Category Archives: canning

Tomato management

Summer rolls on, and the tomatoes keep coming. We’ve done a pretty good job of managing the volume, having made an adjustment to a greater number of large tomato and fewer cherry tomato plants in the garden this year. It’s a major reason why we keep a journal, so we can improve upon each year based on previous years’ learned lessons. Having recently finished putting up our frozen tomatoes for soup and cooking, we moved onto one of our favorite condiments: barbeque sauce.

A couple of years ago J became interested in making homemade BBQ sauce from our tomatoes. We have no complaints with store-bought, but the problem with large gardens and good growing years is that production often outstrips consumption, even when being generous with the neighbors – and we’ve found absolutely no one who eats the same quantity of vegetables we do. Our sauce recipe was a bit of trial and error (this one is version number six of what we’ve tried) but it’s quickly become our favorite.

Cocktail Farmers Best BBQ Sauce

  • 6 lbs tomatoes
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeno (or other pepper with a kick)
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 Tbs crushed pepper (black or red, depending on taste preference)
  • 1 Tbs dry mustard
  • 1 Tbs Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs smoked paprika

Smoke tomatoes, onion, and garlic on a smoker or charcoal grill for 1-2 hours, depending on the volume of vegetables.

Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, and then mill with a fine screen:

In process

Add spices to the tomato puree and boil until reduced by half.

That is an automatic pot stirrer – like that one coworker we all have, but significantly more helpful.

We made a double recipe over the weekend – we smoked twelve pounds of tomatoes + onion, milled and cooled it, and parked it in the fridge for the evening, then finished the sauce and canned it yesterday. All told, it took about 8 1/2 hours which I realize sounds slightly insane, but so are we. The reduction time for the sauce is really where the hours came in – it was almost 5 to get it down to the righ consistency, but we started with 2x the volume for this recipe, so it should be shorter if you go strictly by what I’ve written above.

Twelve pounds of tomatoes made 4 16 oz jars and 3 8 oz jars:

My house has smelled amazing for two days, and I can’t wait to do a brisket in a few weeks.


We are having a great cucumber year. So we decided to make our first batch of pickles this week.

We were down to our last jar of bread & butter pickles from last year, so we decided to start with those. You can tell it’s early in the canning season, because I entertained the idea of cutting the cucumbers with the crinkle cutter.

The struggle with these pickles is that you have to slice and salt them, and leave them for an hour to drain before finishing the recipe. And I always forget that – so when I carve out the time to do them, suddenly I have an hour in the middle of it where I need to do something else while I wait, like laundry. I never learn.

The recipe we use is an old American recipe, that came from my Danish mother-in-law. We used my family’s recipe for a number of years, but then had a jar of hers and decided that was the better recipe. We’ve used it a couple of years now and everyone loves it.

The recipe:

  • 8 cups cucumbers, sliced thin
  • 3 cups onions, sliced thin or chopped*
  • 4 tbsp salt

Sprinkle salt over vegetables and let stand 1 hour

Drain and add

  • 2 cups vinegar
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp celery seed
  • 3” stick of cinnamon
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 4 green peppers, chopped fine*

Bring syrup to a boiling point, just simmering, for 15-20 minutes.  Pour over cucumbers in hot sterilized jar, and process for 10-15 minutes.

*Use half as many as called for, or omit entirely if you don’t like the taste

The results

8 cups of cucumbers netted us 4 pint jars of pickles. Which is a manageable amount to can; as the season runs on we will end up doing double and triple batches, and most of Sunday afternoon into evening will be spent on canning. I am always grateful for the work come the middle of winter, but in the heat of summer it can be draining.

It’s a long, hot summer

I can’t believe how long it’s been since we had any substantial rain.  Thank goodness we have the drip irrigation in the main garden and the raised beds:

Main Garden 7-27

Raised Beds 7-27

For the first time in ages, the cucumbers are actually doing something, and will bear fruit:

Cucumber 7-27
Lush cucumbers, dead lawn behind them

Powder mold, squash beetles and other environmental factors have contributed to the lackluster performance over the last few years.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to make homemade pickles.  That might be changing this year.

Of course, we’re still being supervised:

I love hard work, I could watch it all day
I love hard work, I could watch it all day

The nicest thing about this cat is that he wants 5-10 very intense minutes of your attention, and then he moves off to stalk birds or mice or just snooze a bit.  We were commenting the other day about our luck in getting neighborhood cats that actually give us the time of day.  Even better when they keep away the destructive pests.

Now we’re cooking

I can stop complaining about the lack of vegetables now:

Harvest on 8-14
Harvest on 8-14

Harvest on 8-17
Harvest on 8-17

This was a lot of stuff to come in all at once.  It looks very impressive, posted on Facebook.  I had several offers to, “….take some of that off your hands.”  So kind of those folks!  Where were they when I was on my hands & knees for four hours, weeding?

In the end, we put up 5 jars of pepperoncini peppers:

PepperoncinisI found a great recipe for pickling them on Our first batch tasted a little mushy, probably from the length of time they sat in the canner until I was able to finish stuffing all the jars and bring it to a boil.  This time we stuffed the jars, filled the brine, removed the air and then put them all into the canner at once.  We’re hoping this makes them crisper.  The ones available commercially taste too bitter to me, so if they are just a little crunchier, they will be perfect.

We’ve got some beans coming, too:

Anellino di Trento and Royalty Purple bush beans
Anellino di Trento and Royalty Purple bush beans

We grilled these with a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and dill and they were fantastic.  We’re enjoying the beans more than normal, given that just three weeks ago we thought they were a total loss.  Something was getting over our fence and eating the bushes.  We suspect a woodchuck, and so we set up the electric fence around the wire one.  Problem solved.

After picking all those tomatoes, we parboiled, peeled, seeded and diced them into 2-cup quantities and froze them.  We ended up with 2 bags of Krim, 3 bags of Kellogg, and a bag each of Brandywine and Roma.  But we didn’t freeze all of them:

2014-08-17 19.22.33That is a Tomato Stack Salad with Corn & Avocado.  It is delicious.  We used Krim, Kellogg and Brandywine, plus corn, fresh chive and basil from the garden in the dressing.  We have been waiting all season to make that stack of deliciousness.  It was worth the wait.

In a fit of optimism, I planted 191 Knight peas in the back 40 yesterday.  Average time to harvest?  56 days.  That puts us somewhere around October 12, give or take depending on how warm fall is.  I may have wasted $1.50 in seeds if we have an early frost.  This is my idea of living dangerously.

The end…..for now

Today I ate the last dozen or so Sungold tomatoes.  I would like to note that it is November, and this is amazing.  I would have documented the occasion, but I was at work and forgot my camera.  The garden kept going all the way through the second-to-last week of October, finally succumbing to a hard frost somewhere over the nights of October 23rd and 24th.  It was a fantastic run.  I can only tally what we canned or froze, but here’s where we stand in our first large-scale effort to preserve our harvest for later use:

  • 22 jars dill pickles
  • 5 jars bread and butter pickles
  • 12 jars sweet banana peppers
  • 4 jars green tomato chutney (hurrah!  A use for unripe green tomatoes at the end of the season!)
  • 56 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 8 bags of beans
  • 1 bag of peas
  • 3 bags of corn
  • 3 bags of peppers (jalapeno & Fooled You)

It was not a stellar year for either the peas or the corn – although we did eat some fresh – but it was an amazing year for tomatoes.  We boiled, peeled, seeded & diced those suckers in 2-cup increments and froze them for use in cooking.  We’ve already used about 9 bags so far, and the taste is so much better than even the canned organic tomatoes I normally buy.  However, all these frozen vegetables take up a bit of room, as you can see:


There’s no way to really calculate what we harvested and ate fresh – over the long weekend of Columbus Day, J harvested about 15 of our Bride eggplants, fire roasted them, and turned them into eggplant dip.  We ate one container, and froze the other two for future consumption as the recipe calls exclusively for Asian eggplants and we can’t get them around here unless we grow them.  So we’ll defrost that container, maybe for New Year’s, and think longingly of fresh summer vegetables. It’s just about enough time to have forgotten how hot and backbreaking it is to weed in the middle of summer.

Until next year……


It’s quite a pickle

I went to my cousin J’s house on Saturday because she was putting up some of her pickling cucumbers and I had a bunch as well.

I promised last time I would try to document how it’s done.  This time, J set me up to do my own, and now I’m more confident about the process.  Here’s what I did:

1.  Cut the cucumbers into spears.  Be observed closely by your 6-year-old cousin A, who will inform you that your spears are too long.  Discover she is right. Suggest maybe mommy could go relax with a glass of sangria and she could just teach you, which she will agree with.

2.  Add one clove of garlic (two if they are small) 1 tsp of dill seed and 1/2 tsp. of mustard seed:

3.  Pack jar with cucumber spears.  Add another teaspoon of dill seed on top:

4. Cover cucumbers with brine (2 cups of of cider vinegar, 3 cups of water & 5 tablespoons of canning salt, brought to a low boil, then kept warm.) 

5.  Cover jars with lids and bands, and seal as tightly as possible.  Put jars in the canner, and boil for 10 minutes, before removing and allowing to cool.  Do not allow hot jars to bump into each other while cooling.  Leave this part of the process to your cousin J, and head home to dinner with your husband.

6.  While canning, watch out for cousin’s smallest son, M, who will roll himself across the floor in his walker and repeatedly slam himself into your ankles, and then smile at you.

We’ll let the pickles cure for about 2 – 4 months before we open them.  I now have 7 pints and 5 quarts of these pickles.  Next week we will probably be doing bread and butter pickles.  Or maybe I’ll just pick A up and she can teach me while her mom relaxes.

And since I have lately been taking photos of other people’s gardens:

A John Deere fan also lives here

Thanks to my cousin A, who took all the photos.  After she teaches me how to make bread and butter pickles, maybe I can get her to start updating the blog.