How To Can Tomatoes (My Way)

pint jars of canned tomatoes

The clear liquid at the bottom of the jars is juice that separates because the tomatoes are basically raw when canned. Shaking the jars mixes it in (see jar on the upper left).

When it comes to canning tomatoes, I’m a total piker compared to some people I know, never mind our pioneer ancestors.  But I do manage to put away 15 to 20 pint jars by the time the season ends.

The tomatoes within are in two forms: whole with chunks in juice (basically raw when they go in the jar) and Intensely Delicious Roast Tomatoes. Having recently reminded you yet again about the roasted ones, I feel that version has been amply covered.

But I’ve never described my method for plain old canned tomatoes – probably because I wouldn’t make them if I didn’t have to. Between the roasted and the frozen, we have a better preserved tomato ready for any cooked tomato need … except one: stewed tomatoes, winter comfort lunch supreme, which must be made with home canned tomatoes.

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Preserving the Tomato Harvest

harvested tomatoes, sorted by variety

Bill is looking at the Olympics. I’m looking at the tomatoes, deciding which ones to freeze next.

It may seem a bit early to go all harvesty on you, but the first big flush of Hudson Valley tomatoes is usually the best for both quantity and quality, so that’s the one it makes sense to put up.  The season of need will be upon us sooner or later (probably later, the way the weather’s been going lately), no matter how hard that is to imagine when it’s 72 degrees at dawn.

Equally unimaginable: canning – or at least extensive canning. I make an exception for Intensely Delicious Roast Tomatoes, but the bulk of our haul is a big reason I love the freezer.

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Crapaudine Beet (the Lady Toad), a Root to be Reckoned With

crapaudine and mango salad

Salad of Crapaudine beets, endive and mango, with (optional) sweet cicily

As I see it, my unseemly craving for Crapaudine beets can be blamed squarely on heirloom tomatoes, the gateway drug of historic vegetable addiction. Growing these famously delicious “unimproved” varieties isn’t all that easy,  but it’s not difficult, either, and the pleasure payoff is immense.

So you go along with the tomatoes for a while and then you try maybe a special snap bean saved by somebody’s grandmother. Good! Onward to Black Mexican corn, introduced in the  late 19th century, then lettuce that Thomas Jefferson grew…

In other words, you’re hooked, – or at least I was –  easy prey for a weird beet that was already being called “one of the oldest varieties” in 1882 (in Les Plantes Potagères, translated as The Vegetable Garden, by MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, a seedsman whose company was founded in 1742).

Crapaudine beet with greens

Crapaudine beets (lady toad is a rough translation from the French), even look pre-modern, from their fat carrot shape to their rough, barklike skin. The triple top on this one is unusual, but the rest is pretty true to form – including that dancing auxiliary root; Crapaudines often fork somewhere, independent of the stoniness of the soil.

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Triple Ginger Gingerbread – and the paths down which it led

Actually, Triple Ginger was the first stop on a path that started with a yen for old fashioned hot water gingerbread: soft, spicy, homely, simple to make –  the original brownie, if  by “brownie” you mean a rich dark snack cake to eat out of hand. (The chocolate kind is a cake-come-lately compared to gingerbread.)

I don’t make gingerbread very often, and thus felt in need of a reminder recipe. But instead of consulting any of several dozen cookbooks or, of course, the net, I made the mistake of trolling about in my own published works, where I stumbled on

Triple Ginger Gingerbread, whole

Triple Ginger Gingerbread*

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Preparing Ramps: The Raw, The Cooked, and the Recipe for Total Ramp Tart

open faced ramp tart

Total Ramp tart. Similar to quiche, but with with less custard, more ramp (and crisper crust).

Having recently worried around at the ethical questions attendant on promoting wild foods to all and sundry,  I offer this post with mixed emotions.

On the one hand, Have Ramps Will Cook. We are lucky enough to have access to several large patches; the spirit of experiment springs eternal and besides, people have been asking.

On the other hand, providing recipes is – I hope! – an invitation to use those recipes, so there we are with the ethics again, along with  another reservation,

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Building an Outdoor Bread Oven – Part Two

outdoor bread oven

In some ways this is really Part One, because although Bill’s set of instructions for  building your own wood burning oven is  thorough enough, the inspirational ovens of his childhood got only fleeting mention when he wrote it.

Now, thanks to the comments section, the story has its start. A simple query (from a fellow Lithuanian) has summoned those missing memories: of the outdoor brick ovens built by the southern Italians on Bill’s mother’s side, and of his apprenticeship with Willie Orban, his Lithuanian Godfather, who ran “the largest and the best bakery in town.”

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One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and Ultimate Chocolate Toffee Crunch– Easy and Even Easier

Myself, I’m trying a blood orange version of the recent Shaker Lemon and Cherry Pie for Valentines Day, but this being a chocolate drenched holiday, I feel it incumbent to point you toward a couple of never-fail favorites.

Old Faithful, The Little Black Dress of Chocolate Cakes

one-bowl chocolate cake, with filling and frosting

This is the Almond Joy Variation of the chocolate cake. It's also just fine just plain with whipped cream, or with chocolate ice cream and fudge sauce if your dearly loved one is anything like mine.

Heath Bar Cookies, aka Chocolate Toffee Crunch

heath bar cookies/ chocolate toffee crunch

Heath Bar Cookies. All four major food groups: sugar, salt, fat and crunch. With chocolate on top. Most distressing part is how simple and quick it is to make rather a lot of it.

Indecision Pie (Shaker Lemon and Cherry)

Shaker lemon pie with cherries

The lemon is underneath the cherries

This floated into the kitchen because Jan 23 was National Pie Day*, an event that got a surprising amount of  PR, given that every day is pie day in most people’s estimations. It’s probably because good pie is still – compared to say, macarons  – in woefully short supply.

Ok. Deciding to bake a pie was easy. Deciding what kind of pie to bake was not, fresh local fruit also being in short supply in the Northeast just now. We’ve gone through all the frozen berries already; we’re eating too much winter squash to make pumpkin appealing, and while apple might seem obvious, it’s not if you breakfast on baked apples with yogurt pretty much every mortal day of the winter.

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New Year, New Microwave

There’s probably somebody somewhere who refers to them as “microwave ovens,” but I don’t know this person. Instead, I know several persons, all of them very good cooks, many of them with quite spacious kitchens, who refuse to have a microwave in the house. And I’m not talking about the health nuts. I’m talking about people who insist that microwaves are at worst the end of culinary civilization, at best yet more kitchen clutter, good for nothing except reheating coffee and making popcorn.

Well Pooey on that, as stepdaughter Celia used to say. I wouldn’t be without one and I’m not particularly gadget prone. In fact most of my cooking equipment is either


vintage stove, with cook

Bill manning the Strand Universal kitchen stove.

Or primitive

wood fired clay bake oven with stockpot and covered roast

The outdoor clay oven. Beans in the pot, pork roast in the pan, coals banked at the back to boost heat for the first few hours of cooking. The wooden door is lined with flashing to keep it from getting burned.

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Baking King Cake, Reflecting on Recipes

savory king cake

My take on King Cake, seasoned with thyme and marjoram, liberally studded with Gruyere, sprinkled with Parmesan instead of sugar but maybe next year I'll dye the cheese in the classic icing colors: green, yellow and purple

The classic King Cake of carnival season has many variations: coffee cake-ish, briochelike, or based on puff pastry. It may or may not include embellishments like candied fruit, frangipane, and colored icing. It may even be chocolate with coconut. But one thing will be for sure: it’ll be sweet.

Not around here. At this time of year I’m still recovering from the holiday cookie binge, and the idea of more of the same doesn’t hold much of a thrill. Yet I’ve always loved the idea of the thing, so our traditional King Cake is basically cheese studded brioche. Traditional tradition is honored in the ring shape and in the hidden token whose finder is the King.

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