Today I want to talk about utilizing this year’s garden produce. With the great weather that allowed early spring planting and abundance of rain, the yield this year has been great for most people.
The problem I am having is that all my tomatoes are ready at once and I am having trouble finding time to process them. Our garden is a small, raised bed-type and in it we planted tomatoes of several varieties and colors along with some cucumbers.
Our cucumber harvest has been abundant, producing cucumbers up to 10 inches long (way too big for pickles). We try to pick them when they are 4 to 7 inches long and about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.
We canned 20 pints of dill and 20 pints of bread and butter pickles. Not bad for a little backyard plot! I have found that the Mrs. Wages brand canning mixes work wonderfully and have a great taste. Both the dill and the bread and butter mixes are excellent.
The pasta sauce mix is what I use for my tomatoes. I use the mild flavor salsa, but a hot variety is available. This mix can be used as a quick fresh mix by preparing it and letting it set for about an hour. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes you can use 8 oz. of canned tomatoes from the grocery shelves.
For the dill pickles I used that mix along with some fresh dill sprigs and for the bread and butter, I add a couple of onion rings at the bottom of the jar. I cut the cucumbers in slices on my mandolin slicer which allows me to vary the thickness.
Make sure that you use the guard on your slicer. I didn’t and ended up with 4 stitches in my finger. Not good.
One recommendation that I have is to use a boiling water canner.
Heat your pickle juice mixture by bringing it to a boil. While you are doing that tightly pack your cucumbers in jars with either the fresh dill or the onions depending which variety you are canning. Add a 1/8 teaspoon of pickle crisp (available in the canning area) to each pint jar (1/4 teaspoon for quart jars). Carefully pour your juice mixture over the cucumbers and place the lids and rings on your jars. Screw on the lids but not real tight and place the jars into your canner. (water level should come up half way on the jar).
Bring it to a boil and carefully place the jars in the canner, avoiding the jars touching. Follow your recipe for the cooking time. When they are done, turn off the heat, wait 5-10 minutes and gently remove them from the canner with canning tongs and place on the counter to cool.
All your jars should be sealed properly when you hear the “ping.” If any are not, place them in the refrigerator and use them immediately.
The first batch of dills that I canned came out with a very soft pickle texture. I believe that when I did this batch that by processing them in a pressure canner (even for only 5 minutes) my pickles became over processed causing them to be soft. I also found out that using the pickle crisp would help prevent “soggy” pickles.
I would highly recommend using any of the Mrs. Wages seasoning packets. She makes them for a variety of pickles as well as salsa, chili and other fruits and vegetables.
They can be found in the canning section of most supermarkets or ACE Hardware store. Simply follow the directions and adjust if you believe they need more spice or seasonings.
I like to add extra celery and onion to the salsa mix for extra crunch and flavor. I also add a small bunch of cilantro to my jar of salsa before sealing and processing. As for the dill pickles I add a sprig of fresh dill to enhance the dill flavor. The bread and butter pickles have that extra zing when adding the onion to the jar.
Today’s two recipes are ones that you can use to process fresh garden produce. Last year I found some delicious homegrown blackberries at a roadside stand.
The first recipe is for a cobbler. It is one that I have used many times over the years and find that it works great with any type of berry, or with cherries or peaches.
NUMBER ONE BLACKBERRY COBBLER
Lightly wash berries by spraying them with sink – spray gently. DO NOT let them get soaked.
1 stick butter
1 quart berries or (4 cups peaches or cherries)
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place stick of butter in dish 9” or 10” square (no smaller than total of 90 sq. inches) in microwave and heat until butter is melted. While oven is preheating, put the berries in a two quart sauce pan with the sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring fruit to a slow boil.
2) Mix batter ingredients together with a spoon (lumps are to be expected, don’t worry!). When butter is melted, spoon mixture over butter and then carefully spoon the berries over batter. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Bake until golden brown (about 45-50 minutes). Remove from oven and let cobbler slightly cool.
BUTTER SPICED NECTARINES
This is a great fruit topping which can be made with peaches as well.
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
4 pounds ripe nectarines or peaches, peeled, pitted and each cut into 8 wedges
½ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon vanilla
1) In a 4-5 quart heavy pot, combine butter and sugar. When sugar is melted, cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, or until mixture starts to brown, stirring constantly. Add nectarine wedges to butter mixture, stirring to coat. Cook about 4 minutes or just until nectarines start to soften, gently stirring occasionally. Stir in the water, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
2) Ladle hot mixture into HOT sterilized half pint jars, distributing nectarines and liquid evenly among jars, leaving 1/2” head space. Wipe jar rims; cover with lids and screw bands until almost tight.
3) Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of fruit; remove from canner after 5 minutes then cool on wire racks. Makes about 4-5 pint jars.
SERVING SUGGESTION: Warm fruit topping in microwave and spoon over pound cake, French toast or vanilla ice cream.
Enjoy the “fruits” of your labor. Until next time — Sheryl.
Sheryl Sollars, a Clinton County native, is an accomplished cook and homemaker. She contributes her column “Welcome to My Kitchen” out of her love of homemaking and of sharing her thoughts with her readers. If you have cooking questions or a recipe you want to share, please contact Sheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org.