Friday, September 20, 2013

Canning Fresh Vegetables by a Kid Who'd Rather Eat a Hot Dog

     Canning vegetables was an annual ritual for my wife Deb and me every fall buying boxes of tomatoes, corn and other vegetables at a good price.  And doing the work yourself gave you the satisfaction that on a cold winter day, cracking open one of the mason jars would give you a taste of all the fresh vegetables from summer. We haven't canned for a dozen years.
     For me eating fresh vegetables as a kid was an acquired taste. I grew up an army brat and everything came in a can from the Army post commissary. My mom made her own soups and was a great cook baking fresh pies weekly, but for some reason we ate vegetables out of a can. Annually we grew a couple of stringy tomato plants in the back yard but I got accustomed to the bland taste of store bought canned goods. And besides like most kids, I would have rather just eaten another hot dog than vegetables.
     When I met Deb, her late father was a gardener or should I say more like a farmer. He had a huge garden behind their Stowe home and was constantly pulling weeds or turning the soil planting and replanting. And at harvest time I was on hand at dinner to try the fresh veggies.
     I can eat a majority of anything fresh out of a garden but, I still can't eat fresh green beans. I look at Deb, smile and say these taste way to green! Funny, but the taste is still to strong to like. I can eat green beans pickled in a jar or cooked in with a ham and cabbage but I won't eat them unless they are boiled to death. The only vegetables I ate when I was a youngster was corn, waxed beans, apple sauce (yes I considered that a vegetable) and potatoes.
Deb working in her kitchen.
     With Deb's family, I was introduced to everything home grown from carrots, radishes, beans, cauliflower and broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes of all varieties. Peppers from mild to the set your tongue on fire types. Cucumbers, lettuce, squash, rhubarb, peas (no I won't eat these either) and kohlrabi. I looked at that green little thing and said to myself what the hell is a kohlrabi. I found out its a bit like a turnip. I never, ever in my life ate a turnip especially one called a kohlrabi. But when my father in law started mixing in all those leftover vegetables at the end of the season to make chicken soup on a cold fall day, I munched down those kohlrabi's along with all the other stuff. He made the best soup, just ask my daughters who still talk about how they miss not having a big bowl this time of the year.
     Deb's brother Joe also has a garden and cans some of the best vegetable concoctions I've ever tried. We were over recently and he had us try some home canned spicy hot asparagus and the taste was amazing. If I don't like something I'm not eating it to be polite. I could have eaten an entire jar and I'm not a big fresh asparagus eater. That ranks up their with the green beans. But pickled in a brine and adding in a couple of hot peppers gives it a flavor I go for. We ended up leaving with jars of some of his latest canned goods.
     And that got us thinking why not put up some jars for the coming winter. Yes it's easier to buy food at the grocery store, no mess, no time involved.  But being a vegetable convert, I have seen the light of eating home grown veggies, we decided to dust off the Victorio strainer, washed and sterilized our boxes of old mason jars and got to work.
     The first two projects were to make tomato sauce and the other was to make a salsa. I drove to several local farm stores and road side vegetable stands and bought a couple of big boxes of Roma variety tomatoes along with a bunch of onions, peppers and other vegetables requested by my wife.
     We skinned the tomatoes cut up the vegetables in large pieces. From here Deb took over to make her salsa. She has a processor that pulses them into small little pieces in seconds. It seemed to take a lot longer when we cut everything up by hand years ago. What a time and labor saver. From there we ladled the contents into a pint jars, sealed them up and boiled the jars in a hot water bath to kill off any remaining bacteria.  It was a lot of work to get fifteen pint jars of salsa. We chilled one down and tried it later that night, and I'm not exaggerating, it was the best salsa I ever had. Our kids agree as we are down to less than ten jars left and we haven't had a frost yet.  A second batch is schedule though I'm not sure we will be able to duplicate the taste. It had to be beginners luck.
     Next, we washed and cut up the remaining tomatoes in quarters and I ran them through the strainer to separate the juice and pulp from the skin and seeds. This hand operated little marvel doesn't miss a drop which is then mixed with spices and boiled down.
 I bought 75 ears of corn at another stand so that Deb could make a picked corn relish.  First we husk the ears, then blanch them. After the ears cools for a minute I take a sharp knife and cut the kernels from the cob.  By the time I get finished two large bowls are filled with corn. Deb mixes in her spices, vinegar and other secret herbs from her recipe and we again fill several dozen jars.  We will have enough to last a year. What was left over we froze and will be able to use over the winter. This was pretty cost effective and it was definitely cheaper to make than to buy in the store.
     We are looking to buy a bunch of vegetables for the next canning. Deb wants to make chow chow. I call this the hodge podge of home canned goods. Whatever is left after the smoke clears in the kitchen and wasn't used is stuffed together in a jar. So we will be hunting down the last of the fresh vegetables at the end of a good season.     But, I will tell you this, there won't be any kohlrabi added. I'm drawing the vegetable eating line.

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