Cooking in the Florida Heat

Cooking in the Florida Heat
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Putting Up Fresh Vegetables: Tomatoes

Container Garden
We are blessed to have such a long growing season in Florida. I'm still getting tomatoes and hot peppers from my garden, both my container garden and those in the ground! As the cooler air comes through I know that if I'm going to get some fresh veggies put up, I'd better do it now. Along with my homegrown produce, we purchased other vegetables from the local farmer's market as well. So far, I've washed, blanched, stewed, chopped, peeled, chilled in ice water, vacuum packed, pressure canned, water bathed, pickled or frozen: 35 lbs of tomatoes, 15 lbs of zucchini, 15 lbs of okra and 22 lbs of asparagus. My fingers are wrinkled like prunes and I know I looked a little wild there for a few days!

(Hopefully I'll get a chance to post the pickled okra recipe on a separate post.)

Roma Tomatoes
This is truly a labor of love. And, it's not easily accomplished by doing it yourself before the produce goes bad. But get it done, I did. And I found out just how tiny my galley style kitchen really is. This required organization with a capital O. With a little over 11 ft of counter space I had to make every square inch count, sometimes twice.

(I've got an image in my mind of what my kitchen will look like one day, with a built in dehydrator and sous vide cooker. Add to that about 8ft of gas stove, double ovens, a salamander, a baking center, an appliance closet with it's own electric supply inside the butler pantry of my dreams, etc.)

Stewed Tomatoes
Starting on one side of the kitchen I washed the produce in soapy water. Why? Soap suffocates bugs just in case there are any seen or unseen, and it was my good fortune there were none seen! Then a rinse followed by time spent on towels to drip dry. That was followed by trimming or chopping.

On the other side of the kitchen was command central. I started with the tomatoes. I had lightly sliced each end to look like the letter X and then dropped them into boiling water for a minute. Next to that pot was the largest roasting pan I own full of ice water. As soon as I pulled the tomatoes out of the hot water I dropped them into the ice water to chill them. This makes it so easy to peel skins right off. Drop the tomatoes into a large pan and move on to the next batch. I was using Roma tomatoes which are meaty without a lot of liquid or seeds. I chose to chop and stew them in a pot. Once stewed I did a hot pack into boiled jars, set the lids and put them into my pressure canner. That is the one piece of equipment that is not inside my kitchen, thank goodness! (Please see the canning instructions that come with your canning jars for specific canning information.)

Why pressure can tomatoes? Without knowing the acidity level of the tomatoes I was using it's not worth losing my crop or us getting sick by using a water bath method to can them. I also had made several quarts of homemade tomato soup which I pressure canned at the same time.

Homemade Tomato Soup
Oh how I wish I had a friend who lived close by that would have wanted to do this with me! That would have been so much fun! Maybe next time!

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