It’s Monday, August 9th and I am just catching my breath from the flurry of July “farmer drama” (or “fahmah drama”, as we like to say). Garden harvests, fall crop plantings, food preservation, and late nights. My upper back aches by then end of every day–but it’s an ache that I live for. It means that I’ve been on my feet, lugging water, reaching in awkward positions to grab a Sungold tomato that is buried inside a jungle of tomato vines or chasing a crew of “ducks on holiday” back to the pasture. I have pushed myself this summer to be a little more pioneersy, a little less Tik-Toky. (But for reals, I learned how to drop an egg in a pan to crack it perfectly, so thank you TikTok.)

I received a very sweet, generous gift from Josh this week–and I love it so much I miiight ask for it next year, too. He took the kids on a trip and let me stay home. This is my week to garden, read, can beans, dehydrate grapes, brew vinegar, pick blackberries, catch up on going through my piles of projects, and make a massive kitchen mess without worrying about what to prepare for dinner. It’s a lovely gift and it comes at the perfect time. Yes, I do all these things (and more) while the kids are home, but usually it’s interwoven with afternoon trips to the river, a ride to a store, a meal, help with a project, clearing everyone’s stuff off the kitchen table before dinner, sitting and listening, or just watching the ducks with the kids. I am enjoying this time to be a “controlled environment” homemaker instead of a “real world” homemaker. I know this week is a luxury, and I’m loving every minute.

While I type this, I’m sitting across from a sputtering pressure canner, watching the dial gauge as if my life depends on it (’cause it kinda does–oh hello, Clostridium botulinum, we were just talking about you). I take pressure canning very seriously, and do my best to follow precautions 100%. In the 22 years that I have mommed the heck out of this family, we’ve never had any issues with food-borne illness. I like to be super safe while canning, as well as when I’m cooking meat (which we eat sparingly) or preparing any food for the family.

So, today I pressure canned beans + beets and dehydrated grapes. That doesn’t seem like much, but it also included planting a new row of beans and beets, harvesting the grapes from Merrie’s house, and preparing the harvest to be canned.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to get a load of blackberries harvested to last us until next August! My goal is to preserve 12 quarts with a few extra quarts for blackberry plum jam and blackberry vinegar.

I pressure-canned a few quarts of plain green beans this summer, but I did it out of duty–not love. Who could honestly and truthfully love a limp, peaked green vegetable soaked and bloated in its own juices? In my defense, we had an abundance of fresh green beans, and I had to preserve them in a way that would honor this generous gift from Mother Earth. “Dearie, it’s what you’re supposed to do when you get a bumper crop of green beans.” So I did.

But behind the universe’s back, I secretly canned a few half pints of pickled green beans (also known in the canning world as “dilly beans”). I canned them hoping that they would fill the hole in my heart left by plain canned green beans.

And they did. My heart is now filled to “half an inch from the top” with crisp-tender haricots, little beads of popping mustard seeds, and a swirling snowglobe of dill and garlic.

For the past two months, the tiny jars of dilly beans waited patiently for me on the pantry shelf. Every time I walked by them I said firmly, “Not today, friend. I’ll wait until a very sad or lonely day, and then we will see what joy is bottled up inside.”

Today wasn’t sad or lonely, but still, a bottle was opened. And it brought the brightness and crispness and pure joy that I was hoping for–the happiness that pickled cucumbers promise every season, but really can’t deliver.

There are only 5 half pint jars of pickled dilly beans left. I will eat them very verrrrrry slowly over the next 10 months.

Or they will all disappear tonight.

I make no promises.

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!

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.

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

Our plums surprised us with how quickly they went from looking unripe to being ripe. The tree is loaded.

So far, we’ve figured out that a 50/50 combo of plums and blackberries mixed 1:1 with sugar makes a wonderful jam. We canned about 8 quarts tonight. We probably need to do about that much again to have enough jam for the year and to give away.