Pear Pickin’

I have the fondest memory of my mom, my sisters and my Nana all going apple picking one August many years ago.  I’m sure I was about 12 years old, and we drove to an orchard outside of town, and filled our garden baskets with as many gala apples as we could hold.  It was so much fun!  Even to this day, I only buy gala apples (first of all, cause they taste better), but partially just because of this childhood memory I have held onto.  Now what does that have to do with pears?  Not really anything (besides the pickin’ part!), I just wanted to share that memory 🙂

But we do have a pear tree in our backyard, and Greg has told me for the past few years that it actually bears fruit.  Well, Greg never bothered picking and eating the pears, but since I’m obviously on a farming kick this summer, I decided we will actually eat some fruit!  Last Friday I put on my gardening boots, grabbed the biggest basket and bowl we have, and started picking.  Some of the pears are still a little small, so I left those on the tree, and tried just picking the bigger ones.  I filled both baskets and then some!  And that was only what I could reach at an arm’s length.  I’ll have to get a big ladder this week to reach some of the higher branches.  All these pears went into a cardboard box, and into a cool spot in the house where they will finish ripening.  I did some pear research, and read that you actually want to pick pears when they are just firm enough on the tree to make a small indention with your thumb.  Then you bring them inside, place them in a cool spot, and let them continue to ripen indoors.

With that in mind, I had picked a small batch last week that has been sitting in a large bowl in the laundry nook, so they were nice and ripe on Friday.  I decided with this batch I would attempt to can them.  I LOVE pears, so if I can stock up our pantry full of canned pears for the winter, I will be a happy camper 🙂  Having never canned pears yet, I did a little research and mainly just went by the instructions in the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving that I have. The process itself was really simple, however I grossly underestimated the time it takes to peel and cut pears.  (And keep in mind, this was a small batch of pears).  It took me TWO HOURS to peel and cut those suckers!  I finally just pulled up a stool to the counter to try to get comfy.  Next time, I think I’ll set up shop on the back porch and at least enjoy some fresh air during the process.

 

But anyways, you peel them, cut them into slices and cut out the core.  As you cut them up, drop the slices into a large bowl of anti-browning solution, which consists of:

  • 1/2 gallon water
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (I went ahead and used canning salt)
 Once you get all your pears cut up and you have them soaking in anti-browning solution, you’ll need to start heating your clean jars and lids and make your syrup for canning.  You can do a light, medium, or heavy syrup depending on how much sugar you use. Not knowing which would be best, I opted for the medium syrup.  But here’s the breakdown if you want something different.
Sugar Syrup

Syrup Sugar Water Yield
Light 2 cups 6 cups 7 cups
Medium 3 cups 6 cups 6 1/2 cups
Heavy 4 cups 6 cups 7 cups

Begin heating the syrup on the stovetop.  Meanwhile, pour some of the pears into a colander to drain the anti-browning solution, then drop them into the syrup.  Bring syrup to a boil, and cook pears for approx. 10 mins.

Once cooked, fill your heated jars with pear slices, packing them in tight, then pour syrup over to fill the jar to the 1/2inch headspace.

 Remove air bubbles by stirring and pressing against the pairs with a plastic knife.  Then wipe the rim of the jar clean, seal with the lid, and replace jar into the canner over simmering water.



Once all your jars are filled,  bring the water bath to a boil, then lower cans into the canner and process for 20 mins.  Remove from the canner and let them seal!  I haven’t tried any yet, but they sure look good 🙂

 

Homemade Sweet Salsa

Ingredients:
– 15 medium tomatoes
– 1 green bell pepper
– 1 red bell pepper
– 1 jalapeno pepper 
– 5 cups chopped onion (I used 2 sweet onions, but you could use 1 yellow, 1 red onion)
– 5 cloves garlic, minced
– 2 yellow banana peppers (I couldn’t find any, so mine didn’t have this)
– 1/4 cup sugar
-1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
– 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
– 1/4 cup lime juice
– 4 tsp. pickling salt
– 1 tsp. pepper
– 1 large can tomato paste (I actually added an additional 6oz. can)
– chili powder (if desired for extra spice)
– 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

I prepped my tomatoes following these steps here. Then I chopped them in the food processor.  Luckily, a co-worker of mine warned me about working with spicy peppers.  Those boogers will burn your skin!  So, either buy some gloves to work with or you can do what I did and just slip a sandwich bag over your hands before cutting the jalapeno pepper.  I just cut the stem and bottom off, and then the inside looks just like a bell pepper.  Just cut out the white seedy portion and toss it in the food processor.

I like my salsa creamy and smooth, not chunky. So all my veggies (peppers, onions, and garlic) were tossed into the food processor then into a stockpot.  Then, to make sure all the spices were mixed in well, I put the tomato paste, pickling salt, pepper and a pinch of chili powder together in the food processor.  I cut the stems off the cilantro, chopped up the leaves, and tossed them into the stockpot.

All that plus the rest of the ingredients went into the stockpot to simmer for approx 45mins-1 hour, stirring often!  BE SURE TO COOK ON LOW!  I thought I would start mine on high and bring it to a boil then turn it down to simmer.  You might can still do this, but make sure you are stirring it to prevent it from burning on the bottom.  I have a nice burnt spot on the bottom of my stockpot :/  So, watch it carefully!

To can, process in a water bath 35 mins for pint jars, 45 mins for quart jars. This batch made approx 5 pint-sized jars.
For canning steps, read here: Canning Tomatoes.  Just follow the basic steps, skipping the tomato specific ones.

How to peel tomatoes (the right way)

After a few messy attempts to peel tomatoes for canning, I thought there must be an easier way to do this.  All it took was a quick google search and I found out there really IS a right way to blanch and peel tomatoes.  I’ll spare you the method I was using, which was basically drop the tomatoes in a boiling pot, peel the skins and cut.  Trust me, you’ll have a huge mess on your hands with tomato juice running everywhere.  So, if you’re canning tomatoes, follow these steps.

Step 1: Cut the core out around the stem.
Step 2: Slice a shallow “X” on the bottom of the tomato, just enough to break through the skin.

 Step 3: blanch the tomatoes by dropping them in a boiling pot for 10-30 seconds, till you notice the peels starting to slip off.

Step 4: remove from boiling water and drop into ice water to stop the cooking process.

Step 5: Peel the skins off (which is much easier with the “Xs” cut at the bottoms and the core already removed). They will slip right off!

Step 6: Cut tomato in half, then squeeze out the juicy seedy portion (or scoop out with a small spoon)
 Then just dice and can them to your heart’s desire!  I made this batch into creamy sweet salsa 🙂  Don’t worry, the recipe is coming!

Sweet Pickles- Step 4

Once the pickles have sat for 10 days in vinegar, take them out of the fridge and drain off the vinegar.  Place the pickle slices back in the jar and for each of 3 days, add 3 cups of sugar.  Shake the jar to evenly cover with sugar and return to the fridge.  The sugar will dissolve creating a syrup.  Once those 3 days are complete, that’s it!

 According to my great uncle, these actually taste better if you wait 2-3 weeks after the last step.  Although, I’m not sure we can wait that long to give them a try.  So far it’s been 2 days since I finished them, so we’ll put them to the test tomorrow, maybe 🙂

Homemade spaghetti sauce

EDIT:  MORE DETAILED STEPS ADDED!

 Last week I took our batch of tomatoes I picked from our garden and canned some diced tomatoes and then made the rest into a spaghetti sauce. 

The canning process (although it seemed long) was successful.  Both my cans sealed up nice and tight, but of course I didn’t want to claim it as a total success until we had a chance to eat what I had canned.  Well last night we decided to make spaghetti, so we used the sauce I made.  It was SO good!  I was actually a little skeptical of it just because it was something new, but we were both very pleased.  This will probably be our go-to recipe now for spaghetti sauce.  We just browned 1.5 lbs of ground beef on the stovetop and dumped it into a stockpot.  Then we added about half the jar of sauce, 1 6-oz. can of tomato paste and about 12 oz. water (because it started getting too thick) and stirred it all together.


The recipe for the sauce can be found on this amazing blog- My Crazy Life (as a Farmer’s Wife).  Please take a look at it! First of all, I’m IN LOVE with this lady’s blog! It’s so bright and colorful, and her photographs are gorgeous.  It’s light and airy.  Not to mention I’m swooning over all her vintage country stuff.  I don’t know how many acres of land they own, but her, her husband and their 4 kids live in this adorable house with a red barn, and they have tons of gardens where they grow all their own fresh fruit and veggies.  I’m obsessed.


Sigh.  Ok, back to the recipe.  It’s her Tangy Spaghetti Sauce recipe, but since I’m not a huge fan of really spicey stuff, I took out a few things to make it not-so-tangy.  The items in italics I left out of our sauce.  So if you like it tangy, keep those items in there 😉  Oh, and since I only had about 4 cups of tomatoes once I got them chopped (it calls for 16 cups), I quartered all the ingredients as well. (and I filled 1 quart jar for canning…plus some that I just threw into the fridge).

First, I diced all the tomatoes I had.  Ideally, you should probably remove the skins first, using the boiling then ice water bath method described here, but I honestly just forgot to until I was almost done chopping them all.  So of course I searched online and found out it’s not entirely necessary to skin the tomatoes (it just helps cut back on possible bacteria, and keeps the chewy skins out if you’re picky about that!).  But I did read that if you finely chop the tomatoes in a food processor, the skins are less noticeable later.  So that’s what I did.  I diced, then tossed them all into the processes for a few seconds, careful not to process too much and turn it into mush.

 And I found out this method of cutting tomatoes was much easier (and less messy!!) than my last method.  Cut all around the core in a “C” shape, trying to avoid the watery core and seeds. If I got seeds in the cut pieces, I just dug them out with the knife so you’re left with just the firm flesh.
 
 

This time I ended up with roughly 6 cups of diced tomatoes.  They went into the food processor, along with onions and green peppers, and then all the ingredients went into a stockpot.

 
 

Tangy Spaghetti Sauce for Canning
 -3 medium onions, chopped
-2 cups green bell peppers, chopped
-1 cup banana peppers, chopped
-2 pkg. fresh sliced mushrooms (neither Greg or I like mushrooms, so those got the boot)
-4 cloves minced garlic
-16 cups tomatoes, peeled and chopped
-3(12oz) cans tomato paste
-1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
-3 tablespoons brown sugar
-1 tablespoon dried oregano
-4 teaspoons canning salt
-2 teaspoons dried basil
-1 teaspoon black pepper
-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
-2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
-1/2 teaspoon cumin


Mix all the ingredients in a large pot on the stove. Heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for about 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally. If canning, fill clean, sterilized jars to ½” headspace at the top. Secure with lids. Process for 35 minutes for quart jars in a water bath.  

Enjoy delicious homemade spaghetti 🙂


Canning tomatoes

Today, I tried my skills at canning.  This was a first for me, so I read several sources on how to do it, and decided to buy this book from Walmart with all kinds of step-by-step directions and recipes for all kinds of things you can can.  I also bought a box of quart size wide mouth Ball jars, and a jar lifter (which is used to lift the hot jars out of the boiling water bath).

Now, I’m not gonna try to make this a detailed tutorial, because for 1) this is a complicated process and there are lots of steps!  And 2) this is the first time I’ve done this, and until I taste what I canned, I can’t guarantee I did everything 100% correct. But I will give you the rundown of what I did!  And I basically just followed these steps in the Blue Book.

First thing is to gather all your supplies.  You need:
    – jars (various sizes depending on what or how much you are canning)
    – lids and bands
    – water bath canner (or a deep stockpot will work if only doing 2-3 jars)
    – jar lifter
    – canning funnel

Before you really begin, you must clean all your jars, lids, and bands.  I just ran my jars through the sanitize cycle of the dishwasher.  If you do this option, leave your jars in the dishwasher until ready to use. This keeps them warm, which is important. If you hand wash them, heat the jars in simmering hot water on the stove until ready to use.  Because I didn’t want to damage the adhesive ring on the lids, I hand washed those. Then to heat them, I put them in simmering water until ready to use.  The giant black pot in the picture below is a canning pot for the water bath.  It holds up to 7 quart size jars.  But since I’m not doing massive amounts of canning, I was able to get by with the stockpot I already owned. So I may be returning the giant canner (which I simply found at Walmart).

 

Next thing is to prep the tomatoes for canning.  I had about 12 tomatoes, which to my surprise only filled 1 quart jar.  I can’t imagine the mass of veggies people grow in order to can multiple jars at one time! That’s a ton of tomatoes!!  You need to remove the skins, because they don’t preserve well. EDIT: After several trial and errors of learning how to can this summer, I’ve learned there is a better method for prepping tomatoes. Please follow these steps HERE!   So, blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, until the skins start peeling off.  Remove them from the boiling water and drop them into an ice bath to halt the cooking process and ease skin removal. Unfortunately, 2 seconds after I took the below pic, I found out my wire basket didn’t actually fit down into my stock pot, so I just dropped the tomatoes in.

Peel the skins, and cut tomatoes as desired (either halves, quarters, or smaller).  This is a messy process (not if you follow THESE steps!)  There is so much water in a tomato, and it runs everywhere.  Be sure to cut the greens and cores out too.  Next you need to put the cut pieces back into the stockpot with just enough water to cover. Boil for approx. 5 mins.

Now you can remove the jars from the dishwasher (or warming bath), and using a ladle and canning funnel to spoon tomatoes into the jars. Fill the jar to 1/2 inch headspace. You need to slide a non-metal untensil between the tomatoes and the edge of the jar and press against the tomatoes to release any trapped air.  Repeat this several times all around the jar.  Then wipe the rims of the jars clean, place the lid on top and secure with the band.  Screw the band on just fingertip tight, not as tight at it will go.

 Next, lower your jar into the simmering water bath for canning. (Like I said, I just used my stockpot, but if you have several jars, you will need to get a large canner).  The jar should be submerged fully in the water, or at least to the very top of the jar.  Turn the heat to high and when water reaches a steady boil, start the processing time of 40-45mins.  (Different recipes have different processing times. Tomatoes require approx 40 mins).

When 45 mins is up, remove the jar from the canner and place on a towel and allow to cool for 12-24 hours.  As the contents cool it will create a vacuum seal within the jar.  You lid should no longer “pop” once it is fully cooled. If the lid still pops, you did not achieve a vacuum seal.  Luckily, mine all sealed!  That’s it!  Oh, except that once I completed all this, I went out to check the garden and came back with a FULL BASKET OF TOMATOES!  Of course.  Because any normal person would have thought to check the garden before going through a whole afternoon of canning.  So, my next adventure was to make them into a spaghetti sauce that I canned later that night.  I’ll be sure to share that later!

Sweet Pickles-step 3

I might have let step 2 go a little longer than the recipe calls for, but when 3 work days hit back to back, I don’t really have time for much else.  So, the 24 hour step on step 2 was actually a little over 48 hours , but I’m hoping that’s ok.  Alum is just a firming agent, so it’s probably the safest step to prolong.  This morning I moved on to step 3.

Remove the pickles from the fridge and go through the rinsing process again.  I took pictures this time…

Put them back in the jar again, but this time fill the jar with white distilled vinegar.  Place the jar back in the fridge for 10 days.

Sweet Pickles- Step 2

After sitting in the fridge for 48 hours (in salt and water), my pickles-in-the-making were ready for step 2 of the pickling process.  Since I only have one 1-gallon jar, I couldn’t empty the slices out bit by bit, rinse them and then place them into a new rinsed out jar.  So, to ensure all the slices were rinsed well, I just dumped them all into a strainer in the sink, and then rinsed them by the handful and placed them back into my gallon jar (that I rinsed out really well!).  Basically, you just want to get all that salt off.

Once they were rinsed and back into the jar, I filled the jar again with water and poured in 1 Tablespoon of Alum.  Alum is a pickling powder and you can get it at most grocery stores on the spices aisle.  So my little pickles are back in the fridge for the next 24 hours.  Then it’s step 3!

Granny Meals’ Sweet Pickles

My great-grandmother Meals made sweet pickles for generations.  My mom grew up eating these yummy pickles and begs for them every summer from her older relatives in Huntsville (aka: Uncle Harold!).  So when we went to our family reunion this week, we asked if he could please bring us the sweet pickle recipe.  Since we have so many cucumbers, even after giving away so many already, I decided I needed to start pickling these babies!

The whole process actually takes about 2 weeks.  So last night I got stage 1 going.  First you take a heap of cucumbers and cut them up into slices, and keep on cutting until you have a gallon of cucumbers.  Here’s my pile of cucumbers, and I ended up using all of them (except 1 of those big guys) to fill my gallon jar.

Can you believe all these slices came from that 1 cucumber on the far right of the above pic???

Once I got the jar filled with cucumber slices, you just fill the jar with water to cover all the cucumbers and pour in 1 cup of pickling salt.  Pickling salt is different from regular table salt in that it does not have iodine or anti-caking agents in it.  But you can get it at any grocery store on the spices aisle.

 So for 2 days the jar is in the fridge soaking in salty water.  I took it out this morning just to swirl the jar a bit to keep all the salt from settling to the bottom.  Then in 2 days, it’ll be time for step 2!