Saturday, August 20, 2011

Eating Omily: It's an Ant's World

Woo, just thinking about all the tasty Summer-rific meals and preserving projects that have gone down this week makes me feel as rich and fortunate as the locavore-haters would have you believe I am! But that is so not true. Eating locally and seasonally is about as far from elitism or snobby foodie-ism as you can get. Remember, this is how everyone ate until our food system became huge enough to support sufficient corruption to allow all of us to eat whatever we want whenever we want on the cheap. We in America spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than nearly every other developed nation. The stuff you put into your body every few hours in order to stay alive should be something safe and delicious and healthful, not the cheapest shit they can put in front of you!

Enough extra income to buy more food than you need half the year so as to buy less food than you need the other half is a requirement for realistically putting by a Winter supply of warm weather favourites, but absolutely everyone can afford to buy delicious, local seasonal food from their farmers' market! Start by going once a week and scanning for bargains, using those veggies to supplement what you get at your grocer's. Even if that's all you feel comfortable doing, you're still making a difference, and odds are, you'll be hooked and spending more and more of your food dollar at the Farmer's Market in no time!

But enough of the 60 second lecture. I want to tell you all about canning whole tomatoes! Such delightfully squishy work...It's a messy process, but so rewarding, and pretty simple, too! First you have to blanch your tomatoes in boiling water for thirty seconds to a minute, long enough for the skins to loosen. The tomatoes have to go from the boiling water to an ice-water bath, so you need a ton of ice to do a decent-sized batch: 12 pounds or so of tomatoes at a time will give you enough quarts for it to seem worthwhile, but not so many they can't all fit in the canner at once. A big cooler is perfect for ice-water, since it will keep it icy longer than your sink will, but I use my sink and it gets the job done if I add the ice in stages. Once they've cooled in the ice-water, you use a paring knife to core the tomatoes, and then peel the skins off. Put the prepped tomatoes in a big bowl as you go, or in the sink if you aren't using it for your ice-water bath.
Guesstimate how many quart jars you'll fill (it's roughly 3 pounds of tomatoes per jar, but in my experience, you should round up from there; I had 12 pounds of tomatoes and could barely fit them all in 5 jars). Put two tablespoons of bottled, not fresh, lemon juice in the bottom of each jar, and half a teaspoon of salt if you like. Put the tomatoes into the jars one at a time, squishing them gently with your hand to compress the hollow core, and start to release their juices. The juices should be above the level of the tomatoes as you go. Leave a half-inch of empty space above the juice level, and the juice should be a half-inch above the tomatoes.
Release trapped air, wipe down the rims, screw on the lids fingertip-tight, and place the jars in a simmering canner. When the water in the caner gets to a rapid boil, start the timer for 1 hour and 25 minutes. Put the lid on, turn the head down to medium so the canner stays at a boil, but doesn't boil over, and go do something else. When the timer goes off, take off the lid, turn off the heat, and let the jars sit in the water for five or ten minutes to come off of the boil so they don't spurt at you when you remove them. Let them sit, undisturbed, for 12 hours, to assure the seal has formed properly, check the seal, and put in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
There are my lovely jars! And that's my canner to the right...I'm cooking wild rice for the dinner I mention later on the left burner...

These directions are not specific enough to be followed safely by someone without canning experience. If you've never canned food before, find a book, some youtube tutorials, ask your Grandma, anything to familiarize yourself with the process, and why and how canning the foods renders them safely shelf-stable. Once you have a grasp on the process you should be able to easily fill in the details as you follow this recipe.

On Thursday we had such a nice dinner; I was so impressed with myself I served it in two courses on my fine china! Eggplant puree with organic tortilla chips to start, and then a chilled wild rice salad with diced cucumber and bell pepper, toasted nuts, raisins, and chopped candied ginger. Wild rice salad served cold or at room temperature is perfect picnic food! You can easily fit in all your food groups, and I don't know anybody who doesn't love it. As you pick your (seasonal) ingredients, consider a fruit or veggie with a nice crunch, a sweet ingredient, and something for protein. So in November, I would likely do apples for crunch, cubed roasted winter squash for sweetness, and toasted nuts for protein. Fennel would be lovely, too...I dress spring/summer wild rice salads with lemon juice and olive oil, and I use balsamic vinegar and olive oil on fall and winter salads (This is, sadly, a bit backward since citrus is in season in the Winter and not the Summer; I may need to seriously look into bottling my own lemon juice). The eggplant puree is perfect, easy, cheap party dip! Roast one or two eggplants, cut in half, cut side down, with salt and olive oil, then stir the flesh vigorously into a puree with olive oil, salt, garlic, and herbs. Lemon juice and parsley are nice as they cut through some of the richness of the eggplant.

Breakfast today was fresh home-made salsa on our eggs with whole-wheat mixed-berry pancakes from my frozen berry stash! Mmmmmmm...I know you want in on's not too late; there are still lovely berries at the farmer's market! Don't eat them all!! Freeze half for later laid out in a single layer on baking sheets, then transfer to a freezer container.

Yesterday I had plans for dinner on the upper west side with a friend, so I had to speed through some preserving tasks, all while debating gay marriage and the electability of Ron Paul with my dad on the phone! I chopped chilli peppers into pickling-size pieces and put them in the freezer; I'll pickle those this week I think, and blanched, chilled, and hung up to dry a pound and a quarter of green beans to be thrown into soups and casseroles all Winter long...These were called 'leather britches' in the days when every house was festooned with them this time of year. How charming is that?? (I can't be sure, but I may have just directly quoted inadvertently from Put 'em Up: A Creative Cook's Guide to Home Preservation by, Sherri Brooks Vinton. This is the book I scour religiously in my quest to eat locally in northern Winters; it's definitely a good one to check out.
If they seem shrively and odd, don't worry, that's the point; they are drying.

I had three ears of corn in our CSA share this week, so I put all three into boil, cut the third off the cob, and put it on a sheet pan in a 170-degree oven for several hours to dry; start it when you know you'll be around all day, and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon handle to let steam escape. Dried corn will keep in an air-tight container at room-temperature for six months to a year, and it looks so quaint on your counter.

I am fortunate to have eaten so well; I am doubtlessly blessed with such proximity to a huge Farmer's Market, and enough money to buy food I want, instead of just what I need. To be fair though, I devote hours of my time to preparing these delicious foods so that I'll have them when I need them. It's very much an 'ant vs. grasshopper' mentality, and one that anyone can adopt: I'm spending more on food now, but in the Winter, when I'm leaning heavily on my stash, I'll be spending significantly less, and I'll be working much less, too. Thawing pesto, turning canned tomatoes into salsa or marinara, simmering a pot of soup based on my dried veggies, sauteing pre-blanched asparagus, stirring frozen berries into oatmeal...eating will be a breeze! Instead of outsourcing the cost of that convenience to the planet and ill-paid immigrant workers, I'm paying it myself now in hours in the kitchen. For that very reason, I'll feel even more blessed when I crack open a jar of brandied peaches, or taste hot, sweet corn chowder when the snow flies...Now that's living Omily!


1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Emily! You really are getting to be such a pro in everything you put effort and devotion towards.