This is a blog about home canning—or "putting up" as one might say where I'm from—and it will cover jams and other fruit preserves, pickles and briny things, canned vegetables (above all tomatoes) and the complement of condiments that includes relishes, sauces, salsas and those related preparations that result when you chunk bits of seasonal produce and preserve them in a syrup either piquant or sweet.

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Fall Seeds, Spring Gardens

Last night I was on my laptop with the real estate listings open in one window and Google earth open in the other, so that I could zoom in on houses for sale to see if the yards had enough space and sunshine to plant a garden and a little orchard. That's just my nuttiness in action, but it also made me think of a larger idea about the fall season. This is the end of one agricultural cycle, but nature is already preparing for the next because fall is a time of maturing seeds, and seeds inevitably imply spring rebirth. I was reminded yet again that agriculture—as a subset of the larger natural world—is a cycle without end. Virgil wrote in his Second Georgic:

The farmer's labor circles back on him
As the seasons of the year roll back around
To where they were and walk in their own footsteps. 

In my present gardening mood, I want to mention Crimson Carrot, a sweet new website based in the northern Virginia suburbs that focuses on growing, using, and preserving the output of a backyard mini-farm. Whether you just want to plant a few seeds next spring, or if you're ready for chickens, bees, and cheesemaking, Crimson Carrot intends to position itself as your online resource. They have a good book selection, too.

Winter may be nigh, but spring lies beyond its far edge. Start planning your garden soon!



Fall Means Green Tomatoes

The perfectly red-ripe tomato is a touchstone on many levels: a harbinger of the summer season, an exemplar of heirloom quality, a triumph for the backyard gardener. Papa said there’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true, true love and homegrown tomatoes.

So why bother with green tomatoes? One answer is that they, too, are harbingers of a new season—fall. Tomato vines will put on more fruit than the waning sun will ripen. The first freeze abruptly ends the crop in many parts of the country, but even in frost-free Southern California, cooler nights and overcast days mark the end of red tomatoes. In their immaturity, green tomatoes are zingy and firm. They’re good for chutney, pickles and relishes.

And if you're from the South, green tomatoes may also mean chow-chow.

See here for more information about this wonderful catchall relish, including a recipe—with warm thanks to WNYC for the enjoyable interview.


L.A. Urban State Fair this Saturday

Most years around this time, I like to get in the car and drive somewhere to see a county fair, whether in L.A. County or beyond. Part of why I go is to see the rides at night—pretty, sparkly lights and all that—but what I really go for is the blue-ribbon judging. I want to know who grew the biggest tomatoes, and if the local canners are up to snuff.

This year I don't have to get in the car because the county fair is coming to the city.

Farmscape Gardens has teamed up with Sufas to hold LA.'s First Urban State Fair. I'll be there as well, both to judge the produce competition and to give a demo on how to can heirloom tomato sauce. Backyard farmers can enter produce from your own personal farmscape in categories including: Tastiest Tomato, Edible Oddity, and Best in Show.

L.A.'s First Urban State Fair
Surfas in Culver City
8777 W Washington Blvd

Saturday, September 21
9AM     Judging
11AM   Tomato sauce demo

More info here.


Reading at the Public Library, 09.19.2013

I know it may seem like a peculiar idea to go to the library to hear someone read from a cookbook, but then Saving the Season is a peculiar sort of cookbook. Of course it's first and foremost a recipe book—220 recipes between the covers—but Saving the Season also has a lot of narrative content for a cookbook: short essays on the history, chemistry, botany, art, and literature of the seasons, as well as profiles of my favorite preservers, excerpts from poetry and song, and tales from the road when I went chasing the harvest. As blog readers will know, I'm interested in the cuisine and the culture of food preserving across the age. And as I say in the book's Introduction, the recipes are vehicles for the stories. At the public library I'll be sharing the stories.

I'm excited to join the Friends of the Palisades Library and the Palisades Garden Club for a reading at the Palisades Public Library on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 p.m. We'll have a conversation aftewards and I'll sign books. It it's allowed, I'll also bring some jam for folks to sample.

Drop by if you can. More info here.


Quince Means Fall

The quince is an ugly thing; a knobbly old apple-pear, too hard and bitter to eat; a country bumpkin; a coarse relic; perhaps a puzzle to some. 

But here's what you do: rub off the fuzz until the waxy skin shines and exhales an orchard air. Chop the fruit into a large pot and add the cores in a muslin sack. Cover it with water to a shallow depth, and cook for 90 minutes or more until the fruit slumps. Strain off the pectin stock, and reduce it rather slowly with equal parts sugar and generous lemon juice. You will get a beautiful, rose-nostalgia jelly, ABOVE.

Now take the spent fruit, and press it through a seive, then reduce it with equal parts sugar, generous lemon juice, and white spices—dried ginger, coriander, and white peppercorns ground together. Cook it as slowly as you can for hours or even days until it's dense enough to ball. Pour it out hot to form a thick slab, and air-dry for days or even weeks. What you will have is quince cheese—membrillo where Spanish is spoken—and it is the heftiest treasure of fall.


Peach-Passion Fruit Jam

The passion fruit is a sorry little pod, about the size of an egg and wrinkled like a month-old apple. Its appearance is unexpected if you have seen the mother plant's luxuriant foliage or its showy flower that, according to early missionaries to Brazil, recalls the Crucifixion in all its parts. Hence the name, which has nothing to do with worldly passions of the flesh.

But if you didn't know any of that and you lifted a passion fruit to your nose, you could be forgiven for believing that the name derived from its exotic fragrance of mango, tangerine, lime, and naked sun. A dozen passion fruits wouldn't make a snack, since each one has only a spoonful of lentil-sized seeds bathed in a seductively sour juice that stains everything with its scent; handling passion fruit will leave you sniffing your hands in an unseemly way.

To use: scrape the pulp from a small sack of pods. Stir the pulp into a batch of peach jam at the gel set, then cook gently for another two or three minutes until the passion fruit is distributed and the seeds glint like obsidian. Half a cup of pulp is enough to aromatize five or six pounds of yellow peaches. 


Improv Pickles

First, a reassurance: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never recorded a case of food-borne illness caused by fermented vegetables, says Sandor Katz, the master of all things fermented. Homemade fermented pickles are therefore safer than hamburgers, eggs, oysters, spinach, lettuce, chicken, turkey stuffing, cantaloupes, and any number of everyday foods that we'll scarf down without a second thought even though each is considered a vector for dangerous food-borne illness and several in the above list have been implicated in recent large-scale outbreaks causing serious illness and even death.

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