Attack of the green tomatoes

It was time to get ready for fall crops at the neighborhood community garden, so the tomato plants had to

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

hot green tomato pickles and peach jam

go. As we ripped out the drooping vines, I noticed dozens of green tomatoes. The voice of my mother – the person who saved, flattened out and reused aluminum foil – jumped into my head. “It seems a shame to waste all these tomatoes,” it said through my mouth.

We didn’t think that the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, where most of the garden’s produce goes as part of the Plant a Row for the Hungry program, would want green tomatoes. In a fit of optimism, I took them.

Even after becoming picky and only selecting the largest ones, I could barely drag my bulging bag the two blocks back to my house. There must have been at least 20 pounds of hard, green balls in there.

The green tomatoes led me to violate one of the cardinal rules of entertaining: Never serve to guests a recipe that you’re making for the first time. But I was surrounded by green things, and these were old and tolerant friends who would eat almost anything that wasn’t once hoofed or feathered. I found a green tomato pasta sauce recipe in “Tomatoes: A Savor the South Cookbook” by my friend Miriam Rubin. It was simple – garlic, parsley, some hot peppers and the tomatoes – and I added crabmeat.

It was a success (although linguini might have been a better pasta choice than rigatoni). But if it was followed by The Hub’s chocolate cake, even shredded paper would’ve been proclaimed gourmet, so I had dessert as back-up.

Then I wanted to make green tomato pickles. I had never made them, and had eaten them only once. I purchased a jar for the Thanksgiving relish tray many years ago, and remembered their interesting flavor and texture. I combed through canning books and cobbled the recipe at the end together from several ideas. Easy? Yes. But it will be another week or so before I can say how they taste, because all pickles must sit for a period of time to, well, pickle.

Last night, it was the classic fried green tomatoes with our Labor Day grilled burgers.

The bag is much lighter now, but 20 or so of the greenies still lurk in my kitchen…

Hot Green Tomato Pickles

15 cups cored and sliced 1/4-inch-thick green tomatoes

4 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 tablespoon crushed dried red pepper

2 tablespoons yellow mustard seed

3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 teaspoons celery seed

6-7 cloves garlic

In a large saucepan, combine the vinegar, red pepper, mustard seed, sugar, peppercorns and celery seed. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is boiling, remove from the heat.

Have clean, sanitized pint jars, lids and rims ready. Drop 1 clove garlic into each jar, then pack in the tomatoes. Pour the vinegar mixture over the tomatoes, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Push a wooden skewer gently into the mixture and around the sides to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rims and screw on the lids and rims.

Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the canner and cool on folded towels or racks.

Makes 6-7 pints.



Canning Week

Relish….a lot of relish. My friend Brenda and I get together every year for Relishmania. We give most of it as

vegetable relish

vegetable relish

gifts and her family has been known to have relish fights. On the way over, she found out he’s in hot water (hotter than the canning kettle) because her mother discovered he’d been holding out on her. He hid his gift relish for his own use.

This is not chow-chow. I have never liked chow-chow dating all the way back to when my mother made it, and I think it’s because of the cabbage that’s traditionally in it. I like kimchi just fine, and the hotter the better. But something about the cabbage in chow-chow just turns me off. Our relish is tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, bell peppers, just a hint of hot peppers, and a sweet-sour liquid.

As we considered our post-relish lunch, an unexpected call came in: A neighbor is overloaded with figs. Figs are my treasure. Fig jam my canning grail. I finally found a spot in my shady yard that’s is, I hope, sunny enough for the fig I planted there to bear fruit, but that answer will come. For now, I still must depend on the kindness of semi-strangers.

Figs are now in the canning plan, along with the original Friday adventure: My friend Linda and watermelon-lemongrass jelly.

Nice place to be in a jam…or pickle

selections at the triangle canning swap

The first thing I noticed that was different about this year’s Triangle Canning Swap was the spread of jars and bottles on the table – it must have been twice as big as in 2011. (Thanks to greeneatsblog for organizing.)

Canning has become hip, hot and happening. I’m not sure what my canning-crazy grandmother would have said about coconut-banana jam, but it looked really good. As did brandied cherries, peach-bourbon butter, lavender-mint-raspberry jam, dilly beans, homemade ginger beer, salsas, tomato chutneys and the other goodies.

You can even subscribe to a jam-of-the-month club through This & That Jam of Durham. Read more about that here.

I’ve canned pickles, jams and jellies for years, and I’m glad so many people are discovering what fun it is – and how excited others are to get a little jar of something homemade as a gift. Really, people kind of freak out about it. Some friends and I will be spending a big chunk of this weekend making our famous relish. The favored few who have received it before say it should be classified as a controlled substance.

I took my blackberry-Earl Grey jelly, classic bread-and-butter pickles, and lavender-lemon jelly to the swap. I came home with balsamic-bell pepper jelly, green fig-apple-Calvados jam, and heirloom tomato-basil jam.

Jam and jewels

the afternoon's work: peach jam

My canning buddy, Linda, swore she would not miss peach jam season this year. I was glad – she moaned all winter about it. So I headed for the State Farmers Market on Friday. We always mix white peaches and yellow ones, so I got baskets of each. Bags in my hand, I was walking towards my car when I saw them: Damson plums. I usually come upon them  accidentally, and I can’t pass by them. I bought them all.

Damsons are purple, but make a delicate rose-colored jelly that tastes as pretty as it looks. It just makes me smile to look at it. So, although they increased the anticipated canning workload, they came home with me. On Saturday, I cooked them down and piled them in a colander lined with cheesecloth, then left them for several hours for the juice to drain. I put the juice in a container and put it in the refrigerator. It would be easy to turn it to jelly after we finished the jam session.

Today, Linda and I started on the peaches. We made two batches of jam, with a lunch break for pimento cheese sandwiches (a canning day tradition). As we lowered the third batch of jars into the canner, I turned around to clean up and saw – the measuring cup of sugar that we had forgotten to put in. Instead of  1 1/2 cups of sugar, the batch had 1/4 cup, the amount we mixed with the powdered pectin before adding it.

Do we snatch the jars out of the water, dump the jam back in the pot and add the sugar? “Let’s taste it,” Linda said. We scooped spoonsful from the pot, and it tasted pretty darn good as it was. So we let it go. As The Hub has said before about computer programming, “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” We’ll look for a suitable name for our fruit spread.

We don’t do anything special to our peach jam. No liqueurs, spices or flavorings. We keep it simple, and we like it that way.


No canning pun here, either

matt lardie divvys up the jars

The jars clustered on a table at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham probably didn’t look like much to the usual beer-drinking, Sunday-afternoon loafers. But to the canning obsessed at the first Triangle Food Bloggers Canning Swap, they were precious jewels. For such a small group, the variety was amazing – bloody mary base, blackberry syrup, watermelon rind pickles, pickled okra, brandied oranges.

The creativity on sparkling display shows that canning has thrown off Grandma’s ratty apron and gone wild. But the reasons that people enjoy canning are the same: Working with local ingredients, creating great flavors that you can’t find in stores and saving a little money.

Here’s how it worked. Participants brought up to five jars of their goodies, and could receive one pick for each jar they brought. Names were drawn from a jar to determine order.

Some brought their first canning efforts. As veterans of more than a decade of pickling and jamming, my canning buddy, Linda, and I felt like the gray-haired (literally) sages. We shared our experience and, in return, received enthusiasm and creative ideas. So the “swap” was for more than tasty jars.

Thanks to Matt Lardie of  Green Eats Blog for organizing the swap.

Here’s a secret that I shared on Sunday: You can make almost any liquid into a jelly. Teas, bottled juices, they all can work. As does an infusion, which was the base for this jelly, my contribution to the swap.

Lovely Lemon Lavender Jelly

Be sure to use chemical-free culinary lavender, not the kind used in potpourris or sachets. I got mine from Bluebird Hill Farm, which sells at the North Hills farmers market.

Zest from 1 large lemon
1 teaspoon dried lavender buds
3 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pouch liquid pectin

Place the lemon zest and lavender buds in a large bowl. Pour 2 1/4 cups boiling water over them, cover with a pan lid or aluminum foil and let steep for 1 hour. Strain and reserve the infused liquid.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the liquid with the sugar, vinegar and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a bubbling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. When it is boiling and the sugar is dissolved, stir in the liquid pectin and return the mixture to a bubbling boil. Boil vigorously for 1 minute, or until the mixture passes the jell test.

Ladle the jelly into sterilized half-pint jars and screw on sterilized lids. Process in a boiling-water bath canner for 5 minutes.

Makes about 4 half-pint jars.

No canning pun here

The one drawback to the craze for canning homemade goodies is the overuse of every hoary “can” pun in existence. You will see none here. Hope you don’t find that too jarring.

But you should gather your goodies and attend the first-ever Triangle Food Blogger Canning Swap on July 31, 3 p.m. at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C. (I fervently hope it’s in the air-conditioned part.) It’s easy. Bring up to five jars of your home-canned jam, jelly, pickles, salsa, sauce, chutney, etc. Names will be drawn from a hat, and you’ll get to swap jar for jar that you bring.

The swap is the brainchild of Matt Lardie of Green Eats Blog. Contact him by tomorrow, June 25, to sign up.