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Archive for August, 2012

Cindy washing lettuce-BLOGIt never occurred to me to have a place to wash my harvest in the garden until I began selling vegetables. Until then, I would bring everything into the kitchen to clean, since I would be preparing it for our table or to preserve it. In 1992 I began selling produce, primarily lettuce, to two local restaurants. It was time to set up a place to wash it outside.

We happened to have a bathtub sitting in the backyard, having replaced it when we remodeled the bathroom. I put it on cement blocks so the top was a workable height. A screen that I made of 2×4’s and ½” hardware cloth fit over the top. Now I could lay things on that screen and hose them off, with the water being caught in the tub and draining into the bucket I put under the drain hole. This water would be returned to the garden. I would line up multiple buckets and keep changing them out as they filled.

Sunfield washing station-BLOGI built a bench out of scrap wood to hold 5-gallon buckets and harvest trays. That and a drinking-water-safe hose was my set-up. When I sold leaf lettuce by the head, packed in boxes, I would hold each head by the bottom and dip it upside down in first one bucket of water, then another. Doing that allowed any dirt or slugs that were in there to fall out. The buckets were food-safe and kept as clean as if I were using them in my kitchen. I put the lettuce heads on the screen over the tub and hosed them off again. They drained there before I packed them into cardboard boxes to take directly to the restaurants. When I had the CSA and later sold at the farmers markets, I sold bagged lettuce. I used three 5-gallon buckets and put only the trimmed leaves in. By the time they had been through three buckets, the leaves were clean and I put them directly into a salad spinner to get out excess water. I bought a 5-gallon salad spinner like the one I saw in the restaurants. That used spinner cost me $100 at a restaurant supply dealer, half of what I saw a new one for at the time in Johnny’s catalog. It made my job easier.

I had acquired some plastic trays that bakeries use to deliver bread to stores. I would pick my harvest into them and take it to the washing station. With things like tomatoes and peppers, I would just set the tray on top of the screen and hose off the produce, turning it with my hand as needed. Then I would take the trays to the porch and set them on the porch swing or arms of the rocking chairs to drain. It was shady on the porch, a good place to sort the produce. A piece of hardware cloth with ¼” spaces was put in the bottom of the tray if it was used for green beans or cherry tomatoes, to keep those things from falling through the holes. The produce was on its way to the customers in a short time or using the porch would have become a problem with the family coming and going.

Washing produce with a hose is wet work. A heavy duty vinyl apron from Nasco and heavy rubber gloves protected me from getting waterlogged and from the chill in the spring and fall. In the summer, an occasional splash from the rinse water was a welcome cool-off. The Nasco catalog said the apron was the kind used in dairies. I used that apron for the whole ten years I sold vegetables.

I’ve come to believe that a washing station in your garden is a good thing to have even if you are only growing for your family. It certainly saves a mess in the kitchen. You may not do all your washing there, but you can certainly do the messiest stuff there. If you are selling vegetables and you use your kitchen for washing, you are putting more stress on you and your family than is necessary, not to mention the mess.

sink and drying trays-BLOGThat old tub that I used as the base of my operation eventually had to be hauled off to the dump. Installed in an add-on bathroom by a former owner who did things on the cheap, it was plastic and covered with styrofoam. Although I wasn’t selling vegetables anymore, I had gotten used to having a washing station and wanted to put together another one. Sometime over the years, I had found a stainless steel free-standing sink at a yard sale. Two years ago I put it in the garden and plumbed it to a hose (drinking- water-safe) from a pipe sticking out the back. That gave me running water without holding a hose! I could still collect the water from the sink in buckets. One of the greatest things about a garden washing station is being able to use the wash water to water the garden.  These days, I’m not washing loads of lettuce, but I am washing and cutting produce for the solar dryers. Some of my best days are when I can pick, wash, and cut the produce and load it in the drying trays, right in the garden. I feel the fresh air and hear the birds singing. The produce never comes in the house until I take it off the dryer trays and put it in the jars. I suppose I could do that in the garden, also, and clean the trays in the garden sink.

My first set-up was on the east side of the garden with morning shade from a nearby maple tree. I was usually done washing in the morning by 10:30am and didn’t begin harvest in the evening until 6:30 pm, when the sun began to be softened by the trees on the other side of the garden. If I used that space during the heat of the day, it was to quickly rinse tomatoes, peppers, or beans before bringing them to the porch.  To provide some protection from the sun in my new space, we recently built a structure out of bamboo. This thing may not last long, although I’m hoping to get at least a year out of it. We had bamboo we had to clear out, so we thought we’d have some fun. It will help us decide how we want a permanent structure when we get around to it. The permanent one will most likely have a tin roof.

Santa Cruz garden washing station-BLOGIn 2001 we visited the gardens at the University of California-Santa Cruz and found this washing station. Having it against a building makes it easier to add a roof. A wall provides a place to hang things, such as colanders, and maybe shelf space. I know of one market gardener who had added a roofed, room-sized area behind her garage for washing and packing. It was open on three sides and it had a door into the garage where she stored the produce in refrigerators. If you are selling produce, be sure to plan a space for sorting and packing and for the packing materials. Taking over the family porch for that, although convenient, is not always the best thing to do.

Anyone out there with a garden washing station you’d like to tell us about?

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tomato juice and soup-BLOG

tomato juice and soup

Almost everyone grows tomatoes and eventually has enough to preserve for later. I’m interested in using the least energy to get my food to the table and have been using my solar dryers as much as possible. Sometimes with tomatoes, however, I have too many for the dryers, the weather is threatening rain, or I just need to get these tomatoes through my kitchen in a hurry.

When the kids were growing up, I used to can a lot of spaghetti sauce. I would add garlic, onions, basil, parsley or celery, and peppers, all from the garden, and cook that sauce down for a couple hours before canning it. I did that on the days with the most tomatoes. On the days with a lesser harvest, I would can tomato juice or tomato soup. The juice would be used as a base for soup. I could use a quart of juice and throw in all sorts of vegetables and leftover meat. Of course, you could also just drink the juice.

Now that I’m drying tomatoes, I use the dried ones for spaghetti sauce and have become spoiled. I no longer have a kettle of tomatoes boiling away in my kitchen on hot summer days. By choice, we don’t have air conditioning in our house and are very aware of anything emitting heat. But still, there are those days when I have to resort to canning tomatoes. When you look up tomatoes in the canning books, they tell you the first step is to dip them in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then in cold water to remove the skins. I have never thought that was a good idea. Talk about heating up the kitchen! You would only want to do that if, for some reason, you needed to have whole tomatoes in your jars. If you are making sauce there is no need to keep them whole.

foley mill-closeup -BLOG

Foley Food Mill

I acquired a Foley Food Mill early on in my canning days to make applesauce with and it works perfect for putting the tomatoes through to remove the skins and seeds. The tomatoes need to be quartered and cooked till soft to go through the Foley mill. You put them in the top, stir it around and the juice comes out the bottom. You need to dump the skins and seeds in a container and fill the hopper again. It is a handy tool to have in your kitchen. Mine hangs from the rack with my pots and pans. In the photo, it is being used on a pan on the stove. That burner is not on, it is just more convenient to use it there because the pot with the tomatoes was still hot.

I use tomato juice to make the tomato soup I can, a favorite for lunch, especially when a friend or one of our grown children stops by. It is all ready to heat and eat. Once the juice is made there is minimal preparation to make the soup, which is then put in the jars and  run through the canner. In the first photo you can see jars of tomato juice and soup on my basement shelves. My recipe is based on one that came from our county cannery back in the mid-1980’s. I’ve posted it on my recipe page here.

Victorio strainer-BLOG

Victoria Strainer

The Foley mill works great, but you have to cook the tomatoes first. That’s hot work, but not as hot as dipping them in boiling water to remove the skins. In 1986 I bought a Victorio Strainer. I see they are still available today, as are any parts you might need. You only need to quarter the tomatoes and put them through raw. I’ve been using it with the small Principe Borghese tomatoes I have and I just wash them and put them through, no cutting needed.  With the Victorio strainer the skins and seeds separate out to a container as you continue to put the tomatoes in. No need to dump anything out in the process, as with the Foley mill. The tomatoes are never heated until the juice is heated to put into the jars or made into soup. That’s our daughter Betsy working on her tomatoes with the Victorio.

But what if you’ve canned enough soup and juice for the year and you still have more tomatoes than you know what to do with? You can put up more juice to be made into spaghetti sauce later. This is where your other dried veggies can be useful. Use your limited solar dryer space to dry okra, zucchini, peppers, onions, parsley, celery, and anything else you might want to put in spaghetti sauce. I didn’t mention garlic because I just store that as it is for the year and have cloves whenever I need them. I didn’t mention basil either. It is a staple in spaghetti sauce, but it doesn’t go through the dryer. I hang it in my kitchen until dry, then store the basil leaves in jars. When you want a thick spaghetti sauce, combine the juice with the dried veggies and herbs, give it all a whirl in the blender and cook it for a short time-maybe simmer for five minutes or so. If you have time, let it set a little longer to let the flavors blend. Your sauce can be ready by the time your pasta is cooked and the table is set.

This is an opportunity to get really creative. You can add different things for different dishes. The okra or zucchini is the secret to getting thick sauce in a hurry. If you don’t add okra or zucchini, you will have to do more cooking, however, cooking down a quart of sauce takes much less time than cooking down a couple gallons of sauce. If you have enough dried tomatoes, you could add some of those, also.

tomato juice-gallon jars-BLOG

tomato juice in gallon jars

Okay, maybe you think all that might be a good idea, but you still just want to can spaghetti sauce. You could juice the tomatoes and put them in the fridge overnight. The solids will separate out from the “tomato water”. You can preserve the “tomato water” to add to soups throughout the year. Use what is left to cook down in a shorter time for sauce. The photo shows two gallon jars with juice from the Foley Food Mill and the Victorio Strainer after they’ve spent the night in the refrigerator. For some reason, the juice settles out with the “water “on top with one method and on the bottom with the other. That relatively clear liquid is what is being boiled away when you cook your sauce down.

Tomatoes can be canned in either a water bath canner or a pressure canner. Since I have a pressure canner, I use that, but when I started canning, all I had was the water bath. Make sure you follow all the safety guidelines whenever you can anything.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource and has the book Complete Guide to Home Canning available as a free download. The print edition can be ordered. The book So Easy to Preserve is available for order from the same website at http://www.homefoodpreservation.com/. That book includes freezing and drying.

I hope I have given you some helpful ideas. Have fun and stay cool!

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