Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tomato Season

Tomatoes should be picked when ripe and used within two days. Store them at room temperature away from the sunlight with the stems facing down. Don't pile them on top of each other as they make each other mushy this way. Resist the urge to refrigerate tomatoes as this changes their texture and makes them mealy.

Freezing Tomatoes
Small cherry tomatoes can be frozen on a tray or cookie sheet and then put into jars or (gulp, please avoid plastic) plastic freezer bags and frozen. They can then be used later for soups, sauces or even a winter salsa.

Large tomatoes can be frozen whole peeled or unpeeled. The tomato peel adds thickness to sauce or soups. The skins will slide off easily as they thaw so I don't bother blanching and peeling tomatoes. Just core them (remove the stems) and place on a tray and freeze. When they are solid toss them into a jar, seal and freeze.

For sauces or stewed tomatoes you can just make your sauce, fill canning jars, let them cool completely and freeze. To stew tomatoes, wash, core, quarter and simmer in a heavy covered saucepan. Once they are soft cook them for an additional 20-30 minutes. Then put in jars, cool and freeze. Sauces need to cook longer, usually 4-6 hours, and stir them every 20-30 minutes. You can also use a crock pot of the oven which makes burning the sauce less likely. Just use an oven proof container uncovered at 350 degrees and stir occasionally. Again just jar, cool and freeze.

Canning Tomatoes
The USDA currently recommends that tomatoes are pressure canned. This is because the acidity of different varieties of tomatoes differs greatly. You can still use the water bath if you add extra acidity to your tomatoes. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice of 1/2 teaspoon citric acid per quart of whole, crushed or juices tomatoes.

Tomatoes should be canned using the hot pack water bath method. To do this:
  1. Get your jars ready, clean and put in hot water. Don't boil the lids. 
  2. Get your canner pot filled with water, put the lids on and heat so its ready for use. 
  3. Choose your tomatoes, wash, remove the stems and drain.
  4. Option step: If you want to remove the skins blanch the tomatoes for 30-60 seconds in boiling water and dip into cold water. Slip off the skins. (The skins will add thickness to sauces and soups and there is no reason you can't just leave them on)
  5. Put tomatoes in a sauce pot and cover with water. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove a canning jar from the hot water with a jar lifter.
  7. Add citric acid or lemon juice to the jar.
  8. Pack tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2" head space. 
  9. Ladle boiling water from cooking over the tomatoes (again leaving 1/2" head space)
  10. Add 1 teaspoon salt per quart jar. 
  11. Wipe the rim, remove lid from hot water, screw the band down evenly until just firm.
  12. Add the jars to the water bath canner. Water level must cover all the caps by 1-2"/
  13. Put a lid on and bring to a boil. Once it is at a rolling boil process for 45 minutes for quarts and 35 for pints (adjust for higher altitudes) 
  14. WHhn processing is done take the jars out with a jar lifter and set them on a towel about 1" apart to cool for 12-24 hours. 
  15. Check the lids when they are cool.
  16. Label and store in a cool dark dry place until needed.
For tomato sauce, juice or stewed tomatoes add the citric acid or lemon juice to the hot jar, add hot sauce and follow directions as above.

If you would like to learn to Pressure Can please visit this Pressure Canning How to Guide 

dehydrated dried tomatoes
Tomatoes can also be sun dried, oven dried or put in the food dehydrator. Dried tomatoes make great snacks and can be vacuum sealed for winter. You don't need to skin tomatoes to dry them unless you want to powder them to use later for sauces or ketchup.

Choose smallish tomatoes and slice or slice larger tomatoes into lengthwise pieces. Sun drying take 1-2 days, the oven or dehydrator 6-8 hours. Post drying they should be put in a paper bag or open non aluminum container for 10-14 days to finish drying. Then they can be packed in clean glass jars and seal. I like to use glass canning jars and vacuum seal them with the food saver attachment for jars. Dried sealed tomatoes will last 6-9 months, twice that if you vacuum seal them. You can also freeze the dried tomatoes.

8 quarts fresh tomatoes chopped (or 5-6 quarts of juice)

2 medium yellow or orange sweet peppers
1/2 cup sugar 
2T salt (add more after you taste if needed)
1 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. Chop peppers Place in large pot w/ just enough water to keep them from burning. While this simmers, cut tomatoes (remove stems).
2. Add tomatoes to pot & cook until tender.

3. put through strainer or food mill to remove any seeds, then put aside 2 cups for mixing with the flour later.
4. Return to kettle, add lemon juice, sugar & salt.
5. Cream butter and flour together and mix thoroughly with two cups of reserved juice (chill so it’s cold), blend together in a blender until there are no lumps. Add butter/flour mixture to warmed tomato juice. (Add before it’s too hot, to avoid lumps). Stir well.
6. Heat just until hot. Just prior to boiling, turn off the burner. It will continue to thicken as it cools..
7. Ladle into hot jars with 1/4 headspace, close securely with lids and pressure can for 20 minutes with 10 pounds of pressure. If you would like to learn to Pressure Can please visit this Pressure Canning How to Guide

Friday, August 23, 2013

What to do with Whey?

The whey I started with
On the stove

When you are making cheese you separate the curds from the whey. Whey is the by-product of cheese making. If I make a 1 gallon (of milk) batch of cheese, I am left with approximately 5 cups of whey. Whey is great for pizza crusts and bread making. Whey can also be used as a flour conditioner in other baked goods recipes that use milk when you substitute the whey for milk. Whey is a good source of Thiamin, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc and Selenium, and a very good source of Riboflavin, Calcium and Phosphorus.

Straining curds from whey

Many weeks I feed the whey from cheese making to the chickens and ducks. I pour it right into their water bowl while it is still a little warm. They love it!

This week I decided to be more creative and find an yummy dinner item for all that whey. It is really easy too!

Whey Garlic/Basil Ricotta Recipe:
hanging to drain
1 cup of milk (organic local and fresh)

Mesophillic Cheese Culture (if your whey is fresh and less than 2 hours old you don't need this)
Garlic to taste
Basil to taste
Cheese Salt to taste

adding salt, garlic and basil
Put the Whey, milk and culture into a stainless steel pan or bowl and heat to 170-185 degrees for about 10 minutes. When the curds and whey have separated remove from the heat. Strain off the curds from the whey into cheese cloth. Hang to drip and dry for 20
minutes to an hour. Then toss it in a bowl and check out the texture. If it seems to dry you can slowly add a little whey back in until you get the right consistency. Add salt to taste. Once you have the cheese to salt balance right add minced garlic and dried basil and mix well. Then EAT!

Dinner tonight became penne and fresh tomatoes from the garden with sauce and fresh ricotta. Yum!!
Penne, Fresh Tomatoes, Sauce and Fresh Ricotta

(NOTE: This will not work with the whey left from making Mozzarella cheese. Also, as with all cheese making, the quality and quantity of your final product will be affected by the quality and freshness of the milk you use. Buy local, fresh and when possible organic milk. Get to know your local farmer! I use milk from Mapleline Farms 5 miles down the road from me in Hadley, MA. They delier fresh milk in glass bottles right to my front door.)