Soldiers of flavor

For the past three days I’ve been picking and saving tomatoes so that I could do a large batch of fire roasted salsa.

Today was that day. It began with picking and washing tomatoes of all shapes, types and colors. We’ve got paste tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pear tomatoes, striped tomatoes and that about it.

Then I put the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet with parchment paper. The tomatoes roasted in a 450 F degree oven, then I blasted them with the broiler to blacken and blister their skins. This is the secret to the sauce.

I got 12 pints today. My family can easily inhale a pint of salsa as a pre-dinner snack, so 12 pints is less than 2 weeks worth of salsa. Kind of weak, but I’m happy that we canned our own homemade salsa this year. It may not fill our family’s yearly salsa needs 100% but it’s a step toward self sufficiency, and that’s what matters.

Next year, though, my salsa ambitions are going to scare you. Who wouldn’t love knowing that they have access to a fresh new jar of organic, home grown, home processed fire-roasted salsa 365 days of the year. At 12 jars per canning session, that’s a lotta math and a whole lot more tomatoes.

365 divided by 12 pints = about 30 days

This means that for the entire month of August, I’d have to can a dozen jars of salsa every day.

Road trippin’ with my friend, Mme. Cherry Tomato

Yesterday, amid the smoke, fires, destruction, and global pandemic I harvested about 20 pounds of tomatoes from our 6-row kitchen garden. This is the largest tomato harvest of the season so far!

Gardens bring hope, that’s true. But they also bring something that runs a really close second: fire-roasted salsa. And now, because of a couple hours effort, our family has 16 pints of nature’s gift to tortilla chips.

In yesterday’s batch of salsa I carefully altered the recipe (which your not supposed to do because it’s risky with water bath canning + acid levels). I subbed our gypsy peppers instead of jalapenos (we didn’t plant any hot peppers this year). I subbed our flat leaf parsley instead of cilantro (which would have required another trip to the store–no gracias). And I subbed lemon juice for lime juice because we had lemon juice open in the fridge.

I’m hoping that in just a few days we’ll have another huge, 20 lb. haul of vine-ripened tomatoes. I promise to make more salsa!

I feel very sad for people who have chosen to cut tomatoes out of their lives. We harvested about 15 pounds this morning. They are bursting with the essence of summer. I can’t imagine my life without tomatoes.

These ones will become fire-roasted diced tomatoes, which I will either bottle, freeze or dehydrate. Haven’t decided yet.

Pear sauce on oatmeal

It ain’t pretty, but it’s breakfast.

This morning while canning chunky pear sauce and talking to Josh about our kitchen cabinets, I discovered this ugly but delicious combination: oatmeal and pear sauce (with a splash of whole milk).

This pear sauce takes the place of any and all sweeteners for oatmeal. Buh-bye brown sugar. In fact, pear sauce is not only crazy levels of sweet, but it’s also gratefully loaded with fiber, which helps slow down the digestion–which is a great thing when sugar is involved. Sugar + fiber=nature’s way of keeping you healthy. Thanks, Mme. Nature!

I obsessively adore this chunky pear sauce! It immortalizes the fleeting flavor of fresh picked pears and entombs it in a glistening glass sarcophagus. It has a bold grittiness, toothsome appeal, and assertive texture that is missing from sleepy old Mott’s applesauce. I’m not even sure that pear sauce is commercially available, which makes it a billion percent more desirable.

“Rah-rah for pear sauce!” said the homemaker, as she bottled and preserved 16 pints of the golden, lumpy, half-pureed nectar . The sun hung golden in the sky, like a ripe pear.

Pear roulette

I still have about 20 pounds of greenish Bartlett pears. Every few days I go through the basket and pick out the ripe ones. Today I found enough to eat, but not enough to can. The downside to only having one basket of pears is if I wait until there’s enough to can, the ones that are ripe today will be mushy tomorrow.

Plus tomorrow is Sunday, and I don’t do food preservation on the Sabbath.

Today I canned 16 pints of pear sauce (it’s just like apple sauce, but with pears!) Half the jars were smooth pear sauce, half were chunky. Hannah helped me wash and sort the ripe pears. It took a couple hours to get through all that fruit Just for fun we had a jar of chunky pear sauce with dinner tonight, and it was gone within minutes.

I still have more pears that are ripening, as well as apples and plums. What a blessing all this fruit is! Thanks to our neighbors for such a beautiful, bountiful harvest!!

I’ve been in food production mode this summer. Here are some of the fruits of my labors! Everything is made by hand, with lots of love.

All of the items in this box will be coming with us to Rexburg for our meetup with my parents. The contents will be divided between my parents and my siblings.

This is what love looks like

Any canning project is a labor of love. This one began last year with Josh aggressively pruning and shaping our neglected pear tree (which also bears Asian pears). It then led to a dangerous ladder-top adventure last week where Grant and I were determined to get every last pear from our tree, even if it meant risking life and limb to do it. Pears can be drama, y’all.

So here I am at 8am, slicing pears, dodging worms, cutting bruises, boiling light syrup, rinsing bottles, and setting timers. All because I love pears. I mean, all because I love my family.

I also love our sweet neighbor, Mary, because her pear trees were much more abundant than our tree, and she shared her orchard with us. Alden and Grant picked a full bucket of pears that will ripen in a few days. Or rot in 6 minutes. There’s really no in-between with pears. That’s why capturing their peak-of-ripeness flavor in a canning jar is one of the most loving things you can do for someone.

Canning in the kitchen during a remodel

We have three happy quarts of raisins today, freshly picked and preserved. It takes a few days to dry them out fully. I err on the side of over-dried instead of under-dried. They turn out chewy, flavorful and slightly carmelized. I love home preserved raisins and I’m so excited to have them in our pantry!

So…where are these glorious grapes coming from? Mary, our neighbor, has a 20 foot row of seedless green grapes. She has let us come pick grapes twice–and I’m hoping to get a third, final picking. Fingers crossed the birds don’t discover my seedless grapes source.

We do have grapes on our farm but the grapes are seeded. I can still make vinegar or grape juice out of them.

We risked our lives for these pears

This morning Grant and I climbed a ladder to pick these Bartlett pears. The pears were at the top of the tree so we extended the folding ladder as far as it would go. (The tree is too small to lean an opened ladder up against it.)

Next time we harvest from that tree will be in a few weeks when its co-fruit becomes ripe. We’ll have a large harvest of tiny Asian pears. We’ll probably dehydrate them.

Besides the dropped fruit that we salvaged over the past few weeks, this is our first and last real Bartlett pear harvest from this tree this season. It’s probably about 25 pounds.

Farm life is like a bucolic horror film. One moment you’re feeling the morning cool, watching the sky change colors as the sun rises, smelling the sweet hay and just thanking God for the life he’s blessed you with. The next minute you’re jolted and sickened as you realize that the bunnies that we’re born two weeks ago are being slowly pecked from beneath their cage by ravenous, omnivorous chickens. The white (now bloody pink) chicken is running around the hutch waiting for another bunny to show itself through the wire so she can peck it to a slow, horrific death.

You look up from the carnage, in shock, still not sure of what you’re seeing is real. Chickens like cracked corn and earthworms. They wouldn’t eat bunnies straight from the cage.

A quiet, miniature peeping sound behind you momentarily distracts you from the sickening scene before you. Three quail are peacefully taking dust baths together, carelessly flinging sand and dirt in a voluminous dust cloud around them. Another group of quail are clustered around the waterer, possibly sharing farm gossip, giving each other egg laying tips, or just complaining about the weather.

The scene suddenly cuts back to the bunnies and chickens. You ask outloud, not sure if you’re talking to God or to the sheep that are anxioulsy waiting for you right outside the chicken coop, “How can a farm be full of so much beauty and horror at the same time???”

Even with loss and tragedy, farm life is truly rich and purposeful. Every day is full of life, beauty, peace, growth, family and work–all good things. We see the hand the hand of God manifest in so many ways, from the slow, miraculous ripening of a tomato to the clockwork hatching of a baby turkey. But in some sad ways, this farm-world isn’t too different from the world of people we live in–a world with wars, riots, infanticide, death, bullying, gangs, abuse. It’s chickens vs. bunnies versus people vs. people.

Seeing God’s hand in all things gives us a chance to learn to be better stewards to our simple, instinct-driven farm creatures and to the complex, needy, hungry humans that surround us here on Earth. It takes patience, love, forgiveness, the desire to improve, creativity, resourcefulness, and the humility to ask for help. These are all godlike attributes that we strive to develop as we work on the farm and as we serve our fellow man.

As we care for his creations–of all kinds–we get a divine glimpse of what it’s like for him to watch over and care for us in this beautiful, bumpy, bucolic, sometimes tragic, but mostly wonderful thing we call “life”.

Another batch of sun-dried tomatoes! This is one of the best products of summer.

We did about 5 pounds last week and this is probably another 5 pounds. The tomatoes can’t come on fast enough.

That reminds me of something I want to say about this garden. We haven’t been overwhelmed by the harvest. No glut of beans or towering baskets of tomatoes. It’s encouraging that we can keep up and that there’s no waste, however, it means that we don’t have a ton extra to preserve because we’re eating most of it as it comes in.

One more thing, since I’m rambling… I bought more canning jars yesterday. Jars are beautiful!

Thank you, Mary!

Today we picked about 50+ lbs. of seedless grapes

Our friend and neighbor, Mary, has been a bountiful supplier of all things fruit. Plums, pears, apples, blueberries, blackberries, and both seeded and seedless grapes. If she had a pineapple plant she would share it with us.

Today we’re reaping the grape harvest by drying raisins, freezing the grapes (they’re a fun treat!) and making grape molasses. It’s all making me so happy.

The Lord will provide us with more harvest as long as we use the harvest he’s given us. We feel so blessed by our neighbor’s generosity and the country of the Pacific Northwest.

This is our first big tomato harvest. It makes me happy. We have some paste tomatoes, some heirlooms, some “dollar store tomato seed” tomatoes, and some volunteer yellow pear.

Tomatoes have to be a part of any happy garden because they provide the visual and flavor payoff of all your hard work. I’m the beginning, everything in a garden is green–peas, lettuce, kale, beans, herbs–up until the first blush of the first tomato. It’s a magical moment.

I’ve been using our herbs to make a salt and herb mixture that preserves the color and brightness of the herbs. Not sure what to call it.

I blend about 1-2 cups of herbs, 5 garlic cloves, add the zest and juice of one lemon, and 2-3 Tbs. salt. Sometimes kosher, sometimes gentile.

Look at this beautiful waste of space.

A tomatillo plant with hundreds of flowers

It’s a flower-filled tomatillo plant that will never bear a single tomatillo. We didn’t know that it needed a second tomatillo plant in order to produce fruit. The person who gave it to us only gave us one plant, along with a bunch of tomato plants in exchange for wood chips. Now it’s taking up precious garden space.

I am going to rip it out and plant lettuce, because i know that Josh wanted to plant lettuce this year. Hopefully it’ll stay cool enough for the lettuce to not bolt.

Ground control to Major Tomatillo, goodbye…
Kale choppin’ school is in session

This morning I harvested 12 ounces of dinosaur kale (lacinato). I chiffonaded it and bagged it up in 3 ounce portions.

I like the dinosaur kale because it’s a beautiful color, it’s sturdy, and when it’s sauteed with butter it turns a deep green.

Kale is wonderful. Swiss chard is terrible, but we have to keep growing it because the birds like it more than the kale. It saves our kale from the birds.