The torrential rains we’ve had on the East coast this August ruined my garden. My tomato plants were toppled and the fruits lay rotting on the sodden soil before I could rescue them from eager insects. Squash Vine Borers feasted on my zucchini and yellow crook neck squash. My cucumber seedlings were drowned in the deluge. Few things seem so disappointing as the end of the summer growing season and rain that has come too much too late.
Canning is something I learned on a whim from a woman I knew via a Scrabble group through my local food co-op. I am a terrible Scrabble player, but this woman was more than happy to teach me to make and can jam. She sent me home with an extra, old granite ware pot she had and a canning rack and I pretty much taught myself from there. In addition to the canning bible, The Ball Blue Book of Preserving, I consult the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation, Putting Food By, and So Easy to Preserve for tried and true tips and recipes.
I gathered up my dozen or so green tomatoes that hadn’t yet fallen prey to rot and made green tomato pickle – something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I followed the recipe in Putting Up: A Year-Round Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition by Stephen Palmer Dowdney. The recipe was relatively easy to follow but I would have appreciated more specific direction on how much headspace to leave in the jars and how long to process them in the water bath after filling. I think this book focuses way too much on testing the pH of your recipes. Yes, it IS important to avoid spoilage and botulism, but it’s terribly tedious to keep having to break out the litmus paper. Not to mention that my litmus paper starts at 4.5 and the author often wants a pH of 4.2 for acidic foods. Several of the other recipes in the book state that they can be halved or doubled. This one didn’t have any such note and I was left wondering if that meant that I should attempt neither halving nor doubling for this recipe. I also had to make two extra batches of the vinegar solution to fill all of the jars. I’m not sure how the author expected 2 cups of vinegar to fill 6 pints. Needles to say, I felt more than a little anxiety about how my tomatoes would turn out. All but one of the jars sealed and now I’m just hoping for the best.
After I got over my disappointment with the green tomato pickle recipe, I ordered Canning For A New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors For the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff. I LOVE this book. The recipes are well-written and address every step of the canning process. She also dispenses with all the fussing over pH and encourages you to rely more on your own intuition. Obviously, our ancestors weren’t testing their recipes with litmus paper! Nor could many a housewife afford to throw out an entire batch of canned food if the pH of a recipe seemed a hair off! I love that the author weaves her own story into her book and gives the reader an appreciation for the flavors captured beneath those metal rings.
I found myself with 2 pounds of green beans thanks to the soaking rains and, with a hurricane due to arrive tomorrow, needed to do something with them before we inevitably lose power and a fridge full of food. Dilly Beans were the first thing that popped into my mind as I love all this pickle-y. These beans are a popular, Southern tradition and can be eaten straight from the jar as a snack or heaped upon beans, rice, salad, etc for a bit of tang and crunch. Krissoff’s recipe was clear, easy, and took me no more than an hour in the kitchen! All of my jars sealed and I’m confident that they will taste delicious once opened.
Canning, something I might have learned from my grandmothers had they not passed before I could know them, is a way for me to feel connected to the generations of women before me – those women who nourished their families through slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, and seasons of bounty from their kitchen gardens. I’ve found it so pleasing to be able to have a taste of summer on those dark days in February knowing that my harvest has lasted me long past August. It’s also the best way to enjoy those out-of-season foods while not contributing to the less-than-wholesome practices of agri-business.
With this hurricane a-comin’, I’ll be toting some peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches to the hospital with me as I wait out the storm caring for patients.