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This weekend’s project (which really did take most of the weekend) was to make tomato  paste. I never tackled this before but seemed like it was a worthwhile project to use the overabundance of ripe Roma tomatoes that had suddenly appeared in the basement.

When they were predicting frost a few weeks back, I picked pretty much every single tomato that was left on the vine, most of them, sadly still green as anything. It always is such a pain to do pulling all the tomatoes, particularly when its usually last minute and freezing out, but it seems so wasteful to let these beautiful summer fruits just freeze on the vines. Hence, my basement is now filled with trays and trays of green tomatoes. The problem is that many of them decided to ripen simultaneously. So what does one do with a bounty of tomatoes? There are many things that you can do and I have done a lot of them, yet the tomatoes continue to ripen and beckon for someone to do something with them. This seemed the next logical step.

What is absolutely amazing to me is how concentrated it becomes. I started out with 10 lbs of Roma tomatoes, which is a lot of tomatoes for this batch of paste.  I then split them in half, taking out the seeds and put them in a pot. Even split and cored, these tomatoes still filled a huge pot. The tomatoes boiled down for about an hour until they were soft. I then allowed them to cool and put them into the fridge overnight, for no other reason but my own schedule which did not permit me the time necessary for the next steps. The following day, I took those tomatoes out, put them through the food mill on a fine setting to get rid of the skins. I still ended up with a sauce pot full of cooked tomatoes. I added a couple teaspoons of kosher salt and allowed this to boil down for another hour or thereabouts until it was reduced by half. This mixtures was then spread onto a silicone sheet on a baking sheet (covering the whole sheet pan) and cooked for several hours — probably about 4-5 total at 200 degrees, stirring every 1/2 hour or so to keep it from burning until it was reduced down to a thick concentrated paste.  This paste amounted to two tiny little jars of paste. But these are not just ordinary jars of paste, no sir, they are tiny little jars of summer. Summer concentrated and squeezed into half pint mason jars covered with a thin layer of olive oil.

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They will now reside in my fridge and I will dip into them every time my cooking needs a little taste of summer. Covered with oil and refrigerated, they will last a year. Just in time to do it all again next summer.

 

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Today was a peppery kind of day. I bought a bushel of sweet peppers at the farmer’s market today and combined it with some other delicious pasilla peppers from Alchemy Gardens. I added to that peppers from my CSA at Evening Song Farm and my own poblano peppers. What does one do with all those peppers?

First, I washed seeded and cut up a bunch to freeze for later in the winter, when we need some homegrown peppers. These will remind us of the warm weather when gardening is but a dream.

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Then I roasted a whole lot of the peppers. Some of them were fixed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil. We will have these with some homemade bread from the farmer’s market for dinner tonight.

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Finally, I took some of the roasted peppers and canned them for use later on, much like you would buy in the store. These will be added to pasta or soup, or some other goodies in the coming weeks.

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I made these peach preserves over the weekend with fresh peaches. Oh my goodness, are they good. I found the recipe here at Natasha’s Kitchen and I suggest that you hop on over there to check it out. I adapted it a bit to add a touch of vanilla (about 1 teaspoon) to the peaches before I jarred them. I had my doubts since the recipe takes a couple days to complete, but it seems that it is well worth the wait.

 

Here in Vermont we were very lucky this time around when Hurricane Sandy struck — we were spared the devastation that took all of us by surprise a year ago in August. It is sad to see the destruction that has befallen our home state of New Jersey, especially “down the shore”.

It was however interesting to see as I drove around over this past weekend and on Monday before the storm gained a foothold, the preparations being taken here, although the forecast was not as dire as it was in the New York area and other coastal sections of the eastern seaboard. The gas stations were doing a booming business since everyone was there, filling their vehicles, filling their supply of gas cans (a requirement here in Vermont), and even some folks had their generators on their vehicles, filling those as well. The stores didn’t have the run that the stores closer to the storm did, but clearly you could see that people had some extra water or milk in their shopping carts. As I dropped a child off down in town, I was amazed to see that every single house along the way had their outdoor belongings tucked away or tied down, bare lawns and secured belongings clearly added to the evidence that the folks in Vermont weren’t taking any chances this time around.

One of the good things about living up here is that you feel almost compelled to be “stocked up”. Everyone, or so it seems, puts food by for the winter…or the blizzard….or the hurricane… or even the zombie apocalypse (Happy Halloween, everyone!) if you believe my sons. If you don’t can, pickle, dry or jar you are pretty much a newbie and you feel like a loser. If you haven’t learned how to make at least some of the stuff that you eat yourself … well, you definitely aren’t from around these parts. Everyone that I know does some form of preservation of the fresh summer veggies and has other goodies tucked away to keep them going through the bad weather.

My recent posts on homemade yogurt and homemade granola go hand in hand with my post on homemade jam. The peppers from the garden have been sliced and frozen for winter soups or stir fries. The tomatoes have been slowly boiled down to sauce and tucked away in the freezer. Habanero peppers, cayenne peppers and Thai peppers have been dried, as has the basil that now resides in a mason jar on a shelf in the pantry. I have made pickles and put up Jersey peaches at the height of the season.

Potatoes from the garden will be stored in the basement, along with the canned goods and non-perishables that will help us weather what Mother Nature and zombies may throw our way in the coming months. My sourdough starter is in mason jars (note the plural) in the fridge and can easily be turned into a loaf of bread when the mood strikes.

We have huge stockpots that were hauled out a few days ago to hold water in the event that the power went out, so we wouldn’t need to start the generator right away. The firewood was brought in and stacked by the wood stove. Many a batch of dough has risen by the warmth of that fire as have many bagels, cinnamon buns and dinner rolls. When the power was out before the generator, we even cooked soup and boiled water for pasta on the wood stove.

We are fortunate that the farm down the hill is a dairy farm and we have gotten raw milk there on occasion – especially when the ladies and I made cheese.

 

 

I remember someone that I knew in New Jersey years ago commenting, “why store stuff in our house when we have the supermarket down the street, storing everything for us?” Why? Because you never know when zombies can come out of the wood work or the “storm of the century” decides that you are in its path. Here, we lose the power quite a bit (not as much as we used to, but it happens with some frequency, especially during windy or rainy weather). Sometimes, it happens when you least expect it. For instance, two weeks ago at about 10 p.m. the power went out for about 1/2 hour for no discernable reason. I was critical of Tom’s decision to buy a generator, figuring candles are romantic aren’t they? However, not being able to shower or flush the toilets or have drinking water, isn’t. When we lived in New Jersey a power outage if it occurred usually happened at the height of a heatwave and resulted in no power. We had a gas stove and our water came from the water system. Here, our water comes from a well that guess what? Doesn’t work without power so when our power goes out, so goes our water, and our showers and our toilets. Trust me, generators are a good thing and for the time or two that you might need them for days or a week or more, you will be thanking your stars that you invested in one.

If living in Vermont, and my wonderful neighbors and friends, have taught me anything, it is that we have to be prepared to be self-sufficient — whatever the reason. We could survive here for days (in fact, last year when Irene struck we did) without a store run and weeks if necessary. I have made bread on the gas grill, I have cooked dinner on the wood stove. We have melted snow in pots on the wood stove to flush toilets. It may sound apocalyptic but it’s not. It’s being prepared. We are fortunate to have honey from the bees and fresh eggs from the chickens. If the zombies ever did strike, I am sure that we could have chicken from the chickens as well, but I’m hoping that we don’t have to go that route. The goats, cuties that they are, are off limits.

Being prepared is something that I have learned not to take for granted. You never know when the weather or the zombies may take a turn for the worse and after these last few storms we have all learned that you can never, ever be too prepared. In addition, knowing that you can take care of yourself and be self reliant and self sufficient, even if it is only for a few days, is a really good feeling.

Evilwife on the move

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