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.

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.

Dill Pickles

By now I am well into seasonal canning mode. Two weeks ago I started with my first batch of strawberry rhubarb butter, and last week I found a great sale on mini cucumbers in bulk, so I had to make dill pickles. We were on the last jar from the batch that I made right before Christmas anyway, and fresh pack dill pickles must rest for at least a month in a cool, dark place before eating to develop flavour. I mean, they’re safe to eat right away, but they taste better after some time.

This is what my canning setup looks like, with some adaptations depending on what food I’m preparing. For large batches or large cans, I tend to have two hot water baths boiling at the same time. The largest pot on the right is actually my pressure canner, but it works quite well as a large hot water canner if I don’t clip the lid closed. The smaller pot near the front is where I brought my pickling liquid to the boil. I’ll admit it, I take the quick and easy route when I make dill pickles and I use Bernardin Dill Pickle Mix. It means that I can completely skip the typical fermentation stage; I just have to wash and cut up the cucumbers, pack them into hot sterilized jars, pour over the pickling liquid, seal, and then process the jars in a hot water bath. This means that I can make up a huge batch of pickles in a matter of a few hours (as opposed to about five days with the fermented method).

This year I tried out a type of jar I’d never used before, ones that have a vintage-look green tint. Normally these jars are about twice the price of the standard clear glass jars of the same size, but I was lucky enough to find a whole bunch of them at $4.00 for a six pack ($0.66/jar) at, of all places, Dollarama. I bought out that location’s entire stock. I mean, a twelve pack of the same size regular jar at Canadian Tire currently goes for about $12.99 ($1.08/jar), so it was definitely a bargain.

One of the reasons that coloured jars used to be considered better for canning purposes is that they allow less light to pass through the glass, and hence the food stayed good longer. Exposure to sunlight can cause canned goods to decompose faster and/or to discolour, which is why historically most food storage is in a cool, dry, dark place. The coloured glass is just one more way to help. These days, though, it’s mostly a fashion thing, a hearkening back to the old-fashioned canning jar look. I personally think that the green-tinted jars are great for pickles (or any other green preserve), but that they’d sadly make different-coloured foods look like they’d gone off in the jar. Even if the food was fine, it might not be eaten just because of its looks. I mean, have you ever tried to eat green eggs and ham? I know that even when I make the eggs myself and am sure that they are safe, I can have a difficult time choking them down because my brain is telling me that they’ve gone off because of the colour. So I think that I will stick to using the green jars for cucumber pickles, or for crafts or storage where the colour doesn’t matter.

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

We decided to forego the the crowds downtown on Canada Day; in retrospect, this ended up being a really good idea because the wait ended up being two to five hours to get onto Parliament Hill. There is no way that my kids would have had the patience for that — even if I did! After all, living in the nation’s capital means we can visit the area any time. Why contend with the crush?

Instead, we headed out to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, which is away from the downtown core. Parking was out into overflow lots, but otherwise it wasn’t too busy; I’ve seen it more packed when a bunch of school/camp trips all arrive simultaneously. Like most of the museums that are open on Canada Day, the Agriculture Museum had free admission, although we did have to pay $6.00 for parking. So all in all, it was a cheap day out.


Thing 2 checking ever-so-gently petting a sleepy calf.

There were all kinds of special demonstrations planned for Canada Day. We got a chance to check out the Chantecler chicken demo, ice cream making, the Great Canadian Quiz, the kids craft & games station, and the afternoon milking. Of course, we also had to make our way through all of the barns and pens to visit all of the animals. Thing 2, unsurprisingly, was the most fascinated by all of the animals.


Thing 2 on my husband’s shoulders while they watch the afternoon milking.

This kind of museum probably doesn’t have a huge amount of appeal to people from farming communities, where the knowledge to be garnered from the exhibits is part of everyday life, at least in part. I mean, day to day I can’t see the history of canola oil production in Canada being something that comes up, but if you live with livestock then it’s not going to be all that exciting to see them in a museum. However, for city folks like my family, it’s very interesting. I also think that it’s important for everyone to understand where their food comes from and how much time and effort goes into feeding our country. And of course for the kids, being allowed to touch some of the animals means that the place ends up being like a large petting zoo.


Thing 1 checking out the replica root cellar in the food preservation exhibit.

As a home cook, I found the Food Preservation: The Science You Eat exhibit to be particularly interesting. I like how you literally have to walk through the history up to the modern day. I’m also a big fan of area where you can manually control the time lapse video (forward, back, and speed) of decomposing food. I’ve always found that kind of thing to be fascinating.


Jars in the food preservation exhibit.

There is a section of the exhibit dedicated to home canning as well, which is very relevant to my interests.

All in all, we had a wonderful day out! We even got lucky with the weather and managed to avoid most of the rain. We’ve been to the Agriculture Museum many times before, and it never ceases to entertain and educate. I highly recommend visiting this museum if you have the chance.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter Recipe

One of my favourite things in the world to can is fruit butters, which are basically fruit that has been cooked, blended, and then boiled down to reduce the moisture content until the end result is smooth and spreadable. Simmering off the water increases both the flavour and the acidity, so fruit butters need less sweetening for taste or for preservation purposes. Fruit butters are a simple, wholesome kind of preserve that historically, in Canada, was a common way to make fruits last the winter. These days, they are made and eaten all year long, although most home canning happens in the summer and early fall when fruits are freshest and at their most plentiful.

Contrary to what the name may indicate, fruit butters actually don’t usually contain any dairy products, although some recipes call for a dollop of butter to prevent frothing (which I usually forgo and instead skim the froth). They are generally vegetarian and can be made vegan through proper sourcing of ingredients — as I’ve previously mentioned, some varieties of sugar use bone char as part of the filter process, so if that’s important to you, you’ll have to do your homework when choosing a brand to buy.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter will last up to a year when properly canned.

Fruit butters have easily as many uses as jams or jellies, including (but not limited to):

– a spread on bread, toast, or biscuits;
– a filling in donuts, cookies, muffins, croissants, turnovers, and tarts;
– a topping for ice cream;
– a mix-in for yogurt;
– a topping for pancakes or crepes;
– mixed with cream cheese to make a quick dip for fresh fruit or crackers; or
– an ingredient in fruit butter bread (apple being the most common)

Strawberry-rhubarb butter is the latest fruit butter I’ve made, and I’ve found that it perfectly encapsulates the tastes of late spring/early summer. Since the ingredients cook down, it’s a great way to use up rhubarb — especially if you’re searching for ways to use the stalks from an over-producing plant! I prefer to cook it in a combination of the microwave and the crock pot, because both are less prone to burning than cooking on the stove. The quickest way to ruin a batch of fruit butter is to scald it; you’ll never get rid of that burnt taste. If you choose to cook on the stove, you will have to watch your ingredients like a hawk, stir constantly, and adjust your cooking times. For these reasons, if you have a microwave and a crock pot, I highly recommend using them.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter on Dad’s biscuits.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter
Yields seven 250mL jars

Wash and chop until you have:
1Kg (about 8 cups) rhubarb, any variety
Place the rhubarb into a microwave-safe casserole dish with:
1/2 cup water
Cover and microwave in 3-minute increments, stirring every time you check for doneness, until the rhubarb are falling apart (approximately 15 minutes). Set rhubarb aside.
Repeat this process, cooking each fruit separately, with:
1.2Kg (about 8 cups) strawberries + 1/2 cup water
1Kg (about 8 cups) apples (any variety) + 1/2 cup water
While apples are cooking, put the rhubarb and its cooking liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour rhubarb puree into crock pot. Repeat puree step with strawberries and their cooking liquid, and when they are cooked, the apples and their liquid.
To the crock pot add:
400g sugar (about 1 3/4 cups)
Stir until all elements are well combined.
Set crock pot on high and cook until resulting butter is a little bit thinner than the desired final product (fruit butter will thicken slightly as it cools). This usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. Cooking more than 48 hours is not recommended as the butter will develop a burned taste. If fruit has not thickened enough after 48 hours, finish the thickening process on the stove top, stirring regularly to prevent scalding.
Fill 250mL jars leaving 6mm head space. Process in a hot water canning bath for 30 minutes after the water returns to a boil. This fruit butter will last up to a year when processed. Alternately, the butter may simply be refrigerated for up to three weeks, or frozen (leaving additional head space for expansion) for up to six months.