Sep 012016

processing tomatoesHave you noticed a lack of canning posts this year?  If not, I sure have.  I have also noticed the lack of variety in our home canned items in the pantry, the abundance of empty jars sitting around, and the amount of other items left over from past canning seasons.

The jam and jelly making marathon 3 years ago meant we are still eating blackberry jam, tomato marmalade, and apple jelly syrup (the jelly did not set).  Thanks to the Farm Market Swap last year, we do have some variety in the house.

Due to the demands of life right now, spending hours canning produce and taking care of a large garden were things I had to admit I could not do this year.  What I did do were the basics, things we would really have missed if they were not present.  These are also things that happen to make my life easier.  Namely – cherry tomatoes, a few regular tomato plants, pearl onions for stews this winter, pizza sauce, and crushed tomatoes.  If there is anything else we really need, like spaghetti sauce, I can easily order a few jars online if I really did not want to go to the store.  At this point, it is worth it for me to accept that option.

The blackberry bushes and strawberry beds are at a point where not a lot of attention is needed.  This is a nice stage, as I can reap the fruits of my labor without spending a lot of labor doing so.  What I was not going to do with these fruits, was to make jams. (see paragraph above)  Instead we ate them fresh as they came on and I did not feel guilty about it one bit.

In mid summer, I was presented with the opportunity to can tomatoes.  My garden had not started to produce enough, but a local farmer/gardener had grown some in a greenhouse and theirs were ready.  As it turns out, they were a bit green still, but I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  I knew that if I did not take advantage of this opportunity at this moment, there would be no canning done during the normal growing season.

tomato canning goals 2016

I sat down, making a list of my pantry desires.  As it turns out, we really do not eat a quart of beets a week.  At this rate I can safely say it is more like a quart every 3 weeks.  Not looking to make that mistake again, I added in the desired, realistic amount.

First up, diced tomatoes.  I had not canned these before, only crushed, but hoped diced would be just as easy and a nicer texture in some of our meals this winter.  After all, the diced tomatoes at the grocery store came out looking so nice this past winter. diced tomatoes collage

Um, yeah, I am not the grocery store.  🙂 They will taste the same, but not exactly like I hoped they would look.  Perhaps if the tomatoes had been more mature it would have worked out better.

We like the taste of roasted tomatoes in the new tomato soup recipe we have been using.  Made it the other day with candy onions and the taste was even better.  Thought it was so good I would try it with pizza sauce.  It changes the first steps a bit, though that is not too hard of a change.

Using‘s recipe I adjusted the steps to incorporate roasting the tomatoes.  Before placing the tomatoes on the pans to roast (make sure you line it well with foil or else you will be getting new pans out of this process), I squeezed out all the extra juice I could.  This was collected in bowls and pans for use later if needed.

roasted tomatoes collage

Since roasting takes at least an hour, after many batches the house was smelling very yummy.

Using the roasted tomatoes, I proceeded with the recipe, adding back in any extra liquid needed.  As it turned out, I added back in most of what I had squeezed out.  The roasting process had removed a fair amount from the tomatoes themselves, so there really was less liquid than when I started the whole process.

Without the need to cook down the recipe, I was able to greatly reduce the amount of stove top cooking time.  It sort of made up for the late night I had finishing up the last batch roasting in the oven.

pizza sauce collage

In the images above, I got a bit zealous filling the jars.  The jar in the top right corner is too full.  If I tried to place this in the pressure canner, it would never seal.  Removing a table spoon or two (lower left photo above) put it exactly where it needed to be.  A quick wiping of the jar lid and it was ready to go.

What I have not shown you is the canning of crushed tomatoes.  I was tempted to can up more pizza sauce.  However, at the end of the late night of roasting, I nixed that idea and moved on to crushed tomatoes.

Right now though, I think I will go use some of the above pizza sauce and make lunch.  That sounds really good today.


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May 272016

2016 Garden Update

Garden perennials are my friend. They get planted once, then come back over and over if treated right.  A great return on investment in my book.

There are now several various perennials in my garden, both flowers and fruits.  The flowers were somewhat unplanned, a rush planting when I happened to find them unexpectedly and they needed planting right then.  What could have been disastrous turned out to actually be the right call on my part.  There are a few that I wish I had put elsewhere, but those can be easily moved later in the year.

Last week a friend gave me two starts of Rhubarb.  Yippee, another perennial! This will be a long-term relationship as it will take several years before I can reap the rewards. Till then they will have a home in one of the garden beds.

After taking a year off in the plant starting area, I set out to start my tomato plants for the year.  While they sprouted, they did not grow much at all.  Perhaps it was the lack of putting them under a florescent light?  Either way, I knew I was going to have to look elsewhere for plants.  My neighbor had several extras so I went that route.  There are now 10 cherry plants (of two varieties), 3 yellow tomato plants, and 3 red ‘regular’ tomato plants.  So far so good.  I mixed up where they were planted a bit to see if my success at cherry tomatoes last year had to do with the type of plant or the location.

Over a month ago I picked up a bag of onion sets, planning to put them in the ground when I had a few free moments.  It is a bit too late at this time, but I hope to get at least a few from the bag of 100.  These are used a lot in our beef stew recipe.  I found they are available in the winter months at the store, in the form of pearl onion, though they are almost $4 a bag.  By spending about $2 and a bit of time now, I can have many more of these frozen in the freezer for future use.

Radishes were a spring crop that I harvested but did not plant.  Last year I had spread seeds in the gaps in the strawberry bed, leaving some to go to seed.  I would like to say it was a planned experiment, but like most things last year it was a “perfectly imperfect garden”.  This year I had radishes in the strawberry bed, as well as in the yard.  I gathered up the seed pods, saving them for this fall.  Several were opened, the seeds spread in a different bed this time.  I will let you know what happens.

strawberry patch collage

Three or four years ago I took two smaller raised beds and converted them to a strawberry patch. It was a learning curve for me, but now things seem to be doing well.  The strawberries came back strong this year.  While I have only gotten a picture of one day’s harvest, we have had several bowls of these the past two weeks.  I think part of the success was a mild winter.  They did not have to be covered and uncovered like they would have if it had been as cold as it was two winters ago.  They are already sending out runners, all of which are being directed towards one side of the bed.  If I can start getting that side established then I will be able to take out the old plants in 1/4 of the bed each year starting in Year 4.  This is a great way to keep the bed renewed and producing.

The blackberry plants began blooming this week.  I did a bad job keeping up with their trimming last summer and am paying for it this year.  The one group is too large and will cause me problems soon.  Later this summer I will trim them like they should have been in order to have upright canes.  Something I did do right last year as to lay canes over in order to create new plants for this year.  While I should have a nice small-ish crop this year, I am looking at having a much larger crop next spring.  All we can do is learn and grow, literally.

As for my goal of using up the canned goods I already have, I made 6 batches of cornbread muffins earlier this week.  It resulted in almost 9 dozen, most going to the freezer.  There are very few things left, namely – pickled beets, about 6 jars of crushed tomatoes, green tomato pie filling (destined for muffins), various jams and 2 more quarts of corn.  There are also a few quarts of  applesauce to be used up in the next month or so.  I had not realized exactly how much I had canned and how many jar I had till this past year.  I did no canning last year and yet we still have food in the basement.

Sep 262013


After seeing the recipe for tomato marmalade I saw began searching the same website for other unique tomato recipes.  That is how I came across the recipe for tomato jam.

Since only a few tomatoes were called for I thought it might be easier to skin the tomatoes by hand.  I’m not sure it was, but it meant a bit fewer dishes to wash.





After skinning, chopping and cooking the tomatoes broke down pretty well.  It reminded me a lot of crushed tomatoes up to this point.  After this step, though, it definitely took a different direction.  

It is hard to tell from the photos, but lemon juice, grated lemon rind, ground spices and pectin are added to the tomatoes.  To me this is what made this recipe easier than the marmalade – ground spices versus whole spices in a bag.



I realized after measuring out the tomatoes and sugar the mixture came to over 50% sugar.  Not exactly a food for it you are on a diet or trying to cut out refined sugars.



Bring to a boil and skim off the froth.



The jam was starting to set as I was ladling it into the jars.  You can see in the picture below that there are still chunks of tomatoes in the jam.  This is what makes it a jam.  The clear liquid is a mixture of tomato juice and all the sugar you saw above.




My first batch set really well, which is great because I put those into jelly jars for gifts at Christmas.  The second set, in the pint jars, didn’t set.  It may have had to do with the size of the jar or with the canner taking longer to come to a boil.  I’m not exactly sure.  Either way, the jam in the pint jars is for our home use and will taste the same whether it set or not.

This was also a great recipe to use when I had just a few tomatoes sitting around needing something done with them.  It took less time than the marmalade, was simpler to put together as it used lemon juice and ground spices rather than slices and a spice bag.  In the future I would make this if I had a few tomatoes and limited time.  The marmalade is nice if I have more time and am looking to give some gifts.

Sep 252013


Tomato marmalade was something I wanted to make from the first time I saw the recipe.  It definitely qualified as a “new recipe”.  I love trying new things.  In canning it seems like there isn’t much out there that I would qualify as unusual.  So not only was this a “new recipe”, but also something “unique and out of the ordinary”.  Now it was even more appealing.  This was a great recipe to make with just a few tomatoes, which I happened to have after the last of the major canning was done.


Since this was a marmalade recipe, and the first time I was trying to make it, I decided to get the scale out and make it according to the weights called for in the recipe.  This was a great purchase many years ago.  I may not use it often, but over the years it has been worth it.  I think this came from an auction or yard sale, so I didn’t have to pay full price for it.  If you have read this blog for any length of time you will know that I try not to pay full price if I can help it.


The recipe called for the lemons and oranges to be sliced thin.  Not exactly specific.  The first few slices ended up too thin and actually not full circles.  As I was trying to make them perfect, yeah the p-word again, I cut them a bit thicker.  Having now done this I see that it was more important to get them thin than round.  It worked out okay.  Next time I just won’t stress about it.


Another think I will do differently next time is to cut them in smaller pieces than quarters.  I think the peels ended up being too long in the marmalade.






Tomatoes and sugar were placed in a pan and stirred until the sugar dissolved.


Once the tomatoes were cooked for a few minutes the lemons and oranges were added.  The spice bag was also supposed to be added, though I forgot this the first time and had to empty all the jars and cook it a bit more.

With all the ingredients and the spice bag in the pan, it is left to cook for about 50 minutes.


The jars are so pretty with the finished product in them.  I really like the resulting flavor.  It may not be your typical marmalade, but is definitely full of flavor and great on toast.

Sep 052013


food mill pizza sauce tomato 2
more 25 lb boxes of tomatoes


The end is in sight!!  The last several boxes  of tomatoes were to be used for pizza sauce.  By this point several of the tomatoes were starting to go bad.  In the end I had about a box of tomatoes that I no longer felt good about using.  They were added to the compost pile.

The remaining 80 or so pounds were processed and cooked down to make pizza sauce.  This day actually lasted over two days.  The first day was used to do all but the final cooking and canning of the tomatoes.  Instead the sauce was put into a large pot on the stove and left overnight.  The next morning I walked into the kitchen, added the spices and turned the stove on.  Breakfast was made, school bus met and jars filled.  I actually had to leave to go to a meeting at this point so I place a thick towel over the jars and put boiling water into the pressure canner.  When I came back the jars were still warm and the pressure canner had been warmed up and was ready to get started.  Not the ideal of situations, but life happens.

These 80 lbs of tomatoes made 25 pints of pizza sauce, enough for pizza every other week this year.  If given the chance, I would love to make more of this.  Yes, it takes just as long a making spaghetti sauce.  The difference is that we really like this sauce much more than that from the store.


  1. When you open a jar to use when making pizza, if you find the sauce needs to be thicker then pour it through a fine mesh sieve.  This also works if you are using spaghetti sauce and want it thicker.
  2. You can use any spaghetti sauce for pizza sauce, just thicken it up a bit.
  3. Clean up the night before and set out what you may need for the morning.  This makes the day start faster and allows you to utilize long cooking times while getting ready or doing other household chores.

Do you have a favorite pizza sauce you like to use?




Sep 042013


Here is a better picture showing what you want to see if you are making sauce or juice.  The thicker stuff on the left is very similar to applesauce; very good for sauces.  On the right is more like water; good for juice.

If you are looking to make juice, by the way, this is NOT the way to go about it.  Please don’t let the above description lead you astray.  Look here for directions on making tomato juice.

Seeing as this was my third day of canning, I decided to take some time out at the beginning of the day to give the kids some attention.  Here is the result:

DSCN8400  A police castle.  It even comes equipped with a garage and a ramp.  Impressed, aren’t you!?

I also took time in the afternoon this day to go pick blackberries.  In about an hours time I had two gallons picked.  I placed these in the fridge till I had room on the counter to puree them.  In a few weeks, or months, I will defrost the puree and make jam.

black berries 2

The processing steps this day were the same as yesterday.  I won’t bore you with more descriptions and pictures.  Look at yesterday’s post and pretend the tomatoes are red.  See, wasn’t that easy?

TIP – if you are looking to clean a food mill like the one above and are at a loss as to how to clean the screen, use a tooth brush.  I try to get off as much of the thick pasty tomato goodness as I can with a scraper, adding the results to the pan cooking on the stove.  Next I take the screen and clean it under a stream of water with a (non-used) toothbrush.  The firmer the bristle the better they work.  Make sure you alternate between cleaning the inside and the outside.  I find the toothbrush is good for getting in the crevices and the holes.

Do you have any tips you would like to share?

Sep 032013


After turning 100 lbs of yellow tomatoes into 31 quarts of crushed tomatoes the first day of canning, it was time for some spaghetti sauce.  Since I still had 100 lbs of yellow tomatoes that were great for sauces, I decided to use them before the red tomatoes.  I had never made spaghetti sauce with yellow tomatoes before, so I made sure with the family before doing so.  It was met with no resistance, which surprised me.

DSCN8403I have found the above set up to be optimal for me, in the house and kitchen I currently have.  Our dinning room and kitchen are not one big room, the counters in the kitchen have limited handover space and we have no island there to use.  This makes the dinning room table perfect.  It also allows kids to feel a part of the canning process and I can see them in two of the main rooms.  I can also hear them throughout the first floor, which means they are not able to get into (as much) trouble.

The kids are even able to “help” by adding tomatoes into the funnel that feeds the food mill.  They love to see them go in, disappear, and come out the strainer to slide down into the dish.  They can also “help” by pushing down the skins and seeds that come out the end.DSCN8404

I tried to get a picture of how thick the results from these tomatoes.  Turns out to have been harder than I thought, though I’ll try to explain.  The first year I made spaghetti sauce I used whatever tomatoes I could find.  I had heard that there were different tomatoes for different end results – juice, sauce, etc.  The difference just wasn’t appreciated until I had to cook down the tomato sauce.  It took forever.  It also turns out that my food mill is tougher to use when the tomatoes are too juicy.  There just isn’t the material to push it all through.  It was so bad I actually thought about never, ever trying it again.

The second year I used more appropriate tomatoes with a much happier result.  Why did I try it again?  I figured if others had been doing this for generations, surely I could figure it out.  Whereas the first year the juice ran down like water, the second year it came out like apple sauce.  That is the texture you are looking for.

This year I tried a few more steps to reduce the amount of liquid I had to cook off.  After cutting the tomatoes into quarters, or halve, I squeezed out the juice and seeds.  Then after putting the tomatoes through the food mill, I strained the sauce through a fine mesh sieve.  The liquid was saved and canned.  The strained material was cooked down more to make spaghetti sauce.  This reduced my cooking time from about 3 hours to 1 hour.



The above was only one of two canner load of sauce made that day.  So about 100 lbs of tomatoes resulted in 12 jars of sauce.  Every year there come a point when making sauce that I begin to question exactly why I am doing this.

“Isn’t is easier and cheaper just to wait for a sale and get spaghetti for $1 per jar?  I could even buy ‘organic’ sauce for cheaper than this.  I just want to go to bed ….”

Then I remember.

  • I can name all the ingredients that went into these jars.
  • I can tell you where they came from.
  • I really do enjoy doing this.

The next morning comes and I get to see the beautiful jars on the counter.  Winter come and I open a jar from the basement knowing that these were not grown in another country and processed in a plant.  The following Spring comes and I again look forward to the days of canning more spaghetti sauce.

What a cycle this is.

Feb 152013

Here are some ebooks that are currently $0.00 on Amazon.  Click on the links below each picture to be taken to the page where you can download a digital version of the book.  Before purchasing the books, please double check the price to make sure it has not changed.

If you do not own a Kindle it is still possible to read these on your computer.  Go here to download the free application that will allow you to do the same.

Patio and Kitchen Herb Gardens: A Beginner’s Guide to 21 Herbs You Can Grow at Home

The Ultimate Guide To Raised Beds

Grow your own food

Tomato Container Gardening: 7 Easy Steps To Healthy Harvests from Small Spaces

Blueberries in Your Backyard: How to Grow America’s Hottest Antioxidant Fruit for Food, Health, and Extra Money (25-page Booklet)

A Beginners Guide To Urban Gardening

Container Gardening Designs & Woodworking Plans – Volume 1 – Ideas for Organic Gardening & Urban Gardening

Outdoor Project Job Costs

Kitchen Organization Made Easy: Creative Kitchen Storage and Pantry Storage Solutions

How To Organize Your Kitchen The Fast And Easy Way: A simple system that will tidy and de-clutter your kitchen fast

Top 10 Ice Cream Cake Recipes: How To Make Easy Homemade Ice Cream Cakes

Decadent Dessert Smoothies: Simply Delicious Smoothies (Decadent Dessert Series)

Crepes – the “all-you-need-to-know” complete guide to making crepes

Savvy Spring Entertaining (Savvy Entertaining)

Savvy Summer Entertaining (Savvy Entertaining)

Savvy Holiday Entertaining

A Skillet, a Spatula, and a Dream

On a more serious note:

Cry into the Wind

Prisoner Without A Crime

Listen for the Donkey Bells

The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))

Escape from Communism

And to put a little fun in your day:

Pixel Perfect Puzzles

Pixel Perfect Puzzles (A Free Game for Kindle)

Paul’s Letter to Philemon: Bible Trivia Quiz & Study Guide (BibleEye Bible Trivia Quizzes & Study Guides)

Sep 052012


If any of you saw the weather this past week, or even now, you will know that there was a little rainstorm down south.  This rain storm then proceeded to leave it’s impact on the rest of the country in the form of rain.  Lots of rain.

I was gone this past weekend on a weekend family vacation.  (We are doing a lot of weekends away rather than a long vacation this year.)  It did not rain on us at all until the last night.  By then we were all asleep and only knew about it from the puddles outside.  However, at my house a few hours south of where we were, it apparently rained steady for two or three days non-stop.  My grass and garden is ever so thankful.

While talking with a neighbor I asked if her tomatos cracked a lot.  The response was along the lines of, “No.  They exploded!  Literally.  Just exploded.”  Now that is something I would like to have seen.  Her too.  She wished she had a camera to watch it is slow motion.

It is a shame though.  At least if they only split you could do something with them.  Well, now I know that there is something worse than split tomatoes.

Aug 222012


Thought #1 – Cutting Tomatoes

Is there a right way and a wrong way to cut tomatoes?  Seems like a silly question.  When you are faced with over 25 lbs of them, though, it is a very important question.

As I was in the middle of cutting up tomatoes to begin the spaghetti sauce making process, I realized that I was making more of a mess than was needed.  It all had to do with how I was cutting my tomatoes.

That right there may be the answer to the question.  The right or wrong way will depend on what you are planning to use the tomatoes for.  If you ever cut a tomato vertically in hopes of using it for a sandwich you will quickly know that particular way is wrong.  However, if you are slicing them into wedges for a salad, cutting vertically is the correct way.

In my case, I was cutting them to squeeze out excess juice and seeds in order to decrease cooking time.  It also results in tomato juice to can or freeze, rather than cooking off.

The first way I was doing it included coring then slicing in half vertically.  That resulted in a lot of juice and seed bursting forth when I squeezed them, but usually outside the bowl and onto my backsplash.  After a few tomatoes (yes, I was a little slow) I realized my error and corrected it.  This time I cored them and cut them horizontally in half.  Problem solved.

Now, the coring had nothing to do with removing the juice and all to do with saving me time and frustration putting it though my Sauce Master.  It will take all the tomato, with no need to core, but the core tends to be tough to get going at first.  Personally, I don’t want to fight it any more than I have to.

Thought #2 – Is it worth the time and effort to core the tomatoes?

So, in the end I did over 30 lbs of tomatoes.  That is just a bit of coring I did, with a knife.  Along the way I began to wonder if it was worth it … do I timed it. It took me about 3 seconds to core a tomato.  It takes about a minute and lots more effort to sometimes get a core to go through my Sauce Master.  If it took just 1 minute one time of trying to get a core to go through the food mill, that would equate coring 20 tomatoes.  Knowing that it happens more than once with the food mill, I think it is a time saver to core them.

Thought #3 – Is it worth squeezing the juice out of the tomatoes before cooking them down?

This question was a harder one.  For over 30 lbs of tomatoes … are you tired of hearing that yet? …. for just over 30 lbs, it took me about an hour to core, slice and squeeze the tomatoes.  This did result in juice which means time saved having to cook it off.  That also means gas saved.  Although this one is harder to quantify, I do feel it is worth the effort.  Anyone feel like doing the math?

Thought #4 – Is it worth adding tomato paste to the sauce to help thicken it up faster?

This one is also a bit harder to show, though I’m pretty sure I could if I took more time on it.  I found that by adding a jar or two of paste, I was able to make an extra pint or so of sauce.  It also saved me about an hour of cooking.  So for just at 40 cents I was able to save an hour and gain a pint.  Seems worth it to me.  Now, if I had to pay $1 or $1.50, then the answer may have been different.  I just know that one of the local stores always has paste for about 40 cents, so I can usually count on getting it that cheap.