Spring is upon us and the summer growing season is nearly here. Green-thumbs or soon-to-be green-thumbs all around the country are starting to buy seeds, clean up their yards, and plot out their summer gardens. Last week we asked our blog readers to share their best homesteading tips and ideas as we prepare for the release of Fulcrum’s newest spring title, Modern Homestead, and in honor of the always welcome change of seasons. (FYI, the Modern Homestead giveaway contest has been extended to April 5th, so comment on our blog with your best homesteading tips to be entered to win a free copy of Renee Wilkinson’s new book!)
It’s been so much fun hearing from our readers that Fulcrum’s special sales manager, Ingrid Estell, became inspired to share her own homesteading tips. Ingrid, an avid gardener and canner in Missoula, Montana, discusses what it’s like being a gardener who hates tomatoes, gives tips on what to do when a cold summer leaves you with 100 pounds of green tomatoes, and shares her wonderful recipe for salsa verde. Yum!
Ingrid: I am a gardener who hates tomatoes. Yes, I hate tomatoes. The plants give my arms and hands a rash if I don’t wear long sleeves and gloves when I’m around them. The ripe fruits are a wonderful color, but disgustingly slimy when cut. The fresh juice, just like the leaves, gives my skin a rash and can make my lips look like a botox treatment gone horribly wrong. So, I am a gardener who hates tomatoes, but I am also a gardener who loves homemade salsa and tomato sauce. Lucky for me, once tomatoes are peeled, diced, cooked, and spiced, they become the food of the gods.
I plant anywhere from 10 to 16 plants a year to feed my salsa and sauce habit: yellow pear for mellow sauce, San Marzano for homemade ketchup, Stupice for an early crop, and Costoluto Genovese and Brandywine for amazing sauce flavor. The yellow pear tomatoes I grow in pots on my deck; the rest I grow at a local community garden plot I’ve had for years. Each plant can easily produce 10 pounds of fruit, sometimes considerably more.
I garden in Montana, and last year’s weather conditions were not the best for tomato ripening but were very good for fruit set. (Fruit set: once a flower is pollinated, it “sets,” or begins to produce the vegetable or fruit that is later eaten. Some plants have both male and female flowers, but only the female flowers produce fruit or vegetables.) The summer stayed cool; only a couple of days reached 90 degrees. Night temperatures hovered between 45 and 50 degrees. So what? you ask. Well, tomatoes are particular about what temperature they like for each part of their growing process. Soil temperature must be between 70 to 90 degrees for seeds to germinate, and plants are happiest if soil remains at 70 to 90 degrees throughout the growing season. Generally, fruit set happens between 59 and 68 degrees air temperature. Fruit ripening happens at 70 to 90 degrees air temperature that holds steady—meaning, no drops in nighttime temperatures. In 2010, the weather conspired with my tomato plants to produce many, many tomatoes, but to ripen very, very few. As cold fall weather approached, I had at least 100 pounds of green tomatoes on the vine.
What to do with 100 pounds of green tomatoes? Well, first, I picked the crop and laid it in a single layer on newspaper in a cool room with just a little light. That old adage of “ripen on the windowsill” will result in rotten tomatoes. Also, when ripening, the tomatoes cannot touch each other—just like toddlers, they spread disease and mayhem to each other. Most of the slightly red tomatoes quickly ripened up and I made them into sauce or ketchup. But many stayed a vibrant, glossy green. So, in the interest of actually using my garden’s produce, I learned to make several canned green tomato products: Piccalilli Relish, Green Tomato Chutney, and Salsa Verde (my favorite).
Here’s the Salsa Verde recipe I used:
Makes six 8-ounce jars or three pint jars. Recipe doubles easily.
7 cups chopped, cored, peeled green tomatoes
5 to 10 seeded and finely chopped jalepeño, habanero, or Scotch Bonnet peppers (for a milder salsa, use milder peppers: Anaheim, yellow wax, etc.)
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup lime juice (bottled works best)
1/2 cup loosely packed, finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare canner, jars, and lids. If you don’t know what this means, please check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.uga.edu/ncfp/how/general/recomm_jars_lids.htm.
2. Peel and core green tomatoes: make a small x in the bottom of each tomato, then drop into rapidly boiling water for 60–90 seconds. Then transfer the flash-boiled tomatoes to a bowl of ice water (or sink filled with ice water). Once they’re cool enough to touch, the skins should peel off easily with a small knife. To core the tomatoes, use a paring knife to cut out the top end (where the tomato was attached to the plant), taking out about 1/2 inch of the core.
3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and lime juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in cilantro, cumin, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (headspace is the distance from the top of the salsa to the top of the jar, the rim). Remove air bubbles (run a knife or small rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to break-up any air bubbles—this is important, as air bubbles can harbor bacteria) and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa. Wipe rim, make sure the rim is absolutely clean before putting the lid on. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process both 8-ounce and pint jars for 20 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.
6. Be sure to label and date your jars of canned goods. In general, home canned products are good for a year.
(Recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose Inc., 2006.)
Salsa Verde is wonderful with chips, on tacos, or mixed into chicken noodle soup! Here’s a quick and delicious pumpkin soup recipe using a pint jar of Salsa Verde:
1 large can pumpkin (32 oz.)
1 quart vegetable broth (or chicken)
1 can black beans (16 oz.)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 pint Salsa Verde
Sour cream, for garnish (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
1. Place pumpkin and vegetable broth in a blender and combine (or whisk together in a stock pot).
2. Pour pumpkin and broth into a medium/large stock pot.
3. Add drained black beans, corn kernels, and Salsa Verde and heat through over medium high heat (5–10 minutes).
4. Ladle soup into bowls and top with sour cream and cilantro, if desired.
5. Serve with warm tortillas or with tortilla chips crushed and sprinkled on the top.