August Action

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There has been a lot of action of late in our gardens.  It is truly at its peak, and despite the near 100-degree temperatures this week, we find ourselves entwined in vines of all sorts, harvesting all this fabulous veg.

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Tomatoes make an appearance at our dinner table each night, for I am not sure there is a better fresh vegetable on earth than a homegrown tomato.  Herbs are being dried each day in order to preserve them for the winter months.  Onions and beans are being diced and then destined for the freezer.  And who could forget our school garden, from which we just reached the 100 pounds donated mark!  Yup, the students of Cathedral of St. Peter School have donated 100 pounds of fresh produce to the Plant a Row for the Hungry program at our local food pantry.

So much wonderful August action in the garden right now.  I hope all of you are finding yourselves in the midst of such garden greatness as well!

The Three T’s

If you may have noticed in this post, or this one, or maybe this one…We are surrounded by tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes…Oh my!  Last week we stared at the tomatoes filling every container available in our house and covering every horizontal surface of our kitchen and tried our best to formulate a plan.

Try as we might, there was no way this family of four could consume all of these tomatoes on our own, at this moment.  So preserving was our solution to our overabundance, and preserve we did.  We made tomato paste.  We cooked up some good ole Italian tomato sauce.  We dried. We froze.  We’ve got tomatoes in all forms now, safely tucked away in the larder and in the freezer for enjoyment over the winter months.

And now as I peer out my kitchen window, there is whole new crop ready to be picked.  Ah.  The tomato fun never ends 🙂

Canning Day

Mom (standing with hands on hips, a bit overwhelmed):  What am I going to do with all of these vegetables?

Five-year-old Preservation Expert:  Mommy, there is a lot of stuff here.

Mom (hands still on hips, a bit more overwhelmed):  Yeah.  Got it.  I’m still trying to figure out what to make with all of it.

Five-year-old Preservation Expert (with a look of absolute clarity):  I know!  I think we need to have a canning day!  Like, a whole day when all we do is can and freeze stuff for winter.

And so continues a day in the life with a very young child that just gets it.  Of course.  Why wouldn’t we put some of this food by for when the bounty is less?  Sometimes it takes youth to open our eyes to what is right in front of us.  Wonderful suggestion my darling girl.

Here is a walk through our day of food preservation…

{A wonderful new idea I got from this magazine.  What a fabulous idea!}

{Salsa, salsa and more salsa}

{Got to love hot pink fingers for a day.}

{I struck gold this week!  I found my grandfather’s recipe box in the back of my parents’ pantry.  It contains all of his old canning recipes, including his bread and butter pickles, my favorite of all his canning greats.}

Tomato Time

Sorry for stepping away for a day, but my garden work kept me detained a bit longer than I thought when I was writing on Monday morning.  The tomatoes are in full swing  and I seemed to have gotten lost amongst the vines for a very long time before resurfacing and realizing that most of my day had passed me by.

This is the first year that we have not planted any slicing tomatoes.  We planted only small cherry-type tomatoes (Juliets and Mexican Midgets) for the girls to snack on, and paste tomatoes (Viva Italias, Speckled Romans and Amish Pastes) to use for tomato sauces and salsas.  What I didn’t realize about these types of plants is how many more fruits they produce compared to slicing tomatoes.  Oh my.  On Monday afternoon while I was picking, I found 4-6 ripe tomatoes, 6-8 I’m-almost-ready tomatoes, and about 20 addition green tomatoes just waiting to get ripe.  That is also not factoring in that each plant still has about 20-30 blossoms.  Apparently the tomatoes have done just fine with all of this heat.

So what to do with all of these lovely tomatoes?  Tomato sauce it is!  I love, love, love making tomato sauce.  I have no idea why I cherish this activity so very much, maybe its my Italian roots, but I look forward to this activity come late July each and every year.

Yesterday I woke up early to begin this favorite task of mine.  I went out to the herb garden, enjoyed the cool damp air from the rain the night before, and spent some time in meditation just picking oregano and basil.  It was a great start to my morning.  Then with coffee at the ready, and ingredients laid out, I went to work.  And what lovely work it was, in the quite of the morning before anyone else awoke to begin their day.  Ah.

My Tomato Sauce

I kind of fly by the seat of my pants with this recipe as (much like with my pesto). I first put a good amount of olive oil in the bottom of a stock pot.  I then add garlic and onion (chopped) and I cook that down until the onions become translucent, but not brown.

I then add my chopped tomatoes and my fresh oregano and basil.  I add a bit of salt and pepper at this point, cover the pot and let it cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  I then remove the lid and allow to cook for another hour or so.

At this point, I run a hand blender through the sauce (I don’t strain my seeds.  I know all the Nanas out there may turn their nose at this 🙂 )  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  Then I bring the sauce down to a simmer and leave it for several hours.  I stir it every once in a while to keep the bottom from sticking.  At the very end I add a bit of butter to cut the acidy taste.

I freeze my sauce as opposed to canning it because I find it hard to stick to an exact recipe, which is so very important to do if you are canning.  I normally freeze my sauce in wide-mouth glass quart jars filled about 2 inches from the top of the jar (to allow for expansion during freezing.)