Category Archives: Putting Up

Homemade Sun-dried Tomatoes

Here in Denver the weather is insane. It’s pretty common to have it be snowing one day & sunny in the 70’s the next but honestly, that’s one of the reasons I love it here so much! That & the fact that it’s sunny 99% of the time. Colorado actually has one of the highest rates of sunny days in the entire country! Since it’s so nice & sunny here I decided I wanted to make sun-dried tomatoes this summer. I’ve had an amazing crop of tomatoes this year in my new garden! I am so happy with how my new garden did. There are a few things I feel like I did right & I’ll share those tips for anyone interested in growing awesome tomatoes.

  • Use a whiskey barrel: Thanks to my dad, I was able to have a fantastically huge crop of tomatoes because I grew them in a make-shift whiskey barrel. Growing veggies in containers like this is definitely the way to go. The larger size allows plenty of room for the roots as well as giving you a place to create the perfect soil mixture without having to worry about the quality of the soil. Plus it keeps the moisture trapped within the walls of the barrel, reducing the need to water every day.You can see what the homemade whiskey barrel setup with the tomatoes growing in the picture below.
Tomatoes in the Whiskey Barrel

Tomatoes in the Whiskey Barrel

  • Feed your plants: I used a tomato food from Burpee.com called Tomato-Tone. It’s organic & all-natural so you don’t have to worry about chemicals getting into your food. I had four groups of plants, each group had 2-3 plants in it. I feed each group 3 tablespoons of Tomato-Tone every other weekend. From the very first feeding, the results were almost immediate! The plants started producing extra flowers within a few days of the feeding.
  • Prune like crazy: This tip is from my mom. If you haven’t read any of my older posts then you wouldn’t know that my parents are the most awesomest gardeners ever. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but they did with the Rocky Mountain News Home & Garden Denver Home Garden Contest & were pictured on the front page of the Lifestyle section sitting in between their happy little plants! I think what I’m trying to say is that my parents know what’s up when it comes to growing stuff. In regards to the tomato plants, my mom put it like this: tomatoes are really a vine-like plant. You basically want to nip off all the leaves & suckers near the bottom of the plant so the plant puts all its energy into producing plants. My mom drew me a little picture, which I don’t have anymore, but it showed that you leave the top 5 flower buds plus their suckers & pinch off everything below it. I didn’t really follow the 5 rule, I kind of just pinched off everything below a certain point & that seemed to work just fine. As they grew, I chose which suckers I wanted to let get bigger, depending on where there were located on the plant, how many suckers it already had, how big & healthy it looks. You start to get a feel for what needs to come off & what needs to stay after a few weeks. But I got such a fantastic crop this summer I’m definitely going to prune like that next summer. You can see in the picture below how it looks like there’s hardly any leaves, just tomatoes!
My Pruned Tomato Plants

My Pruned Tomato Plants

With the recent REALLY cold snap that lasted for one week in the beginning of October, the tomato season came to a sudden end. I went outside & harvested EVERYTHING I could off the tomato plants. My neighbors didn’t really harvest any of their tomatoes this summer so I picked all their plants too. I am going to make a spicy pepper mix with the green tomatoes (post will follow) but the red ones I didn’t really know what to do with. I REALLY wanted to can some tomatoes this summer but all I got around to were pickling some cherry tomatoes with garlic & purple basil. Most of the tomatoes I grew were cherry, thanks to the mystery plants donated by my mom this spring. Don’t get me wrong, I am SUPER happy I didn’t have to buy plants but I think next year I’ll add some different varieties. But on the bright side, all the extra cherry tomatoes ended up being perfect for sun-dried tomatoes. Now the last week of October isn’t the sunniest week around here, I probably would have been better off doing it in the 100 plus degree weather we had for three solid months this summer but better late than never!

I started off by speeding up the drying process in the over. I drizzled extra virgin olive oil on a big roasting pan. I spread the cherry tomatoes evenly over the pan.

Cherry Tomatoes in a Roasting Pan

Cherry Tomatoes in a Roasting Pan

I stuck them in the oven for about a half hour at 275 degrees. I also propped the oven door open because cooking tomatoes doesn’t mean they are getting dry. That’s another trick I learned from my mom since that what she does when she makes beef jerky. It allows the moist air in the over to escape & reduces the humidity inside. After they looked like they were starting to get  a little bit shriveled, I took them out of the oven.

Shriveled Tomatoes

Shriveled Tomatoes

I set them outside on my balcony on the rail where I thought they’d get the most sun during the day. I left them outside for 3 days. At that point they weren’t completely done but it was going to snow & that would have ruined them.

Tomatoes Drying in the Sun

Tomatoes Drying in the Sun

I brought them back inside & left them out on the table in the pan to finish. Every day I picked out the tomatoes that looked done so there wouldn’t be extra humidity in the pan (kind of like how the less clothes you have in the dryer the faster it gets done). Remember, you don’t want them bone dry, think raisins. They should be slightly soft & the test I used to determine if they were ready was if they felt solid between my fingers. If there was any mushiness then they still had some liquid left inside & needed more drying time.

Finished Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Finished Sun-Dried Tomatoes

As they got done, I stuck them in a mason jar with a lid one it, not sealed or anything, just air tight so they wouldn’t become dry & crumble to dust. After an extra 3 days the last of them were done. I ate one & they were really good! I can’t wait to cook with them!!!

Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Mason Jar

Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Mason Jar

 

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Zesty Zucchini Relish

I have a ton of zucchini coming to me from my parent’s garden. It is insane how much zucchini can come off of one plant! I have about had it with eating it at this point. I’ve grilled it, sauteed it, stir-fried it, steamed it. But the one thing I didn’t do was pickle it! I had SO much left over I decided to make some zucchini relish. I’ve never made pickles before & this was my first summer doing my own canning, every other time I’ve canned it’s been with my mom at her house. My cousin apparently was doing the same thing in Wisconsin, this was her first summer canning too. We’ve been going back & forth on Facebook about this & that, posting pictures, trading tips. She forwarded me this recipe for Zesty Zucchini Relish. I had found something similar in the Ball Blue Book but I liked her’s better. The only problem is, I HATE green peppers. So I did some tinkering & substituted the green pepper with a mix of yellow summer squash & cucumbers.

Zesty Zucchini Relish Ingredients

At first, as you can see in the picture above, I was considering adding some celery, but once I shredded my yellow squash & cucumbers, I had more than enough veggies. All the ingredients came from either mine or my parents garden. It turned out freaking delicious. My son liked it so much, the first day after I canned it he called me as soon as he got home from school & asked me how to cook hot dogs so he could have something to eat the relish with!

Brined Zesty Zucchini Relish

So here’s the recipe I used, with my own modifications added! Please note, this is technically a sweet relish. I don’t like sweet relish & I refuse to eat it. However, this doesn’t taste like normal sweet relish. It isn’t really sweet, it’s more like a spicy bread & butter taste. I just thought I’d throw that out there so no one gets misled.

Rox’s Zesty Zucchini Relish

Brine Soak Ingredients
8 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups shredded white onions
2 cups shredded cucumber
1 cup shredded yellow summer squash
3 green chili peppers, roasted
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup canning salt

Vinegar Solution
3 cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon chopped lemon basil
Fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place the Brine soak ingredients in a glass or stainless steel container. Add canning salt & cover with cold water. Let stand for 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
  2. Rinse well and drain. Squeeze out excess water. Resulting mixture should cont4 cups of well packed veggies.
  3. In a large heavy bottom pot prepare vinegar solution by adding all it`s ingredients bring to a boil then add the drained vegetables and simmer for 10 minute Add food coloring if desired.
  4. Fill jars, leaving 1/4-inch head-space. Process pints for 10 minute in boiling-water canner.

FYI – Always adjust the processing times for your altitude. Here in Denver, the mile high city at 5,280 feet above sea level, I have to add 10 minutes to everything I process. I forgot to do that on my peaches & one batch of peach butter & it was a nightmare to fix.

Funneling Relish into Jars

Canned Zesty Zucchini Relish

Canned Zesty Zucchini Relish

Garden Antipasto Recipe

Another oil based canning recipe, this one for eggplant!

Eggplant, eggplant, eggplant. Never have we received so much eggplant in the CSA: growing eggplants must be fond of torrential rain storms interspersed with bright, sunny days. The peppers have been no slouch either: pale green Cubanelles, tiny, dark purple bells, fat red and yellow sweet peppers, they’ve all been making their way into my meals of late, but there are so many that they need to find their way into my freezer and pantry as well.

Enter canned antipasto: a vinegar & oil pickle, this preserve makes use of this summer’s bounty of eggplant & peppers, adds a bit of aromatic flavor with garlic & herbs, and once mellowed on the shelf for a few weeks, will be a welcome addition to a cheese plate, charcuterie platter or traditional Italian meal. I haven’t yet opened a jar, so I can’t comment on taste or texture of the finished product…

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Oil Preserved Zucchini Planks Recipe

Trying to find a way to can zucchini! This is a good thought. Love marinated stuff in EVOO.

Auburn Meadow Farm

An everlasting post-traumatic stress symptom of my early jobs in bustling restaurants is this recurring dream:

I am the only server on duty in a restaurant with many rooms on many levels. The hostess seats a party and I take their drink order. Then she seats another party and I take their drink order, then another, and another and another….

I’m rushing to greet each table as they are seated, up and down and all over this gi-normous, ever-expanding restaurant and I can only collect the drink orders, never fill them and get back to the tables to get the food orders…

Exhausting.

What’s my dream got to do with anything? Zucchini, that’s what.

The zucchini keeps coming, and coming and coming! Those fertile plants just keep popping out beautiful, shiny, perfectly formed fruit and I just can’t do them justice. I go out, greet them, take their drink…

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Chokecherry Jelly

My Chokecherry Jelly

Even though I picked the chokecherries in late July, I just got around to making the jelly this past weekend. The nice thing about making jelly, as opposed to jam or preserves, is that you just need the juice & the juice is easier to store than fruit. Within a few days of picking the chokecherries, I make the juice with the intention of freezing it & making jelly later. In my other post Chokecherry Madness, I posted a link to food.com’s search of chokecherry recipes.

Chokecherry Harvest

I picked about 4 pounds of cherries all together. When I decided to seriously get into canning this summer, I bought a bunch of supplies so I could be prepared. One of the things I bought was a digital scale. It was relatively cheap, under $20, but it was a great investment. Most of the recipes I’ve found, especially in the Ball Blue Book (which I absolutely love & reference constantly) call for ingredients by weight. So having a scale has turned out to be a lot more important that I expected. Another thing I like about the digital scale I have is that you can tare it to include a container or plate. I’ll put the colander or bowl on the scale, tare it, then start loading it up. It’s very easy. I’ve learned canning includes insane amounts of calculations, number of jars needed, figuring time to correct altitude, pounds of food per jar, dividing pints to half pints or quarts to pints, etc. Anything that cuts out more math makes it easier for me & most importantly takes out the possibility of a mental math error. Anyways . .  back from my “make sure you buy a scale speech” I ended up with about 4 pounds of fruit. I split it in half to process in the juice in 2 batches. I don’t think it really matters exactly how much water you put in with the fruit, I read to make sure it’s “fully submerged.” I boiled the juice for a good hour. It had a really interesting smell. As it cooked I got some ideas to flavor it. I thought it smelled a little citrusy so I added some lemon thyme to the pot. I love lemon thyme, I love regular thyme, so I put some of that in there too. I pulled it off when the liquid was reduced to about half of what it was. The remaining liquid was a crazy bright pink, purple, red color. It was cloudy too, not clear like store bought juice. I strained everything through cheesecloth, letting it sit over the pot & drain for a good half hour. Once it stopped dripping, I kind of smashed it down to mash the fruit & to squeeze any remaining liquid out of the mush. I got 2 cups of juice for the first batch & 3 for the second, so all together a little over 5 cups. I split the liquid into these Ball plastic freezer containers (I LOVE these things, anything liquid I freeze I put in these containers, they are wonderful & stuff keeps so much better in them instead of glass jars or other plastic ones) & stuck them in the freezer. Another thing I like about those plastic containers is that they stack, the lids have a that the bottoms click into so they don’t slip off each other or fall over. I kept the juice frozen for a little over a month. I defrosted the juice in a stock pot. I bought a jar of Ball regular pectin. Since chokecherry jelly isn’t in the Ball Blue Book I didn’t know what proportions to use. The label of the pectin directed me to their website where they have a Pectin Calculator. It’s a great tool to use, you select the fruit, select jam or jelly, select the type of pectin you have & it gives you the amounts of juice/fruit, sugar & pectin to use depending on how many jars you need or how much fruit you have. It’s a great site, I will definitely reference it in the future! I had some pretty thick juice once it melted so I added a little extra water to it. The first batch I made was for 6 pint-sized jelly jars. I used 4 1/2 cups of juice. I had a little under 3 cups of juice left so I added enough water to make 4 more jars with 3 1/3 cups of the remaining juice. All together I ended up with 10 jars of processed chokecherry jelly with a little bit leftover that I stuck in a jar to eat right away. It tastes delicious!

Canned Chokecherry Jelly

I definitely like the added lemon thyme. I didn’t want to add too much flavor because I’ve never had chokecherry jelly before & wanted to know what it tasted like before adding spices. I really like it & I love the fact that there are so many chokecherry plants here in Denver I can pick as much as I want! Next summer I will be making more jelly but I’d like to try some new flavors as well. I’d like to try a more lemony version, maybe using lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon thyme & regular thyme. I’d also like to try a version that would taste like my favorite roasted cranberry sauce (I make it every year at Thanksgiving). For that one I’d add lemon juice, use brown sugar instead of white, use rosemary, sage & thyme. I may or may not roast the fruit before, the cranberry sauce recipe calls for roasting the cranberries & creating a lumpy mess instead of smashing them or using a food mill. It also uses red wine to create the sauce & I wonder if I could add some wine or wine vinegar to the jelly. I’ll have to think about that one!

Chokecherry Jelly on Toast & Tea