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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Breezy Sunday–Time for a Home-cooked Dinner Including Fresh Green Beans

The only thing that would make these home-cooked green beans better would be if they were also home-grown.

Blustery breezes and an uncertain sky haven’t put a damper on this penultimate day of February.  For the first time in a couple of weeks, I’m back in my groove.  (I’ll try to add another post about what’s been happening later.) 

The back door is open, with the screen on the storm door pulled down to let in some of the breeze.  What’s more, I’m making a real Sunday dinner.  (Isn’t it a bit confusing that we have Sunday dinners at lunchtime?)

So here’s what’s cooking:  a ham glazed with a mixture of jam, brown sugar, brown mustard, peanut sauce, and wasabi sauce, and simple scalloped potatoes with bits of onion and butter, layered with about 3 tablespoons of flour, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and a cup of half-and-half poured over the top before going into the oven.  Already cooked and resting on the cooktop is a kettle of fresh green beans.

Fresh green beans are one of my favorite vegetables.  In comparison, the frozen ones are almost inedible, and green beans from a can aren’t a lot better.

Making  fresh, home-cooked green beans isn’t very difficult.  Some people think getting them ready is too much work.  I just dump them into a colander and wash them several times, then take a kitchen scissors and nip off the stem, then rinse them off again a time or two.

Home-cooked Green Beans

  • 1 pound fresh green beans washed and stemmed
  • 3 slices of bacon cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 green onions including most of the tops loosely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 or 2 “splashes” of white wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic salad dressing
  • 3 to 4 cups of water
  • pepper and salt to taste

Put a heavy kettle on the stove and turn the burner to medium high.  When the kettle is hot, add the oil, then the bacon and onion.  Cook until the bacon begins to brown; then add the onions  and cook until they become translucent.  Keep the bacon and onion moving with a spoon or silicon spatula so they don’t burn.  If the bacon cooks off quite a bit of fat, remove the excess with a spoon.  (I find that most bacon these days contains a lot of water and not a lot of fat cooks out; that’s why it will stick to the pan and may burn.) 

Add a splash or two of white wine and a couple of tablespoons of water to de-glaze the bottom of the kettle.  Use a silicon spatula to help get all the “goodies” off the bottom of the pan.  Add the balsamic dressing (or balsamic vinegar) and about 1/2 cup of water and stir in.  Let the liquid cook until it bubbles. 

Put the fresh green beans into the kettle and add enough water so that there is an inch or two of liquid in the kettle.  About two-thirds of the beans will not be covered.  Put a lid on the kettle and leave on medium-high heat until the liquid boils, then turn down to medium-low and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the beans are cooked to your liking.  (Some like beans cooked less and other liked them cooked until they are limp.)

This recipe will make 6-8 servings.  You can make this recipe a day ahead of time, and just re-heat.  I think these beans are even better the second day because they absorb  more of the bacon flavor.

Use Fresh Summer Peaches To Make This Easy and Delicious Pie

 

Peach Crumb Pie--a delicious, homemade dessert that even a beginner can make!

 

It goes without saying that summer is the time for fresh fruit.  Even in the supermarkets at this time of year, there’s a much better chance of getting some local produce, instead of something shipped in from halfway around the world.  I had been looking through my recipe box just to check out pickle recipes–yes, the okra are still coming–when I ran across a pie recipe that my mom made and is one of my favorites.

I used to avoid baking in my apartment because I didn’t like making the AC have to work against the heat that filled up the kitchen.  However, here in my house, the venting from the oven works well and my kitchen stays cool.  Therefore, yesterday when I saw some nice looking peaches at the store, I knew exactly what I would do with them.

This is an easy recipe and much tastier than anything from the frozen foods department.  (If making the pie crust is not your thing, you can use a store-bought pie shell.  Normally, I like making the pie crust, but today I used Mrs. Calendar‘s, and it was OK.  My usual homemade pie crust recipe is here.)

Peach Crumb Pie

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

4 C. fresh peaches, about 6-7 peaches

2 1/2 Tbsps. dry tapioca (not the pearl type)

3/4 C. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice

Peel and slice the peaches.  Mix together with the other ingredients in a large bowl.  Set aside for 5 minutes or the time it takes to make the topping.

Topping

1/3 C. packed brown sugar

1/4 C. flour

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 1/2 Tbsps. soft butter

Use a fork and cut the dry ingredients into the butter until it all becomes soft little balls about the size of a pea.  Then put the peach mixture into an unbaked pie crust.  Even out the peaches in the crust so that there are no gaps.  Sprinkle the topping over the peaches.  Bake at 425 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

This is a very forgiving recipe.  Even if you have never made a pie before, you can make this one and have a dessert that looks elegant, tastes delicious, and is homemade!

Home-cooked Pinto Beans, Refried Beans, and Cardinals To Boot

Less than 1/10 of an inch (near 529 and Huffmeister), but the new rain gauge is ready to take on more.

Friday has brought another tranquil morning, and as I’m on vacation I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest.

This morning when I got up to take Annie out, there was a light rain coming down, so I was more ready to go out that she was.  Yesterday, I had put up a rain gauge.  The farm kid in me wanted a rain gauge to go along with my new garden.  There’s a perfect post right at the garden gate that’s right out in the open away from the influence of the surrounding trees.  Because it was still almost dark at that time, I couldn’t see how much precipitation–if any–had collected in the gauge.

I went back inside, but soon was ready for something to eat.  I don’t know what it is–on a work day morning, I’m not hungry when I get up, but when I have a day off, I feel like eating and usually make a substantial breakfast.

Yesterday I had made chile colorado and cooked some pinto beans.  (I’ll post the recipe for chile colorado later.)   I had wanted to make frijoles a la charra (ranch-style beans), but I didn’t have all the ingredients.  Anyway, when it comes to cooking, sometimes simple is better.  Here is what I did:

Home-cooked Pinto Beans

2 cups dry pinto beans  (Wash the beans in a colander, place in a large bowl, and add at least twice as much water as beans.  Let the beans soak for at least 4 hours, but overnight is even better.

When the beans are soaked and ready to cook:

1 medium onion chopped

1 cloves garlic (smash the garlic with the side of a big knife and then finely mince

2 tablespoons olive oil.

Heat the olive oil in a 2-quart pot and add the chopped onions.  Sauté the onions until they begin to change color, and then add the garlic.  (Garlic tends to burn if you cook for the same time as the onion.)

Once the vegetables are sautéd, dump the beans and water into the pot.  Add more water for a total of 1 1/2 quarts.  The water should be an inch or two below the rim of the pot.

At this point add a bit of ham, bacon, or salt port.  I had some thin deli ham, so I put in a couple slices, not very much at all.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, put the lid on the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  After the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat and partially cover the pot with the lid.  Cook the beans at a very low simmer for at least an hour and then check on them.  When the skins start to split, strain one or two beans out of the liquid and check them for doneness.  If they are still grainy, they’ll need at least an hour more.

In the food processor, pulse together: 1 can of stewed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons grape jelly, and 1/3 cup ketchup.

Add this mixture to the beans before they are completely cooked and let everything finish cooking together.  When the beans are completely cooked, salt and pepper to taste.

The broth is very tasty, so you could serve this as a soup, or strain the beans and serve them just as a vegetable.

Quick, easy, and yummy!For my breakfast this morning, I decided to take advantage of what I had cooked yesterday, so I strained out about a cup of the beans and pulsed them in the food processor.  Don’t overdo it, you want to keep some bean texture and not have a dip!

So in my non-stick frying pan, I cooked two eggs and added the beans for refried beans.  Why do they call them “refried” beans?  They’ve already been cooked, but “fried”?  Only once.  Maybe the refrying is in the method.  To get the beans nice and crispy on the outside, keep turning and turning them, something like you might do with a potato pancake.  Never made them?  Well, keep turning the beans until they look tasty.

Breakfast is ready!The light rain let up and I went out to eat my breakfast on the patio.  Once again, I feel like I’m truly on vacation.  My back yard is such as pleasant place.

Just to add to the peaceful environment, a pair of cardinals came to scratch in the grass and have a bit of breakfast while I was enjoying mine.