Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Farm; Canning; A Bountiful Harvest

After two years of buying Riverdog Farm's CSA box, on Monday we finally drove out to the farm for a visit. Riverdog is on two sites right now, about five miles away from each other, and about 90 miles from Berkeley. In Guinda, we met up with the guy who runs the CSA program, a recent Cal graduate. He showed us their packing and loading facility — Riverdog runs trucks to the Bay Area daily — including their bedroom-sizes walk-in tomato refrigerator, and then introduced us to the chickens. Afterwards, he helped us pick out a large box of Early Girl tomatoes to take home for canning.

We had brought the camera, but didn't remember to take pictures until we got to the second site, in Brooks, where we went for a picnic. The Farm is open for CSA members to come by anytime; I don't know if we'll make the drive regularly, we did have a lovely picnic spot under a line of old walnut trees.

Tuesday was canning day, and sadly I have no photos to show for it. We canned mostly Early Girl tomatoes, with two jars of Romas mixed in. The jars range from whole to diced, all of them peeled. The general rule of thumb is that you cannot can vegetables without a pressure canner, but tomatoes, really a fruit, are an exception: they are acidic enough.

I followed the recipe from Blue Ribbon Preserves for raw-packed whole tomatoes. Begin heating a water-bath canner, and also bring to a boil another large pot of water. (And if you're smart have a tea kettle sitting by hot, so that you can refill any pot that starts to run low.) Lastly, make a bowl of ice water, and hope that you have more ice in the refrigerator if you are canning a lot.

Wash your tomatoes, remove the greens, and score the bottoms of about six tomatoes with a cross. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water, count to 40, and with a slotted spoon fish out the tomatoes and immediately plunge into the ice water. Putter around a little, and then peel the tomatoes: the skin should come right off. Place the whole skinned tomatoes directly into clean jars, or half or dice first. I fit about six or seven small Early Girls per quart jar, and they were just too big for the pints; I could fit about 12 Romas per quart. Anyway, add 2 Tbsp lemon juice per quart jar or 1 Tbsp per pint. The lemon juice is extremely important and should not be reduced: canning kills most pathogens, but not botulism; botulism though cannot survive in high-acidity environments. Cover the tomatoes with boiling water, leaving 1/2 inch head space, add new clean lids and old clean bands, and process in the water bath canner 45 minutes.

Tomorrow we leave for Oregon; we will be gone a week and a half. As such, today was Harvest Day for our small garden.

The beans in the back have climbed their eight-foot bamboo poles and are falling over. Shelled, this pile yielded a bit over three cups white beans, and we cooked them ten minutes (the Common Bean contains a toxin that breaks down in ten minutes boiling water; in particular, cousins of the Kidney and Cannelini beans should not be eaten raw in quantity), let them cool, and then pureed the soft beans with garlic, rosemary, salt, olive oil, and a little lemon juice. This old standard will make our sandwiches for the drive tomorrow.

Our golden cherry tomato has gone crazy, and is taking over the planter box; we've eaten tubs already, picked three quarts today, and expect a fair amount more when we get back, given the number of green fruits still on the vine — and it's still flowering. The Black Kim tomato is heavy with large green fruit, still very firm, and the Green Zebras should be ripe soon, although I can't really tell when those green guys are ripe. The Purple Cherokee, though, was a dud: it has one flower still, and one little green fruit, and this beauty:

Our friend came over last night and brought four beautiful large summer squash; my boyfriend cooked one of them tonight into a wonderful Ratatouille with a large eggplant, five or six tomatoes, one very large white onion, four cloves of garlic, and a little dried basil. He sautéed the garlic, onions, and basil first in olive oil in the cast iron dutch oven; then he added the sliced vegetables in layers and baked everything at 350°F for an hour. At the table, we garnished the baked veggies with shaved Parmesan. The vegetables release a lot of liquid when baking, so be sure to have a crusty sourdough standing by. We paired the dinner with a very nice Pinot Noir from Red Bicyclette; we have been consistently happy with both the quality and price of their wines.

No comments: