Iris Clark Neumann: Canning begins as tomato harvest gets underway

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Iris Clark Neumann
Food for the Neighborhood

Tomato season is in full swing. Cherry tomatoes are for snacks; sliced tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil and chopped basil are the star for a quick salad.

We've pitted sweet, meaty, yellow tomatoes with black Krims for taste tests. I liked the heritage green and purplish Krims, my husband preferred the yellow ones.

In a perfect world, tomatoes are uniformly round, while being crack and blemish free. But in the sphere of the home gardener, not many tomatoes are perfect.

Some get sun scalded, heritage tomatoes have folds and creases. If not picked soon enough, bugs attack or a spot begins to spoil.

One does not need to throw away imperfect tomatoes. Catch them soon enough and the spot can be sliced away. Be sure to pick before over ripe. Imperfect tomatoes can be cooked into a fresh or canned tomato sauce.

Although many canning recipes call for meaty plum type tomatoes, any sort of slicing tomato — red, yellow or dark Krims, can be cooked together into a sauce. With less meaty tomatoes, some of the juice and seeds can be discarded to create a thicker sauce quicker.

I wash and drain the tomatoes I'm saucing, then cut away the core and any spoilage, before cutting them into wedges and cooking them together in a sauce pan. Leave the skins on. After they soften, force the pulp through a sieve to remove the skins and seeds. If a thick sauce is desired, one can reheat the sieved tomatoes to a boil, then lower to a simmer until reduced to the desired consistency.

So this can take awhile . . . and I lost track of the time. I simmered a tomato marinara today. Suppertime arrived, so I put the sauce on the back burner (literally) and created some hamburger spaghetti with some of the sauce on the front burners.

Then, I decided I was too tired to finish the canning process and eventually put the cooled sauce away in the fridge. This is now tomorrow morning's project.

During the cooking process I took breaks and went outside for watering plants or picking blackberries. The tomato smell followed me outdoors; it was sort of like catching whiffs of the neighbor's grilled dinner.

From a week ago tomato project, I found a salsa recipe having a special flavor, which may become my new standard salsa recipe.

I found the original in my “Ball Blue Book, Guide to Preserving” book. The recipe for Fiesta Salsa intrigued me because it included chopped cucumber and fresh marjoram. But I needed to adjust the recipe to reflect the peppers I had available and because of personal preference, switched out the fresh cilantro for fresh oregano.

I kept the proportions of added peppers, onion and garlic, which is important for creating a safe boiling water bath product. Although I've considered purchasing a pressure canner, I haven't yet, so I needed to keep the acidity low enough.

The one thing I may change when I make my next batch is adding a few more jalapeno peppers. I'm pretty sure I didn't put the entire one-half cup as listed in the recipe. I might even keep some of the seeds to give the salsa a little more zip. However, the one I made was hot enough for me!

My husband's reaction was that the salsa had a sweetish taste. But there was no added sugar, so perhaps the special taste was due to the cucumbers or marjoram. Instead of having lemon juice, commonly used in tomato canning to keep the acidity, cider vinegar and lime juice were used.

Although the original recipe had green onions, I substituted a combination of green onion tops from my perennial garden onions and chopped yellow onions.

Because cooked salsa recipes require peeled, chopped tomatoes, many times I peel and chop the tomatoes as a separate project the day before or earlier in the day.

So what was for supper tonight?

One of my grandkid’s favorite choices for supper at grandma's house is spaghetti. It is always an easy meal to make with a pound of browned ground beef, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and a pan of cooked spaghetti noodles. Don't forget the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

I browned the ground beef, then stirred in quarter-inch thick zucchini and a small sliced onion, while the noodles cooked in boiling water.

Then I stirred in a few cups of the basil tomato sauce simmering on the back burner.

Fiesta Salsa

Adapted from Ball Blue Book

7 cups peeled, chopped, seeded and cored tomatoes

2 cups chopped, seeded, peeled cucumbers

2 cups chopped and seeded green or banana peppers

1 cup sliced green onion (or combination of chopped yellow onions and green onion tops)

1/2 cup chopped jalapeno peppers (or less, if milder is preferred)

2 to 3 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves

3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram

1 teaspoon canning salt

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons lime juice

Drop tomatoes into boiling water, a few at a time, for 30 to 60 seconds or until skin begins to split. Cool in a sink of cold water. Core, slip off skins, then chop into small pieces, removing excess juice and seeds while chopping.

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Ladle into hot pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Cover with sterilized two-piece covers. Process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and cool for on rack or wood cutting board for 24 hours. Check to be sure lid has indented before storing away. Recipe makes about four pints.

Hamburger Spaghetti with Zucchini

1 pound lean ground beef

Salt and pepper

2 cups small zucchinis, sliced 1/4-inch thick

1/4 cup thinly sliced onion

3 to 4 cups prepared tomato pasta sauce

Fresh basil

Cooked spaghetti pasta

Grated Parmesan cheese

Brown ground beef in a large fry pan, sprinkling with salt while cooking. Pour off any excess fat. Add sliced zucchini and onion near end of browning process, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, continue cooking for a few more minutes. Stir in tomato pasta sauce and heat. Add a sprinkle of shredded fresh basil. Don't overcook zucchini, it should only be tender crisp.

Spoon sauce over cooked pasta; sprinkle with grated Parmesan.