Category Archives: Preserving and Canning

Strawberry Picking and Green Strawberry Pickles

Strawberry Picking

Last weekend we celebrated Papa Bird’s birthday with a fun family day at Suzie’s Farm. They held their annual “Strawberry Jam” last Saturday and we all had so much fun, picking strawberries and eating yummy food. Little Bird loved apple picking as a tot and felt right at home with the plants and chickens.

strawberry picking

We started off picking organic strawberries. Every plant was filled with the most perfectly beautiful, sweet and flavorful berries. (At home, Little Bird tends to pick all of our strawberries while they are still green and small.) I did get some temporary hives from stinging nettles, but they went away.

strawberry picking

Next I sampled strawberry chutney, drank a strawberry and basil kombucha, and made green strawberry pickles with Austin from the San Diego Fermenter’s Club. Little Bird loves them. They are mild, slightly crunchy and have a hint of strawberry flavor. You can find the recipe for Green Strawberry Pickles here.

green strawberry pickles

Green Strawberry Pickles Recipe

After all that hard work, I was ready for a grass fed burger made with strawberry jam, and a beet and quinoa salad from Green Truck. The cold and windy weather discouraged our plans for eating ice cream from our friends’ Calexico Creamery, but we took home a pint of (what else?) Fresa and a pint of Mexican Cocoa. Little Bird and I hid out from the wind in a teepee and she gathered twigs and sticks to build a play fire.

organic strawberry jam

Check back tomorrow and I will share the best recipe for strawberry jam! It has hardly any sugar in it and no pectin. The only other ingredient is a lemon…

–> Update: Strawberry Jam now posted HERE.

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I finally got around to processing our extra tomatoes this weekend. Out of 5 pounds of heirlooms and Roma’s, I made tomato sauce with garlic, based on Alice Water’s recipe. But my absolute favorite alchemy is what happens to cherry tomatoes when they are slow roasted in the oven. If you like the taste of sun-dried tomatoes, but could do without the leathery texture, then you will love these oven roasted cherry tomatoes. And you will be surprised how easy they are!

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I love having the taste of summer throughout the year, and nothing speaks to the sunshine and vitamins of summer as well as these easy tomatoes. Try using them in place of sun-dried tomatoes in recipes, such as this Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Pesto.

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes Recipe

  • Cherry, Grape or small Roma Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Rinse tomatoes and cut in half. Spread, cut side up, on a silicone mat or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Drizzle, lightly with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Roast in a 225°F oven for 2-3 hours or until somewhat dried, but still a little juicy. Let cool.

Enjoy as is or pack into a clean jar, cover with more olive oil, and can or freeze. If freezing, leave a little space at the top. Tip: as awesome as garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs are with tomatoes, DO NOT put them in your jars. They contain moisture and will make it mold more quickly.

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

 Click on any picture in the gallery below to expand and see the steps.

Cajeta Recipe: Step by Step with Pictures

Before living on the Bird Family Farm in a quiet part of San Diego, I lived in the neighborhood of North Park. Well, my side of the street was North Park, but across the street was City Heights. Also across the street was a small, family run Mexican market. They had fresh tortillas and Mexican canned goods, cheeses and candies. I love caramel, and was buying these round candies labeled “cajeta” for a while before I figured out that the picture of a goat on them probably meant that it was made with goat milk. It was too late to be grossed out as I was already a fan. The slight tang from the “goatiness” balances out the sugary sweetness better than cow’s milk can.

Fast forward to this spring and with my first surplus of goat milk from our co-op I knew I wanted to try making some form of goat milk caramel. I found a recipe for Rick Bayless’ cajeta caramel sauce and haven’t turned back. I’ve been a fan of Rick Bayless ever since I saw his show on PBS. If you are not familiar with him, he is a white American guy who makes Mexican food look authentic and delicious. I remember that in the first show I saw he was featuring a recipe called Chiles en Nogada and I was dying to try it. (I’ve since had it here in San Diego and in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.)

Pronounced “ka-HAY-ta,” cajeta is traditionally made from goat milk and sugar, slowly reduced and caramelized. Think of dulce de leche meets sweetened condensed milk. It is often served as a syrup over pancakes and cakes or stirred into coffee. I like to add a vanilla bean to the recipe. Not only are the black flecks beautiful, it adds an almost custardy taste to the cajeta.

This is NOT a “quick and easy” recipe. Plan on the cooking taking an hour and a half. You do not need to stir constantly until the very end, but during most of the cooking you do need to stir periodically, scraping the bottom and the sides with a heat proof spatula. The only tricky part is feeling confident on when to stop cooking it. But no worries there! It’s just a matter of preference. Reduced less time it will be more syrupy, and cooked longer it will be thicker, almost pudding like when chilled.

Cajeta Recipe: Step by Step with Pictures

Recipe adapted minimally from Rick Bayless’ Cajeta  •  Makes about 3-4 cups

  • 2 quarts goat’s milk or a combination of goat’s milk and cow’s milk—or even with all cow’s milk (use whole milk in all cases)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 of a cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1.  Simmer the cajeta.   In a large (6- to 8-quart) pot, combine the milk, sugar and cinnamon stick and set over medium heat.  Stir regularly until the milk comes to a simmer (all the sugar should have dissolved by this point). Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the dissolved baking soda—it’ll foam up if the goat’s milk is acidic. When the bubbles subside, return the pot to the heat.

Adjust the heat to maintain the mixture at a brisk simmer (too high and the mixture will boil over; too low and the cooking time will seem interminable). Cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns pale golden, more or less one hour.

Now, begin stirring frequently as the mixture colors to caramel-brown and thickens to the consistency of maple syrup (you’ll notice the bubbles becoming larger and glassier).  Stir regularly so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Test a couple of drops on a cold plate: When cool, the cajeta should be the consistency of a medium-thick caramel sauce.  If the cooled cajeta is thicker (almost like caramel candy), stir in a tablespoon or so of water and remove from the heat; if too runny, keep cooking.

2.  Finish the cajeta.   Pour the cajeta through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl or a wide-mouth storage jar.  (Or simply fish out the vanilla pod and cinnamon.) When cool, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.  Warming the cajeta before serving makes it extra delicious.

Notes:

Cajeta keeps for a month or more in the refrigerator.  Keep it tightly covered to keep it from absorbing other flavors. I have also frozen it, although for only a month, and the defrosted cajeta was just as good.

Alice Water’s Simple Tomato Sauce with Meatballs

Ever since a friend posted a picture of canning this tomato sauce recipe by Alice Waters, I’ve been wanting to try it. The owner of the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Waters is well known for pioneering California cuisine and championing organic and local food. I begged my friend to share the recipe and once she finally did I was shocked at how simple it was. (I also thought it kind of reminded me of this simple tomato sauce I threw together the other day.)

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My sister and her fiance were visiting from Portland. She teaches science and shared that she had recently been reading an article on why homegrown Heirloom tomatoes taste so much better than commercially produced, genetically modified and supermarket sold “tomatoes.” According to the article in Scientific American, “a tomato’s flavor depends not only on the balance of sugars and acids within the fruit, but also on subtle aromatic compounds.” These compounds are called “volatiles”, are largely lacking in supermarket tomatoes, and the rarest of which make for the tastiest of tomatoes.  –We always knew we were on to something, right?

In a sauce this simple, the freshness and quality of the ingredients really shine. We served it with our favorite meatball recipe, hearty penne pasta and freshly grated parmesan.

Step by Step Tomato Prep

Cut or obtain 2 pounds of tomatoes. I had been wanting to try out our new kitchen scale.

20120906-215109.jpgEscali Arti 15 Pound, 7 Kilogram Digital Scale

It’s cute, huh? It is the size of an iPad and also comes in fun colors, like purple. It has a hold function, but it was quick and easy to put another (identical) empty bowl on the scale and zero it out.

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Although the recipe calls for 2 pounds, I happened to have 2 pounds and 5 ounces and just rolled with it.

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I washed and scored the tomatoes. Please see this post for step by step directions on how to easily peel tomatoes.

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Simple Tomato Sauce Recipe by Alice Waters

Peel, seed and dice 2lbs of ripe tomatoes. Save the juice, strain out the seeds, and add the juice to the diced tomatoes.

Peel 5 large garlic cloves. Smash them and chop coarse. Put a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and when hot, pour in 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil. Add the garlic and when it starts to sizzle, immediately add the tomatoes and their juice with a large pinch of salt.

Cook at a simmer for 15 minutes. For a smooth sauce, pass through a food mill.

Variations: Add a handful of chopped parsley, marjoram, or oregano or a chiffonade of basil leaves to the sauce a couple of minutes before it is done. Saute 1 small diced onion in the oil before adding garlic. Add a whole dried chile or a pinch of dried chile flakes for spice.

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I used just the tomatoes, garlic and basil. I was going to use the pepper from our garden but I really wanted to test out the basic sauce. It’s surprisingly flavorful! I did end up sautéing the pepper with zucchini and onions from the garden. We served the veggies, sauce and fresh parmesan over hearty penne with meatballs made by Papa Bird.

Tomato Time: Putting Up for the Winter

It’s August in San Diego and my favorite time of year! I haven’t been to the beach as much as I would like, but our garden’s tomatoes are ready. To be honest, I can’t even buy them in the store any more. The taste just doesn’t compare.

This winter I decided not to purchase any out of season tomatoes  from the store. Even “organic” tomatoes grown out of season are probably grown in Mexico, using precious water and resources to the detriment of the surrounding ecosystem. That sounds preachy so I should confess, it helped that I had our own heirlooms and cherries frozen and ready to go. We ran out a few months ago and I’ve been looking forward to preserving some more.

The tomatoes are great this year and baby LOVES them. She has a hard time eating the skin, so we peel or cut that away, otherwise she loves eating them baby led weaning style, a.k.a. as finger food.

Ok, funny story. I actually preserved my favorite batch of tomatoes last September, after my water broke and before I woke my husband to go to the hospital. True nesting. (You can read more of the story in this post.) Hey, I’m glad I did. It would never have happened once we came home. And having chopped heirlooms in pre-measured amounts of 2 cups made adding them to dishes super easy.

This weekend we finally had more than we can eat so I set about preserving. My mom got me a steam canner for my birthday, but I’m still a little intimidated (maybe that will be a future experiment and post.) She also gave me a book by Ball, as in the jars, on canning. It was weird, but the book actually said that freezing food was better than canning.

Here is my first, of hopefully many, step by step guides with pictures!

Freezing Tomatoes

1. Pick your tomatoes when they are ripe, just how you would like to eat them. (Or find some at a farmer’s market.)

2. Give them a quick rinse. (I might have skipped this step.)

3. Put a pot on the stove filled with water and bring to a boil.

4. Get a large bowl ready filled with ice water.

5. So that they will be easy to peel, score each tomato by making an “X” with a paring knife in the skin.

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6. Drop the tomato into the boiling water for a minute or two.

7. Transfer the tomato immediately into the ice bath for a couple minutes and then take out. The peel should be starting to fall off.

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8. When they are cool enough to handle, peel the tomatoes by hand and roughly chop. (I don’t chop them too small because they tend to shrink a little through the freezing and defrosting.)

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9. I like to measure them into 2 cup amounts. I put them in zip lock sandwich bags and then put the sandwich bags into a freezer bag.

10. Lay flat in the freezer.

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I would love to get away from plastic next time. Any suggestions?

I also made a super yummy cherry tomato confit last summer.  Our cherries haven’t been growing so much this year, but if they do and we get enough, I will definitely share that here, too. That one was also a repeater!