Fall catches us by surprise
Food for the Neighborhood
Monday, October 08, 2012 4:58 AM
The first killing frost this season was supposed to be a one-night stand. However, a second frost followed and caught some of us by surprise.
We covered plants the first, but not the second evening. The weather report had lulled us into a sense of security. Suddenly, dozens of pepper and tomato plants, rows of beans and hills of cucumbers were all gone.
Fortunately, I had taken advantage of the earlier bounty of tomatoes to freeze batches of them. This gave me time to wait until I could spend part of a weekend cooking them down.
Some I just tossed in the bag whole, some I skinned and degutted, while some I simply cut out the stem end and halved. This process also allowed me to take tomatoes that were just reaching the point of spoiling, when I could cut off the bad spots and add chunks of tomato to a bag.
Today, I have already cooked down some of these into tomato soup and marinara sauce. Others are still waiting until a better time for me. A couple bags are filled with yellow and orange tomatoes, which will become tomato butter or an orange chutney preserve.
A second season of getting back to canning is becoming more and more interesting for me. I picked up a couple new canning cookbooks, and found the recipes have nuances that I don't remember from my canning life decades ago. (I had given up canning when I left the farm in 1993.)
I suppose my husband thought I was distant on our last trip home from Wisconsin when I had my nose in one of those canning books all the way home. He had no idea of the dreams that were flying through my mind as I read through one delectable recipe after another.
It seems there is a new approach to canning that is more about creating a few jars at a time instead of mass production filling dozens of quart jars. This is actually pretty freeing as it means you don't have to have a huge quantity of fresh produce, nor do you need to have all day to do it.
The one thing that I find is still time consuming is processing tomatoes. If I want to cook up a tomato cocktail juice or even worse, marinara, it involves cook-down time. One evening I realized that I had spent about five hours creating seven pints of marinara. Obviously, this is not a money-saving venture.
The other difference is that instead of canning in quarts, I now use pints, half-pints, or even half-cup jars. I figure this only makes sense, as I am not cooking for a crowd anymore - only one or two at a time.
On the last weekend I headed north to the cabin with my husband, I had almost stayed home because I was planning to make beet pickles and pepper jelly. My coworker Neva (who also has a home up north) wondered why I didn't just take my canning with me.
When I saw her the next Monday, I admitted to her that I had taken her advice and packed my canner, beets, jalapeno peppers, jars and whatever else I needed and headed north. Her next advice was telling me I needed two sets of equipment for home and the cabin.
My son, Tyrel, suggested that I might use the cabin to teach family members to can. So now I am thinking of an applesauce and apple butter project when they are up there with me the next time.
I did spend a couple weekends at home focusing on canning and other things left undone. I was feeling like I just needed to catch up, do some cleaning and get things put away while I was also working on more canning.
The big frost will eventually put a stop to all of this frantic canning and I will be happy to pack the filled jars and all the equipment away until another growing season.
In the meantime, we need to enjoy a full-blown fall that is engulfing us with color wheel shades of yellows to reds. We saw our first yellow leaves a month ago at the cabin. After a few weeks away, I am expecting an explosion of color when we return.
Fortunately, we are also getting fall house projects done. As neighbors have been aware, our roof was in such pitiful shape that the shingles were cupped up like seashells. A rainfall dumped buckets of gravely particles off the roof and during one weekend away - filled the eaves and ultimately caused some leaking into our basement.
Today, the roofing crew was here, and when I came home to pick up plants for the farmers market today, I felt like I had entered a war zone. I guess they weren't expecting me home so soon. Scott of the crew suggested I might take a photo of them to post here in the Reader (he reads this column).
I wasn't so sure I could as my camera is sadly in need of replacement. It only works briefly and temperamentally - by the time I realized I needed to put a memory card back in, the moment it might take a photo had passed. Sorry guys, your 15 minutes of fame is yet to come.
Another sign of fall is that the Eyota Farmers Market will be having its final session on Tuesday, Oct. 9. I am thankful for each of the 30 vendors we have had this season and most thankful for those who have come back week after week to set up their tables once again. I know it is really a lot of work!
As fall has come, I have started yearning for hot soup suppers. Last Friday night I picked up a package of beef stew meat and simmered a pot of stew while I packed dill green tomato pickles into jars. To accompany the stew, I found a very healthy recipe for crackers, whose dough was effortlessly mixed in my small food processor. The recipe was really small, so I doubled it - and we enjoyed a fresh batch of basil pesto as a spread on the crackers while we ate our stew.
The beef stew recipe came from my Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book - an earlier version of this cookbook taught me all the basics of cooking back when I was a teenager. Through the years I have purchased updated versions as the pages have worn in the earlier editions. I now have two on my cookbook shelf.
Try out this easy recipe to make your own healthy crackers - I found it in a much newer cookbook called "The Everything, Whole-Grain, High-Fiber Cookbook" by Lynette Rohrer Shirk.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 tablespoons wheat germ
1/4 cup cold butter, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Measure the rolled oats into the food processor and "mince" them. Add the flour, wheat germ and butter. Process until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal.
Add the sour cream and lemon juice and mix until the dough comes together.
Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and flatten it into a disc. Chill for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
Roll the chilled dough out thin and cut into shapes with a knife. Put the crackers on the paper and sprinkle them with kosher salt. Bake 12 minutes, let cool and serve.