Canning, pickling and preserving!

I remember being a kid and having to help my mom with canning every summer and fall. Peaches, pears, beans, corn, sometimes pickles, and tomatoes..oh the tomatoes! We’d be hot and sweaty (no central air in those days!) and standing for hours peeling and slicing, boiling and filling, processing and cleaning up! It seemed like it went on for days and days, but I appreciated the reward of the effort, especially in the winter, or when mom made sauce with those tomatoes.

When I got married, I still did tomatoes and occasionally pickles, but once the kids were born I gave it up due to lack of time, energy and sleep! I even gave away loads of canning jars because I was just so done with canning my own stuff! Sure I did strawberry jam each summer, but that was it. No more. Then last year it happened, I saw peaches at the public market and knew I had to save some to eat in January, and then tomatoes and peppers became salsa and before you knew it, I was back into canning and preserving my own food.

Part of the joy of canning and preserving is knowing that you have the best and freshest ingredients, picked hours before you buy it at the public market or farmer’s market. Part of the joy, if you are a recipe junkie like me, is finding recipes to try. Part of the joy is seeing all the beautiful colors in the jars, like jewels in the pantry just waiting for you. And of course, part of the joy is having a taste of summer in the dregs of our long Rochester winters.

Earlier this summer I made strawberry jam. (I always have to hide a half dozen jars as my son would eat it with a spoon!) I also made raspberry jam and a new strawberry/balsamic jam that I monkeyed with by adding some cayenne to (it’s great with goat cheese!). This week began the canning in earnest!

A trip to the Rochester Public Market on Tuesday yielded some beautiful pickling cucumbers. My kids and husband like dill sandwich slices so that is what I started with on Thursday. These were 1-day pickles, brined, rinsed, packed and soaking in pickling juice. DSC00479
Friday found me elbow deep in tomatoes! I don’t can tomatoes for sauce anymore because I can find delicious organic Muir Glen tomatoes for sauces and stews and it’s a lot less work, BUT when I can get fresh Poblano peppers and Vidalia onions, I love to make salsa. I did it for the first time last year and the kids loved when I made cheese quesedillas for lunch and sent in a cup of homemade salsa. It was a quick and easy lunch and the salsa is so much better than anything you can buy in the store. I make it very mild and then add jalepenos when I open a jar for my husband and his friends. DSC00480
Today brought another trip to the market (Can I say I love to go to the Rochester Public Market on Saturday! So many things to see and buy!) and today’s trip scored me peaches, more pickling cukes, blueberries and apples. The cukes are going to wait until Monday to make delicious icicle pickles that an old neighbor shared the recipe for. I haven’t made them in years but they are sweet and crisp and yummy, it’s a taste memory that is making me crave them! They need to soak in salted water for a week and I will be away next weekend so the first change of the brine will be on Monday when I get home. But the peaches were my project for today!
Peaches are one of my least favorite things to can but one of my favorite things to have in the pantry. The whole soaking to peel the skin, the slicing and syrup making to fill the jars. It’s a lot of steps and mess, and I only got 5 quart jars out of a half a bushel of peaches. BUT they are so delicious, much better than any canned product you can buy, so they will be a real treat this winter. DSC00481
It’s been a busy week but very rewarding to see my jeweled jars filling up my counter before being moved to the pantry. (I like to look at them for a few days to enjoy the fruits of my labor… no pun intended.)
It’s been a busy week! DSC00477

And I’m not done yet…. more peaches on Tuesday…. I just found a recipe for peach and habenero pepper jelly! And of course the icicle pickles, and if I can find figs, maybe some fig jam or fig pickles like my friend Tami made..check our her blog!

Eggplant, Tomato, and Chicken Stacks

Last week a friend called asking if we could use some produce.  The frost was coming and they still had plum tomatoes, peppers and eggplants coming on.  Would I ever say no to the freshy freshest of tomatoes? No way!  Many thanks to Elise and her family for the ingredients for this gorgeous bounty!

I began with a fresh tomato sauce.  If you’ve never had fresh sauce, it is so easy to make, and just incredibly delicious.  Begin by cutting the tomatoes.  These were smallish Romas, so I cut them into quarters.  If they are large, then cut them into a nice chunky dice.  Put a few tablespoons of good olive oil in a pan, and chop up 2-3 cloves of garlic and throw it in, saute for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes, and some salt and pepper.  Allow that to cook for about 10 minutes.  Once the tomatoes seem to be breaking down, you can throw in a few tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs like basil and oregano.

While the sauce simmered,  I cooked some Farfalle pasta that I had, and then I pounded a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts until they were about 1/4″ thick overall.  It made the breasts huge, so I was able to cut them into thirds and stretch the portions!  These were simply seasoned with salt and pepper, brushed with a little olive oil and put on the grill.

I also got started grilling the eggplant.  Nothing fancy, just sliced it about 1/4″ thick, brushed it with olive oil and put it on a hot grill for about 4 minutes on each side.  It was nicely browned, a little char on it, but not too much.

Now it was ready to plate!  I layered two slices of eggplant, then a piece of chicken, two more slices of eggplant and then a slice of fresh Buffalo mozzarella.  Top it all off with a nice big ladle full of fresh sauce and some fresh basil!

This was so wonderfully fresh and delicious.  Dinner came together in about 30 minutes and was spectacular.  All three of my children and my husband devoured it!

This is my homage to the bounty of a late summer garden!