Canning, condiment

Tomato-Apple Chutney

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I found this recipe some years ago in my old Ball Blue Book from 1981. I made it back then and haven’t made it since because it requires having apples and tomatoes at the same time. Yes, I could buy either apples or tomatoes, but I like using what’s in season in my garden. This year, I have lots of both apples and tomatoes at the same time, so I decided to make a batch of this slightly sweet but tangy condiment. I’ve played with the recipe to spice it up a bit, but I’ve been careful to maintain the same ratio of non-acid foods to acid foods and vinegar to maintain a proper balance for water-bath canning.

Tomato-Apple Chutney

2 ½ quarts peeled, cored, chopped, ripe tomatoes (about 15 large)* (see note below about peeling tomatoes)

1 quart cored, peeled, chopped apples (6-8 medium apples—use tart pie apples for more flavor)

2 cups chopped summer squash (tender-skinned yellow squash or zucchini) or cucumber, unpeeled, large seeds removed

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 ½ cups chopped peppers (*mix of sweet red and hot peppers, see note below)

1 cup seedless raisins

1 clove garlic, crushed and minced

3 cups brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher or pickling salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 cups apple cider vinegar, 5% acidity

Combine all ingredients in large kettle or pot. Bring to boil and cook uncovered, slowly, until thick, about 2 hours (longer if you have very juicy heirloom tomatoes, like I did). Stir frequently to prevent sticking. (Or use my oven cook method, which takes longer but avoids the need to stir as often—bake uncovered at 300 degrees until as thick as salsa; return to boiling on stove top before filling jars.) Pour boiling into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch head space. Cap and process 10 minutes in boiling water bath, adjusting time if necessary according to altitude chart.

Notes: I really hate dunking tomatoes in boiling water and peeling them. It uses a lot of water, and there is an easier way which nets you more flavor and a nice by-product. I’ve talked about this method before in my post on Charred Salsa. Instead of scalding the tomatoes, cut them in half, cut out the cores, put them on a foil-covered cookie sheet, and stick them under the broiler until the skin blackens and loosens from the fruit.

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It’s easy then to remove the skins and set them aside on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. The skins go into the oven at 200 degrees for a couple of hours to dry, and then you can grind them to powder in a blender. The picture below was the first batch of dried tomato skin powder I ever made, a couple of years ago.

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See the following posts for ways to use dried tomato skin powder:  Dried Tomato Skin Rub and Pulled PorkBraised and Barbecued Pork Spareribs, Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup, Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta.  (Don’t let the bear scare you–you can use other meats, and there is a list of possibles on the post.)  Dried tomato skin powder can also be used to punch up the flavor of sauces made with fall’s box-ripened tomatoes.  I’ll be sharing my recipe for red tomato sauce (for Italian dishes) made with box-ripened tomatoes in a future post, so save those tomato skins!

Now, back to the chutney. After the peel has been removed from the tomatoes, you can give them a quick buzz in the food processor to chop them (they pretty much puree, but that’s okay). This method of broiling and processing the tomatoes greatly speeds up the chutney-making.

Peppers: I use a mix of sweet red peppers and hot peppers. I use about 1 ¼ cups of sweet red bell peppers, and ¼ cup of hot peppers. If you want a spicier chutney, reduce the amount of sweet red peppers in proportion to the amount of hot peppers you add.  (For instance, use 1 cup chopped sweet red peppers and 1/2 cup chopped hot peppers.)  DO NOT EXCEED THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF 1 1/2 CUPS OF PEPPERS. If you do, your chutney may not be safe to can in a water-bath canner. If you want your chutney very spicy, use a hotter pepper, like a habanero, rather than a jalapeno. I used several ripe and green jalapenos and two ripe serrano peppers from my garden, chopped to equal ¼ cup. I seeded the peppers because I did not want the seeds in my chutney, but if you want a hotter product, leave in the seeds and membranes of the hot peppers. This is where much of the capsaican is stored in the pepper.  My chutney carries a nice warmth in the mouth, but it’s not going to make anybody spit it out and say, “That’s way too hot for me!”

It is very important not to exceed the amounts of any non-acid food in a recipe intended for water-bath canning. This includes the onions, squash or cucumbers, and garlic, as well as the peppers. I was very tempted to try using fresh ginger instead of dried ground ginger, but I did not want to inadvertently throw off the acid balance. Better safe than sorry. And it is delicious as is.

Tomato-apple chutney is excellent alongside roast pork, roast chicken or grilled chicken breast, or even a grilled steak. Try it as an appetizer, too, topping cream cheese on a cracker or crispy toast round.

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If you make some tomato-apple chutney, be sure to let me know what you pair with it.

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Garden and Greenhouse

Saving Seeds

I am a seed saver. I pinch seed heads and pods when I go somewhere and see something I like (and nobody’s looking to object). I save gloriosa and Shasta daisy seeds and penstemon and Sweet William and asters.   I save my heirloom tomato seeds. And I save seeds like dill and coriander for the kitchen.

I use a lot of dill, and it doesn’t always do well in my garden. I usually have to get it in Reno, if I have to buy it, because it’s become hard to find in our small town. Some years, I have plenty of dill in the garden, and others, I don’t get any seedlings at all . So when I have a good crop, I save as many seeds as I can for the next year, so I don’t have to buy it, or at least, not as much.

The best way to save dill seeds is to put a large, paper grocery bag under the plant and clip the umbel directly into the bag. I do this when just a few of the seeds have turned brown and the rest are swollen but still green. Leave a long stem, and drop the umbel in upside down. The seeds will continue to ripen on the stem. Staple or paper clip the bag closed to keep out dust, and let it sit somewhere out of the way. When all the seeds are dry, pull out one stem at a time, breaking off the dry seeds into the paper bag. When all the seeds are off the stems, pour them into a colander or sieve to separate seeds from stem pieces. Then they go into jars (I have saved old dill seed jars from the grocery store), all ready for next year’s dilly beans or pickles. I always let some seeds drop to the ground for volunteer plants next year. I seem to have better luck letting the plants self-sow. The seeds know when to sprout in the spring.

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I use the same harvesting method for coriander seeds. Coriander and cilantro are one and the same plant. When the plant is green, before it blooms, it’s called cilantro and is used in salsa and other Mexican dishes. Let it flower and go to seed, and you have coriander. These little round seeds roll around, so you have to be careful not to let any escape! It is easy to grind them yourself in a spice grinder or coffee grinder dedicated for spices. (I have one labeled “Not for coffee!” so my husband doesn’t use it by mistake.) I love ground coriander in lots of dishes, especially my pumpkin/winter squash soup. Freshly-ground coriander is wonderfully aromatic. So if your cilantro wants to bloom, let it. Then harvest the seeds.

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This year, I let my kale go to seed. For some reason, I have a hard time getting kale to sprout from seed, and I don’t know if I’m planting too early or too late, or if the seed has not been fresh. I took care of that this year. I have a ton of seed, and I know it’s fresh. Some baby kale has already sprouted around the spent kale plants, so I’ll have kale until we get a hard freeze, and hopefully, more kale sprouting in the spring. I also intend to plant some in the greenhouse to get a jump on spring production. We do love our greens around here.

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I also save heirloom tomato seeds for the next year’s plantings. Saving tomato seeds is easy, although it takes a week or so to complete the process. I do it late in summer or early in fall, when I’m harvesting ripe tomatoes for salsa or red hot sauce.

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There usually one tomato that’s gotten a bit over-ripe on me, so that’s the one I harvest seeds from. As I’m cutting up the tomato, I just use my knife to scrape out a dozen or so seeds, however many I want, into a small bowl. Then I cover the seeds with a couple of tablespoons of water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, label the plastic wrap with the type of tomato and the date, and set the bowl aside for a few days and wait for it to ferment.

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Fermentation of the seeds takes a few days, but this kills off bad bacteria that could affect the seeds’ sprouting capabilities. It also helps kill off any diseases or viruses the tomato plant and fruit might have had. (Heirlooms are susceptible to various diseases that many hybrids were bred to be resistant to.) I wait for a little mold to appear in the bowl, and then I pour the seeds and liquid into a fine mesh strainer, rinse the seeds well, and dump the contents onto a piece of labeled waxed paper.

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At this point, it’s easy to pick out any skin or flesh that might have adhered to the seeds when they were placed in the bowl.  Spread the seeds out so they’re not too clumped up and will dry faster.  I let the seeds dry for two or three days, until they pop right off the waxed paper when it’s jiggled.

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Then I fold the waxed paper containing the seeds into a tight packet, seal it with labeled masking tape, and put the packets into my seed jar. I have a plastic gallon jar that I put charcoal and/or silica packets into along with all the seeds I’m saving. This goes in a cool corner of the laundry room or out in one of the pump houses where it will stay cold but not freeze until I’m ready to plant in the spring.

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Saving heirloom seeds means I don’t have to worry about GMOs or not being able to find the seeds I want come spring. It also makes me just that little bit more independent, which I like.

I’ve been saving seeds and planting them with various results since I was a kid. I’ve grown peach trees from seeds that bore good fruit. This summer, I brought home a cherry pit from England, from a backyard cherry tree at one of the B & B’s where we stayed. Who knows, maybe my seed saving habits will net me a cherry tree for my orchard. We’ll see what spring brings.

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Uncategorized

For Mama

There are no recipes in this post. This is the story of something that happened to me yesterday. I hope you’ll read it to the end.

If you follow this blog, you know Dennis and I, with some help from our kids, painted the exterior of our house this fall. It’s not completely done: there’s still some trim work and fascia and posts and beams on the porches as well as the doors to finish. We were interrupted by deer season and now have to go back at the painting before the weather turns. But I also have the fall harvest of the garden to take care of, the apples, the ripening tomatoes, the potatoes which haven’t all been dug yet, and when we get our first frost, the green tomatoes and the winter squash will have to be brought in. And I’m running low on pint jars.

When we were painting the spare room side of the house, I discovered some filthy, leaf-filled boxes under the back porch. “What’s in these?” I asked Dennis. “I don’t know,” he said. “Bottles, I think.” Bottles? Why would we have boxes of bottles, and what kind of bottles, under the back porch? I pulled one box out far enough to see what was in it, being wary of spiders and other nasty critters. Not bottles, jars. Jars! Canning jars!

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Now I have to backtrack a bit. I started canning with my mother when I was a kid. I canned with her until I left home, and after I got married and started my own family, I started canning again on my own. At one point, I was canning so much, Mama gave me some of her jars. With no kids left at home, she wasn’t canning as much as she once had. But when in the 90s I started traveling over 150 miles a day, two and three times a week, to classes at the University of Nevada, Reno, I stopped canning. I just couldn’t keep up with the garden, the kids, the classes, the commute, and the canning. Something had to give. It was the garden and the canning. For quite a few years, all I grew in my garden was herbs and a few tomatoes for eating fresh. Even after I finished my Master’s and started teaching, I didn’t do any canning. I was just too busy. All my jars were boxed up and stashed, I thought, in the shed.

During that period, when my kids were teenagers, we lost my beloved mother.  The picture below, taken when she was in her fifties, younger than I am now, is how I remember my mama.

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She’d been ill with dementia for some years before she died, and finally, she withered away. It was a very difficult time for all of us. My mama was a wonderful, loving presence in our lives, and losing her, slowly at first, then finally, was very painful. I think her loss was one thing that drew me back, gradually, to canning. Canning was a way of feeling closer to her. I started making jelly again, and pickles, and one thing led to another, until I was back in full swing after I retired a few years ago.

During my non-canning period, I remember my father asking me if I had any jars I wasn’t using. I said I did, and he could have them all, as at that time, I didn’t foresee canning in my future. He was canning a lot of salmon at that time and wanted wide-mouthed pints. I went into the old yellow shed and looked around. I found a few boxes of jars, some pints and quarts, but not nearly as many as I thought I should have. I looked and looked, enlisted Dennis’s help, and we couldn’t find any more jars. I gave Dad what I had and thought, well, I just didn’t have as many jars as I thought I had.

When I began to can again a few years ago, I had to start over collecting jars, buying them at Walmart and WinCo, looking for them at garage sales and thrift stores. I looked again in the sheds for the jars I thought I’d had years before. They weren’t there. I asked Dennis again if he’d seen them anywhere. No, he said. Well, that was that. I had to buy jars. Every year, I would run out of jars in August and have to buy more for the fall harvest. Finally, this year, a year in which a lot of travel meant I wouldn’t be doing nearly as much canning as I normally do, I didn’t run completely out of jars. But I didn’t have as many jars for the upcoming fall projects as I needed. I needed more pints for apple butter and applesauce, and more quarts for apple pie filling and tomatoes. (I have more than enough half-pint jelly jars, enough to set up shop!)

So yesterday, as I was putting cherry tomatoes in the dehydrator (more about this in another post) and thinking about the boxes of apples I still have to process, I thought I’d better wait on the apples and get those jars out from under the back porch. They were going to need a lot of cleaning before they’d be usable. But I needed jars and jars I had, dirty though they were.

Gloves on, cringing at spiders scuttling off into every direction, I pulled five boxes of jars out from under the steps. Yes, there was a milk crate with some Pepsi bottles in it. Dennis was partly right. I have no idea where those came from or why they were saved, because I don’t think they’re old enough to be worth anything, but I’ll have to check and see.

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The jars were stacked several layers deep in old beer boxes and topped with layers of oak leaves and spider webs and other icky things.

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I dragged each box out onto the lawn and over to a dry patch that always needs a little extra water. The hose was handy there, too. I flooded those boxes, hoping to drown all the black widows before I had to reach in and take out the jars. Ick. One by one, I pulled out the jars, filled them with water, and hosed down the outsides. They were filthy with decades of dirt. Several of them contained little dried tree frog carcasses which rehydrated into shades of their former selves after soaking in water. (Too bad my grandson, Bryce, wasn’t with me. He’d have loved that.) Big black beetles were in the jars too, and spiders, of course, dead ones with their legs all curled up around their bellies. Any live ones were long gone at this point.

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After I got all the jars out of the boxes, I rinsed them well with the hose, then tipped them over to drain.

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Then I got a big plastic bag from the house, and filled it with a dozen jars at time to carry back to the sink. It took many trips and several sinkfuls of hot, soapy water before I had the dishwasher full of jars. After another bath in the dishwasher, turned to the hottest setting, the jars were clean. I ran two dishwasher loads of jars.

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These, surely, were the jars I’d searched for before. Why Dennis put them under the back porch and forgot about them is a mystery a long-married lady like me declines to probe. I wasn’t sure at first whether these were jars I’d bought myself years before or jars that Mama had given me, but they were jars. And I could feel Mama smiling at my shoulder.

All day, since my devotion time that morning, I’d felt Mama close to me. Some verses I’d read in my Bible that morning brought her vividly to mind. They were verses about suffering, and they’d made me think of what my son had said to my daughter not long ago, when they were talking about why their beloved grandmother had died not knowing who she was, or who we were. Joel said to Amy, “Maybe the Lord saved her from a worse death. She didn’t die in pain or shock or fear. She just slipped away.”

Everyone knows there are stages to grief. We know that it can take years to move from one stage to the next, and each of us has to move through these stages at his or her own pace, in our own time. Yesterday morning, I finally fully accepted the manner of Mama’s death. I accepted what had happened to Mama, and the Lord’s wisdom in it. When I did that, I stopped fearing that kind of death for myself. That fear has dogged me for over twenty years. And Mama was there, at my shoulder, smiling. She stayed there all day as I halved cherry tomatoes and cleaned those dirty jars. And she and her Lord reached out and touched me, tangibly.

The final tally on the jars was this: 30 wide-mouth quarts, 22 regular mouth quarts, 7 special quarts (none antique but some vintage, I believe), 9 half-pint jelly jars, 11 wide-mouth pints, 3 regular mouth pints, and several commercial jars, pickle and mayonnaise jars, which Mama used for homemade pickles and applesauce and jelly. In today’s money, that’s like sticking your hand into the pocket of your winter coat and pulling out a hundred dollar bill. But it was more than that, for among those assorted jars was one very special jar.

In one of the boxes, I found a Smuckers’ jelly jar, strawberry, with the label still intact, and on the lid was printed “Dorothy.” That was my mother’s name. It means, in either Latin or Greek, Gift of God. Her name was also marked on the label.

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One of my mother’s friends had set aside and given a jar of something homemade for her, marked with her name. It was a sign and symbol of how much she was loved, and how much she loved. And it was like my mother to save that jar, for she’d find a use for it. She’d fill it with something and give it back, or give it away to someone else. Because that’s who she was. She gave it to me because she taught me to use what others would throw away.

Her life was a testament to her faith. She has never stopped giving or loving because that is her gift. Dorothy, Gift of God. I thank God for the gift of you, Mama, and for all that you taught me and gave me. You are still doing both. And I have your jar to remind me, if ever I’m tempted to forget, just what sort of life you lived, and what your life meant. Your jar is a reminder that a life lived with faith and love keeps giving, even after death in this world. That jar with your name on it will never be empty.

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