Winter came early to Montana this year. The first flakes started coming down at home September 28, while we were sailing in Canada’s Gulf Islands. By the time I got home a month later, more snow and single-digit mornings were just days away.
It made for some interesting fall garden cleanup and canning. We managed to dig the last of this year’s carrots and beets and stuff next year’s garlic before the pre-Halloween storm, but we had to wait until last weekend to do the final round of canning with apples, tomatoes, and tomatillos. Call it impressive or call it procrastination: We sealed up 85 jars of goodness on Sunday. Read on for more about multibatch canning and boxing vegetables on the cusp of winter.
Every year, I can jams, pickles, and other foods throughout the growing season. But there’s always one daylong canning session just before I pack away my water-bath kettle. This year, that session happened to be November 3, when daylight savings time ended. It’s a significant change in Montana, shifting sunset to just after 5 pm. But But midweek temperatures weren’t conducive evenings running our outdoor canning operation; 2 days earlier, we hit a low of 5°F, and a few days before that saw us at −5°F.
Our big canning day always yields Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa and Grilled Tomatillo Salsa. This year, the two of us processed 75 pounds of tomatoes and 30 pounds of tomatillos; just for fun, we turned 30 pounds of apples into applesauce. How do we make this happen? The first stage takes place throughout the summer:
- Harvest throughout the season, as the produce ripens in the garden.
- Grill the tomatoes and tomatillos, along with peppers, onions, and garlic, as soon as they’re harvested, separating the juice and solids.
- Freeze the just-grilled solids for salsas and the separated juices for Bloody Marys and margaritas.
The second stage takes place on canning day:
- Defrost the frozen produce.
- Mix it all in a large stockpot.
- Process it in batches in a boiling water bath.
Because this process precooks the vegetables and drains off the excess juice, these asada salsas don’t need to spend hours on a stovetop. Because they don’t set like jams, you can mix up as many batches as your kettle will hold in one go. Once the water bath is bubbling away and your canning station is set up, it’s easy to process batch after batch after batch. Pint jars of these salsas and the applesauce even have the same processing time, so you can roll right from one recipe to the next instead of processing a half-full kettle of jars.
Our trees produced far more apples this year than I needed to turn into sauce, and as I mentioned earlier, we had a last harvest of beets and carrots to stash away. Rather than process all of these in a canner, I spent the downtime between canning batches dry storing another 30 pounds of apples and 20 pounds of beets and carrots. Here’s how:
- Apples were high-graded for the choicest specimens; any bruised or damaged ones went into the Victorio strainer. I wrapped the best of the best in small squares of unprinted newspaper and stacked them in a couple of layers in a large, flat cardboard box. The box now sits on a bench in the mudroom, where it’s easy to reach in an grab a snack apple before walking out the door.
- Carrots were sorted based on size and quality; we turned the smallest into Glazed Carrots for dinner. For the largest, I cut off all but about an inch of the feathery greens. Then I buried them in layers in a container of sand.
- Beets take the same treatment as carrots and can be buried in the same container to make the most of limited space. I’ve tried numerous vessels over the years, but my current favorite is an old, cracked cooler. It doesn’t matter that ice would melt out the corners or that the lid no longer fits straight; it easily protects winter storage vegetables—and slides under a mudroom shelf .
So if you add up the canning and storage, that’s 185 pounds of homegrown produce put up for winter in one day. Yes, plenty of additional hours had been invested in growing, harvesting, and prepping. But by the evening, we were happily sipping Grilled Tomato Bloody Marys—and still speaking to each other.
Twice as Tasty
Now that our shelves are full of homegrown and home-canned foods, we’re ready to enjoy them. This month, I’ll share some of the meals I prepare with stored vegetables and other warming winter drinks and dishes. Next week, I’ll add to the obsessively orange recipe collection and crack into some pumpkins, using them in easy weeknight and special evening pastas. I’ll also share a couple of nonalcoholic hot beverages that can be whipped up on a cold day or even served at a holiday meal. On Thanksgiving Day, I’ll give you two easy root veg recipes that you could even add to the day’s feast. Stay warm!
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