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canning and preserving: tomatoes and salsa

As you might have read, we’re sort of inundated with tomatoes right now. A friend called it an infestation, and she’s not far off.

We planted several different varieties from seedlings we got through Penn’s Corner’s Online Farm Stand. San Marzanos and Romas, plus a few heirlooms like Black Cherry, Garden Peach and Cherokee Purple. 

We’ve never had a really good tomato harvest since we started gardening. Last year late blight got pretty much all of them, so when we wanted to can tomatoes or salsa, we had to buy a case of ripe ones from our CSA. 

This year, the infestation.

The photo above represents a small fraction of what was LEFT after our fourth picking, and a day of canning whole, quartered tomatoes and salsa. So far, we have frozen close to 20 pounds, and made quarts of fresh sauce to freeze. We’e also given away at least 15 pounds, when we had ripe ones that needed a home before they ended up in the compost. And now I write this at a large table full of more tomatoes.

This is what we picked yesterday.

I’ll talk about the giant bag of corn and the big bag of green beans hiding behind it later this week. But ALL those tomatoes came inside and now live on my dining room table.

I didn’t take a ton of photos of the canning process, because I’ve already done larger, more in-depth posts on whole tomato canning and salsa canning. Plus, it was a long day in a hot kitchen on tired legs (after a bad half marathon on Saturday – don’t even get me started, ugh).

And, I was feeling frustrated.

I always like to talk here about how there’s room in your life for some DIY and homesteading activities if you have a full-time job and a city commute, like both of us do. We manage to keep a garden and do some canning and freezing, and it might seem like we’re able to do a lot. But we absolutely can’t do everything we want to do. Not even a fraction. There are just not enough hours in the week. 

And tomatoes don’t stop ripening just to accommodate your marathon training, your 7 hours a week of commuting, or your 45 hours a week of being an office drone. They just keep coming. The relentless, delicious buggers.

Yes, I do envy people who have some arrangement that lets them do major gardening and food harvesting and preserving, whatever that may be. Not because I begrudge them the time, but because it’s one of my passions. I really do love it. The long, hot day in the kitchen on my calloused feet wouldn’t be so hard if I knew I could keep going in the morning instead of getting in my car at 6 a.m. and not returning until at least 5.

It’s not even easy to donate to food pantries when you work full time. I missed the one weekend donation window because of my race, and the daytime drop-offs are during my work day. I have one potential place left that might be able to take some. Fingers crossed. 

It’s such a great satisfaction, filling up that canning cabinet in our basement, with food that grew in our backyard, that we picked out in the sun. I love being able to get “our” tomatoes and salsa through the winter. And I know that in the dead of the winter, I’ll be wistfully remembering the days of the tomato infestation and wanting a good, fresh heirloom tomato. (Maybe.) 

But for now, who wants some tomatoes? 

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garden update: early september

Really, this post should be subtitled “The Tomato Jungle” because that’s pretty much what we have going on right now. It’s kind of a hot mess in our backyard right now.

But let’s start with a few things that aren’t tomatoes. After the great chard harvest of 2014, the plants are rebounding and we’re getting another batch. I hope this lasts into the fall.


It seems like our bell pepper plant is slowing down, but this poblano one? It has exploded with tiny peppers, just recently. Where the heck were all these guys in August?


Storms have collapsed some of our corn stalks, but we were able to salvage the ears of corn from them so really this just looks worse than it is.


Now if I can just get the broken stalks out of there so it stops looking so much like a scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Beans need a final pick, but I haven’t been able to get to them because of this situation.


Those pictures are from two different pickings, within 4 days of each other. Our tomato plants have been heavy with green tomatoes for more than a month, and recently they finally decided to start to ripen. Like gangbusters.

I pick some of them slightly early, as soon as they turn a little bit red, because of this situation.

The plants are so big they are collapsing over their too-small cages (that was our big fail with these things this year) and falling out to where the chickens can reach them. So I try to grab them as soon as they go slightly red, to bring them inside to ripen, outside of the reach of the tomato hungry ladies in the backyard.

Some of the stalks are breaking and dying off, which is probably due to their weight. Not pretty or garden blog worthy, surely, but I can’t complain about how much these plants have produced.

Though seriously, we have to do better with caging and trellising next year. This one is just begging to be set free.

So far, we’ve been freezing tomatoes to keep up with them. I’ll do a post on that at some point, too, but from just a fraction of the tomatoes in that first photo of the on our island, I got 15 pounds of frozen tomatoes, ready for sauce and chili.


I hope to can at least a batch of them this year, if not two, and possibly do some salsa as well, depending on how the peppers look. We’ve done more freezing than canning this year, which is weird, but at the same time, we’ve had less available weekend time due to triathlon and marathon training.

We’ve been able to preserve most of the tomatoes from the garden thus far. I just hope I can keep up as we get the final deluge!

How’s your garden doing? Are you still harvesting or ready for fall? 

canning and preserving: freezing swiss chard

Our garden’s swiss chard has thrived so much this year that it actually got away from us. We eat a lot of vegetables, but two people can only eat so much in a given week. We hadn’t picked any chard in probably three weeks, and in that time the plants got huge, to the point where they were starting to be attacked by pests. 

I decided to harvest it all, in the hopes that we’ll get another round later. But this is what I picked from the 5 or 6 plants we have. (OK, plus the peppers, few tomatoes and bag of green beans.) Knowing that you can obviously buy frozen spinach, I decided to try something new and freeze greens at home.

After I took out some chard to make tacos, this is what was left. I separated the leaves and the stems for ease of chopping. Those are decent sized bowls, too.

And then I chopped and I chopped and I chopped.

While I was chopping, I was bringing a large pot of water to boil. Once it was up to temp, I would take batches of leaves and stems and blanch them for about 3 minutes.

Blanching is a quick dunk in boiling water – you can do it with beans and tomatoes, too. It kills the enzymes that make vegetables decay, so they will stop “going bad” in the freezer and retain their color and flavor. I hear you can buy blanchers that are strainer type things that go inside the pots for ease of removal. That would probably be helpful if you’re blanching greens like I was, because man those stems and leaves were hard to fish out.

Once they were out, they were dunked straight into a bowl of ice cold water, to bring down the temperature and abruptly stop the blanching process.

Then it was time to squeeze. The soggy chard hung out in a colander until I added another batch and then another, and so on.


After all of the chard was blanched, rinsed and cooled, I picked up handfuls at a time and squeezed as much moisture out as possible. Each ball was placed on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, for the freezer. 

After about 4 hours, the balls were solid and frosty.

Just like the peppers, the swiss chard balls went in a Ziploc bag, with the date as well as a reminder that each ball is about a serving.


Now they’ll be ready to defrost and saute when we need them. I’m not sure how well other greens freeze, like collards or kale. But I know that for the recipes and side dishes where we need chard, the frozen balls will be sufficient. 

Theoretically you could remove the stems and only freeze the leaves. I’ve seen recipes for pickled chard stems, but since I’m not interested in pickling every single vegetable on the planet, and because I love the stems of chard just as much as the leaves, I included them. I just chopped off the most fibrous portions from the bottom and threw them in the compost.

What’s going gangbusters in your garden right now? Any preservation plans?


canning and preserving: freezing peppers

This weekend, our backyard harvest was so big that I had to face facts – the peppers were not going to fit in the fridge. So it was time to get to chopping.


I had sweet bell, poblano, hot wax and jalapeno peppers, so I started with the sweet and worked my way up to hot. I cut them into wide pieces – 4 for the larger peppers, and 2 for the small hot peppers.

After pulling out the seeds and pith, I laid them out, skin side up on a cookie sheet with foil.

After a few minutes under the broiler, the skins start to blister and blacken.

I didn’t do a great job of capturing the next step on video because my hands were covered in skins, but once the peppers come out of the oven, you can peel off the blistered skin to reveal the roasted pepper flesh underneath. 

I will note that I did use gloves while cutting the hot wax and jalapeno peppers, though they must have had Scoville units off the charts, because I have major hot pepper fingers today. I’ve had pepper in my eyes before, or on a finger or two, but nothing like this. I am not sure if the peppers being really hot made some of the gloves’ protection break down, but all 10 of my fingers – not just the tips – are suffering. Remember that hot peppers can vary in their strength – it’s not just habaneros that will burn you. 

*Edit* I did some research and apparently capsaicin can burn through latex gloves, which is why I got hot pepper hands. The safer kinds of gloves are nitrile or rubber dish gloves, though thinking of peeling the skins off of pepper pieces wearing rubber dish gloves is just not at all appealing. 

I laid them on another cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it, making sure that they didn’t touch each other, if possible.


Next, the tray goes in the freezer until the pieces are individually frozen. It’s the same technique that you use when you want to freeze berries or tomatoes individually, instead of having them be frozen in one massive block. This allows you to pick out individual peppers when you need them, instead of having to defrost the entire batch at once.

After they were completely frozen, I put them in Ziploc freezer bags, marked with the type of pepper.


Now when I need them, I can take a piece out and basically rinse it under hot water to “wake it back up.”

This is a great way to preserve peppers, since they are now roasted and ready for sandwiches or other recipes that call for roasted peppers. You can do as many or as few as you have, too, so it doesn’t require you to have the right quantity as many canning recipes do.