A bumper crop

Next week we are going to be out of town, so of course, this week is the week that I have two largish orders for custom cakes, a bushel of tomatoes to deal with and 75 lbs of fruit coming on Saturday.

The cakes are easy–they require a bit of work, but should come together smoothly and almost without thinking. That’s my job, after all.

The fruit, 50 lbs of apples and 25 of pears, will probably keep just fine in the cool basement for the 5 days we will be gone, so long as the cat doesn’t suddenly develop a taste for tree fruit. I just hope those raccoons don’t figure out how to get in the house…

The tomatoes, on the other hand, can’t wait. It’s been very rainy here this week so they all had to come in out of the downpour one way or another.  There were about 10 lbs of green ones, 5 or 6 lbs of ripe ones, and a couple of lbs that are halfway in between. Those ones, I don’t know what will happen to.  And I’ll have no problem getting rid of most of the ripe ones. Even Lilli eats at least a tomato a day.

But the rest, I found uses for with just a little bit of research and brain power.


I made tomatoes 5 ways this week, over the course of 3 nights.

First, I put up 4 quarts of green tomato mincemeat, made with honeycrisp apples and some asian pears I helped harvest from a neighborhood tree last week. Plenty of currants and spices, some lemons and sugar, and sometime this winter this delicious mix will meet it’s match in philo or pie dough.

Next, I started a couple different batches of green tomato pickles. One that needed 24 hours; and one only 12. One that had curry seasonings and mustard and sugar; one that was laced with garlic and mint and basil and chili.  One that is a simple refrigerator pickle and one that needed to be processed. I think the 2 probably couldn’t be much more different from each other, but each will be much appreciated in their own way.

Wait, let me take a step back. The very first thing I did, even before the mincemeat, was start some oven dried tomatoes. And tonight I finished that project, a tomato pesto that I borrowed from Ashley Rodriguez who writes one of my favorite blogs, Not Without Salt. I have never met a recipe from her that I didn’t like, so while I didn’t have time to test out this particular one beforehand, I knew it would be great. I decided to make a much larger batch than her original recipe calls for, because of the amount of ingredients I had. I altered it a bit also, so that I could freeze it and use up what I had instead of procuring new things.

Drying the tomatoes turned out to be a frustrating thing for me, because I lack patience. They took much longer than I thought they would, so I got them most of the way there and then gave up. I figured since they weren’t being kept as a dry ingredient anyway, it wasn’t a big deal.

The pesto turned out amazing, but, as with all things gooey, the pictures did not. Especially not in my night kitchen.

Chatting with the cat.

And after all was said and done, I still have a few nice green tomatoes to make into a tasty quick bread as an airplane snack.

Green Tomato Mincemeat
makes 4 quarts

4 quart jars full of whole green tomatoes, rinsed

1 ¼ cups vinegar or 1 cup vinegar and ¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups currants or raisins
2 lemons seeded and chopped up fine in a food processor
2 quart jars full of apples or apples and pears, quartered, skins removed, and sliced thinly
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar

A note about the fruit measurements. To measure the tomatoes, I packed them into a quart jar as I cleaned and de-stemmed them, stopping when I got to 4 jars worth. For larger tomatoes, I halved or quartered them to make more fit, but there was quite a bit of space in between the them, so don’t worry about packing the jars too full.  For the apples I filled the jars as I sliced the apples, and for these I did pack them in rather tight.

Chop up the tomatoes in a food processor, pulsing so that they don’t just turn to mush. You want the pieces to be roughly the size of a large lima bean, give or take. Pour into a large nonreactive pot.
For the apples and pears, I used one of those handy apple core turning machines. It peels the apples, cores and slices it all in one motion. (If you don’t have one and ever find one at a thrift store, buy it. You will thank yourself the next time you need to do anything with apples in large quantities.) I just cut the whole apple in quarters after putting it through the machine. If you don’t have one of these, peel the apples, quarter them, and slice them thin.
Add everything else to the pot, stir it up, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the fruit has softened. The color will be much more uniform at this point as well.
Clean and sanitize 4 quart jars, and fill using a canning funnel, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles with a thin rubber spatula and adjust filling level. Wipe the rims clean with a damp paper towel and seal. Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. You might have more or less filling, depending on how long you cook it down. As long as your jars are completely full you can process them. Otherwise store the jars in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks.

And in case you didn’t see this floating around the internets, here’s my real motivation for canning and preserving:

Doing the Can-Can

August is my birthday month. For the past six or seven years, I have celebrated my birthday month by spending most of it canning. This year, thankfully, August has been pretty warm, and it’s been even warmer in our kitchen since I’ve been canning or baking almost every day. Between the 50# of apricots, the figs, the crab apples, the birthdays (not just mine), the weddings, and I can’t even remember what else, it’s been a busy month.


It might seem like a lot of work to spend all that time canning, especially when it’s your birthday. But really, it’s the best birthday gift I could ever give myself. Aside from letting this awesome cutie “help” out in the kitchen of course (she loves the jar lifter tool!).


It’s the satisfaction of knowing that sometime, in the dead of winter, I can pull out a jar of something and savor a little bit of sunshine. It’s also satisfying thinking about putting a smile on people’s faces when I bring them a little jar of said sunshine as a treat, maybe just when they are getting sick of potatoes and squash.


My favorite part of canning is the snap of a jar sealing. It signifies all of that satisfaction like nothing else in the world.

Some of the things I’ve been canning are recipes easily found, and some are recipes I’ve altered. I have to say that of the ones I’ve done so far this season, the one I am most excited about is probably the fennel bulb with orange. It’s only a refrigerator pickle, so there wasn’t any processing necessary. That’s why it’s the perfect recipe to share with people who might be afraid to pickle…

But you know, you really shouldn’t be. It’s very simple once you get the basics of canning and pickling down. You have to have sterile jars and vinegar with 5% acidity. You want unblemished produce and hot brine. Those things are all pretty easy to come by, and so are easy recipes. This is one of them, and you won’t be disappointed. It doesn’t produce the satisfying snap of a jar sealing, but if you’ve been thinking about trying out pickling and looking for a good place to start (and love fennel as much as I do) then this might just be the gateway pickle you’ve been looking for.


Hang on a second.

Sorry, I just had to go eat some straight from the jar and do a little happy pickle dance.


Fennel Pickled with Orange
adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (thanks Rose!)

makes 2 pints

1 1/2 lb fennel bulbs, sliced in chunks about 1/4″ thick
2 tsp pickling salt
zest of one orange
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
Juice of the orange, plus water to make 3/4 cup
2 Tbsp sugar
8 whole peppercorns, cracked with a knifeblade


Slice up your fennel. This is part of where I altered the original recipe, which called for slicing them very thin. I thought it would be nice to have a chunkier piece, but you could do it either way really. Next, toss the fennel with the salt in a large, nonreactive bowl and leave to sit at room temp for 1 hour.


While the fennel is sitting, sterilize 2 clean pint jars in a 250ºF oven for 20 minutes, or you can do this in a boiling water bath. The jars don’t need to stay warm once they are sterile, but do leave them undisturbed while they are waiting to be packed. Even though this pickle won’t be getting processed (essentially pasteurized) you don’t want anything gross in there so that they can keep for longer in the fridge. (Theoretically–they probably won’t stick around that long anyway.)


Drain the fennel, discarding the brine. Do not rinse. Toss with the orange zest and pack it all into the jars, adding four crushed peppercorns to each jar.  


Heat the liquids, along with the sugar, in a small pan to boiling, making sure that all the sugar has dissolved. Using a funnel, pour the liquid over the fennel. Put the clean cap on the jar (doesn’t need to be two piece or even an unused lid, since you’re not processing.) Cool to room temp before refrigerating. Let it sit for at least 48 hours before eating. 


If you can stand it.