A Comment on Canning

By buying our canned goods in the supermarket year-round we forget three things. We forget how to make tasty sauces and jellies that last. We forget to take pride in the individuality, provenance and history of our recipes. (Indeed, some people enjoy admiring their shelves of neat, color-filled jars more than they enjoy eating their contents; the authors of my 1972 Joy of Cooking comment, “you will find their inspection—often surreptitious—and the pleasure of serving the fruits of your labor comparable only to a clear conscience or a very becoming hat.”)

Finally, we forget the urgency of fall: to preserve as much food as possible for the coming winter. Canning 20 pints of food took me 5.5 hours (because I had to learn the process; done again, with a single, simpler sauce, it would take no more than 2.5); preserving enough food for four bleak, cold months must take weeks. This is a season of great beauty, of pausing at the descending stillness and starkness of the dying land, but it is also a season of furious preparation. To have a mind of autumn one must mind winter.

The Recipes

Pears:

I used Bosc pears picked during a trip to Rose’s Berry Farm in Glastonbury, CT. We washed and cored several dozen of these “aristocrats of pears,” and boiled them down for 60-90 minutes, making sure to put water at the bottom of the pot and stir regularly so they wouldn’t burn (which they still did, a little bit). We spiced them with plenty of cinnamon and a tiny bit of nutmeg and nothing else; then they were poured three one-quart jars. I would estimate that a dozen pears reduce to a quart.

Salsa Verde:

The salsa verde was far more complicated. I was trying to use up the Farm’s green tomatoes, of which there were an abundance after we took down the tomato plants. I also had tomatillos from a conventional grower, so I washed and husked those and used them interchangeably with the tomatoes. I used this recipe, quadrupling in order to make 24 pints, but some notes:

            -8 cupts of onions = 3-4 large onions, not 8

            -A decent head of garlic has 12-16 cloves

            -2 large bunches of cilantro yields about 4 cups

The hot peppers we used (jalapeños) were from the Farm, but the onions, cilantro, garlic, and lime and lemon juice were from Stop & Shop. It’s important to use bottled lemon juice when canning rather than squeezing your own: recipes are only shelf-stable with a certain amount of acid in them, and they are written with the controlled acidity of bottled products in mind. This is also why it’s important to use tested, verified recipes for canning—not every preparation will keep, even when the canning itself is done properly. Stop & Shop’s onions were fine, their cilantro was crumpled but usable, and most of the garlic heads I bought from them were rotten.

When properly boiled down, this recipe did not yield 6 pints! After quadrupling and boiling for 60-90 minutes (which still left plenty of liquid), I only had 14 pints of fairly water salsa. The solution: separate out the chunky stuff into some jars and watery stuff into others; use the chunky as normal salsa and the watery ones for flavoring black beans.

The Canning Itself

We used a pressure canner, which is easier time-wise but more finicky than a hot water bath; some recipes also require the pressure canner, which can reach much high temperatures than hot water baths can. Whether or not you need a pressure canner—and how long it will be on for—are also part of any good canning recipe. Make sure to follow those instructions, too, since a carelessly canned product can sicken or kill whoever you serve it to. The only other things you need are jars (which can be reused), lids (which cannot— and which, unless manufactured outside the US, contain BPA), and tongs.

Some tips—not an exhaustive guide—for canning with a pressure cooker:

  • Put your pressure cooker on the stove & put 1.5 inches of water at the bottom.
  • Fill your clean jars with what you want to can. Here a funnel helps.
  • Wipe off necks of jars so that there’s no gunk clinging to where the seal is made.
  • Heat the lids by dipping them in clean hot water; this will help the seal set properly and sterilize them. Water should not be boiling—you want to loosen but not warp the lids.
  • Screw the lids on each jar, getting them only just slightly more than finger-tight. Too tight and the air won’t be able to escape for the seal to set.
  • Put the jars in the cooker upright; they can be touching. To stack, use a metal divider between layers that should have come with the cooker.
  • Put the cooker’s lid on & screw it in tightly, rotating from screw to screw so that is adheres evenly.
  • Light the stove. When a steady stream of steam starts coming out of the air hole at the top, put the pressure weight on top, set to the right pressure. (We used 10 lbs. but your recipe may be different.)
  • When the weight starts jiggling at least 4 times a minute and the pressure gauge reads the amount you need, turn the heat down to the lowest possible while still on, and wait for the required amount of time in your recipe. (We used 15 minutes for both, but again, check.)
  • After the set time has passed, turn off the heat. Don’t remove the weight until the guage falls back down to 0! (This may take another 5-10 minutes.) Once it has, remove the weight and the lid, and take out your jars with a rubber jar holder; they will be super hot and probably still bubbling. Move them as little as possible (until the next day), keep them upright and level, and wait for the seal to audibly pop into place. There is no more satisfying sound in the mad rush of autumn.

Yasha Magarik is a senior English major in Calhoun College. He was a Lazarus Summer intern in 2010 and currently works for the YSFP as a Student Farm Manager.

It’s become an annual tradition here at the YSFP to kick off the fall semester of Chewing the Fat with a cheese tasting run by our friends at Caseus. We work with them to pair Yale Farm produce to local cheeses, introducing participants to the best of late summer’s harvest as well as the products of neighboring cities and states, making sure to talk about the stories that go into each item on the plate. Seating is always very limited, as we want to make sure to encourage conversation and question-asking while we eat— so if you missed it this year, here are some images from the afternoon!

What We Grow: Tomato Varieties
We grow three general types of tomatoes on the Yale Farm: paste tomatoes, best suited for drying and sauces, cherry tomatoes, which are ping pong ball-sized single bite delights, and a number of larger heirloom “eating” varieties that are good right off the vine. Below is some more specific information on the breeds we’ve used in years past, with notes on their size, shape, color, and best usage.
TOMATO, BRANDYWINE   Very large, delicate heirloom with unrivaled rich traditional ‘tomato’ flavor; potato leaf, indeterminateTOMATO, GREEN ZEBRA   Small, striped green tomato with sweet flavor, perfect for salads; indeterminate, resists crackingTOMATO, STRIPED GERMAN   Large, somewhat flattened fruit with red/yellow marbling; extremely sweet, juicy, with a light fruity flavor—PASTE TOMATO, BLUE BEECH   —CHERRY TOMATO, SUN GOLD   Prolific, deep orange fruits are always the favorite for eating out of hand; tend to split when handled or stored; indeterminate hybrid

What We Grow: Tomato Varieties

We grow three general types of tomatoes on the Yale Farm: paste tomatoes, best suited for drying and sauces, cherry tomatoes, which are ping pong ball-sized single bite delights, and a number of larger heirloom “eating” varieties that are good right off the vine. Below is some more specific information on the breeds we’ve used in years past, with notes on their size, shape, color, and best usage.

TOMATO, BRANDYWINE   Very large, delicate heirloom with unrivaled rich traditional ‘tomato’ flavor; potato leaf, indeterminate

TOMATO, GREEN ZEBRA   Small, striped green tomato with sweet flavor, perfect for salads; indeterminate, resists cracking

TOMATO, STRIPED GERMAN   Large, somewhat flattened fruit with red/yellow marbling; extremely sweet, juicy, with a light fruity flavor



PASTE TOMATO, BLUE BEECH  



CHERRY TOMATO, SUN GOLD   Prolific, deep orange fruits are always the favorite for eating out of hand; tend to split when handled or stored; indeterminate hybrid

How to Grow: Tomatoes

It’s that time of year again when the first really warm days mean the same words from everyone who visits our stand at market: “When will your tomatoes be ready?” In fact, our tomato seedlings have just been transplanted into the ground from the soil blocks where they spent the first few weeks of their young lives. While tomatoes can be planted any time after the threat of frost has passed and nights stay above fifty degrees, we waited until our seedlings were strong and hearty enough before transplanting them into one of the farm’s high tunnels.

Everyone has a secret to the best way to grow tomatoes, but the majority of growers train the tomatoes upright using one method or another. Whether it’s by caging, staking, or stringing up the tomato plants, any method that raises the plants off the ground increases the airflow around the plant, preventing the spread of disease and leading to a surplus of healthier fruit— this is especially crucial in a damp, humid climate like New Haven’s! At the Yale Farm, we take advantage of the overhead bars of our high tunnels to string a trellis from the top of the tunnel to a stake attached to the ground near each tomato plant. We can then clip the stem of the young plant to the string to encourage vertical growth. Much like using a stake, stringing tomatoes in this way helps support the fruit-bearing plant, preventing bending and breaking while ensuring a more equal sun exposure. We choose string rather than stakes because the string provides more vertical space for indeterminate varieties such as ours to grow taller.

Now that the tomatoes are planted and the string is stretched between the overhead bar and the base of the plant, the real fun begins. Every foot or so we’ll add another trellis clip to attach the stem to the string, and every few days we’ll pluck off the suckers – the tiny off-shoots that grow horizontally from the stem – encouraging the plants to focus their energy on growing taller and bearing more fruit rather than spreading out horizontally. While some growers allow the suckers to develop and produce fruit, our careful pruning ensures even sun exposure and allows us to grow the plants closer together, eighteen inches rather than the conventional two feet. We get a better use of space and healthy, evenly ripened tomatoes.

What’s the number one trick for growing tomatoes at home? More sun! We plant our tomatoes in full sun under the plastic of the high tunnel so it’s as hot as possible. You’ll want to make sure they’re well watered at the roots— we use drip tape to irrigate our plants— so that they can absorb all of the necessary nutrients from the soil, which prevents common problems like catfacing and end rot.

Speaking of farmworkers and food justice: Tom Philpott has a great piece over on Mother Jones about the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen lists that have been circulating recently. Though they’re helpful for consumers trying to minimize pesticide exposure without breaking the bank on often-pricey organic produce, they don’t tell the whole story, particularly in terms of the health of those who cultivate and harvest industrial crops and who bear the brunt of our toxic pesticide cocktails’ combined effects.

So: if organic is too expensive and chemical is unconscionable, what to eat? If you have the space and time (both of which are, admittedly, too often a luxury) you can always grow your own! We’ll be back tomorrow with a post on how to cultivate tomatoes, particularly in the wet northeast, and some of the varieties we’ve found to be easiest to grow and tastiest to cook.

Barry Estabrook on the toll industrial tomatoes takes on the land and people (mostly immigrants being held as de facto slaves, unpaid and unfree) who grow them.