Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saints Preserve Us!

It’s been months and months since we’ve blogged. You know the story: Facebook ate my blog!

Well so much has been going lately on our barrio rancho and and we’re going in some new directions. We’re still working on our book Decolonizing Dinner, but now that we’re both back at work, it’s harder to stay connected to the project. So I thought blogging would be one good way to document our adventures and to continue to develop ideas.

Our latest “discovery” is canning. In the past week we’ve canned 12 half-pints of red and gold tomatoes from Luz’s garden. 7 half-pints of apples. Finally, we made escabeche (pickled jalapeños, carrots & onions) from Luz’s bumper crop of carrots.

The tomatoes are what got us started with all of this. Luz’ tomatso plants were overflowing, and although we’d been eating tomato sandwiches, salads, pasta and the like, we weren’t able to keep up with the bounty. Even though Luz was sharing it. Zie was starting to get a bit stressed and so came up with the idea of canning the tomatoes. Last saturday, we came home from a party, stopped by the Ace hardware in the Laurel ten minutes before they closed, and bought a canning pot with rack, a canning kit (with handy tools like jar funnel, jar lifter, digital timer, magnetic thing for getting the lids out of hot water) and a case of half-pint jars. By seven, Luz had harvested all hir tomatoes and Ktrion had read the requisite sections of the canning book, and gone to the store to get the required lemon juice to assure that the tomatoes would be “high acid” and thus could be canned in a pot of boiling water rather than a giant pressure cooker (which we don’t happen to have).

Now, a canning pot is actually the same thing as a tamale pot. In fact if, like you’re like our fabulous friend Josie, your tamale pot may have a flat tray in the bottom with big holes in it. This is perfect for canning. We have several tamale pots but we don’t have a steamer suitable for canning. (We use those collapsible steamers when we’re steaming tamales and they’re not at all appropriate for holding jars. So we bought another pot (yes!) that came with a canning rack. Alas, we were so crunched for time (since the store was closing) that we didn’t notice until much later that the rack is really appropriate for quart jars. We had gotten half-pint jars which were small enough to fit through the spaces in the rack. What this means is that we have to insert the jars one by one using the jar holders and then when the processing time is up, remove them one by one the same way. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s slow and hot and steamy.

Now Luz and have have very different skill sets. Luz is the alchemist, the creative artist, who tastes, improvises, adjusts, throws in a little something from the herb spiral, guesstimates. Zie sees a recipe as a point of departure. I am the chemistry student, who is careful about measurements, cooking times, temperatures, exactitude, following directions as written and in the order prescribed. Which means I was put in charge of canning, since--at least starting out--you need to do things a certain way to avoid botulism and other unpleasant surprises.

Our first canning book--Putting Things By--seemed pretty conservative. In particular, for canning stewed tomatoes, it said not to add herbs or vegetables, unless using a giant pressure cooker. Which we don’t have. This was a big cramp in the style of the tomato-cooking alchemist, who had envisioned basil, garlic, and other delights flavoring the canned tomatoes.

The only lemon juice at our favorite store came in an container shaped like a plastic lemon.

Okay, we adapt. Now, from what my book says, the practiced farmwife can get the veggies from the vine to jar in 2 hours flat. We started at seven p.m. and finished around 1:30 a.m., so there’s obviously lots of room for improvement, but on the other hand, we have a dozen half-pint jars of light orange tomatoes (There were prob’ly more golden tomatoes than red ones in the harvest) gleaming like little jewels on our dining room table.

The next morning Hadas and Margo (and their pit-bull of a thousand names, among them “Rosie” and “Marble Cake”) dropped by to bestow freshly baked honey cakes on our household. Luz ran to give them a jar of canned tomatoes. Like us, they want to try them right away--which kind of defeats the whole purpose of canning, which is to save them till they’re out of season. On the other hand, the whole purpose of canning is that the fruits & vegetables get eaten instead of being thrown away, in which case you should feel free to dig right in.

(Pictures to follow as soon as Luz gets home from yoga and uploads them)

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