CANNING VEGGIES FROM A “SMALL” CITY GARDEN

 My son Kelly planted a larger garden last spring. He has done a little dabbling in gardening in the past few years, mostly pumpkins for the kids to make jack-o-lanterns. This year’s garden was a more serious endeavor. He planted corn, tomatoes, small hot chili peppers, bell peppers and crookneck squash. Oh, and watermelon and cantaloupe too. Early on, the garden began overflowing faster than any of us could pick, cook, or can. The squash went crazy. I went to a birthday party for a girlfriend in June; it was at a restaurant in Gorman and about forty something guests showed up. I put crook neck squashes in paper lunch bags and labeled them all door prizes—got rid of about 20 squashes this way but I could have easily given away many more. Then watermelon and cantaloupe overflowed; we couldn’t eat it fast enough or find enough homes for the fruit.

Meantime, Kelly’s one packet of cherry tomatoes began taking over the entire garden. As fast as they ripened, he would bring a bucket of tomatoes over for me to can (I live right around the corner from them). Tomatoes not quite ripe enough went in 1-pint plastic containers that I put in a back window that gets morning and afternoon sun. They would finish ripening overnight.

The easiest thing I could think of for canning cherry tomatoes was to convert them into juice and cook it down to a puree. Every other day I would cook a pot of cherry tomatoes and run them through a food mill; then the juice went into a gallon jar until I had enough to fill 7 quarts (the maximum amount that fits into my canner). I discovered that the easiest way to cook the juice down without any scorching was to pour the jars of juice into my largest crockpot. When I thought it was thick enough, I would have the sterilized quart or pint jars ready along with lids that had been sterilized and kept hot in a small pan. (I often wondered what the importance of cooking the lids was – it’s to soften the sealing compound on the underside of the lid—so that you get a solid seal after the jars have been submerged in a boiling water bath for an allotted amount of time (which varies depending on what you are canning. I only can food that can go into a boiling water bath, rather than a pressure cooker).

Well, we picked and picked and picked cherry tomatoes for weeks—I just took my time cooking the tomatoes in a small amount of water and then running it through a hand-held food mill. Then the pulp went into newspaper and into the trash; the juice went into the gallon jar until I had 2 gallon jars filled (I have often regretted not having a compost anymore. Bob & I had a compost going in an enclosed brick space in my back yard in Arleta—we lived there for 19 years so whatever he dug out of the very bottom of the compost would be perfect for gardening – and we invariably had volunteer tomato plants coming up where ever he used any compost).  I can’t do a compost here in the desert – nothing that would attract coyotes or bears which, believe it or not, have been spotted in Quartz Hill and Palmdale a few times since I’ve lived here. I was sitting in my car about to go somewhere one day when a skinny old coyote came around the corner and meandered slowly up my street.  And critters have been known to capture and kill family pets. A black bear was spotted one day about halfway between mine and my sister’s houses. I think animal control had to come and get that little fellow. Sorry, I digress.

Well, long story short, I have canned over 50 quarts of tomato puree. Some of Kelly’s little hot chili peppers went into a few of the jars.  The last of the tomato puree is heating up in my crock pot even as we speak. I should get 7 or 8 quarts of puree from the last of the ripe tomatoes.

A few days ago I suggested to Kelly (as we were digging around in the garden picking the last of the ripe tomatoes we could find) that I wouldn’t mind trying to make some pickled green cherry tomatoes—so over the weekend he and I picked all the green tomatoes we could find – we filled two large stainless basins and a large strainer—and he began pulling out the vines and packing them into his trash bin that is for leaves, clippings, garden debris. He climbed into the trash can to pack it down – and we called it quits for the tomatoes

(His bell peppers are still producing blossoms and peppers. I diced dozens of bell peppers with my Vidalia food chopper – it has a small dice and a larger one – and I filled bag after bag of bell peppers to give to friends and to fill our freezers).  Most of the chili peppers went into my dehydrator and we have given a lot of those away too).

So, yesterday – after making sure I had everything I wanted to put into my green tomato pickles – I began sterilizing jars, filling them with the green cherry tomatoes and spices—and making pickles. I weighed the cherry tomatoes on my bathroom scale before starting – and had 14 pounds of tomatoes.  This has produced 12 quarts of pickled cherry tomatoes. How do they taste? Well, I have one jar in the frig—not canned—and we’ll give them a taste in a week. The rest are going into my jelly cupboard which I had to completely change around this morning to make enough space for all the tomato puree and the cherry tomato pickles.  Whew! We don’t have the pantry or cupboard space that I had in the Arleta house. And you can’t store excess grocery items in the garage – it gets too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

To Make Pickled Green Tomatoes, I checked various sites I found on Google—which is easier and faster than going through my collection of notebooks on canning, preserving, jelly & jam making.  I made my own variations which included the omission of garlic, which none of us is crazy about in pickles. I also added a small hot chili pepper in some, not all, of the jars.

 What You Need:

(For 12 quarts of green cherry tomato pickles)

14 pounds of green cherry tomatoes
12 cups of white vinegar
12 cups of water
12 tbsp. of kosher salt
dill seeds
whole black peppercorns

red pepper flakes or whole small chili peppers—dried or fresh

Jars — either quart-sized jars or 6 pint-sized jars, as well as lids and rings, a hot water canner (if you’re planning on storing your pickles long term)
Jar lifter

Prepping Your Tomatoes

(Note: If you’re planning to process your pickles in a hot water canner, you should fill the canner with water, add your jars, and turn the water on to sterilize and warm your jars. Just leave the jars in the water until you’re ready to use them. Place the lids and rings in another pan with simmering – not boiling- water until you’re ready to use them.)

Gather and wash 14 pounds of green tomatoes. I used green cherry tomatoes because they seemed to stay firmer after processing, but any tomato will work. You can cut your tomatoes in half if they’re larger or cut them into quarters. (I left mine whole and used different sizes – large and small. The very small ones  filled empty spaces in the jars.)

Now, make your brine. Add the vinegar, water, and salt to a pan, and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, it’s time to start filling your sterilized jars.

Remove the jars from the boiling water canner with jar tongs. Set them on a towel on your counter (so they don’t crack when they come into contact with the cool surface) and add the following to each jar:

  • 1 tsp. dill seeds
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp (or more if you want them spicier) of red pepper flakes–or small whole red chili peppers (fresh or dried)

Once your spices are in, start packing your tomatoes into the jars. Really, pack them in. Once they’re packed, add brine to fill the spaces between tomatoes. Use a chopstick or knife to go around the inside of the jar and remove any air bubbles, then fill with more brine if you need to. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace, then wipe the rims of your jars to clean up any brine, add your lids and tighten your rings.

Put your jars in your hot water canner, and cover with a lid. Once the water comes up to a boil, start your timer — you’ll be processing your pickles for fifteen minutes.

Once time is up, remove your jars and place them on a towel on a kitchen counter. They’ll have to sit there for several hours to cool. When they are cool, you can label the pickles and put them in a dark place to “age” – 6 weeks should be about right. This is the length of time I age my hot Hawaiian pineapple pickles.

Making Refrigerator Pickled Green Tomatoes–You can also forget about the boiling water processing if you just want to make a few jars of pickles to be eaten within the next month or so. Prep your tomatoes, add your spices, tomatoes, and boiling brine to the jars, and place in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready to eat in about a week.

What to Do with Pickled Green cherry tomatoes? You can snack on them or slice or dice the pickles to go on top of hamburgers or hot dogs. They can be diced and added to tuna or chicken salad for sandwiches—or cut up to go into salads.  The sky’s the limit.

–Sandra Lee Smith

 

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