Check out a few more excellent entries from our Preserving the Harvest contest.
To celebrate my first summer with a large garden at the house my husband Chris and I bought in Ardoise last year, I decided it was time I started canning. I grew up with a constant parade of jams, jellies, pickles and preserves moving through the kitchen as mom “put by” the produce from her garden, and have always associated gardening with preserving. Earlier in the summer I made my first strawberry and raspberry jams, and started thinking of what my first pickles would be. Lunch at Chris’s Aunt’s made up my mind – she served delicious green tomato chow with her fishcakes. I called her up the next week and got the recipe.
Friday afternoon I set out for the tomato patch to pick green tomatoes. Standing in front of my lovely tomatoes, I realized this would be the toughest part! I was to pick the tomatoes green, just as big, juicy red tomatoes were starting to appear?? I felt like I was robbing myself. I compromised by picking any that were touching the ground or too close together, consoling myself by thinking they might have rotted before getting fully ripe anyway. The recipe called for 4 quarts, so I picked a big bowl.
Inside, I washed the tomatoes and started slicing. Two quarts in I realized- worst case scenario- I had picked too many green tomatoes! I was certainly not wasting them, so quickly determined I could make 1.5 times the recipe. I would give jars as Christmas gifts! The recipe requires that the sliced tomatoes be layered with sliced onions and salt, and left overnight.
The next morning while our pancakes were cooking, I rinsed the tomatoes and onions with water. I was sceptical about this step – wouldn’t most of the tomato wash away too? But green tomatoes soaked in salt are much sturdier than red tomatoes, and they washed fine. I put them back in the pot with cider vinegar and pickling spice in a cheese cloth bag (which Chris had made an emergency trip to Home Hardware for that morning – what is a first pickling adventure without some drama…). About the cheese cloth bag – there must be something better to use?? The cheese cloth started fraying immediately along the cut edge, even though I tried to cut it evenly.
The chow simmered for an hour, while I did laundry, and cleaned the kitchen; stirring every time I passed the stove. After an hour I added the sugars and let it simmer another hour, this time I was a little more vigilant about stirring as it thickened up and threatened to stick. I set out the boiling water bath, washed the jars, and set out the tools I would need.
I have been sterilizing jars in boiling water, which is a huge pain since I get the jars all set in the rack and as soon as I add them to the water they float and get all mixed up. Mom has since told me that she sterilizes jars in the oven at 250 degrees for 20 mins, which seems much more manageable.
At this stage in the canning process, I find everything goes a bit blurry. This time was no different (notice there are no more pictures till the end…). I tried to move as quickly as possible to get the jars out of the water, the water out of the jars, chow into the jars, the rims wiped, the lids on, and the jars back in the boiling water. Whew! I sat back to relax while the chow processed, before I pulled 10 beautiful jars out and set them on the counter to admire.
Like many people, I found the thought of canning a little intimidating, but with a little practice and planning I find that it’s perfectly manageable. I have since made salsa and have plans for tomato sauce tonight!
We always made our jam at the cottage, on the Miramichi Bay. The berries were grown in the fields up the road, and were fertilized only by nature and salt breezes. My daughters and their friends were ‘the pickers’ from the time they were able to navigate the rows. They were also ‘the hullers’. Needless to say, these same children then became the eager eaters of the finished product – served on homemade white rolls from the rural co-op store ‘down to the bay’. The jam was always appreciated on a cold winter’s morning, as well. By the way, the pot in the picture was the one my mother used (exclusively) for jam, jelly and pickles.