By Joan Weed, contributor
Talk about a fast-moving train. Does it seem autumn is approaching at speeds not seen before? Well, perhaps it’s faulty memory or advanced age, but there is good news too. Visiting the many farm stands we are blessed with gives us appreciation of the plenty that accompanies the advancing season. Tomatoes, shiny purple eggplant, squashes, onions, potatoes, sweet corn, peppers of many hues! And the sweeter fruits of the orchards and berry patches! Time for freshly pressed cider, pumpkins, apples and cider doughnuts. Was ever a community so blessed with abundance?
I have been busy, as I am wont to be at harvest time, preserving as much of the goodness as possible to enjoy all winter. This happens to be less complicated than it was for our forebears. No need to make a root cellar; there’s the extra fridge in the garage. What could be easier than freezing the extras?
I am going to share a few preserving ideas.
Horseradish came into my garden as a volunteer in some nursery pot and turns out to be a favorite. The root must be dug, washed and peeled, then ground as finely as possible (outdoors is best) and packed in jars. Fill jars with vinegar of at least five percent acidity and some salt. Refrigerate for months.
It’s nearly time to plant garlic bulbs to harvest next July. Mine arrived a few days ago. You can buy new seed garlic or save your best and plant each year from your own stash. Don’t try supermarket garlic, as inhibitors are often added to keep them from sprouting. Alternatively, you can buy bulbs from a local organic farm.
Herbs are a blessing for so many dishes all year long. They may be chopped singly or in combination to add to softened butter and frozen. Another possibility is to chop and add to the salt of your choice. After drying, pack herbs in glass jars. Keep handy for adding as you cook. Pesto can be made with any green(s) but my favorite is basil pesto to add to tomato dishes, such as pasta sauce, or to dress Caprese salad.
Here’s how to make it:
2 cups fresh basil, packed, stems removed
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic
Enough olive oil for the consistency you prefer
In a food processor or blender, puree all ingredients, adding oil as you like. Some cooks prefer to hold back cheese to add later. Freeze the prepared pesto in small containers, chipping away needed amounts as you cook. Another way is to freeze it flat in a ziplock bag and break off needed amounts. Replace in freezer. It will keep for months frozen.
If you find yourself with a plethora of cherry tomatoes, place them on a sheet pan with olive oil, herbs of choice and garlic cloves. Roast at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or so, until softened. Puree with immersible blender or food processor and freeze for roasted tomato sauce, a whole other taste.
Here is a selection of favorite harvest recipes:
Old-fashioned chili sauce
24 ripe tomatoes
6 green peppers, chopped
6 onions, chopped finely
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
2 cups brown sugar
4 cups cider vinegar
Peel and chop the tomatoes. Add to a heavy pan along with peppers, onions, seasonings and vinegar.
Simmer for two to three hours till thick. If sauce fails to thicken, I add either a can of tomato paste or pureé about half of the sauce with my immersible blender. If you use a regular blender or food processor, be careful, it’s hot!
Pour very hot liquid into hot clean jars, wipe rims of jars with a damp paper towel. Put lid on and add screw top but don’t tighten fully. Place on rack in canning pot and cover with boiling water by one inch. Process for 40 minutes. Remove and cool. Tighten rings.
1 bunch of fresh beets
1 small onion
½ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Trim one bunch of beets, taking off greens and tails. Place in pot of water and bring to a boil, cooking till tender.
When a fork sticks in easily, drain and cool slightly. Slide off skins and tops with your hands.
Slice beets into rounds or wedges. Cut up one small yellow onion into crescents. Place both in a large jar or tall deli container. Pour in ½ cup cider vinegar and fill with water to cover beets. Add 3 tablespoons sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix well. Taste marinade, adjust seasonings. Refrigerate for several hours. Serve with slotted spoon as a salad.
4 cups tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped
2 cups sweet green peppers, seeded and chopped
1 cup hot peppers, seeded, chopped (jalapeños)
¾ cup onion, chopped
1½ teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ cups cider vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. If mixture is too watery, a can of tomato paste can be added to give a thicker consistency.
Pour hot mixture into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headroom. Adjust caps (wipe rims of jars, put on lids and screw tops firmly but not tightened). Process 30 minutes in a boiling water bath with water one inch over jar tops. Yield: about six half pints.
Alternatively, freeze portions in plastic deli containers or freezer bags; thaw well before using.
Colache (mixed vegetable medley) from American Heritage Cookbook
2 medium summer squash cubed
6 ears corn, cut from cobs
6-8 tomatoes cubed
1 yellow onion diced
1/4 cup butter
Salt and pepper to taste
In skillet, melt butter, adding onion, and cook till translucent. Add squash (I like zucchini for color). Saute for about 10 minutes and add corn and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. The butter flavor is important here, so don’t skimp. Herbs may be added but I like to let these fresh flavors shine. Simple but delicious.
Raw apple cake
4 cups (coarsely) chopped apples
2 cups sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped nuts
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Optional: 1 teaspoon each of cloves and allspice. (I like this addition.)
In a large bowl, break eggs over apples. Add sugar, spices, oil and nuts. Mix well. Sift flour, salt and soda. Add to wet ingredients. Mix well. Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
I just finished making Marian Burro’s plum torte, which was first published in The New York Times in 1983. They publish this recipe every year because of its popularity. I can attest to the deliciousness. It’s easy to find online. There are way too many options to use the wonderful produce our area produces. I’ll try to add more in future columns.