Starting the Canning Season–Just a Couple of Pints, But Definitely Satisfaction in the Doing

Pickled beans and canned tomatoes--today's fruits of the garden and the joy of remembering and doing.

I’ve been itching to do some canning.  I have been waiting since last summer, when I found how much I enjoy the entire process, from the picking of the vegetables to having them sealed tight in the jars.  There’s a pleasure in the skill (or art) of doing each step that finishes with the colorful beans, okra, cucumbers, or tomatoes glowing brightly through the shiny glass.

I grew up helping my mom canning the beans and tomatoes and other vegetables we grew in the garden on the farm.  She also “put away” pears, peaches, and apricots that came home from the store in bushel baskets as well as the tart cherries from our trees.  I can’t say as I remember it being all that pleasurable in those days.  Canning was done in the summertime, either in the kitchen with the windows open–no A.C. in those days, or out in the washhouse, which was really an enclosed part of our front porch, where my mom had an open 2-burner cooker, which she used to heat water to sterilize the jars and scald the tomatoes and fruit, and which she used other times for dyeing clothes and making lye soap.  It might sound as if I’m as old as the hills to have those kinds of memories, but that was just the way people lived, especially farm people, back in the 1950s and 60s.  I do think in those days we appreciated what we had–like the food on our plates–because we knew where it came from and all the work it took to get it to the table.  (It’s also possible that I just appreciate it now as I’m remembering.)

So today was just the day to do some canning–really not so unlike those summer days on the farm–with a blustery south wind blowing and the thermometer reading in the 90s.  My beans have been doing well, even though I wish I had planted another row.  I can pick some every day, but I do have to save up to have a mess to cook.  The tomatoes are starting to ripen at a rate faster than I can eat them fresh.  This morning I had more than enough beans and tomatoes to can a pint of pickled beans and a pint of tomatoes.  By the looks of the garden, I’ll be able to do more of the tomates soon, but it really doesn’t matter how many jars I can make at one time because for me, there’s joy in the just the doing.

Part of that pleasure is that I always have to go through my recipe box.  I don’t have much organization to it, so every time I’m looking for a particular recipe, I have to shuffle through them all.  But that’s part of the fun too.  It always a nostalgic journey.  Some are for cookies or cakes I made when I was a kid in 4-H.  Some cards have recipes cut from the newspaper and taped on the cards.  Some are in the handwriting of friends or family members for some dish they had made that was so good that I had asked for the recipe.  Quite a number, like that for canned tomatoes, were written down for me by my Mom.  Just to have that recipe in her own handwriting is something pretty special, now that she’s no longer around to talk to or write down anything.

My canning this morning went without mishap.  I bought a new pot for the water bath process.  It’s deeper, but not as wide as the one I used last year; consequently, it heats faster and the jars are easily covered by the bubbling water.  I’m hoping the garden keeps producing so that I can add more pickled beans and tomatoes to these couple of jars.

Pickled Beans (recipe for 1 pint)

Fresh yellow wax beans (about 1/2 pound)

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 tablespoon salt

1 small clove garlic peeled

1 spring fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon each red pepper flakes and mixed peppercorns

Clip the stem ends from the beans, which have been washed.  Try to use the straightest beans that you have for pickled beans.

Fill a heavy kettle with enough water so that jars will be covered by about 1 inch of water when placed standing in the water.  Heat the water to boiling.  Meanwhile sterilize the jars in another kettle with a couple of inches of boiling water in the bottom.  Place the jar lids and the jars in the boiling water.  Remove the clean jars and place on a clean towel near where they will be filled.  Leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to seal the jars.  At the same time, heat the vinegar, water and salt to boiling in a saucepan.

Put the fresh dill, red pepper flakes, peppercorns, and garlic in the jar.  Then start to pack the beans into the jar by holding the jar on its side and placing the beans parallel to each other lengthwise from the bottom to the top of the jar.  Carefully pack the beans as tightly as possible into the jar, making sure that the end of each is at least 1/2 below the mouth of the jar.

Once the jar is packed, pour the hot brine over the beans to 1/2 inch of the top of the jar.  If you don’t have enough liquid to cover all the beans, just top it off with more vinegar.  Make sure the mouth of the jar is still clean and dry; then place the hot lid on it.  Then screw on the ring.  I screw on the ring tight, and then ease it back just a tad, because during the canning process, bubbles of air will be released from the jars in order to make the vacuum seal.  (That means you don’t have to find a muscle queen to to tighten the jar rings!)

Place the jars in the boiling water.  At this point you will need to adjust the heat because the cooler jars may stop the water from boiling.  Once the water begins to boil again, adjust to just a good simmer and cook the beans for 10 minutes.  Take the jar out of the water and place on a towel to cool.  When the jar has cooled, check to see if the lid has sealed by gently pushing down on the lid with your finger.  If the jar is sealed, there will be no “give”.  If there is an up-down movement, then the jar has not sealed.  I have sometimes sealed jars by sterilizing a fresh lid, making sure the mouth of the jar is absolutely clean, and placing the jar backing into the boiling canning kettle.  However, with more experience, it is a rarity to have a jar not seal.  Therefore, in order not to overcook pickles, it is better just to put any unsealed jar with the lid and ring hand-tightened in the fridge for a couple of weeks and then try them!  Stored jars of pickles and other canned items on a cool dark shelf.

Canning tomatoes is really very easy.  Follow the sterilization and preparation of the canning water as for the pickled beans.  Here is Mom’s recipe that I used.  We always got the best use of everything.  On the backside of the paper it was written on, someone (probably me) had practiced typing on the old portable typewriter we had. Over and over are the lines:  “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

Mom's recipe for canned tomatoes--nostalgic and delicious.

If you can’t make out the writing, here it is:

Canned Tomato

“Scald tomatoes for a few minutes, then put in cold water.  Peel & pack tight in jars.  Add 1/2 tsp. salt for pints, 1 tsp. for quarts.

Place jars in hot water–bring to a boil–then simmer 20 minutes for pints & 30 minutes for quarts.  I usually put a cloth under the jars.”  (She means put a cloth in the bottom of the canning kettle so that the jars don’t move around too much and possibly break.)

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Always Important: Getting the Right Tool for the Job

The Bissell 3-in-1 Vac (The porcelain chicken is not an attachment.)

From time to time on here, I like to recommend (or criticize) products and services that I have purchased or used.  When I first moved from an apartment to my own home, I had to buy quite a number of items that I had never needed previously, especially those used for the lawn and garden.

One task that I had never been satisfied with was taking care of the downstairs floor, which is white (or nearly white) ceramic tile.  This tile was obviously what was put down when the house was built in 1985, and some have suggested that I replace it with wood flooring.  However, since I moved in, the tile floor has grown on me:  the white reflects the light and makes the rooms feel larger than they are, but even more importantly, these floors are one of the big reasons that the downstairs stays so cool even in the heat of a Houston summer.  On the other hand, in the winter, they can be cold, but area rugs with good padding help insultate in places where one sits.   Anyway, staying cool in the summer is a much bigger deal here than staying warm in winter.

The big challenge has been keeping these floors clean.  Light-colored floors certainly show the dirt, but when they are clean, you know they are clean, something you can’t be that certain of with darker floors.  Most of the dirt is what I track in from outside.  Despite having a good, brush-type mat at the back door, pieces of oak leaves and other specks come in.  I don’t think I can blame Annie much for this, but she does like to drag her kibble around, so a bit of the crumbs can be found here and there.

I’ve tried a number of ways to clean the floors.  Most of the dirt is loose, so some type of sweeping is needed more frequently than mopping.  I’ve used dust mops and brooms for sweeping, then a wet mop or the Swiffer.  I even sometimes dragged the cannister vacuum down from upstairs (there’s mostly carpeting up there).  No one method or combination seemed to give the results I wanted, and getting the end results that I wanted also felt like it took more effort that it should.

Finally, after some thought I decided to try some kind of electric broom.  When I went looking, I found many kinds, but the one I picked ended up not costing a lot and does exactly what I want it to do.  For $20 and tax, I brought home the Bissell 3-in-1 Vac.  It’s really just one of those small hand-held vacuums that comes with an attachable handle and a couple of accessories: a floor and rug attachment with wheels and a crevice tool.  It’s corded with about a 12-foot cord.

This is just the tool that I needed for doing quick, efficient cleaning of the loose dirt on the floor.  Though it’s small, it has good suction, enough to pick up loose kibble, pieces of leaves, and other dirt with no problem.  It’s light-weight, so it’s really just the thing for cleaning stray cobwebs from the ceiling corners and molding.   That job takes a lot more coordination and maneuvering when using the long tubes and hose of the regular vacuum cleaner.  One tool I wish had been included is the brush, in order to do blinds and other dusting. 

When the job is done, just dump out the dirt into the trash; there are no bags to replace.  Wrap up the cord, and stow it away until next time.  It’s very compact, you could even store it on the side of the pantry.

It easily snaps together and comes apart, so I’ll be using just the hand-held vac the next time I clean the car.

Who’s To Blame for No Garden Photos? Whatever . . . . This Just May Be the Year of the Tomato

The little garden behind the garage, May 21, 2011.

It’s been awhile since I’ve added any garden photos, but this morning after spending a leisurely couple of hours dozing in bed, I got up, made some freshly ground coffee, and headed out to the little patch behind the garage.  Since I didn’t hear any rumblings of earthquakes to signal the end of the earth, I decided to do some picking and watering.  Watering has been absolutely necessary because there has been only one good rain in about the last four months here in northwest Harris County.  This year, I took an old hose, drilled some holes in it, and snaked it back and forth through the garden.  It works well either in shower mode or soaker mode.

The garden is far less organized this year.  Blame it on the lettuce, which when I planted it on January 1st, I got a bit lazy and went for the tossing method of planting, never expecting the abundance of these leafy, salad greens.  Thus, when I planted the beans, tomatoes, and peppers, I had to plant around the already thriving lettuce.  The onions that I planted at the same time as the lettuce are maintaining themselves, but they definitely are hidden under the foliage of the leafy beans and lettuce.

One of the many clusters of tomatoes that have set on.

Now I have a jungle in miniature.  Whether it’s the compost from last year, the added manure and other soil, or the fertilizers, including fish emulsion, that I’ve added, I now have tomato plants nearing the roofline of the garage.  I have just seven tomato plants, and one is a volunteer, but I’ve already picked about six tomatoes.  The tomatoes have certainly set on.  I call one of them “Mrs. Duggar”; it’s so loaded with fruit.  Last year, the garden’s big producer was okra, but it looks like this might be “The Year of the Tomato.”

In fact, I’m having difficulty getting okra planted.  I sprouted about 20 little plants in the bay window in my kitchen, but the process of getting them transferred and growing in the garden hasn’t been a very fortunate one.  Of the 12 that I actually got stuck in the ground, this morning I counted only five still alive.  After I pull out some more of the leggy lettuce, I’ll try just planting the seeds.

Only A Few More Hours Before 6 PM, May 21st–Those Expectiing “The Rapture” from Earthquakes Might Get It from Tasmanian Bomb

Sex bomb, that is.  This rapturous bomb got three big yeses from the judges in “Australia’s Got Talent” this past week.  It’s long past 6 PM in Australia.  Haven’t heard about any earthquakes there yet, but if they’ve got more “bombs” like this one, let the rapture begin!

It’s Already 6 PM, Saturday, May 21st, Somewhere in the World–Has Anyone Heard the Rumble of Any Big Earthquakes Yet?

This is just another reason that shows why religion is whack.  If one preposterous story is whack, it’s all whack.

I’m going to bed, not worried that any earthquake is going to blow me out of bed, but wondering if these hand exercises I’ve been doing will help with the carpal tunnel aggravation of the last couple of mornings.

Don’t y’all take too many wooden lava rocks!