Canning Tomatoes

Photo courtesy of www.prudentbaby.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.prudentbaby.com

I have always loved putting up for winter. When I was young, it was always jam. Blackberry jam from hand-picked berries ripened inland from the coastal fog that swallowed the headlands in the summer – creeping up the craggy ocean cliffs and settling in the branches of the redwoods. We would drive east toward the sun, through the dappled light of the dense forests; on roads that curved and ambled under giant redwoods on pavement slick from the damp. We would reach the sunlight and, in the dry Mediterranean heat, would sweat under our sunhats as thorns stabbed our fingers and the regular sound of berries dropping in the buckets filled the air. All the scents of summer were amplified in the close heat. The cool damp scent of creek bottoms floated up on the breeze and mingled with the rich, earthy aroma of cows. Pungent mint crushed underfoot spiced the dusty air.

Once we made it home with what wasn’t consumed en route, we would rinse the berries and boil them down with sugar. Jars clinked in the boiling water as they sterilized and country music on the FM radio crackled through the speakers as Vince Gill, George Strait, and Leann Rimes serenaded us from the living room stereo. Sometimes, when the fog had receded and was sulking somewhere on the ocean horizon, we would open the top of the dutch door in the kitchen and the scent of lavender from the planter boxes on the deck would waft in on the breeze. The jam jars were filled and we would retire to the porch with ice in our drinks and listen for the ping of sealing lids.

Since growing up and moving out on my own, I get an itch deep down in my memory that starts in August. Most years, the produce to do my own canning comes from the farmers market, but this year I have my own garden. I started six tomato plants indoors from seed last spring and watched them slowly mature as snow blanketed the world. The learning curve for tomatoes in my area has been quite steep, but trial and error (actually, quite a few successes) has yielded a total of 14 pounds of tomatoes – minus the ones eaten in hand as I stand between the plants with juices dripping down my forearm. And they’re still flowering.

For fear of losing my crop of harvested tomatoes, I canned my first batch of tomatoes this evening. How ironic that preparing for the frigid days of winter must start in the heat of an Indian summer. A stove full of boiling water on a hot summer afternoon will be a distant memory as I make lasagna, sauces, and casseroles or fill my Crockpot with canned tomatoes from my summer garden as the snow hurls itself against the windows. The same can be said for gathering and stacking firewood. The American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “If you chop your own wood, it will warm you twice.”

Canning this evening was only part of what is to come from my garden, but was a good start with two pints and three half pints of chopped tomatoes. The color and aroma of a garden fresh tomato is unlike anything else and I look forward to the lingering taste of summer as I listen to the January wind and the bubbling sounds of dinner.

As I listen to the ping of my jars sealing in the kitchen, I am so thankful for the bounty coming forth from my garden. Thankful, also, for the childhood experiences etched into my soul that cause me to reach into my cupboards for jars and lids as the days begin to shorten an the leaves begin to change. Perhaps it is something deeper than my own experiences – an evolutionary draw from an ancestral past that is passed down from generation to generation, sometimes suppressed, but nevertheless present in each of us.

Indoor Gardening | Paperwhites

I am so excited that the weather will break freezing almost every day this week, I can’t even tell you. Yesterday morning it was -12. To celebrate, I think it’s appropriate to talk about plants.

In November, I purchased several varieties of bulbs to plant outside around the house, as well as 25 or so Narcissus paperwhites. Paperwhites are really stunning, especially since they bloom indoors in the dead of winter when everything else is fairly dormant. The smell is absolutely intoxicating.

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(Photo courtesy of Simply Me)

What is even more exciting, is they’re extremely easy to grow. They will grow just about anywhere, and in any planting medium. I have several pots around the house with media ranging from soil to pebbles to shells to nothing but water. You can start paperwhites any time in the winter – I’ve heard up to about February – and they will bloom nicely.

To pot up your indoor paperwhites:

1. Start with whatever large, wide-mouthed vessel you have on hand. I have a few in small baking dishes, mason jars, and pots. Sometimes you can find fantastic wide glass containers at the dollar store for a steal. Same goes with decorative rock. I have purchased rock from Michael’s arts and crafts stores, but aquarium rock would be fine, or beach or river rocks you have collected. I used shells this year since I had bags add bags collected from beach trips.

2. Add a layer of pebbles or shells that is approximately level to the bottom. Depending on the size of your pot or jar, a minimum of 2″ is best. More is always fine.

3. Nestle as many bulbs as you can cram into the pot or jar. Seriously, the cozier the better. This will give you a zillion blooms at once, and help keep them upright until the roots form.

4. THIS IS IMPORTANT: Add water, but only so the base of the bulbs is just barely sitting in the water. If the water is too high, the bulbs will rot. If the water is too low, they will dry up. Less water is better. As long as the bottom of the bulb is just barely damp, the roots will grow down into the water.

5. Sit back and enjoy. Depending on the temperature in your home and the amount of light, bulbs will start to grow in about a week, you will see roots in about 2 weeks, and flowers in as little as 4 weeks. This is all dependent on where your plants are located. A sunny, south facing window is best. These babies can take a lot of direct sunlight.

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Any compact baking dish will work well. This is a four quart CorningWare dish. I added about 2″ of shells into the bottom and nestled the bulbs in. They are happily growing away on the kitchen table. I also placed eight bulbs into a Pyrex loaf pan. The loaf pan is a great size for setting on a window sill since it’s long and narrow.

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Two of these three are filled with rocks and shells. As you can see, any amount of planting medium works fine. The roots will grow down through and around the shells and stones. The middle bulb is placed directly in a bud vase with the base just touching the water. This is also fun because you can see the roots do their magical thing and they will eventually fill up the vase.

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This is a little difficult to see, but I planted these two in soil. The terra cotta pot is nested inside of a decorative ceramic pot. Even in soil you can plant them directly next to each other. I had hoped to fit three in there, but the bulbs were just a little large. When you plant in soil, be sure the soil stays damp, but not saturated.

I also want to make note of a few additives you may wish to take advantage of:

1. For bulbs in water, sometimes the water takes on a particularly funky, sulphury smell. I have heard that adding a tablespoon or two of aquarium charcoal will help absorb the odor.

2. Also for bulbs in water, as the stalks grow, sometimes they can become extremely long and leggy and have more of a tendency to flop over. When the stalks are 8″ – 12″ tall, add a little splash of rubbing alcohol to the water. This will stunt the growth and keep them from becoming too lanky.

This is my first year growing paperwhites, and I’m hoping to find out a way to store them for next year, too. Does anyone know of a good way to store them? Have you grown these before? Please let me know. Also, I’m always looking for additional information so share your secrets to perfect indoor bulb growing!

XOXO