“Ketch-ing-up” on the Fall Harvest

Thank goodness the late summer planting has turned into a perfect fall harvest – despite the lack of rain! We are rather pleased at this point to water the plants to our specifications. At this time of year, when the heat is not a great factor, this can be a small, enjoyable task. We are still bringing in the veggies that survived the destructive early summer rains and have processed modest amounts of tomatoes and eggplants from these original plants. I am slowly but diligently putting up the tomatoes into sauces for next winter. The eggplants are surging forward too and I’m putting them up much as I did last year, mostly as eggplant Parmesan slices that we pull out of the freezer for various uses, including eggplant burgers which we find divine as well as super easy!!!

So, despite the fact that we will be short on all preserved tomato products next winter, I decided to turn one recent batch of ready tomatoes into ketchup. Maybe I should think of it as tomato jam! Do I have a condiment obsession? I’ve regularly made our sweet and spicy mustard for over 30 years but have just started to make ketchup in the last couple of years. We have really enjoyed it but I’m not sure there are too many converts out there who are willing to give up the red stuff that comes out of their Heinz or Hunt’s bottles. And why not? Why hasn’t home-style, organic ketchup enjoyed a renaissance on the specialty shelves at the grocery stores like so many other products? I have no answer to this but I do know that producing ketchup at home involves many more steps, (including a mess to clean up in the kitchen) than most people are willing to do.

A little history lesson: I have read that Ketchup comes from the Hokkien Chinese word, kê-tsiap, the name of a sauce derived from fermented fish. It is believed that traders brought this fish sauce from Vietnam to southeastern China where it became popular.

The British likely encountered ketchup in Southeast Asia, returned home, and tried to replicate the flavorful, fermented dark sauce. This probably happened in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Most British recipes called for ingredients like mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, or anchovies in an effort to reproduce the savory tastes first encountered in Asia. It wasn’t until 1876 when a Pittsburgh man named Henry J. Heinz started producing a ketchup similar to what we have now. Heinz developed a recipe that used ripe, red tomatoes and began producing a tomato ketchup that soon dominated the market. In 1905, the company had sold five million bottles of Heinz ketchup. Today’s statistics tell us that Americans consume approximately 10 billion ounces of ketchup annually and this commercially produced condiment is present in almost every American refrigerator!

Despite the fact that I can effortlessly buy this product in the store, I’m still willing to try my hand at making it at home with my natural ingredients. I have used a very simple recipe in the past couple of years and I didn’t venture far from that recipe again this year with a couple of nuances.

In addition to starting out with our fresh tomatoes and onions, I added the last bag of the dehydrated tomatoes from last year’s preservation and cooked them all together on the stove-top. I figured the dehydrated tomatoes would add a deeper flavor to the fresh ones.

IMG_8984After this mixture came to a boil, I put it all thru the food mill to separate the skins and seeds. IMG_8985I then had a rich red sauce to reduce for several hours before adding a spice bag full of suggested spices: whole cloves, allspice, celery seed, mustard seed, as well as a whole bay leaf and cinnamon stick.IMG_8998After these cook in the sauce for several hours, I removed them and added brown sugar and vinegar to the mix and cooked it down some more until it was a bubbling, sweet, thick paste.

IMG_8999I then ladled it into half pints and sealed them in a hot water bath, making 7 lovely jars for our share of the American consumption average of 3 bottles each per year of ketchup! Yummy!

IMG_9001We continue to harvest many other items from the fall planting that we incorporate whenever possible into our daily meals. Sometimes, the combination of things we have brought in for the day have me scratching my head a bit. How do I incorporate swiss chard, turnips and scallions into a main dish meal with leftover chicken from the previous night? I feel as if I’m on the TV show “Chopped”, where I’m given 4 ingredients and a time frame in which to make them into something spectacular. Here is my method. I start by looking at lots of reliable sources (my cookbooks) and I see how each ingredient is treated across the board since I’m not particularly fond of standing on my head to produce one recipe from start to finish.

IMG_8976So, recently, I took the above ingredients and put them together like this: Turnips, scallions and swiss chard at the ready.

IMG_8965Because the turnips are the most dense of the ingredients, I added them first to a large pan with some olive oil and dried red pepper. (Sometimes I use our Sriracha instead and it is wonderful too.)IMG_8966As the turnips start to cook a bit, I add some cut up bacon to the pan for flavor and to encourage browning.

IMG_8972   Then the scallions go in. IMG_8973Followed by my leftover chicken breast that I have shredded.

IMG_8974 (1)Finally, the Swiss Chard, stems removed and cut into pieces, is added…

IMG_8977and stirred until wilted.

IMG_8978This particular dish was seasoned in part by the fact that the chicken had been roasted with a lemon base. When that is not the case, a simple splash of good balsamic vinegar does wonders! We think this is a good way to use up some of our fall veggies but the volumes of leafy greens is overwhelming this time of year. So, as pizza lovers, we sautee some spinach and add it to the pizza fixings with really great success. Here is some wilted spinach on a crust with scallions and olive oil.

IMG_9050With plenty of cherry tomatoes waiting their turn, I roast some to add as the next layer…

IMG_9051And then add a mixture of cheeses and some half baked bacon for extra flavor.

IMG_9052Viola! Yummy!

IMG_9053So I try to incorporate all of the greens that are so prosperous this time of year into our daily diet but of course I had to try to figure out how to preserve some for the winter months. That led me to some very interesting research on line.  What I discovered was that some vegetables are noted for their high content of oxalic acid which binds to calcium in your digestive tract and prevents the calcium from being absorbed, even though many of these vegetables were actually high in calcium themselves! Oxalic acid is one of the primary components of kidney stones! Here is a list of veggies that are high in oxalic acid.

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Collard greens
  • Parsley
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato
  • Swiss chard
  • Rhubarb

So, don’t stop eating these veggies just yet! You can lower the oxalic acid in these by steaming or better yet boiling or fermenting them before eating or freezing. We often wilt our greens on the stovetop but this isn’t quite as effective as blanching them and throwing out the resulting water which is a lovely bright green!

So, I’m blanching the extra Swiss chard and spinach and freezing it. It is pretty simple. I start with the washed leaves.

IMG_9209I cut off the stems and save them to use as I would celery in other dishes such as a recent split pea soup.

IMG_9210I tear or cut up the leaves and add them to my pot of boiling water where they cook for 2 minutes before they go into a nice ice bath to stop the cooking process.

IMG_9212I spin them and then also set them out on paper towels to get as much moisture out as possible. IMG_9214 IMG_9213

 I then divide them into portions and pop them into the freezer in ziplock bags, discarding the green water!

IMG_9215      IMG_9216

Some of our wonderful fall harvest was threatened by the frost predictions we had this weekend. Boy, did this cause a bunch of scurrying about on our part since after all our hardships with the early summer rain, we were not ready to part with the fall crops just yet. Dave found rolls of light weight plastic in our basement and we managed to cover what we could the last two nights despite a light wind.

IMG_9246 IMG_9247 (1)

Yep, here was this morning’s frost. IMG_9252We hope the most vulnerable areas like lettuces were sufficiently protected. Many veggies we currently have out there are pretty hardy and can actually benefit from these colder temps. The broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, peas, carrots, onions, leeks, turnips, chard and spinach are all moderately good with the temps but will certainly continue to flourish with our predicted warm up this coming week. The tomatoes, peppers, beans and eggplants are on the watch list since they do not fair as well with the cold. Just when you think the season is about to end…you find a nice little surprise. Here is a volunteer melon that managed to wiggle its way into and vine up onto the tomatoes. Go figure!

IMG_1168Next in line are the garlic bulbs that I will plant soon since they are best if planted after the first frost. More on that in the next post. I’m staying pretty busy with little Coulter these days. He is a joy to have around during the day and he seems to be pretty happy with most of the foods I’ve been preparing for him. None of this is difficult to do and I can only imagine that he is benefiting from the variety of good foods. So far I’ve made him green beans, peas, spinach, avocado, yams, winter squash, peach, banana, pear and apricots to name a few but he is certainly my little blueberry and pumpkin as he poses in some of the hats I’ve knitted him recently!

Image 10-11-15 at 7.31 PM (3) IMG_9257

We have a wonderful time together while his mom and dad are at work…I think he really gets me since we both take the daily NYTimes crossword so seriously! He says, “Nana, wait a minute, I’m thinking!”


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