Students who take my canning class tell me that one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to canning is … surprise!… time. (the other is the commendable desire not to sicken one’s family) I will not prattle about how time used now is time …
I’ve been waiting for them not- so-patiently. It’s probably been the hardest year in the garden since we moved here – at least when comparing input to output. It’s been a rough year weather- wise, following several years of rough-weather.
This year we had no spring; summer and drought arrived in April; we broiled in July which tormented us with several days over 100F (38 C). The tomatoes did not like it – especially considering that they were planted a little late – but sustained with copious watering, they shouldered through. Now we are harvesting for real.
A lot of things are not doing so well. The early summer squash plantings have vanquished under the onslaught of the squash bugs; the beans produced for a couple of weeks before being turned into lace by the Mexican bean beetles (the lima beans went straight into lace, no crop); it’s been too hot for dill and for peppers to set flowers (let alone fruit); and … the blister beetles have bee devouring the Swiss chard. I have never had any problem growing Swiss chard before and blister beetles are a painful experience that I confronted this year for the first time.
On the bright side, we continue to have a reasonable harvest from the asparagus beans (a crop new to me); the summer cabbage has been doing well (2 more heads to harvest); the basil is exploding; the butternut squash looks good; the peppers have lots of flowers (and with cooler temperature should set fruit … cross fingers…); the ground cherries are prolific. I have hopes for the late planting of summer squash… the cucumbers are swelling… and the much awaiting tomatoes are finally ripening.
And so it is time to preserve tomatoes. Time for canning, saucing, pasting, drying (especially cherry tomatoes!), oven preserving (delicious on sandwiches and Tomato Tatin) and… can you guess?… sorbeting! At last, we can have some fun
Picture below is Yellow Tomato Sorbet (I used heirloom Valencia, meaty and sweet). Surprisingly creamy and… really yummy.
We may have two feet of snow on the ground, but the early tomato seedlings have germinated.
I do like to pick my first tomatoes in June, so I plant a few seedling in late January. They germinate in early February, and I keep up-potting them into bigger pots until it is time to plant them out. I will put a couple in a cold frame come April, and I may this year – space allowing – plant some in the hoophouse.
What are those super early babies? Wetsel Red Cherry. I love cherry tomatoes for salad, fresh salsa (especially mixed with other veggies or fruit like this Grilled Peach Salsa) and for drying. Dry cherry tomatoes are simply wonderful tossed in a green winter salad – a burst of sweet-acid tomato taste. Of course, it’s also easy to freeze bagfuls of fresh cherry tomatoes.
Cherry tomato start to produce earlier than the big ones, and by starting them in January, and keeping them happy (that’s the key), I will have tomato in June. My earliest is June 14, and that was prior to the hoophouse. Can I beat that?
So can’t say I am “dreaming” of tomatoes – after all I am consuming plenty in the form of soup, sauce, paste, confit etc from last summer canning. But I am certainly planning my tomato crop. This year I am getting more of the non-red tomatoes, and I am planting more of the canning tomatoes too. That is, those tomatoes that were bred for little pulp so that they would not give off too much liquid. They are also called paste tomatoes, processing tomatoes or sometime Italian tomatoes.
Last year I had three different paste cultivars: Amish Paste (at noon in the picture – new to me then), Roma (at 4:00) & San Marzano Sel el Redorte (at 8:00). Amish Paste is very meaty and some were longer than my hand (it was a dry summer and I don’t water that much so the specimens below were not that large). Great for sauce and paste. Roma, which I decided to try again – was fine for crushed tomatoes. San Marzano was good also for sauce and paste, to can whole and to make tomato confit – and Tomato Tatin.
Those, as well as the slicing tomatoes and more cherry, I will be starting from late February through mid-March. Trying to time the determinate paste tomato harvest for September, you know… so the ambient temperature is a little more conducive to canning.
What are your tomato plans this year? Any you can’t do without? and why?
PS: the first pepper seedlings have been emerging over the last few days. Hot pepperts up first, followed by Round of Hungary. Still waiting for the bell and Italian…
The season is changing: I can taste it in the air. The nights are getting cool yet the days are still warm. The daylight hours are shortening; the light is mellowing; the air is crisper. The leaves on the trees are subtly goldening – soon to burnish or russet. The dew sparkles again in the early morning grass; soon there will be mist in the morning. Soon the geese will honk overhead, soon birds will gather to go south.
The colchicums raise up their rosy goblets to the sky; the cyclamens nod gently. The bees are buzzing in the goldenrods and the asters – their last chance to gather nectar and pollen in quantity before frost does away with the flowers.
Golden-fingered Autumn is here.
Lots to do in the garden, from transplanting the lettuces and the kales, to bundling the cardoons for blanching, from sowing the rocket-salad to digging the potatoes. And…weeding – always – and picking, picking, picking: peppers, okras, tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots, beets, the late corn and the last of the green beans. Tomato fatigue has settled. But with cool nights, it’s time again for warm soups! It’s time to reawaken those taste buds to the goodness of tomatoes with a mellow Early Fall Tomato Soup that’s perfect for a light dinner on a cool night, maybe with toasted bread and blue cheese, followed by poached pears or an upside-down apple cake. Or for lunch with a grilled cheese sandwich.