The bounty of early fall is also the last gasp of summer. Cherry and Roma tomatoes, raspberries, melons, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash are all pouring in after our warm days last month. But sadly, their days are numbered. If I want to savor and extend the last tastes of summer, I will have to work quickly. Before the tomatoes stop fruiting, and the basil bolts and the zucchini vine withers, I will bottle it up. I will prolong summer by canning.
Canning, “putting up,” as they say in the South, or preserving food is perfect for the seasonality of our California growing seasons and the produce available at farmer’s markets. It also compliments your own vegetable garden, as you can preserve your produce the day you pick it. This method of savoring, and preserving is brilliant. It stretches the bounty of the season and allows you to eat it later, when it is not so bountiful – kind of like bottling sunshine. For centuries housewives have done just that, before canning was taken over by plants and assembly lines. We have not forgotten, just put it on the back burner, so to speak. Now canning has again come to the forefront and its popularity is growing.
Canning, curing, pickling, and preserving have taken off on a national level. Perhaps it’s the can-do mentality arising from the faltering economy or just a “saving not spending” mentality, but whatever the reason, it’s good to see people coming back to this thrifty tradition.
Turning fresh food into preserved food is not that difficult. I look forward to a hot, steamy bowl of minestrone on a cold winter day, which I can top with a dollop of last summer’s sweet basil pesto that is right now sitting in my freezer, not to mention the tomato jam that goes with pork loin or quail, or spread on a ham and cheese sandwich.
Once you’ve tried preserving food for yourself, I’m sure there will be no stopping you.
Pesto is not just a delicious sauce for pasta. Pesto is such a versatile condiment that your pantry should never be without it. You can add pesto to soups, baked dishes, salad dressings, and sandwiches.
• (Makes about one jar)
• 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only
• 1 clove garlic, sliced
• juice of lemon
• cup olive oil
• 1/8 cup parmesan cheese
• cup pine nuts, toasted
• salt and pepper to taste
Begin by toasting the pine nuts in a toaster oven or in a dry skillet over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in a cuisinart, add the garlic and oil, then the basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Pulse until it is quite mixed together and there are no lumps. Add the lemon juice and it will turn bright green. Add salt and pepper to taste. Freeze or refrigerate until ready to use. When ready to use, you can add a little hot water or oil to extend it.
Spicy Tomato Jam
This is a delicious tomato-fruit conserve-like jam that can be eaten with everything from pork loin to a good sharp cheese or a creamy goat cheese. Add more cayenne if you like it really spicy.
• 1 lb. of ripe cherry tomatoes
• 6 TBS sugar
• 6 TBS brown sugar
• 2 TBS grated fresh ginger
• lemon, sliced in thin half-moons
• tsp ground cumin
• tsp ground cinnamon
• tsp ground cloves
• 2 TBS unfiltered cider vinegar
• salt and cayenne pepper
Combine the tomatoes, sugars, ginger, lemon, spices, and 1 TBS of vinegar in a medium-size, heavy-bottom saucepan. Add a pinch each of salt and cayenne and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the tomatoes cook down to a jam and the sugars are bubbly and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool. If it is too sweet, adjust the seasoning and add up to the extra TBS vinegar.
Recipe from Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville
Putting Up by Stephen Palmer Dowdney
jam it, pickle it, cure it by Karen Solomon
- *Please consult safety guides before canning, or go to www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html for a complete guide for home canning.
Tricia O’Brien writes the Vegetable of the Month column for the Oak Hill Farm newsletter and lives in Glen Ellen. You can visit and follow her blog at www.cafetrix.blogspot.com.