Archive for August, 2009

Pick a Peck of Pretty Peppers Pulverize and Preserve!

Every year I vow to dig up some pepper plants and over winter them in the house, but I never get around to it and always have to wait until late summer for a bounty of peppers.  Peppers supposedly do very well as a perennial and produce a lot more as the plant matures.  You can’t really do this with tomato plants, but it is supposed to work with peppers.  I’ll try to dig some up this year, but no promises!  If you do try it, let me know how it works.

At any rate…we’ve got a plethora of peppers now.  Jalapenos, Fat-N-Sassy, California Wonders, Lilacs, Pepperoncini, and a few Habaneros.  I’ve made all the salsa we can handle, so it’s Pepper Jelly Time!  I usually make a large amount of this stuff every other year and we have plenty to devour as well as plenty to give away as gifts and bribes to friends and family.

Don’t be afraid of this stuff, it’s very easy to make and the heat from the peppers is not a problem even for those that can’t normally handle spicy foods.  We serve it with rice crackers and cream cheese…put a dollop of this jelly on there and you’ve got a snack that will prove to be highly addictive and a favorite of all that you share it with.  The sugar and cream cheese kill the heat from the peppers just seconds after the heat hits your tongue.  It’s a wonderful pain/pleasure sensation that’s decadent to say the least!

Rice Crackers

Rice Crackers

Ok…here we go.  First, go pick all the peppers you can…a 50/50 mix of hot and sweet is usually what I use.  Toss in ONE OR TWO habaneros or Thai Chilies or whatever super hot pepper you have growing, but are afraid to do anything with.  Get some rubber gloves and open some windows and turn on some fans for ventilation.  Trust me on the rubber gloves!

Peppers, knife and gloves

Peppers, knife and gloves

Don’t get too fancy with the knife…just cut the tops off the jalapenos and other slender peppers.  With the bell peppers, take the top off and remove the bulk of the seed locules.  Toss these in a food processor or blender and puree into a finely chopped slush.  Keep those gloves on!

Pureed peppers

Pureed peppers

12 cups of peppers

12 cups of peppers

Put the peppers in a large pot with an equal amount of white or apple cider vinegar.  I make large batches so 6 cups of pureed peppers and 6 cups of vinegar.  Then add 3 cups of sugar per cup of peppers you use.  18 cups of sugar for my batch.  Cook all of this on medium heat until it reaches a low boil.  Don’t heat it too quickly or the sugar may scorch.  Stir frequently and keep those fans on to vent the pepper fumes.

Once it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and add a tablespoon of food coloring…I prefer red, but have used green.  I’d avoid blue! 😉

Also add Liquid Pectin at a rate of around 1 and 1/2 ounces per cup of peppers you used.  You can use more pectin for a thicker jelly or less if you want a more syrupy texture.

If you want to, you can now strain the whole pot through a strainer to remove the seeds and chunks of peppers.  This will make for less heat in your jelly and a true jelly or syrup appearance.  I prefer to leave all the chunks and seeds in there so mine is more of a marmalade and has more heat to it.

Pour the hot jelly into sterilized jars, and follow the USDA guidelines for canning.  I like to use a variety of sized jars so I can give small ones away as small gifts, give medium ones away as gifts for the ones that are addicted to this stuff, and some large ones for big parties.

I only make this every other year, so I make two big batches and end up with a supply that I don’t have to horde!

pepperjelly 004

Jars of Jelly

Jars of Jelly

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KCTTTT #1 is in the record books!

With 39 varieties and about 40 tomato lovers from across the city, the first annual KCTTTT was a great success!  The weather was great and it was so wonderful to see all the gardeners talking shop about the trials and tribulations of growing tomatoes!  Thanks so much to all the folks that brought tomatoes and dishes to share!

I took some pictures of when we first started filling up the tables with tomatoes, but I didn’t get any pics of all the people enjoying the day!  If you have any pics, please add them to the flickr group at the link below.  If you can’t get them to upload, just send the to me at jworley1@hotmail.com and I’ll add them to the group.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/1184226@N20/

Again…it was so nice to see all of you today and if you didn’t make it, we’ll hope to see you next year!

James

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Tomorrow is the Big Day! KCTTTT!!!!

Well, we have a big basket of tomatoes ready to bring…many different varieties, but I can’t wait to try some we didn’t plant!  I’ll make a bunch of bruschetta in the morning and have three French loaves ready to pick up.  We’re so looking forward to visiting everyone and hearing gardening tales of triumph and woe.  The weather looks to be perfect!

I’ll likely be at the park on Roe around 10:00 so if you want to stop by early to help set up, feel free to come early.  I also have a few prizes we’ll draw for so you might go home with a goody or a gift certificate!

As a reminder…bring something to drink if you’d like (I’ll have some bottled water for thirsty folks)and a lawn chair to rest in between trips to try all the tomato dishes and samples.  Kids and leashed pets are welcome!

See you in the morning with the bounty from your gardens!

James

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Late Blight..some interesting reading

It’s been a crazy year for growing tomatoes…heavy rains, flooding, hail, excessive heat, record lows, and now we’re in the midst of another heat wave…who knows what fall and winter will bring!

Most folks that I’ve talked to though are having a great season with big harvests and little problems to speak of especially when it comes to blight.  My good friends the Denesha’s from Tomatotown sent me a NYT article about the problems of diseases that are affecting gardeners this year.  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/opinion/09barber.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

Here are a few important snippets from the article that are particularly interesting:

“According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South”

“So what do we do?

For starters, if you’re planning a garden (and not growing from seed — the preferable, if less convenient, choice), then buy starter plants from a local grower or nursery. A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate. It’s an effective way to help local growers, who rely on sales of these plants before the harvest arrives. It’s also a way to protect agriculture. If late blight occurs in a small nursery it’s relatively easy to recognize, as straightforward as being able to see the plant, recognize its symptoms and isolate it before it has a chance to spread.”

I’m not in this to make a lot of money…I’m in it because I love growing tomatoes and enjoy meeting and helping people that have the same interests thaat I do.  I’ll always sell my plants at a lower cost than the nuresries and big box stores and will always provide help throughout the year to make your garden as successful as possible.  Thanks so much for your support and I’ll see you on the 22nd!

James

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Preserve the harvest…the art and science of freezing and canning

With only 2 and a half weeks to go, we’ve got close to 30 people RSVP’d for the KCTTTT! It should be a great afternoon to taste some tomatoes and talk gardening in the city.  I hope to see you there!

It’s to the point in the garden that everything is at peak, but we’ll still have peppers, tomatoes, and beans until cold weather sets in…peppers can hang in there until first frost.   If you want to save some of this peak summer flavor to enjoy all year long, then you need to learn how to freeze or can your surplus harvest.

If you don’t have a surplus of some things, it’s no sin to go to the farmer’s market and stock up on veggies at a great price.  I went to the River Market this morning and bought peppers, tomatillos, cilantro, and lemons..all at a great value.  I then stopped by one of the coolest stores in town…Planter’s Seed.  They sell bulk spices there that are a great deal and very fresh.

Once you’re stocked up on veggies and supplies…make sure you’ve got a sharp knife and a few hours to spare!

The best tomatoes to use for salsa are the paste types…Romas and Opalka are my favorite as they have lots of meat, fewer seeds, and not much juice.  Set a big pot of water to boil and another big bowl of water with a good amount of ice.  If you don’t have some of these bowls…you need to add a few to your cabinets!  If you are using romas or opalkas, cut the stem end of the tomatoes off.  If you use bigger tomatoes, you need to core them out with a sharp knife.  When the water is boiling, drop a dozen tomatoes at a time in the water and let them cook cor about 1 minute.  Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drop in the ice water.  This blanching process makes removing the skins very easy…just give them a squeeze!  If you like chunky salsa or are just canning chunks of tomatoes, use a butcher knife to chop them to your desired size.  If you want to save some time, plop them in the food processor and pulse them a few times…saves a lot of chopping!

If you’re making salsa, then do a search for salsa canning recipe…you’ll find one you like I’m sure.  I make mine differently each year and none ever goes to waste!  This year I am using roasted garlic (like I used for the bruschetta), tomatillos, onions, yellow peppers, jalapenos, Planter’s Hot Picante Seasoning, Ancho seasoning, Cumin (always use this!), lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, and plenty of fresh cilantro.  If you want the pepper taste, but not so much heat, take the seeds and ribs out of the jalapenos…if you like it hot…leave them in.  Either way…use disposable gloves when handling peppers…you’ll thank me later!

When you’re done chopping…it should look something like this:

Cook this down until the onions are soft and translucent, then save some back to eat in the next week or two and can the rest.

Canning isn’t a difficult process…most canning does not require a pressure cooker…just a hot water bath.  If you can beans or meats, a pressure cooker is needed though.

One thing to make sure you do whenever you can tomatoes is to add lemon juice.  We always talk about how much acid tomatoes have, but they don’t have enough to ward off some nasty bacteria so I always add a tablespoon of lemon juice per quart of any tomato product I can.  Don’t forget this step!

As for materials to can…it’s simple.  Sterilized jars…use the HOT setting on your dishwasher or wash by hand and rinse with near boiling water.  A big pot to boil water for the hot water bath.  A pair of jar tongs, a lid magnet, and a canning funnel.  You’ll need some fresh lids that you’ll sterilize in a small pot of boiling water and rings to match them.  All of this can be bought at local hardware stores or if you must…Wal-Mart.

I could spend an hour trying to explain the process, but if you go to the Ball site: http://www.freshpreserving.com/ This site has allllllll the safety information and step by step guides.  If you get stuck or have questions…feel free to ask me though and I’ll do what I can to help.

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