Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Tomato Tragedy! May 19, 2011

Our tomato plants did not fair well with the transplant from pot to garden plot the other day, and now it looks like we are expecting weather in the low thirties this evening which, I am afraid to say, may be the final blow to the already stressed plants.

I will be really disappointed if they don’t survive. We had four different heirloom varieties and I have been fantasizing about all the things I will be able to do with them come late summer. At this point it really only looks like about three of the plants will pull through, but I haven’t entirely given up hope yet. Of course, we will have to see how things are tomorrow morning after our cold snap. I fear the worse.

The most distressing part about this, of course, is the fact that I like to think that our gardens can feed us. This is probably unreasonable regardless of circumstance, but when something like this happens it really highlights how fragile the balance is. If we WERE totally dependent on the garden, we would now be down a whole crop. And while that isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it does mean that one of the best foods for canning and preserving would be completely missing from our winter cupboard. It makes me really appreciate and understand how hard it is, and how much luck goes into, being able to survive without the convenience of readily available supermarket variety food.

It is easy to forget that even our farmer’s at the local farmer’s market here struggle with that and are also subject to the whims of nature, regardless of their experience or skill at keeping their crops happy and alive. Just this year one of the local tomato growers lost almost all their plants due to a natural gas shortage which killed the heaters in their greenhouses. So please, think good thoughts tonight while the temperatures dip. I am hopeful that the plants will pull through, but if not I will have to replace them with some other varieties. I hope that your gardens are doing well in spite of the weather here!

Happy Gardening!

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So many plums! October 13, 2010

Filed under: Baking,Canning,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 2:11 pm
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This year most of my fruit trees were frozen in a late frost, however the one tree that did avoid the worst of the cold weather has managed to produce a bumper crop. We have two plum trees in the yard, one of which is a beautiful, but very overgrown, mother. The other is a daughter offshoot that hides in the shade of our yard and generally gets overlooked. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that it was carrying fruit until about a month ago when I looked closely and realized the branches were laden with small, purple globes.

Since we purchased the house with established fruit trees, I am not sure what type of plum these are, however as they’ve ripened they have developed a lovely sweet-tart flavor and have a rather eerie green flesh. Yesterday we processed about ten cups in order to make what turned out to be nearly a gallon of preserves and we only used a third of the plums! I honestly have no idea what we are going to do with the rest, but I am hoping to find some recipes for plum cakes, puddings, pies, tarts…you get the idea!

Suffice it to say the bounty is pretty impressive and I am hopeful that as our fruit trees mature and we learn more about taking care of them we can avoid a frost kill like the one that happened this year and actually be able to harvest some apples, pears and apricots from the other trees in our mini-orchard.

Until then, however, any and all plum recipes are appreciated and I will definitely share my plum experiments as they occur! Happy Eating!

 

Crockpot Apple Butter August 20, 2010

Filed under: Canning,Food Storage,Home Made,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 11:37 am
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It may seem early in the season for apple recipes, but I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to pick a business associates early fruiting tree and I finally got around to doing something with all the apples I pulled. The apples were very small and the process of peeling and coring was fairly tedious, however we were able to do enough so that we could make about 4 pints of apple butter.

The process of making apple butter is very straightforward but it can be time consuming so I decided this year to use my crockpot in order to cook the apples down rather than the stove top which requires frequent stirring and constant vigilance in order to ensure it does not scorch. Given all of the other things I have been trying to do recently (cheese making, zucchini processing, alone time…) I decided that it would be best for everyone if I simply put the apple butter in the crockpot overnight and let it do its thing without my supervision.

I was very pleased with the results! The butter thickened nicely and while there was some scraping of the sides required in the end, all in all it was a preferable method to the stovetop. I tend to forget that things are on the stove and have had some near catastrophes (see my post about the plum preserves!). The best part about it though is that you can leave it to cook overnight. I like getting things done while I sleep!

Apple Butter
from the Ball Blue Book of canning and preserving

4 pints cooked apples
4 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves

The basics process for making the butter is as follows:

Core and peel your apples
Cook them with a small quantity of water until they are soft and can be easily mushed with a potato masher (basically turn them into applesauce)
Use either an immersion blender or a standard blender to blend them and create a smooth consistency
Add sugar and spices
Cook over low heat until thick, stirring frequently

Leaving 1/4 inch headspace, process in water bath for 10 minutes at sea level

I typically use less sugar in these recipes than called for simply because I don’t like overly sweet fruit products. The Ball Blue Book recipe calls for 4 cups of sugar to 8 cups of apples. No thank you! I use about 1 to 1.5 cups of sugar. I also add a tad more cloves to my recipe (1/2 tsp instead of 1/4 tsp) and lower the cinnamon from 2 tsp to 1 tsp.

The canning instructions are to can for 10 minutes (at sea level) with 1/4 inch head space. Due to the altitude in the City Dipherent, I add an additional 15 minutes to the processing time.

 

Plum Preserves – Near Tragedy! August 3, 2010

Filed under: Canning,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 3:39 pm
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Plum PreservesYesterday we started processing the plums I mentioned in the previous post. We are making very simple plum preserves – not jelly or jam. The primary difference is the sugar content and the end consistency. Preserves are basically cooked fruit with a bit of sugar, whereas jam and jelly requires a thickening agent.

In order to make the preserves we simply halved and pitted the plums yesterday, then we layered them with sugar and let them sit for about 8 hours. We cooked them a bit last night and then refrigerated them overnight mostly because we didn’t have time to can last evening. This morning we took them out and put them back in the pot, added a bit more sugar as they were pretty sour, and then put them on a low heat in order to thicken and cook down a tad more as there were still some pretty big chunks of plum.

This is really a very long lead up to the near tragedy that occurred this morning shortly after I placed the plums on the heat to cook. We had just arrived home and of course, some chickens had escaped and one of them was hiding so we (mostly I) got completely sidetracked looking for the rogue chicken. Then my two year old started having a melt down and I basically neglected the plums.

I came back in and went to stir them only to discover that I had completely scorched the bottom of the pot! I was in near tears…okay, I was in actual tears…because I was convinced I had ruined the entire batch. So much time and effort and work…from picking them to washing, to cutting to cooking…etc.etc…and here I had ruined them in a vain effort to find a damn chicken.

Luckily for me my mother is slightly more level headed and we simply ladled the top of the jam off into a bowl and dumped the scorched part. We only really lost about a quart – which sounds like a lot, but we still have over a gallon which will make lots of preserves.

Suffice it to say, the pot of plum deliciousness is now sitting on the stove over a VERY low heat and is being stirred constantly. The picture is of the plums as we were ladling them off the scorched pot – the color was so beautiful I wanted to capture it.

Happy Eating!