Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Barbecue Sauce to Can

I'm staying busy, trying to get my harvest in while the weather holds for me. Of course, the longer we go without a killing frost, the more I'll have to harvest, even having to go back over some crops again (I'm not complaining!). Luckily, I have lots of my canning recipes already typed so can get another post done quite quickly. Here's another water bath canning recipe for those tomatoes (the vinegar makes it acidic enough for the water bath method). Hope you planted lots! This, of course, is good on meats, but also can be used to turn cooked, drained, white beans into yummy baked beans.

Barbecue Sauce (8 – 9 pints, depending on what kind of tomatoes you use - you don't want to let it get too thick, cook it down to a good saucy consistency)

15 pounds tomatoes, cored and smashed, cooked down to ± 8 pints, then sieved through a wire mesh strainer

Liquefy in blender and add to sieved tomatoes:
2 C chopped onions
3 large garlic cloves
1 C brown sugar
¾ C white sugar
1½ C vinegar
4 T worcheshire sauce
2 T dry mustard
2 T chipotle powder (or other hot pepper powder)
2 T liquid smoke

Cook back down to ± 8 pints. Leave ¼" headspace when filling sterilized jars, process 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.

I've measured and made notches on a wooden spoon handle so I know when I'm getting close to 8 pints in my enameled cooking pot. A full canner load for me is 9 narrow-mouth pints, so most of my recipes are adapted to that amount.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tomato Paste Balls (refrigerator storage)

Today was a busy day - I was up early and off to a Soroptimist District Meeting in Yerington, about 90 minutes drive away. Plus, it was hot out today - I'm tired! Tomorrow, I'm meeting a girlfriend for lunch and wandering about the monstrous Crafts Faire (around 350 vendors) in Genoa for their annual Candy Dance. So this is a quick post of a tomato preservation recipe for those that have paste/Roma-type tomatoes to play with. Tomato paste is nice to have around, but an open can or jar will often mold before I use it all. With this old Italian recipe, the paste is cooked/dried until it can be rolled into little one-tablespoon balls and stored in oil. A quart jarful fits easily in the back of my refrigerator, and usually lasts us a couple of years.

Tomato Paste (3/4 quart jar of 1" balls)
6 quarts paste tomatoes - cored and smashed, then cooked until soft and sieved through a wire mesh strainer (really press out all liquid possible; you can then dry what's left and powder it for a vegie seasoning blend, or the chickens love it)

Liquefy in blender and add to sieved tomatoes (pour through strainer too):
1 T salt
1 celery stalk, with leaves
¾ C chopped onion
1 sweet red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
¾ t pepper

Cook down to a thick paste (I cook it in an open crockpot overnight to eliminate constant stirring or possible burning). It's thick enough when a spoonful doesn't drip off when turned upside down (if too wet, it could mold before it dries). Spread ½" or less thick on glass plates, score into 1½" diamonds, and let dry until paste can be scraped up and rolled into 1" balls (not so dry that it turns into leather, and it's easier if you oil your hands). Layer balls in sterilized wide-mouth quart jar, cover completely with olive oil, and store in the refrigerator. Scoop out balls as needed (each one is approximately one tablespoon), mashing and stirring into hot liquid to thin if necessary, and making sure remaining balls are still covered with oil. Excess oil is good in salad dressings.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Curing Squash & Onions

The harvest continues. When the first onions started to flop over, I pulled the soaker hose off them and bent the rest of them down. After about a week, I dug the plants and set them out in the sun for a day to kill off the roots, then moved them onto screens under the shade of the trees until the tops dried out too. I picked through and brought the thick-necked ones, the damaged ones and the ones that didn't form a nice bulb into the house to use now. The rest need to cure, the longer the better, in a warm airy spot so they'll keep in storage. Onions can be braided, the same as garlic when the stems are still flexible, but I've found the stem often won't hold the weight of the bulb and an onion falls and bruises. They can also be stored in net bags, like I do my shallots, but it's harder to pull out ones that are starting to soften early enough to prevent them from spoiling the others. I prefer storing cured onions in open baskets in the cellar.

The winter squash are ready to harvest when a fingernail can't penetrate the skin (be gentle when testing them this way - if you do puncture one, use it first as it won't keep as long). I cut each off the vine, leaving at least an inch of stem (if the stem breaks off, those will be the first used; and don't carry winter squash by their stems - they're not strong enough to bear the weight). Rolled over and left out in the sun for the rest of the afternoon, the underside dries out and the cut stem starts to callus over. I also remove any bits of blossom still clinging to the end. Winter storage squash, too, need to cure in a warm, airy place - to harden their shells completely before storing for the winter. I load up the mesh wagon, and put the whole bunch into the garage, bringing in a screen-full of onions I want to cure as well (I bunched the onions up to make them easier to move, but then spread them out - they cure best if not crowded). The dark garage warms up during the day, and then holds the heat quite well overnight. After curing, winter squash store best in a cool, but not cold, environment. Into the winter, the cellar will get too cold for squash. A couple of crates on the floor, in the far corner of our bedroom in our wood-stove heated house, works best. Next: time to tackle the grapevine!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roasted Chile Peppers to Freeze or Can

It's the time of year when I try for a delicate balance of harvesting. I want to let everything get as ripe as possible, but also don't want to be out trying to harvest it all some blustery evening as the temperatures plummet (or snow is starting to fall). So I watch the forecasts, keeping in mind my own micro-climate's min/max thermometer readings. So far, the lowest we've had here has been 37 degrees, but the forecasts for the next few nights are back above 40. So, I'm still bringing things in at a pace that allows me to properly put up the harvest for later.

This evening, it was time for one of my favorite harvest rituals - roasting chiles. This year, I only had three chile plants survive sowing and transplanting - I usually try for six. I think the nuclear winter effect of six weeks of smoke-filled skies earlier this summer is why a lot of my plants are behind schedule. None of my big New Mexico chiles have ripened to the red stage where they can be strung into ristras to dry. But I did manage to get a basket full of nice thick green ones to roast, with some more immature ones left on the plants for maybe a bit longer.

Picking chiles at the proper stage for roasting is done mainly by feel. Immature chiles won't be "meaty" enough to have much left after roasting and peeling. Immature ones have a ridge-y thin feel to them, and are often a bit lighter green in color. The perfect chiles have a glossy smooth, heavy feel to them. They might have a bit of reddish-orange color starting to show, but once they're completely red they're better dried. The chiles will snap off the plants at the junction of plant and stem, but I then cut the curving stems close to the fruit so they won't later catch in the grill. I try to pick chiles late in the afternoon, on a beautiful still day. I roast them outside on the deck, so I want a nice evening to enjoy this fall task. Ideally, I have a bottle of white wine chilled in the refrigerator, too.

I fire up the barbecue grill, all three burners on high; get tongs and a paper sack; and pour myself a glass of wine. The idea is to roast the chiles on all sides enough to have the skins darken and start to split apart (wearing eye protection isn't a bad idea), but not so much as to char the insides. Using the tongs, turn the chiles to get all sides; leaning curved ones against the others to roast the outside curve, mashing and flattening them if necessary as they soften and split to allow the inside curves to roast too. I sip my wine, savor the wonderful smell wafting from the grill, look out over the valley as the setting sun lights up the hills beyond, and mentally voice a little toast/prayer of thanks for another year's bounty.

When the chiles are properly roasted on all sides, they're dropped into the waiting paper bag. When all are done, the bag is wrapped around and the chiles sweat and cool. The chiles emit an oily juice that will soak through the bag, so mind where you place the bag, and wash your hands if you get any on them. The bag and all can be put into the refrigerator for a day or so, if there isn't time to peel the chiles immediately. When ready to peel the chiles, WEAR GLOVES (I like latex surgical ones for working with both tomatoes and hot peppers). Rip open the bag, take a chile and peel away the tough skin, scraping gently with a paring knife if necessary. Cut off the cap at the top, and split the chile up one side if it hasn't split already. Slide the knife under the stringy ribs to slice them away, and scrape most of the seeds off the top of the chile. Use the knife to lift the chile, and dunk it in a bowl of water to rinse off remaining seeds and skin bits. I tuck and fold each chile into a flat little square "packet" and put them on a cookie sheet. Important: do NOT touch your eyes or nose - after removing your gloves, wash your hands, under fingernails too, with soap and water - BEFORE using the toilet too! After freezing the chiles on the sheet, I dump them into a freezer bag for later. Aries likes to take one out to make an ortega burger or chicken sandwich; I chop and add some to chili or other Mexican recipes throughout the year, or when I'm ready to can a batch of salsa.

When I really get a bumper crop, I also can some in half-pints. Pack roasted and peeled chiles, whole or chopped, into sterilized jars to ½" headspace, (optional - add ¼ teaspoon non-iodized salt and/or ¼ teaspoon lemon juice to each jar). Do not add any extra water (if canning with added boiling water, leave 1" headspace). Seal and process in a pressure cooker or canner with a couple inches of water; 10 minutes venting steam, then to 10 pounds pressure at sea level, 15 pounds above 1,000 ft (for higher altitudes pressure is increased, not processing time); for 35 minutes at pressure. Let canner cool to zero pressure on its own before opening. As with any canned vegetable, chiles should be boiled 10 minutes before eating, so canned chiles are best used in soups and chili. Be forewarned that canning chiles ups the heat factor too - use discretion when adding to recipes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Carson River and the V&T Railroad

The autumnal equinox, the first day of fall - our nights are getting colder, but today was a beautiful day, not too hot, not too cold. I should do some laundry, and there's work to do in the garden, but Aries and I decide to leave all the household chores for tomorrow, and take the dog out for an outing. We drive a couple miles east, across our Eagle Valley, to the Carson River.

Once past the last of the houses a dirt road takes off along the river on its northeasterly course. The road used to be the route of the Virginia & Truckee (V&T) Railroad, leaving Carson City along the river, eventually leaving the river at Moundhouse and continuing up the hills to Virginia City. The part of the route where we are is the entry to Brunswick Canyon. The rabbitbrush has turned to gold, and a few of the leaves on the cottonwoods lining the river are starting to turn yellow. With the snow mostly gone from the high country, the river is only a small stream meandering through the willows and brush. Some places, it even disappears completely from its rocky bed, sinking beneath the sand.

We find a wide spot to leave the truck, and get out to walk along the road. Lots of others are out, here and there, enjoying the day as well. Unfortunately, many locals use the area to play with their firearms, and a city-owned rifle range is just over the hill, so the sound of gunfire is always with us as we walk. The river reappears, first as a few isolated pools, eventually growing to a flowing stream once more. As the river flows downhill, the old railroad bed continues a gentle uphill climb, so the farther we walk the higher we are above the water.

As the grade climbs away from the river, the road narrows. There are some in the area that want to rebuild the railroad all the way through this canyon. If and when that happens, there won't be enough room for both train track and the current public access, so we could lose this as a recreational area someday. That could be both good and bad - it's a beautiful area, if you can ignore the trash, the graffiti on the rocks, and the shotgun shells littering the road. Aries remarks that if they want to make this a tourist attraction, the canyon will need a big cleanup effort.

After about a mile and a half, we turn around and head back to the truck. Two young men are shooting at something at the base of the foundation of an old mining stamp mill as we walk by. They're quite a ways away, but we keep the dog on tight command, close to us. Before we reach the truck, they drive past us on their way back to town and we wave. Once we get back to the truck, Aries decides to drive the old railroad bed we've just walked and then farther, all the way to Moundhouse where the railroad crossed the Pony Express Trail, now US Hwy 50.

As we drive past the old stamp mill, Aries notices what looks like a wisp of smoke at the base of the foundation. We drive over to check it out - it's been so dry, there's dry grass and brush nearby, the afternoon winds are starting up - a wildfire would be a catastrophe. As we get closer, the wisps get bigger - it is a fire! Aries goes over to see, and hears a hissing sound. The bullets have sparked a fire in some trash, and punctured a propane canister underneath. As Aries pulls the burning trash off the canister, another car of shooters pulls up. I get what's left of our water bottles from the truck, one of the new arrivals donates the rest of his beer, and we put the fire out. Oh, what idiots - now I'm wishing I'd paid more attention to the car that passed us going out. Maybe it would be better to just close this area off!

We leave the new arrivals to their sport, and continue our drive. The road gets rougher and tighter - we have to put the truck in 4-wheel drive to get through one narrow cut blasted through a rock ridge. A couple of places, he maneuvers carefully past washed out areas. I hold onto my seat as my side of the truck leans over towards the river now far below. At Moundhouse the canyon opens up and the river swings east. We turn west onto the highway for the 15-minute drive home. Enough money has been raised to bring the rebuilt railroad track from Virginia City to Moundhouse. Maybe someday, the train will again be the only way to follow the river, and the route we just walked and drove.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Canning Tomato Sauce & Salsa

In these recipes, do not change the ratio of tomatoes (acidic) to the rest of the vegies (non-acidic), and don't forget to add the lemon or lime juice to each jar. That makes these recipes safe to can in a boiling water bath. I use mostly paste tomatoes in these recipes, to cut down on cooking time, but any tomato can be used. I make my sauce thick, using it as-is for pizza, but thin it with red wine or broth when cooking a pasta sauce. I like a smooth sauce (it's more versatile), so put everything through the blender before adding to the sauce for canning. Then, this winter, I'll add a jar of sauce to meat or extra chopped, sauteed vegies when cooking.

I measured how much is in my enameled cooking pot (don't use aluminum or cast iron to cook acidic foods, they will alter the taste - use stainless steel or enameled) by pouring in 2-quart increments of water and then notching the handle of a wooden spoon. That way, I know how far down to cook my tomato puree before adding the rest of the vegies to come up with a 9-pint canner load. T = tablespoon, # = pounds, processing times are for 5,000 ft altitude.

Tomato Sauce (9 – 10 pints)

15 # tomatoes, cored and liquefied in blender, no need to peel
2 C chopped onions
1 C chopped bell pepper
1 C chopped celery
2 T brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T parsley
1 T basil
1 T oregano
1½ T non-iodized salt
½ t pepper

Cook tomatoes down first, then add rest of ingredients for last 30 – 45 minutes. If you want a smoother sauce, put them through the blender first too. Add 1 T lemon juice to each pint. ¼” headspace, 30 minutes, boiling water bath.

Tomato Salsa (8 – 9 pints)
15 # tomatoes (I peel and chop mine, I like pieces of tomato in salsa)
2 C chopped onions
2 C chopped jalapenos or roasted peeled chiles
2 T minced garlic
2 bunches cilantro, chopped
2 T non-iodized salt
2 T sugar

Cook same as tomato sauce, tomatoes first, adding vegies later (for salsa, I leave everything chunky). To change the heat factor of the salsa, use different chiles, not a different amount. Add 1 T lime juice to each pint. ¼” headspace, 30 minutes, boiling water bath.

When I had a bumper crop of nectarines, I used the above recipe to make a wonderful nectarine salsa. Just substitute peeled nectarines or peaches for the tomatoes, and use red onion instead of white. All else stays the same. Yummm!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Canning Whole Tomatoes

Finally, I found enough ripe tomatoes down in the center of my plants, and put up 5 pints whole tomatoes (I also found a few Asian pears that escaped our Spring frosts. If you can grow apples and have room, look into planting an Asian pear tree or two - they're wonderful-tasting fruit, so expensive in the stores, and are easier to harvest and store than regular pears.)

My first paste tomatoes are usually canned as whole tomatoes – I make sauce and other stuff out of the later pickings when the weather gets cooler (I'll put those recipes in later posts). I grow my own heirloom paste tomatoes for processing. I started with a Roma-type years ago and saved the seeds from the biggest, earliest tomatoes each year – I just split them open and gush the jelly and seeds out, spreading it out onto a piece of paper to dry. When dry, I fold the paper up, put it into an envelope, and use those seeds to start my plants next spring. I call them CC Paste.

The acid in tomatoes is what makes ok to preserve them in a boiling water bath instead of having to use a pressure canner. But that acid also burns the skin on my hands. Years ago I bought a box of the thin latex surgical gloves and wear them whenever working with tomatoes (or chiles). If the phone rings or something, I just rinse and dry off my gloved hands to take care of it. When finished for a while, I take the gloves off, turn them back right-side out, blow in them to inflate fingers out, and hang them over the dish drainer to dry. If no holes develop, I can reuse them a couple more times – the third or fourth time, a dusting of talcum powder insidemakes them easy to put on again.

Peeling tomatoes
I drop 6 – 8 into a pot of simmering water for a minute or two, take them out with plastic scissors-type salad tongs (the best tool for the job, I’ve found) and drop into cool water. Then they get moved to a colander set inside a big bowl so they drip dry a bit. I peel and core some as I get the rest of the tomatoes scalded, but want to get the simmering water off the stove as soon as possible (very important in late-summer heat). In the meantime, I also have my big pressure canner full of water and jars heating up too – I just take the rubber sealing ring out of the canner lid and use it that way for a boiling water bath canner and/or jar sterilizer (I’ve heard some people use their dishwasher to sterilize jars – I don’t have one).

Canning whole (or chopped) tomatoes
Peel tomatoes, pack into jars pressing them down tightly to release juice. Some of the newer varieties of tomatoes have been developed with less acid, which could affect canning safety. I don't want to take a chance on having any problems, so I add 2 teaspoons lemon juice per pint. Slide a stainless steel or plastic knife down the sides of the jars to release all air bubbles. Add more tomatoes, juice, or water to a ½” headspace. Process in a boiling water bath, 45 minutes after water begins to boil again. All my recipes are for Carson City altitude at 5,000 ft, so you might have to adjust your processing times to fit your own altitude. Your local Cooperative Extension office can tell you more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The First Leaves Change

As I was coming up our street towards the house yesterday, I noticed that the leaves on one of the Honey Locust trees have started to turn to gold. Our nights are still in the 40's, with days in the high 80's (fifty degree temperature swings are normal, all year 'round in the high desert), but there's a forecast for a low of 39 later this week. It won't be long now before all the leaves start to show their autumn colors. It will be prettiest if we get cold without wet. Some years, below freezing temperatures start with a snowstorm, but some years we get the cold nights along with bright blue-sky days: Indian Summer.

My little shady nook is under a fruitless mulberry tree. Soon, that tree will turn yellow, but the leaves won't drop one-by-one. They'll hang on until one night the temperature will drop just enough, and then all the leaves let loose at once. If that night happens to be still, like last year, the carpet it lays down is a two-dimensional representation of the branches above. Then it's time to clean out beneath the chicken coop and start building the compost pile.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Morning, Morning Glory

Just a quick little post today - got lots of things to do. The shallots are all cured, and hung up in an net stocking (like oranges come in at Christmas time) in the pantry. Of course, I saved about 20 of the nicest biggest ones to plant later on this fall for next year's crop. I've pulled the soaker hose off the onions and bent the rest of the tops down. They'll be ready to dig and set out to cure next. Now's the time of year to start watching the night temperatures, but they're staying the the 40's for now. Cleaning the cellar is still on my list of things to do - once I get that done I can start opening up the door nightly to get it started cooling down. We're eating lots of eggplant and cucumbers, but not many tomatoes yet, and the corn and beans were meager this year. Got a beautiful red seedless grape crop just about ripe (it's growing on the dog run fence, in the background of the picture) - at least I'll have lots of raisins this winter. Switched my home decor over to autumnal colors (my favorites!), and just last night put the flannel sheets on the bed (still sleeping with the windows open, though). All relatives in Texas are ok - they got only rain and wind, no tornados around Bryan (although Mom's winter home in Port Isabell was completely demolished earlier this season). Things can be replaced - everybody stay safe, my thoughts are with you all. Ah well, things to do, people to see - later!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Basil Pesto

I always start a few sweet basil plants in Spring, and plant them out in the tomato and pepper bed. I start picking leaves as soon as possible to use fresh all summer long. But basil is one of the first things nipped once the nighttime temps drop even close to freezing. When that time comes (2-3 weeks yet? maybe?), I'll cut what ever is left and hang to dry. In the meantime, the plants are lush and I just cut a big bunch to make another batch of pesto to freeze for later.

I swish the basil through a couple sinkfuls of cold water, pile it back into the wire harvest basket, take it outside and swing it vigorously 'round and 'round overhead (the country version of a salad spinner), then bring it back in and dump it into the dish drainer to dry completely. Pick just the completely dry leaves from the stems, until you have a 2-cup measure packed tightly full. My recipe is adapted from one published by Ellen Ecker Ogden in her book From the Cook's Garden, where I got the idea to add a bit of lemon juice to the traditional recipe.

Basil Pesto (makes two ½-pint jars)

4 garlic cloves
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for topping off jar)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Starting with just the garlic, then adding the rest, blend everything together in a blender (you can use a food processor - I don't have one - or if you want to really do it the traditional way, use a mortar & pestle to pound everything together), stopping frequently to mash everything down until it churns continuously in an homogeneous paste. Divide between two ½-pint jars, leaving ½" expansion room, smooth the tops, add enough oil to completely cover the pesto, add lids (can reuse clean old ones), and freeze. If you have any left over, make yourself a pesto and tomato sandwich!

All winter long, I thaw out a jar as needed - stirring glops into soups or pasta dishes, spreading on sandwiches or pizza, topping veggies or chicken. Keep a thawed jar refrigerated, and just make sure to re-smooth the top and add more oil to cover as needed. Made now, it will bring a welcome taste of summer brightness to those dark winter nights.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Red Gazpacho

A lot of the garden is behind its usual ripening schedule. I think maybe the weeks of smoke-darkened skies earlier this summer might have set things back a bit. Usually, by this time of year, I've canned a batch of tomato sauce and another of whole tomatoes. But this year, the first of the tomatoes are just now starting to turn red. No matter - if I have to, I'll pick the green ones when the first freeze threatens and ripen them inside for a batch of sauce. But right now, I can finally start lunching on fresh red gazpacho - a liquid salad-soup always served cold. I have a couple of half-gallon canning jars. They're too big to use for canning, but they're perfect for refrigerating this recipe.

Red Gazpacho (makes approx ½ gallon)

3 pounds ripe tomatoes - peeled and seeded*
1 cup fresh tomato juice*
1 green bell pepper - seeded and ribs removed
1 red onion
1 large cucumber - peeled and seeded
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 slice stale bread - crusts removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry
salt, pepper to taste

Working in batches, liquefy everything in a blender. Combine and refrigerate at least one hour. Stir or shake well before serving, in a soup bowl. Optional: garnish with croutons or your choice of diced pepper, cucumber, onion, or cherry tomato (or just add them all!).

*to prep tomatoes: drop into simmering water for just a minute or until peel cracks, and then immediately move to cool water (my go-to implement for doing this: scissors-style salad tongs). When cool enough to handle, peel and squoosh seeds out with your finger into clean bowl. When all tomatoes are processed, pour and press bowl contents through sieve to get the 1 cup fresh juice.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Office/Sewing/Guest Room

The two of us live in quite a small house. Aries added on the master bedroom and a real bathroom/laundry - almost doubling the size of the place, from 800 sq ft to just under 1,300. All plumbing used to be on one wall of the kitchen - a sink, a washing machine hooked up manually to the sink when needed, then a walk-through shower stall to get to the toilet. Now, we have two bedrooms, one bath, one closet in the master bedroom and one in the living/dining room. I've had to be quite creative in my use of space and storage options. The second bedroom is a multi-purpose room. Usually there's a six-foot folding banquet table that just fits across the end of the bed (and will store behind the door) and my sewing machine set up on a fold-out cabinet (machine will store underneath when necessary). The nightstands on either side of the head of the bed are filing cabinets, and the computer and office accessories are in an old rolltop desk. But on the rare occasions when company is coming, everything can be tucked away to make it a guest room. Since the room doesn't often look this way, I just wanted to share a photo. The stuffed doll and two froggies on the bed were Aries' childhood toys made for him by his grandma, the bed and vanity rescued out of an old shed and cleaned up (maybe someday, I'll replace the water-damaged veneer).

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

Before I left to go camping I picked all the okra and zucchini, knowing I'd have more than enough when I returned. And so I did. But I didn't expect the cucumbers to go crazy that week too. I don't can every item every year. I know, from my canning records over time, that for just the two of us, various batches only need to be canned every three to four years. For example, I still have jars of dill, sweet, and bread & butter pickles from the past few years. So this year, it was time to make some sweet pickle relish.

This is my mom's pickle relish recipe, which I've cut in half to make 9 ½-pints (go ahead and double it to suit your family's needs). Nowadays, most cooks would use a food processor to chop the vegetables. But I was lucky enough to find an old food grinder, forgotten in a top cupboard in a rental house long ago, so I make my relish the same way Mom and Grandma did. Cut your cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape with a spoon to remove the seeds before chopping or grinding.

Sweet Pickle Relish (makes approx 9 ½-pints)

Mix together:
2 quarts ground cucumbers
1 cup ground onion
1 cup ground bell pepper (optional)
¼ cup non-iodized salt
Let set 2 hours. Rinse and then drain well (I use a colander lined with a towel, pressing out as much liquid as possible). Start heating your jars and sealing rings in water to cover.

In an enameled pot, mix the cucumber mixture with the following and bring to a boil.
3 cups sugar
1½ cups vinegar
1 teaspoon turmeric
1½ teaspoons celery seed
1½ teaspoons mustard seed

Take the hot jars out of the boiling water and turn off the heat. Fill your jars, leaving ¼" headspace. When you know how many full jars you have, drop enough lids into the hot water, and then make sure the top rims of the jars are clean (I use a dampened folded paper towel, both so that I can turn and refold it for each jar, and so I don't transfer any bacteria from a dishcloth to the jar tops). Seal jars, hand-tight, and put into hot water bath (making sure the hot water covers the tops of the jars by at least 1" - I pour a splash of vinegar into the hot water after all the lids are removed to prevent hard water marks on my pretty jars of preserves). Process 10 minutes after bringing the water back to a low boil. Remove from the water and let set (do NOT touch or tighten the lids) and listen for the wonderful "ping" of a sealing jar.

After the jars are completely cool, I remove the rings for storage and wipe down the jars. If any haven't sealed they're stored in the refrigerator (with rings) and used first. I stick little labels on the lids (so I don't have to deal with removing them from the jars later - Mom just writes the date on the tops with a grease pencil). See my jar lifter, on the left of the above photo? It belonged to my dad's mom. I found it in a kitchen drawer of the old farmhouse before the house was sold, jacked up, and moved. It's a true work of art and a joy to use - easy and secure one-handed operation and immense sentimental value to me.