What a lucky girl am I

Lovely tree a mystery no more.

We have a lovely, but unruly, perennial garden that meanders through the middle of our backyard. Our neighbours have told us it was the residents twice removed who planted it. They must have spent a fortune. The family from whom we purchased the house did not share the same enthusiasm for gardening.
The garden had an unkempt air when we arrived. And, in the three years we have lived there, I have been trying, in fits and starts, to identify and enforce some measure of control over the plants.
The first full gardening season, I let it do its own thing. I wanted to see what came up before digging, dividing, planting and replanting. Last year, I was preoccupied with the vegetable gardening and training for our Kilimanjaro summit. This spring, we did a little bit of pruning to the wide variety of shrubs and flowering trees. This summer, I have noticed a few of my favourite plants are being crowded out my more aggressive flowers. This fall, I am determined to get it organized.
One tree I find particularly lovely, with its twined trunks and white blossoms in the spring, I could not identify. I called it a flowering birch because its bark resembles that of a young birch, until someone pointed out birches don’t have thorns. She suggested it might be a hawthorn.
This summer, I noticed fruit developing on the tree. This weekend, I saw they had grown into small yellow and red ovals that have the appearance, inside and out, of plums. A quick consult on the Internet confirmed this tree is a wild plum.

Wild plums.

I can’t be sure why it bore fruit this year (and not the last three), but it may have something to do with pollination. Perhaps a neighbour has planted a plum tree or my young chokecherry is doing the job.
I plan to treat the plum tree with lime-sulphur and horticultural oil early next spring along with the pear and apple trees to discourage pests and apply some compost to encourage more fruit. Maybe I will harvest enough to make some plum butter.


Oven-dried tomatoes

Just out of the oven.

When it comes to preserving, these little babies have a lot going for ‘em: they require minimal effort from the cook, are better tasting than store-bought, have a long shelf life and are easy to store.
The only downside is the time. Depending on the size and water content of your tomatoes, this could take anywhere from eight to 24 hours
Here’s how you make ‘em:
Take some plum tomatoes. Core, cut in half and place, cut side up, on a baking tray. Sprinkle with a little sea salt if you like.
Place in a 200 Fahrenheit oven. Bake until dried. Tomatoes will be deep red, wrinkly and dry, but still pliable. Check your tomatoes regularly. Some may be ready before others.
Cool. Store at room temperature in a tightly sealed container. I’ve had them last as long as 10 months.
Use for any recipe calling for sun-dried tomatoes — and some that don’t.

Piquante sauce

This is a must-make condiment at our house.
I found the recipe on the Bernardin website when I first began canning seven years ago and made it as a way to use up an abundance of tomatoes. (Oh, how I wish I had that problem this year.)
We were hooked. It’s great with eggs, meatloaf or chicken. We put it on fajitas or quesadillas instead of salsa and use it as a dip. We ate the few spoonfuls left after canning this year’s batch scooped up with some Parmesan and garlic flavoured Triscuit thin crisps.
It’s well worth the effort required to peel, seed and chop 2.25 kg of plum tomatoes.
The final flavour depends largely on the peppers. I usually add jalapenos from my garden, which can vary in heat from year to year. If I see appealing not-too-hot peppers in the market, I buy them. Depending on the heat of the hot peppers, I sometimes chop and add them to the mix rather than piercing, tasting and removing.
I always keep the total amount of fresh peppers the same. Tried and true canning recipes work because of the balance of acidic (tomatoes, vinegar) and non-acidic (peppers, onions) ingredients. Changing that balance could mean the end result is not safe for canning.
This year’s double batch featured the last half or so of a green pepper from another recipe, two poblanos (large, dark green peppers with a little heat), four jalapenos and enough chopped red shepherd peppers to make up the difference.
Note, the Bernardin website features a new recipe that includes red pepper flakes, coriander and cumin, omits the dried pepper and paprika and features malt vinegar instead of white I’m sticking with the original here.

Piquante sauce.

Piquante sauce
Recipe from Bernardin, bernardin.ca

2.25 kg (5 lb) peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped tomatoes
4 mild green chilies, finely chopped
2 to 6 hot chilies, fresh or dried
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) chopped onion
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) chopped green pepper
250 mL (1 cup) chopped red pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (5 -1/2 oz/156 mL) tomato paste
250 mL (1 cup) white vinegar
45 mL (3 tbsp) sugar
15 mL (1 tbsp) pickling salt
10 mL (2 tsp) paprika

Note 1: The easiest way to peel tomatoes is to score the bottoms with a sharp knife then drop a few at a time into a pot of boiling water. When the skin starts to peel back at the scoring, remove from pot and submerge in an ice water bath for a few seconds. The skin will peel off easily.
Note 2: Don’t put the discarded seeds in your compost or you will end up with hundreds of tiny tomato plants in your garden. (Trust me, I know this from experience.)

Pierce hot chilies with a toothpick.
Place all ingredients into large saucepan, mix well. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, 1-1/2 hours or until desired consistency is reached. Taste occasionally and remove hot chilies when sauce reaches desired heat.
Remove hot, sterilized jars from canner and ladle sauce into jars to within 1 cm (1/2 inch) of rim (head space). Process for 20 minutes.
Makes about 7 250 mL jars.

When you find Romas…

Washed and waiting: Just a few of the Romas from a 60-lb box I brought home on the weekend.

“How much does one of those weigh?” I asked, gesturing to a 1-1/9 bushel box of Roma tomatoes under the $20 sign at Joe’s Market.
“Fifty pounds, maybe a little more,” came the reply. “Do you want some help getting one to your car?”
“Yes, please.”
The tomato gods were smiling on me once again — field-fresh Ontario tomatoes and a weekend of cool weather to transform them into whatever my heart desired.
When I got home, I solicited David’s help to lug the box from the back of my car to the kitchen. “Feels like more than 50 pounds,” he opined, heading to the basement for the scale.  Yep, over 60. I had a busy weekend ahead of me.

First up: Tomato sandwiches
Usually I would turn to beefsteaks but the biggest of these Romas were just begging to be made into sandwiches. (Plus, I needed the nourishment before tackling the tougher jobs.) No recipe required here, but my favourite version features lightly toasted light rye with a skim coat of mayo, thickly cut ripe tomatoes, salt and pepper. Take it up a notch with sliced avocado, havarti or bacon.

Next: Piquante sauce

Blight? Shite!

San Marzano plant, post pruning.

I have no one to blame but myself — although I can’t help but be a little annoyed at the grower where I bought the tiny Tim plant I am convinced started it all. But it was me who nearly ignored the problem, just cutting off the infected branches earlier this summer and hoping for the best.
The end result is my tomatoes plants — 12 San Marzano, two mule team, one Moira, one brown berry, one Thai pink egg and that one treacherous tiny Tim — were infected by what I think is either early blight or septoria leaf spot. Last week, I pulled out the worst infected ones — Tim and the Thai pink egg — and disposed of them in a yard waste bag. I did manage to harvest a dozen or so lovely fruit from the latter.
The rest received a severe pruning to remove the infected leaves. The result is not pretty, but I am hoping for a small harvest. I have 10 to 15 healthy tomatoes at varying degrees of ripeness on each of the San Marzano plants and am not realistically expecting anymore.

Thai pink egg tomatoes

This is a mere fraction of the dozens I usually harvest per paste tomato plant and puts a crimp in my preserving plans.

Corn season

We’re in the throes of corn season here in Southern Ontario.
For the past five weekends, one or both of us has stopped either at the corn stand at the corner or the market down the road for a dozen local ears.
The best corn, as any farmer would tell you, is picked, cooked and eaten within hours (or minutes if you’re within running distance of the field).
We usually consume ours within a day of picking and hours of buying. We bring it home, remove the silk (a rather finicky process) and soak the cobs, husks and all, in a big pot of cold water.
We grill the whole lot (plus whatever else might be on the dinner menu) on our Weber Ranch Grill. The resulting flavour is smoky sweet. We (and any guests) can easily eat two or three cobs apiece for dinner.

The Weber Ranch Grill offers .71 square metres (1,104 square inches) of grilling space. Plenty of room for a dozen corn, marinated chicken thighs and zucchini fresh from the garden.

I cut the leftovers off the cobs, freeze in single layer on a baking sheet and pack into freezer bags. It’s perfect for my charred corn and sausage chowder, a favourite quick weekday supper during the winter.

The weekend before last, I decided to branch out and use half of our regular dozen to make some corn relish. My brother-in-law was raving about the store-bought variety at a recent barbecue and my first goal of preserving is to make a better, healthier version of the products my family loves and uses all the time.

I adapted the recipe only slightly from the original from The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard.
The original recipe calls for fresh cilantro to be added last minute. But since all mine has gone to seed and I prefer coriander (seeds of the cilantro plant) anyway, I substituted the dried for the fresh as indicated below. I also used shepherd rather than red bell pepper because I find the flavour more intense.
I ended up with six 250 mL (1 cup) jars, although the recipe says it makes 1,125 mL (4-1/2 cups). I may have been a little generous is my measurement of the corn.
First taste deems this a winner — although it is a little drier than I anticipated, more like a corn salsa than a corn relish. I expect, like most pickles, the flavour will improve over time.

Fresh ingredients. I love Joe’s Market in Bradford for fresh, local (and reasonably priced!) produce.

Fiesta Corn Relish
5-6 large ears fresh corn
1 hot yellow pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
375 mL (1-1/2) cups cider vinegar
80 mL (3/4) cup sugar
125 mL (1/2 cup) chopped red onion
125 mL (1/2 cup) chopped red shepherd pepper
80 mL (1/3 cup) chopped green onions
5 mL (1 tsp) ground cumin
5 mL (1 tsp) coriander
5 ml (1 tsp) pickling salt
2 mL (1/2 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

The final product.

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add corn, cover and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and cool until easy to handle. With a sharp knife cut kernels from cob and measure 1 L (4 cups) into a large stainless steel or enamel pan.
2. Add hot pepper, garlic, vinegar, sugar, onion, red pepper, green onions, cumin, coriander, salt and black pepper to saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
3. Remove hot jars from canner and ladle relish into jars to within 1 cm (1/2 inch) of rim (head space). Process 15 minutes for 250 mL and 500 mL jars.