cremini mushrooms, sliced
400g zucchini*, peeled & chopped
400g globe eggplant, peeled & chopped
400g orange carrots, peeled & diced
Cover and cook on medium heat until carrots are softened. Stir often to avoid browning.
While this mixture is cooking, prepare tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, cut each one in half. If using larger tomatoes, remove the piths and quarter them.
Pour cooked mixture into a deep pot, such as a stock pot. A heavy-bottomed pot is best, but if one isn’t available, any large pot will do. If a thinner-bottomed pot is used, it will have to be stirred more frequently to prevent sticking & scorching.
To the pot, add:
1L low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2.75Kg fresh tomatoes, cut as per above instructions
2 cans tomato paste, 156mL each
8 Tbsp fresh oregano (or 2 Tbsp dried oregano)
3 tsp salt
1 tsp ground bay leaves
2 Tbsp sugar
Slowly bring mixture up to a boil, then turn the burner down until it is just simmering. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. Sauce is cooked once all of the ingredients are soft, the last of which should be the tomato skins.
Turn off the heat under the pot. Carefully ladle the hot sauce mixture into a blender to at most 3/4 full, put the lid on the blender, put a towel over the lid, and blend until smooth. Be careful, as the mixture is very hot! Pour the blended sauce into a large bowl or pot, then repeat until all of the sauce is blended.
At this point the sauce may be completely done, or it may be a little bit too liquid, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes used. If the sauce is watery, return it to the deep pot and simmer gently until it has reached the preferred consistency, stirring often.

*Yellow zucchini is preferred to contribute to the colour of the sauce, but green zucchini will taste the same if that is what’s available.


Tomato sauce with ground beef over penne.

Healthy veggie tomato sauce can be served as-is over pasta; spaghetti is most commonly used, although in our house we prefer penne. If you use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth when you make the sauce, this results in a vegetarian/vegan dish. However, I like to freeze it in dinner-sized portions, then thaw it while I fry up and drain a 500g package of lean ground beef, turkey, meatballs, or sausage. I stir the sauce in with the meat and simmer together while the pasta boils for an easy weeknight dinner. This tomato sauce is also great for making homemade lasagna, pizza, or Sloppy Joes.


Tomato sauce with ground beef over penne, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.