On canned beauty

Whenever I do something in the kitchen that’s a bit out of the ordinary, the little nag on my shoulder asks, “What Would Martha Do?”

The Martha is of course Martha Stewart. I think every woman above a certain age in this country has a love/hate relationship with this woman. With me, it’s mostly admiration, but when following one of her recipes or directives I eschew about 90% of what she claims is necessary because I am not in her shoes. (Her shoes, incidentally: 1. Staff. 2. Deep pockets. 3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.) I admire her mainly because she has both allowed and expected of her readers a very high level of craft and of beauty. There is no way I cannot not get behind that.

So, I am about to can tomatoes yesterday. There is nothing new in that process, as it’s a task I attempt four nights a week at this time of year. These tomatoes, though, were gorgeous. They were of the beefsteak variety: Brandywines, Hillbilly Potato Leaf/Flames, and Goldies. (Before you start saying “how is it yours are ready already, El,” I whisper the magic word to you: greenhouse.) Red, red/yellow/orange/green, and orange tomatoes, respectively, each above a pound and a half. Normal processing of these fleshy things means they’re destined for juice or a really runny sauce: yummy, but, when mixed together, their distinctive visual beauty is lost. So I sliced them up, stuck some red and yellow onions in with them, and processed them in the pressure canner*.

I think even Martha would approve. They’re mighty pretty.

*must be done in pressure canner, sorry. Nearly whole tomatoes and nearly whole onions, even if both are acidic heirlooms, could mean more microbial mischief if not processed at such a high temperature.

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13 responses to “On canned beauty

  1. They are very beautiful. I want to open them right up and eat every last one. OK, can you speak more about this greenhouse business? I am very interested in errecting something in that jungle I call a back yard but know very little about it.

    Erm, Martha, yes, well, that. Martha came of age while I was living one town North of Westport (where she kept a house or two at the time) and in this town, or this coven of towns (where I live yet again), you really did either love or hate her. In the end I hated her because she represented the worst (to me) of this area; the excessive consumption, the cat fighting and the constant Babbit like struggle to progress up that slippery social ladder. I think because of that I missed her point. I’ll have to take another look now that I’ve gotten over myself (sort of, mostly, one can hope).

  2. Alecto! Babbitt-like! That book and any of Cheever kind of get me thinking about your neck of the woods, poor you. That, and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road which is a must-read to all wannabe social climbers, methinks. But then I have always had a strange affection for train-wreck stories.

    One of my best friends lives in Westport.

    Yes indeed go ahead and look up the categories of “greenhouse” but also look into the tab above the header here for the best book on greenhouses and season extension. Hell, you’ve got chickens now, you might as well go all the way ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. That’s funny. I find myself asking “What would El do?” ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Ohmigosh Angie you JUST made my day. xxoo!

  5. Oh, it is a magic word, to be whispered and repeated in hushed tones…. If I get one of my own, I’m yelling it out loud, though! Greenhouse!

  6. A greenhouse is something I highly covet.
    Those tomatoes made me pause as if watching a beautiful sunset….ahhhhh. So lovely. Leaves one feeling all is well in the world.

    I never realized a pressure canner is what makes the difference between pulverized tomatoes (typical water bath process) and gorgeous, whole tomatoes.

    El, I feel like I’m apprenticing through you!

  7. Yes, a lot of folks don’t realize that the pressure canners are necessary due to our love of sweeter, less acid tomatoes. I was going to can last year (pre-air conditioner) and just couldn’t bring myself to do it; hot out side, canner about 4 gallons and heavy as heck. Didn’t even get out the Excalibur dehydrator!! Many of my tomatoes ended up rotting off the plants and turning the back yard into a tomato vinegar smell-fest.
    I would have LOVED to have seen the Kelloggs Breakfast all canned up, what an incredibly orange color. My Brandywines? All glopped over the edges of the raised beds, full of juice and rotting while I was off burying my dad.
    This year? my husband wants to make tomato wine, and he has no hesitation of using the pressure canner outside on the cajun cooker so all will be well for me too.

  8. oh, absolutely GORGEOUS! Sitting here in long sleeved shirt in chilly San Fran, where tomato growing is a joke, and simply crawling with envy!

  9. Mrs. GH: Thanks!

    Daisy: Yep. LOVE it. Can’t wait to put the new one up; I will post all about that though.

    Amanda: Well, I wonder about the pulverized v. whole tomato thing too. I think what it means is that whole ones in a boiling-water bath canner will not reliably get up to the 212* that the rest of the pot gets to during processing. The pressure canner has no problem at all getting up to a safe level. And the stuff cooks in there too. I peeled the tomatoes by making an “x” at their blossom end and sticking them in boiling water for a minute. I packed them cut up and cool with the raw onions, added enough boiling water to cover and then processed them. They’re cooked now! So this will be great to pour over some chicken to cook up this winter sometime.

    CC: (deep bow) I got Martha out of my system with this batch.

    Bobbi: I know; sometimes this whole thing is really taxing, especially if your mind and heart are elsewhere. Can I tell you though I am jealous of your Excalibur? That’s on my list! But yes I know what you mean; we have no a/c here and that’s why I use the pressure canner: so much less heat produced! The old owners set up a kerosene stove up on the back porch to can. The cajun cooker sounds like a great idea, as does tomato wine~!!

    Hayden: soon, girl, soon! I acutally put some socks on yesterday so it’s getting cool at night here too.

  10. Our original tomatoes are almost done. It’s still so hot here they don’t last much longer. I’ve got volunteer tomatoes still growing, plus the cuttings we started in pots from our original tomatoes yet to plant, once I pull the original ones. I’ve got an entire drawer in the refrigerator that I’ve got to deal with tonight. Bleh! What are your thoughts/advice on freezing tomatoes?

  11. Hey Jules. Well, I tend to freeze if I have no time to can, or if it’s a soup I like that I made too much of. So I do the usual cook/run through food mill/cool then put in freezer bags and into freezer. But I know you can freeze tomatoes whole and then slip them out of their skins when you thaw them. That sounds easiest of all, really. The freezing should stop the enzymes that attack other veggies like green beans (which is why we blanch them) and who wants to eat the skins anyway? (Oh gah now I will have tomato skin defenders piping up. Let’s just say I don’t like the things.)

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