Sunday, September 27, 2015

My day in the kitchen

Well.  I had quite the productive day today.  I don't think I've ever canned so much in one day before.

I started off with 20 pounds of tomatoes (mostly San Marzano and Amish Paste), which became 10 pints of sauce.  I actually started the tomatoes last night but ran out of energy when I got to the straining and canning stage.  So they sat on the stove overnight and I finished this morning.

I made another kitchen gadget purchase this week... a Victorio food strainer.  I have much ambivalence about kitchen gadgets.  One one hand, gadgets are fun. On the other hand, they take up space.

But gadgets have their place.  Having the right tool for the job makes things so much easier, saves time, and makes the task enjoyable.

I have my mom's Foley food mill (seen here in the last tomato post), and it does a great job.  It removes the seeds and skins, gives a nice consistency to the pulp, and is easy to use.  I think it's also older than I am, so it's obviously sturdy.  However, it is very time-consuming for anything other than small to medium quantities.  Each 20-pound batch of tomatoes took about 45 minutes to an hour to strain, since I'm picky about getting allllll the goodness out of the tomatoes.

After the third large batch of tomato sauce, I cried uncle.  The Foley mill works, but it takes a long time and is tiring.  So I got a Victorio.  It's not too pricey- no local stores in La Grande had one, but only $48 on Amazon.

It.  Is.  AWESOME.

I ran that 20-pound batch of tomatoes through the Victorio in 10 minutes, including putting the seeds and skins back through a second time to get all the goodness out.  The final waste product after two passes was nearly dry.  TEN minutes!  Awesome.

More sauce...

So I simmered down the tomato pulp for couple hours while we ran errands and had lunch, and then canned it up.  What's next?  Peaches!

My second 20-pound box of peaches for the year got peeled, sliced, and canned. I got 9 quarts from this box, plus two quarts of "peach nectar".  This was the water/citric acid solution that all the peaches were soaking in to prevent browning while I was prepping everything, plus the leftover simple syrup (water plus sugar).  The peach slices give off too much flavor to the acidulated water to waste it.  It's good in tea or just on its own.

20 pounds of peaches

Tomatoes and peaches down, next up is apples!

I had 25 pounds of Jonagolds and 8 pounds of Granny Smiths that I got at the Farmer's Market last Tuesday.  I sliced up a big bowl of both the Grannies and Jonagolds, about half and half, and did up eight quarts of pie filling.  I've never canned pie filling before so that was an adventure.  It was pretty easy, just peel/core/slice the apples (using another great kitchen gadget which is totally worth the money and space) and hold them in a bowl of water with some citric acid to prevent browning while preparing the sauce.  The sauce was water, sugar, spices, lemon juice, and ThermFlo.  (I normally use flour or cornstarch to thicken a pie, but neither of those is safe to can.  ThermFlo is just a modified cornstarch product that according to Ball is safe to can.  I found it at the local Mennonite-owned market.)  Mix the apples into the sauce and heat through, put it into jars, and process in a water bath.  Easy peasy but very sticky.

Apple pie filling.

Since my canner holds seven quart jars and I had eight, I was forced to make a pie for dessert.  Oh darn, we had to eat pie.  I actually did that on purpose, so that I could try out the mixture and see how it tasted.  I'm happy to report that it's a success.  One quart of filling made a scantly filled pie.  I think a quart plus a pint would be a perfectly filled pie. Or to put it another way, three quarts for two pies.  I may not use my nifty slicer next time though, because the thin slices (while perfect for dehydrating apples) pretty much lost all shape in the pie.  Larger chunks would hold up better though the processing and baking.  Emma likes that almost-applesauce consistency in a pie, though, so maybe I'll leave well enough alone.  The ThermFlo worked well, giving a thick clear sauce that wasn't too gloopy.

Ok... tomato sauce, peach slices, apple pie filling, apple pie.  Check.  What's next?  More apples.

I took the rest of the apples (18 pounds, Granny Smiths and Jonagolds together) and sauced them while the pie was baking. I did this the easy way, just like the tomatoes. I washed and quartered the apples, and threw them in a pot with a cup and a half of the acidulated water I soaked the apples in when I was making the pie filling, and steamed them for 20 minutes to soften them.  I put the apples in the pot skins, stems, cores, and all.

Then I ran them through the Victorio.  In ten minutes.  Did I mention that I really like this gadget?  Perfectly smooth and seedless apple sauce.  Back into the stock pot to heat to boiling, then jarred up and into the water bath.  The 18 pounds of apples gave six quarts of wonderfully flavored applesauce, naturally sweet with no added sugar..

Apple sauce

OK... tomatoes, peaches, apple filling, apple pie, applesauce.  Next up: grapes!

I picked the last few grapes and was surprised at how many there were.  I got six more pounds! And Emma's still been eating them daily since we picked the first batch.  I think this vine approached 60 pounds of grapes for the year! But that's all, the vine is now bare.  Sorry, squirrels.

I pulled out my steamer juicer again for this.  I put the grapes in, along with all the apple cores and peels from the pie apples and the leftover seed/skin mash from the applesauce.  It pretty much filled the juicer.  I let it do its thing for about 45 minutes, then combined the resulting juice with the last bit of acidulated water from soaking the pie apples. (I pretty much wrung every drop of flavor out of those apples.)  The juice is deeelicious, and you can taste both the apples and the grapes.  I canned the whole shebang and got nine and a half pints of apple/grape juice.

Grape/apple juice

And then I was done for the day. Whew.

Today's efforts.

While I was finishing off the grape juice, Emma made us dinner (!!), a very yummy combination of sausages, cheesy shells, and steamed green beans from the garden.  And then we ate pie and had some grape juice.  And life was good.

Mmmm, pie.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

More tomatoes.

I need a bigger pot.  Possibly a vat.  Or a cauldron.

I need a bigger pot. Possibly a vat. Or a cauldron.

I have 26 more pounds of tomatoes today.  Plus I bought another 20-pound box of peaches, and a 25-pound box of apples.  Yum!

In addition to a larger pot, I need another day in my week.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dear Apple

Dear Apple,

Please stop changing the way my phone looks with every update you send out. It seems like I finally get used to a setup and stop resenting the change, and then you change it again.

Also please stop with the useless apps that are automatically installed and cannot be deleted. I just stuff them into a "junk" folder and ignore them, but they are taking up space in my phone.

One Who Doesn't Like Change

Sunday, September 20, 2015


I picked some cucumbers today, with an eye toward making some pickles.

Future pickles.

As you can see, a couple of them got away from me a little. The one I'm holding weighs a full pound.  It should have been picked several days ago, but it was hiding under the alyssum and escaped notice.

This one, however, is even bigger. I left this one on purpose, though.  It will be allowed to fully ripen and become next year's seed.

Boston Pickling cucumber.  This one is becoming next year's seed.

I got a total of nine pounds of cukes today, which turned into one quart of whole dill pickles and three quarts of dill pickle spears.  Even though some of the cucumbers were really too big for the ideal pickle-size, they were still fine.  The Boston Pickling variety is perfect for canning, since it is crisp and fleshy, and the seeds stay small for quite a while.  Even the one-pounder in the first picture had hardly any seed cavity.

Home grown pickles.

It's going to be hard to wait the required few weeks before opening a jar of these.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Peach time!

Late summer is peach time.  I almost missed it this year, but managed get myself organized enough to purchase a 20-pound box of peaches earlier this week.

They were still pretty hard when I got them on Monday, but ripened well over the week.  I canned them this afternoon.


The 20-pound box turned into 10 quarts of slices.  As you can see, there are only nine jars there. Sadly, one jar cracked in the water bath.  I hate disasters like that, but that's only the second jar I've ever had break in the canner, which isn't too bad for roughly 15 years of canning.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This is what 41 pounds of tomatoes looks like

I finished off the second half of Sunday's tomato haul last night, for a total of 18.25 pints of sauce safely stored away this time around.  My biggest harvest so far!

41 pounds of tomatoes, finished. 18.25 pints of sauce.

I am quite happy with how my tomatoes are doing, I just hope the frost holds off for a while longer.  We've had several nights down into the high 30s, and I'm not ready for tomato season to be over.

Monday, September 14, 2015

No scurvy at my house.

I got 41 pounds of tomatoes today! (This recycled produce box came in very handy.)

41 pounds of tomatoes harvested today.

I did one batch of sauce this evening, using 20 pounds.

The first 20 pounds cooking down.

Perhaps it wasn't the best idea to start this process at 7 pm on a Sunday night, but I was so excited about the piles of tomatoes.

Straining the sauce through the food mill

By the time this batch was cooked to soften the tomatoes, put through the food mill, cooked down more to get the right consistency, and canned, it was late.  I just finished, and it's 1:00 in the morning.

But I now have another eight pints of delicious thick spaghetti sauce safely preserved to add to my stash in the basement.


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Grape Harvest 2015

We picked the grapes this weekend, since the majority of them seem to be ripe.  Strangely, the green ones are just as sweet as the red ones.  Since some were starting to shrivel up and go bad, we decided that it was time to harvest even though they weren't all red.

I picked a total of 39 pounds off the single vine.  We've also been snacking on them for a couple weeks, and there are still a few bunches that weren't quite ripe which we left for more snacking.  I would say that this vine easily produced close to 50 pounds of fruit this year.  I have no idea if that is a good amount for a grapevine or not, but it seems pretty impressive to me. 

The bulk of the grape harvest 2015: 39 pounds from one vine.

I did the first batch of juice by picking 15 pounds worth of grapes off their stems, washing them, mashing them, cooking them for about 45 minutes until they were soft, then straining them through a jelly bag to drain off the juice.

First batch, 15 pounds cooking down.

While that worked, it took forever to strain the juice.  My jelly bag only held a third of the grape pulp, and there was so much fine sediment that it clogged the bag to a slow drip.  I ended up rigging up two more "jelly bags" out of dish towels, string, and two large bowls, and hung them from the pot rack.

Finally, after about a day and a half, the juice was pretty much finished draining.  I called it done, canned it up, and yay!  I have 8 pints of grape juice!

First eight pints of grape juice

Then I looked at the rest of the grapes that were waiting to be processed (26 pounds), and decided that there was no way I wanted to spend four more days waiting for the next two batches of juice to drain.  I took myself down to BiMart and got a steamer juicer, which very conveniently was on sale at 60% off.

Hmmm, still 26 pounds of grapes left after the first batch... I have a steam juicer now.

You put the fruit in the colander basket (top compartment), and boil water in the bottom pan.  The steam rises through a funnel in the center compartment into the colander in the top, cooks and breaks down the fruit, and the juice drips down to the middle compartment and drains out via the tube.

This is SO MUCH EASIER!!!  You don't even have to take the grapes off the stems!  Just wash and put them in the pot!  The yield was exactly the same, the juice comes out much clearer with almost no sediment, and there is no straining required!

I processed the entire remaining 26 pounds tonight, in about three hours.

Finished! A total of 27 pints of grape juice.

So now I have a total of 27 pints of grape juice ready to store.  I did these in pints instead of quarts because I know my daughter.  If I put the juice up in quarts, it would be gulped down by the quart.  This way, we can split a pint between us so it's savored as a special treat.