Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tomato Ketchup

I’ve been asked to post our ketchup recipe and even tho we’re a little past canning season here it is now, and I’ll link back to it next year at the appropriate time. It’s a conglomeration of recipes from several cookbooks; I was looking for a certain blend of flavors. 
This needs a long cooking time, so plan on spending a day making it, or start it one day and finish it the next. It may not get quite as thick as the commercial variety, and you may also find the texture to be slightly different. What it does have is fabulous flavor surpassing the supermarket version by far. To supplement my homemade supply I've tried organic brands which seem to have mastered a ketchupy color- they tend to be nice and red. But, sadly lacking in flavor. Do take note: if you want to go to the trouble, its entirely possible to dump storebought ketchup (the organic variety) into a non-reactive heavy bottomed kettle, put some ketchup spices in (see recipe), and slow cook it until the flavors are infused. If only they would get it right in the first place!
makes 7 - 8 pints

Tie into a square of cheesecloth to make a spice bag:
3 tsps fennel seeds
1 tsp whole allspice
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp celery seeds
optional: 2 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
Place into a heavy non-reactive saucepan along with the spice bag:
3 cups cider vinegar
Bring the vinegar and spices to a full boil and boil for a minute or two, then remove the kettle from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Discard the spice bag.
Combine in a large, heavy, non-reactive saucepan:
6 quarts tomatoes, chopped (its ok to throw some green ones in with the reds)
4 large onions, finely chopped
1 cup of honey
2 tsps tabasco sauce
3 tsps salt
2 tsps ground black pepper
Bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Place a lid on the saucepan, lower the heat and boil gently for 15- to 20 minutes, until the tomatoes and onions are cooked. Optional: if you like smooth ketchup, puree in a blender working carefully and in batches. After blending, pour the ketchup back into the saucepan.
Add the spiced vinegar to the tomato mixture and stir. Simmer gently on low heat, stirring occasionally until reduced by about half. This can take several hours. Cook until it is the thickness you want. Taste test and adjust for salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce if needed.
Ladle the hot ketchup into hot pint jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the jar rims, and seal. Process in a *steam canner or hot water bath for 15 minutes. Remove to a towel covered countertop and let sit for 12 hours. Place into cool storage and use within a year.
*Note: a steam canner is quicker and more efficient than the water bath method. More on steam canning here. -jmm

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reflections on the 2011 Garden

Now is a great time to look back on last year's garden. This morning I cleared snow and ice off the cold frames. Besides moving snow around, there's not much else to do outdoors, so I've been perusing seed catalogs and thinking about what has been successful and what hasn't.
Right at the beginning, last spring, we enjoyed parsnips and this year we plan to expand this crop. There are never enough! And turnips and rutabagas, which we used for soups and stews. Kale plants started growing new shoots in spring, and in summer we let the plants reseed the crop, so it did well with almost no care.
Asparagus is another tale. One of these years we expect to have some to eat! Meanwhile we keep adding compost, manure, and rabbit food (alfalfa) to build the soil.
Garlic has not been a great crop in the past but in 2011 we apparently hit the jackpot. I had planted 30 cloves the previous fall. They grew well and we replanted some of the biggest cloves last September.
Salads are part of nearly every meal we eat. Last winter, mache and claytonia grew in the cold frames until spring. Lettuce planted in March had baby leaves ready to eat in April. This winter, except for the lettuce, the cold frames were disappointing. Mache, claytonia and spinach planted in August did not produce so we've been forced to actually buy our salad ingredients.
Some crops did very well, and between freezing, canning and root cellar storage, we're still enjoying them in February. Delicata squash is keeping well in the upstairs closet. There are still Swiss chard, green beans, collards, beets and cabbage in the freezer. There are jars of plum chutney, home made ketchup, a crock of sauerkraut, and bags of potatoes in the root cellar.
Summer veggies were a mixed bag. There were zucchinis but not enough to delight our friends. Cucumbers did delight our friends and they even asked for more. Peppers did better than ever; the sweet ones were small, but plentiful, and we still have a string of Habeneros hanging in the kitchen window. They are hot!
The tomato plants put out one good crop and then stopped producing. We're thinking there might be some lingering fungal blight from the previous year.
Some crops that did well will be getting more garden space this year; peas and basil among them. The peas will not only have a row of their own, but we plan to use them as companion crops just about everywhere.
Other crops just don't seem to do well for us and take up garden space that could be better used. Radishes are supposed to be easy to grow but not here, apparently. We love leeks and keep planting them but have yet to get the results we want. I'll try them once more this year before giving up. Onions also haven't done very well but I'm not ready to give up on them yet.
Every year we add at least one new fruit plant to our orchard. It will be years until most of these produce. The old plum tree has been consistently prolific, and raspberries, blueberries, and table grapes have given us a few more bowlfuls every year. The birds seem to enjoy these as much as we do.
Organic gardening is an annual dance with Mother Nature. What does well one year may not have the same result the next. We try to build on successes and limit our efforts on crops that don't get the desired result. Every year we try a new plant or two. Last year I was surprised with a small section of pac choi I had planted. They did great and I wished I had planted more. I guess that's what it's all about. There are disappointments and pleasant surprises to go along with things that seem to do well year by year. C'est la vie! - G.H.