Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Guest Post from Mr. FC&G: Pie Crust

Editor's Note: I have been begging Mr. FC&G for a while now to share his flaky pie crust recipe with the blogosphere.  Being an engineer, this resulted in his conducting many tests (yum!) and getting the recipe perfect for you before he would share it.  This morning, I woke up to discover him authoring a blog post.  This is almost as good as the days I wake up to a mug of hot coffee that he has prepared!

One of the many advantages of being Mr. FC&G is that I get to eat my share of the vegetables that come in from the garden. This has been a good year for zucchini so we have been enjoying lots of one of my favorite recipes, zucchini pie. Something I figured out about zucchini pies is that I can have them more often if I help out by making the crusts.

Our recipe is adapted from the one in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book. We have a facsimile edition of the 1950 original. Zucchini pie wants a thick crust, so I have scaled up the ingredient quantities by 150 percent. Also, we switched to using lard instead of shortening about a year ago.

When I first started using lard, the dough became too fragile to roll out and transfer to the pie pan. Naturally the first thing to try was putting in more lard, but that just made the problem worse. It was taking three or four tries to get a salvageable crust (and I’m not too proud to piece a broken one together in the pan). It turns out the way to go was to use less lard. This made sense once I thought about it. It must be the lard or shortening that turns a glue recipe into a dough recipe.

We buy our lard at a local farmer’s market. The tub we have now came from Morning Sun Farm in West Alexandria, Ohio and the lard just melts in your hand, even coming straight from the refrigerator. That seems like a good thing to me (someone will have to comment if that’s not what it’s supposed to do). During the winter we can also run up to Landes Meats in Englewood, Ohio.

This makes enough dough for a two-crust pie, using an eight or nine inch pan.

3 cups flour (or 2-1/2 cups flour plus ½ cup whole-wheat flour)
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup rendered lard (or 1 cup shortening)
6 tbsp. water (to start with)
Optional for dessert pies: 1 cup sugar

1. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Cut in the lard.
3. Add the water a little at a time. Mix it in lightly until all the flour is moist.
4. Form the dough in to a ball using your hands.
5. Take about 2/3 of the dough and roll it out to form a thick bottom crust.
6. Transfer to pie pan, then trim.
7. Ball up remaining dough and roll it out to form the top crust. (Ed. Note:  Feed a scrap to your wife, because the dough is yummy too.  I don't care if I'm eating raw lard -- just yum, especially if it is for a dessert pie!)

I use unbleached flour because that’s the FC&G way. Recently I came up a little short of flour and had to throw in a half a cup of whole-wheat flour. The crust turned out really yummy, so I have kept on doing that for zucchini pie. (I doubt this would be so good in a dessert pie).

I used to just mash the lard together with the dry ingredients using my fingers. Recently I re-read the Betty Crocker recipe and realized they have some tricks for making the crust tender and flaky. Betty recommends cutting in half the shortening with a pastry blender to make a fine mixture that looks like meal. This makes the crust tender. Then she says to cut in the rest of the shortening coarsely so that you get particles the size of “giant peas”. This is supposed to make the pastry flaky. I don’t own a pastry blender, so I’ve been using a fork for this. I also haven’t been getting the giant-peas thing working, so maybe I should get the pastry blender after all. From the pictures it looks like a pastry blender is one of those “D” shaped tools where the handle is the straight side, and the curved side is formed from loops of wire.

Measuring out the water for this recipe is probably a waste of time. I always seem to wind up adding a little more or less to get the consistency I want. Mix the water in a little at a time with a fork.
Rolling out the dough is the messy part of the process. I lay down a couple sheets of wax paper and spread some flour on them. Next take about 2/3 of the dough and mash it out in to a thick patty on the wax paper. Dust the top with flour, then turn the patty over and dust it with flour again. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out in to a sheet a little larger than the pie pan. I like a thick crust for zucchini pie, so I roll it out just a little thicker than I might for a dessert pie.

To transfer the pastry to the pie pan I like the trick of rolling it up loosely on the rolling pin, then unrolling it over the pan.

Trim the extra dough off. Use scrap pieces to repair any rips in the pastry. Throw the left over scraps back in the bowl and ball them up with the dough for the top crust.

Make the top crust the same way.

Once the pie is assembled, cutting the vent holes is an important step. If you are making the pie for company then you might want to use something traditional like lots of perfectly cut slits. Otherwise, the vent is a perfect opportunity to tease your loved ones by cutting in a picture based on an inside joke. I have a design that makes sense to Jennifer that would take way too much effort to explain to anyone else!
There is also a sweet trick for dessert pies that someone showed me long ago. Along with the other dry ingredients; mix in one cup of sugar.

The Analysis (by Jennifer)
Fast:  I hate making pie crusts, so the only way pie is going to happen around here is if Mr. FC&G makes the crust while I make the filling.
Cheap:  Flour, lard, and salt.  Not that expensive. 
Good:  Flakey and yummy, Mr. FC&G's crusts are the highlight of any pie.  Combine with homegrown zucchini or farmers' market berries, and you have a real sustainable treat!

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Monday, August 29, 2011

What's Up with the Tomatoes?

This, sadly, is not a recent picture.

Rather, this is a picture of a partial week's garden harvest back in 2009.  This was the week that I brought in 75 pounds worth of tomatoes in one week alone, to say nothing of the rest of the season.  I figure that I brought in over 300 pounds of tomatoes that year.

The week of 75 pounds was a great week.  We ate tomatoes until we could eat no more, and then Friday night we came home from a dance, and I put a pot of tomato sauce on the stove to simmer and can until the wee hours.  Mr. FC&G, God love him, had just come home from a business trip, but he refused to go to bed until I did.  He slept on the couch until I woke him at about 4 in the morning, and his groggy first words were, "How many quarts?"  Fifty pounds of tomatoes had gone in to the stock pot and seven quarts of sauce came out of the canner, easily my largest canning haul ever.

Last year and this year have not been that good.  I wrote last year off as a bad tomato year.  This year started promising, with the vines heavy with fruit, and indeed I started by harvesting about a half dozen tomatoes a day for a couple of weeks.  But now all I have out there is a bunch of green tomatoes and very few blossoms that would indicate I will get much more, even assuming the inevitable frost holds off.

FYI:  I am in zone 5b, and I am growing Amish Paste, Big Rainbow, Brandywine, Black Krim, and a bunch of volunteers.

Possible culprits:
  • Wet spring/May hail storm
  • Hot, above 90 temps in July stopping the vines from setting fruit
  • Low producing heirloom varieties (my best producers are the volunteers)
  • Not enough/too much compost in the tomato section of the garden
  • Not enough manure (we didn't use any this year)
  • "No till" gardening using the broadfork in lieu of a mechanical tiller
Things I thought I did right:
  • Started my seedlings early
  • Planted them as soon as we got reliably warm days
  • Back filled each planting hole with compost
  • Better tomato trellises keeping vines off the ground
  • Making room for the high-producing volunteers
So, let me turn this sustainable living blog over to you.  What is going on with my tomatoes this year?  Am I ever going to have a 75 pound week again?  Leave me your thoughts in the comments!  How has your tomato year been?
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Much Does a Garden Grow: Spring Carrots

Yes, I know it is August, not spring.  But today I have a tally to share with you on the crop of spring carrots.

Ohio, or at least our little part of it, is murder on root crops.  (See:  potatoes)  When the first settlers arrived here and dug the soil, they could not have been thinking of growing potatoes, onions, carrots, and the like.  Maybe they were thinking of throwing some pots, because we have the most clay-y soil known to man.  But it is difficult to get a good root crop to grow in all of this solid soil, in spite of our efforts to improve the soil with compost and mulch.

Nonetheless, this spring when we put up the pop up green house, I planted peas and carrots, the two traditional spring crops.  When the peas were finished, I planted cucumbers on the front of the trellis, leaving the carrots to continue growing in the "wasted" space beneath the trellis.  I tell you, these things are great for maximizing garden space!
Once the greenhouse was down, we had our traditional rabbit problem, with the little critters munching off the tops and lying in the cool shadows.  But I still harvested a crop of carrots that I was happy with.  In a space approximately two feet by three feet, I grew 3 pounds of carrots.  I used seed from my collection that I picked up at some discount years ago, so no real seed cost there. 

A comparable amount of carrots at the grocery, not organic, was $2.99, so I'll use that as my profit.  Note once again that if I wanted organic carrots, I would have had trouble finding them during my normal grocery run.  (Not that they aren't out there; they just weren't available when I shopped the past couple of weeks and needed to get a seasonal price.)  So far this year, growing a garden has been about having what we want when we want it, and that is an important aspect of sustainability and self-sufficient living.

2011 Tally to Date: 17.69 lbs of crops; $1.05 saved

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yellow Tomato Sauce

No sooner had I complained that I had more yellow tomatoes (Big Rainbows, specifically) than I wanted, I realized that I was going to have to find a way to make sauce from them.  This is in spite of the fact that I generally regard yellow tomatoes as being less acidic and therefore trickier to can, not to mention the fact that I like my tomato sauce red.  In this case, a tomato is a tomato, and I need some sauce in the cupboard for winter, so it was time to get inventive.

To combat the acid problem, I increased the amount of added lemon juice to 1 teaspoon for a pint, when standard recommendations are half a teaspoon for a pint, a whole teaspoon for a quart. (This is a standard practice to increase the acid before water bath canning, since modern hybrid tomatoes are typically bred to be less acidic in conformance with modern tastes.  Another good reason to grow heirlooms.)

I also threw a few red Amish Paste tomatoes in the mix.  (I'm not giving a specific recipe here, because I literally picked up a shirt full of tomatoes -- how many every I could carry in my shirt -- and followed standard canning procedures.  If you want a specific recipe, let me know in the comments section and I'll do a sauce-canning article.)

And the results are -- surprisingly good!  This sauce has a sweetness that I think will pair nicely with the pork sausage I just finished putting up, so I'm thinking this will be a good topping for homemade pasta one weekend this winter.  It really has a slightly different character than does the all-red sauce.

Now, let's be honest:  the stuff looks like baby food.  I don't see any way around that, other than to add some green to the plate when serving and hope for the best.  But it tastes yummy, and that is one meal idea into the pantry for those busy winter days.

The Analysis

Fast:  Barbara Kingsolver calls canned goods "fast food paid for in time up front."  I totally agree.

Cheap:  Is home-canned tomato sauce cheaper than store bought?  Probably, with the price of organics rising and the low cost of home-canned tomato sauce, especially since I grew these tomatoes from seed instead of buying pricey plants. 

Good:  This sauce is sweet and yummy.  I'm looking forward to having it this winter.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Pork Sausage

There is a truism that there are two things you should never watch being made:  laws and sausage.  So I try to avoid watching CSPAN as much as possible; that's easy.  However, sausage is one of the few meats I actually like, and believe me, I like ground, spiced meat from any culture, in almost any flavor profile you can name.  I eat meat maybe one day a week, and 90 percent of the time it is some sort of sausage.

Which leads me to the problem referenced above:  most sausage is a way of using up pieces of meat that look better ground up, often from animals of questionable origins.  If you really want to eat sausage and be healthy about it, you're going to have to make your own.

I have a meat grinder that will stuff sausage casings, but I haven't really gotten proficient with that yet.  Instead, let me share a super-easy way to make balls of sausage that you can thaw and patty for breakfast or fry for a pizza topping or otherwise use in recipes in which you want sausage to sit in for ground meat.  (We used some of this on a pizza the other night with homegrown peppers and onions and hormone-free mozzarella, sitting on a crust with flax meal and zucchini.  I think that was pretty healthy.)

I bought 5 pounds of ground pork from the Amish butcher for this (so I have a better idea about how the pig was raised -- without hormones and not on a CAFO), but you can play with any ground meat you like.  I occasionally use ground beef, but then I change the seasonings.

Pork Sausage
5 pounds ground pork of the best quality you can find - quality here means how the animal was raised and butchered, not necessarily which cut
5 T Tender Quick salt
5 T ground sage
5 t ground marjoram

Thaw the meat and mix with the spices and the meat cure (Tender Quick).  It is important that you buy actual meat curing salt instead of table salt -- that is what is responsible for changing the texture somewhat and curing the meat so it is better preserved. 

Form into balls.  I made 12 softball sized balls, so each less than a half a pound.  Allow to cure 24 hours in your fridge before proceeding -- this step is important!  Give that meat cure time to do its work.

Freeze, and then store in freezer bags (obviously, in the freezer).  Pull one out and thaw every time you want to use sausage in your cooking. 

Obviously, you can play with the seasoning mix as long as you are using the meat cure in the proportion suggested on the package.  The ground sage and marjoram came from our garden, so, short of butchering the pig myself, I knew as much as I could about the origins of the ingredients in my sausage. 

The Analysis

Fast:  There is relatively little hands-on time with this recipe, which is good because handling meat is not my favorite thing.  There is a lot of curing and thawing involved, especially if you buy your ground meat from the butcher and then freeze it until you are ready to make the sausage, which is what I did.  Plan ahead.  This is a great weekend activity, or you can even squeeze in the work before you leave for the office over each of a couple of mornings, as long as you plan ahead.  (I actually highly recommend this.  Thaw your meat over night and make your sausage balls over about 15 minutes before you leave for work.  While they cure in your fridge, walk around the office looking at your coworkers thinking "I've already made sausage this morning; what's your productivity problem?")

Cheap:  Making your own sausage probably offsets the additional expense of the really good quality meat that you buy to start this recipe.  With food prices going up, this may become a money-saver as well.

Good:  If you are going to eat meat, I think this is the most ethical and healthy way to include sausage.  Certainly, you have more control over what you are putting in your sausage and therefore what you are putting in your body.  Now, to get that kind of control over our laws......!!
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pasta with Yellow Tomatoes

One of the things I love about August is the absolute oversupply of garden veggies.  If many of the other months of the year are characterized by counting up to be sure we are eating all the veggies we need, late July and August are the months in which we go to bed realizing we've had more veggies in one day than we need for a week.  It is a continual contest to see where we can put veggies in our meals; if one veg tastes good, four will be even better!  And believe me, this is not something that we typically do in the depths of January, even with a good supply of home-preserved food, so our bodies thank us for this month's eating habits.

This year, I rather accidentally am growing too many Big Rainbow tomatoes, a yellow tomato with hints of red.  I say accidentally because it was one of the tomatoes in an heirloom sampler of seeds I purchased, and I grew it just because I had it.  I don't usually grow yellow tomatoes because they are not as acidic and therefore throw my canning off, but this year I have plenty.  So, time to get cooking! (And drying -- yellow tomatoes dry just as well as any other, and the acid is not a factor there.)

This recipe follows the basic pattern of pasta + cheese + veggies that you learned in Zucchini Orzo with Garlic and Basil.  To my way of thinking, learn one or two good methods of constructing a dish, then vary the ingredients by season.  It takes some of the guesswork out of dinner time.

Pasta with Yellow Tomatoes

1 box pasta
5 oz Parmesan cheese
3-4 medium yellow tomatoes, diced
1 leek, chopped
1 zucchini, shredded
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 big handful basil, chopped
olive oil

In a saute pan, heat the oil and add garlic and zucchini and cook until zucchini is wilted.  Add the other veggies and herbs.

In the meantime, cook the pasta until al dente.  Add to veggie mix and add cheese.  Stir until cheese is melted and serve.

The Analysis

Fast:  If you chop while you saute, this can easily go from garden to table in 20 minutes.

Cheap:  As with so many of my summer dishes, all I purchased is cheese and pasta.  Look for pasta sales to maximize your savings.  This makes about good meal size servings or 6-7 side dish servings.  Those veggies take up some serious room!

Good:  I am trying to eat plenty of this kind of food, knowing how much I will miss it in January when I am peering into the cupboards and freezer, hoping the preserved veggies will stretch until spring.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

How Much Does a Garden Grow: Potatoes

Ah, potatoes!  The ultimate subsistence crop.  One should be able to throw seed potatoes into a furrow in spring and harvest pounds of these things in the fall.  Or so one would believe.  I had fantasies of coming into the house with a bushel basket full of potatoes (I don't own a bushel basket, by the way) and hearing Mr. FC&G exclaim with pride over my ability to balance the food budget with my savvy potato-growing abilities.

This, alas, did not quite happen, although Mr. FC&G did an admirable job of exclaiming over the potatoes while he helped me dig.  I will take suggestions on any way to stop myself from these fantasies of homemaking run amok.

After a spring spent worrying about my potatoes, the crop grew well all season -- as much as I could tell, given the fact that they grow underground and all.  The plants sure looked healthy, anyway.  But when we harvested, I had a market basket full, but not really a bushel basket.

Part of this was due to the varieties I grew, I am certain.  I grew Yukon Gold, which is a fairly large and heavy potato, but the Blue and the Fingerling are small and light.  Ironically, some of the heaviest-cropping potatoes came from plants that sprung from store-bought Yukon Golds that went bad in the potato bin, and which I shoved in the ground rather than the compost pile.  Don't let anyone tell you that a potato plant will only grow from a seed potato (see the below lessons learned).  After all, didn't we all grow potato plants in elementary school by cutting them in half and suspending them in jars of water until we had roots and vines?  (This may account for my lifelong over-sensitivity to the smell of rotting potatoes.  By the time 30 kids had suspended potatoes in jars of water on a classroom windowsill for a month, it made for quite an olfactory impression!)

And then, dear readers, I engaged on a month-long search for a comparable price for potatoes.  I found Fingerlings at the grocery for $2.19 a pound, but they were not organic.  I couldn't find Blue potatoes at all, except as part of a mix.  I did find a small bag of non-organic Blue potatoes in Key West, but that hardly seems like a good place to get a price for comparing to an Ohio garden.  Finally, I found organic, local Fingerlings at the farmers' market for $5 a pound.  There were no Yukon Golds there, and no Blue potatoes.  Nonetheless, that is the price I am using for comparison.

Our crop came in as follows:
  • Fingerling:  3 pounds, 5 ounces
  • Blue:  3 pounds, 6 ounces
  • Yukon Gold:  6 pounds, 3 ounces
Total:  9.875 pounds at an equivalent of $5 per pound is $49.37 in potatoes.

But wait!  I spent $56 on seed potatoes, so I am actually in the hole (potato pun!) by $6.63.  I do still have a plant out there that might give me some more potatoes, but not over a pound worth unless some of my scrap potatoes, which I replanted, sprout and give me a fall crop.  It pains me to add this to the tally because I will be showing a net loss.  I know how much produce I've been harvesting lately, so I know I'm showing a major profit in zucchini, butternut squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes, but those crops aren't finished yet so I can't tally them.

Lessons learned?
  • First, I must come up with a cheaper source of seed potatoes.  I have my eye on one provider that is less expensive.
  • Second, I will only be buying seed potatoes for the rare Blue potato crop.  I will not grow Fingerlings.  For the Yukon Golds, I plan to buy a bag of organic ones at the store (the non-organic ones are coated with a chemical to keep them from sprouting -- think about that the next time you make a potato purchase) and let them sprout.  Obviously, any potato in this house that shows any sign of sprouting at any time of the year will be unceremoniously shoved in the ground as long as the soil is workable.  Can't hurt, might help.
  • However, finally, it seems worth it to grow potatoes if only for the availability of the specialty kinds you like.  If I wanted Blue potatoes for a dish right now, I would be out of luck unless I grew them.  Luckily, I have a box full down in my cool lower level room.
2011 Tally to Date: 14.69 lbs of crops; $-1.94 saved
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Strawberry Muffins

It may not seem like it if you are just reading this blog and not watching my life, but I have an enormous amount of difficulty making time to be domestic.  I can't really complain in this economy, but the paying work seems to be crowding out what I consider to be the fun stuff:  gardening, cooking, baking, and generally making my home a pleasant place for me and Mr. FC&G to be.  Not to go all Mad Men on you, but suffice it to say I had a major meltdown Monday about not having the time to meet Mr. FC&G at the door with a martini for him in my hand and dinner on the table.

Mr. FC&G doesn't even drink martinis, might I add.

Anyway, Tuesday morning I took matters into my own hands and got up an hour early just to do some baking.  The result was these strawberry muffins.  Since I am still using up frozen strawberries from 2010, it seemed like a great idea.  And it was.

I adapted this recipe from  I changed the canola oil to vegetable oil, and I used turbinado sugar instead of white sugar, which accounts for some of the extra browning.  To compensate, next time I would cut the baking time back to 20 minutes and then check them.

Strawberry Muffins (adapted from
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 egg (free range if you can get it)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped strawberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; oil an 8 cup muffin tin, or use paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine oil, milk, and egg. Beat lightly. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Toss in chopped strawberries and stir to coat with flour. Pour in milk mixture and stir together. (Note:  This is the AllRecipes instruction.  If you want the 7am FC&G version, it is "toss all ingredients in a bowl and mix.")

Fill muffin cups. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 20 minutes, or until the tops bounce back from the touch. Cool 10 minutes and remove from pans.
The Analysis
Fast:  These were very quick to make; I had them in the oven before the coffee finished brewing.  Total prep and cook time was under 45 minutes.
Cheap:  Certainly cheaper than grabbing a muffin at Starbucks, and healthier too.
Good:  Mr. FC&G had five yesterday.  I daresay he liked a strawberry muffin better than a martini.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whipped Butternut Squash

 If you're a gardener, you know what I'm talking about here:  It's January, there's snow up to your knees (if you live in the north), and the seed catalogs arrive.  And before you know it, you're ordering things you've never grown and that you don't know how to prepare. 

"I'll figure that out when it ripens," you think.  "But that looks darn fun to grow!"

And that's how I ended up growing butternut squash, creating a bit of a panic attack when about a dozen of the lovely little guys started ripening this week, and I had no idea what to do with them.

Enter whipped butternut squash, perhaps one of my new favorite side dishes.  It is kind of a cross between mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes in flavor, for those who haven't had it, and I'm looking forward to using this recipe to top a shepherd's pie.  In the meantime, this dish delivers a punch of vitamin A that makes growing the squash worthwhile.  Best of all, winter squash cellars well, so I can cure the rest of these babies and put them downstairs, awaiting the day this winter that I need a yummy side dish while I read the seed catalogs.

Whipped Butternut Squash

1.  Cut 2 butternut squash in half and remove seeds for next year's crop.  Place cut side down in baking dishes filled with about an inch of water.  Bake at 350 until soft, about 35 minutes for the squash I had.
2.  Scoop out the flesh into a bowl.  Add about a quarter cup of scalded milk and a quarter cup of brown sugar.  Whip with your mixer until creamy.
3.  Top with a mixture of butter and brown sugar to taste. As this topping sinks in, it gets even yummier, so leftovers are wonderful!

The Analysis

Fast:  Although about 45-50 minutes elapsed during prep, most was baking the squash.  And luckily, Mr. FC&G was around to do the hard work of cutting a winter squash.

Cheap:  I can't wait to tally the profit on this crop, because these fruits come in heavy and meaty, and you get a lot of veggie product for a very little investment.  This recipe requires only the milk, butter, and brown sugar to taste.

Good:  I really like this recipe, and I would also suggest it for those who like mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes but need or want to get another veggie in their diet.
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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sustainable Bookshelf: Tomatoland

I had a tomato today in my lunch salad.  It came from one of my volunteer tomato plants, and I was pleased and surprised to realize that it was an accidental hybrid of a slicer and a paste tomato:  big, round, and smooth skinned, but meaty with very few seeds on the inside.  It was grown without pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers, and I nurtured it myself and harvested it just as it reddened, but before my critters could nibble it.  It was bliss.

But deep in Florida, there is another kind of tomato being grown.  Sure, it is also round, heavy, and smooth-skinned, but it grows nearly hydroponically in the sandy soil, doused with pesticides and herbicides that are known to cause birth defects, the nourished with the kind of over-use of chemical fertilizers that has dire consequences for the water table.  The plants are tended by migrant workers that are forcibly retained in camps that evoke the worst horror stories you ever heard about 18th century slave ships.  All of this is so that, winter or summer, American consumers can go to the grocery and cheaply purchase a mealy, flavorless fruit whose best attribute might be "travels well."

This is the story Estabrook tells in Tomatoland, a fascinating, readable account of the environment, social, and health consequences of our belief that tomatoes should not be seasonal.  Read this book.  Then go out and pick a few tomatoes from your own garden or buy a bunch from the farmer's market.  And, when the your vines are dead this year, commit to not having another tomato until next summer.  It will be worth the wait.

(Note:  As always, the below link that you can see when you are visiting the blog itself is an affiliate link, which helps keep FC&G in tomato-gardening supplies.  If you don't want to order online, visit your library or purchase from a local, independent bookseller -- and maybe take your librarian or bookseller a few tomatoes from your garden!)

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pressure Canning

As you know if you have been reading this blog for a while, I have been canning and preserving food for over three-quarters of my life.  But until this year, I have not been brave enough to try pressure canning.

I have certainly heard all of the horror stories of home canners who wound up with beans coating the ceiling because their pressure canner exploded.  And, of course, I am aware that working with pressurized steam is a whole new safety challenge that must be respected.

Still, there is a place for pressure canning.  For one thing, it allows you to can the low-acid foods, like vegetables and stock, that otherwise could not be safely canned.  For another, I am painfully aware both of the capacity of my little half-size freezer and the fact that we have been having more and more frequent power outages around here, both arguments for not trying to stuff every bit of low-acid food I want to preserve in the freezer.

So, I took the plunge, and I purchased this pressure canner from Lehman's.   With six different latches holding the lid, it is certainly more secure than old fashioned pressure canners and cookers.  It also features both a dial and a weight to measure the pressure (I believe most of them do these days), and it will also serve as a water bath canner if I need another, a pressure cooker, and even an autoclave if the SHTF and we are seriously on our own for some reason. 

I put up four pints of corn as a test batch.  Although it took a little more time than other types of preservation (55 minutes of processing time alone), I am so pleased with the pretty jars of corn and the knowledge that they are safely preserved and sitting in my pantry. 

The Analysis

Fast:  A big "no" on this one -- it is much faster to freeze something like corn than it is to can it and then process it for nearly an hour.  To maximize my efforts, next time I plan to do 8 or 9 pints, which is the canner capacity.

Cheap:  A slight win on this count.  Although a pressure canner isn't cheap, it should last my entire life.  The beauty of the finished product is that it requires no further input of energy to stay safe, unlike frozen food, which requires the continual electric input of a freezer.  I sometimes think of my freezer as life support for my food, and this method of preservation cuts that cord.  With as many power outages as we've had around here the past couple of years, I'm glad to have some food put up that I don't have worry about.

Good:  Would I recommend this to a novice food preserver?  No, not really.  But once you are comfortable with water bath canning, this is not a terribly hard step to take, and it is a good skill to have.
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