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Preserving Summer

Christiana Langenberg

I was sitting on the couch, enjoying a glass of sun tea and waiting for my favorite slant of light to come streaming through the window in late afternoon.  What I got instead was a steadily darkening sky and dire warnings of torrential rainfall and an impending “wind event.”  Within minutes it was 4:30 p.m. and dark enough that I had to turn lamps on just to continue reading.  Aw gees, I thought.  In two short months, it’s going to actually be dark at 4:30 p.m.  I need to get myself started bottling up some summer so I can enjoy it later in winter.

I’ve always romanticized the notion of “puttin’ up food,” canning homegrown organic fruits and vegetables.  When my children were little they were lucky enough to have an endless supply of their grandfather’s home-canned quart jars of pears, apples, peaches – often all mushed together in the same jar for the sake of efficiency and timesaving.  They called it “Opa fruit” because Opa made it.  It was simply the fruit, peeled and sliced and stuffed into a jar and heated in a hot water bath and sealed.  No sugar, no nothing else.  My dad had many fruit trees and more fruit than he knew what to do with on his 5 acres and we put up literally hundreds of jars of fruit and tomatoes.  It’s funny to look back on the pictures of the children in their bathing suits wading in the kiddie pool full of tomatoes, “washing” the tomatoes for us before we actually washed them and shoved them into jars. It was a lot of work, but always worth it months later and we never got tired of literally eating the fruits of our labor.

I’m at the point in my life where I don’t have (or don’t want to give up) the time-sucking hours it’d take to do the work of canning like we used to do, but I still want the perks.  So I’ve devised ways to make it ridiculously simple. Let’s begin with the swarm of several varieties of tomatoes taking over my kitchen table.  This is one day’s harvest.  It’ll be déjà vu tomorrow.

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Easy Tomato Coulis

I took a wide and random sampling of the Romas, San Marzanos, Big Boy and Pink Brandywine and a small heap of cherry tomatoes and cut em all up.  Drizzled a small amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pasta pot, piled in the tomatoes and let them cook down over medium heat.  It took about 2 hours.

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I’ve learned that if I add salt at the outset, it’s far too concentrated by the end. When they had cooked down to a consistency somewhere between a thick sauce and a paste (default to your desired texture), season simply with salt and pepper, or maybe dried dill weed or thin ribbons of fresh basil? Return to a boil. Then turn off the heat. Immediately scoop the coulis into clean, sanitized (run em through the dishwasher) jars, tighten the lids and put the hot jars on the bottom shelf of the fridge. 

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Yes, I know this’ll make your fridge use a little more energy until the jars cool, but you’ve saved yourself hours of a water bath/canning mess.  The jars seal themselves in 12-24 hrs.  (I got 2.5 pints out of that pot full of fresh tomato chunks.) The next day I take them out of the fridge and put them in the pantry at room temperature for up to a full year (as long as the lids are in fact tightly sealed which you can check by pushing your finger on the center of the metal lid and it should not pop back up.) You can use this coulis as a condiment (move over ketchup) on sandwiches, with roasted potatoes, or smear it on a prepared gluten free pizza dough and pile with your favorite toppings.

Such as what follows:

Arugula Pistachio Pesto

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My arugula is reaching for the sky, as are all the other herbs.  Time to make pesto, folks!  I believe it’s possible to make pesto out of any green or herb and I’m willing to try all variants. If my lawn gets jammed with any more “naturally occurring/organic” dandelion leaves – dandelion pesto will be on the menu soon.

So here’s what I/you do:  wash and dry several fistfuls or bunches of arugula.  Shove em in the food processor fitted with the steel chopping blade.  Add a couple of glugs of good extra virgin olive oil, some nuts (pistachios above) or seeds (pumpkin, roasted sunflower, etc.) and I like to add a squirt of good mustard.  On this day I used honey Dijon, about 1 T.  I also added lemon zest only because I was cleaning out the freezer earlier and found a Tupperware with about 1 T of lemon zest left in it.  Pulse the mixture on/off until you get your desired consistency.  If necessary add a little more olive oil to help everything spin around.

This stuff is great on almost anything.  Use it as a pizza topping, stir a few spoonfuls into plain green yogurt and you have a dip for your favorite Luke’s Organic snacks.  Use it as a topping for your Luke’s multigrain chip nachos.  Plop spoonfuls on top of a freshly baked plain cheese pizza.  Or toss hot, drained gluten free pasta with a few spoonfuls and eat either warm or cold, as a pasta salad.  Flex-o-rama!

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Keeps well in the fridge tightly sealed for 2 weeks.  Also freezes very well.  Lots of people I know freeze pesto in ice cube trays and then pop out the cubes and keep em all in a zip lock for individual thawing and use later.  Like in November.  When it’s rainy or snowy and you need a blast of summer from somewhere other than your furnace.

Enjoy!

CL

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