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Monday, October 1, 2012

TomatoFest 2012

Our friends, the Podolls, of Prairie Road Organic Farm grow, breed and select vegetables for seed.  Theresa's passion is tomatoes, wonderfully delicious and beautiful tomatoes.  Earlier this year, I asked if they ever let people come and glean their tomato fields (yes, they have fields of tomatoes) because we never have enough tomatoes and I love to can with them.  She said that she would call us when frost is imminent and we could come and pick all we wanted.  They only select the best fruits to harvest for seed and they can't possibly use the thousands upon thousands of tomatoes that are left.

As we were butchering chickens on a Friday morning, she called and said, "Tonight's the night!  Come and get 'em if you want 'em!"

Hubby and I had plans to go to Bismarck for a date night, I had a gift card to Red Lobster and it was endless shrimp.  Plus, a friend of ours had the lead role in a movie set, filmed and produced in ND and we wanted to go to the premiere.  Grandma was already lined up to babysit.

I looked at Hubby and said, "Let's go pick tomatoes!"  So we traded in our big city date night for an evening in the organic oasis that is the Podoll farm.  As always, we were welcomed with warm handshakes and hugs, treated to laughter and great conversation, and left enlightened and inspired.

What did we come home with?  These boxes...
 and these boxes!

What do you do with over 400 pounds of tomatoes?

Begin TomatoFest 2012!

Start by halving or quartering the tomatoes.

Then put them in your Victorio food mill.  Hubby bought me this one for my Christmas present our first Christmas together as man and wife.  Best present I ever got! 

Use the "strumpfer" (that's the German word for it) to push the tomatoes down the hatch.

The juice and pulp is pressed through the screen and the tomato "guts" go out the end.

Like that!

I cook down my sauce to remove the water and thicken the tomato.  You can do it on the stove.  But be very careful, it will scorch easily and will be useless if that happens.  You better be stirring quite often to make sure that doesn't happen.

My preferred method is cooking down in the oven.  The chance of scorching is much less, but you do have to give it a stir every couple of hours.  During the day, I cook down on 300 degrees.  But I also cook down overnight, but I put the oven on 200 degrees because I won't be stirring it.

This year I also employed my countertop oven.  It worked like a charm!  I also used this for cooking down overnight at the same temperature.  I do NOT cook down overnight on the stovetop.

Another technique I use is decanting.  I was making gallons and gallons of tomato sauce.  And these weren't all paste tomatoes.  Paste tomatoes have much more tomato pulp and less water than regular tomatoes.  I had about a 1/3 paste tomatoes, the others were Crimson Sprinter and Cherokee Purple.  Fabulous tomatoes, but lots of water.

If you let your juiced tomatoes sit for 12-24 hours, the pulp will rise to the top and the water will sink to the bottom.  Then simply use a ladle to scoop up the pulp.  If you like tomato juice, the water would be just fine to can as juice.  No one in our family likes tomato juice, so I didn't can it.  The pigs LOVED it with their feed the next day!

I also harvested all the peppers from our hoophouse:  jalapenos, sweet bananas and green bells!

I wish I had the time, energy, or space to take a picture of all the jars resulting from TomatoFest2012, but I didn't.  My kitchen was covered in jars, boxes of jars, and tomatoes.

Here's some vegetable soup bubbling away in the counter top oven.

What was the result of TomatoFest 2012?
3 days (I was leaving on Monday for a conference in Michigan)
14 pints BBQ sauce
4 pints and 14 quarts of salsa
10 quarts of ketchup
6 quarts of spaghetti sauce
21 quarts of vegetable soup
21 quarts of tomato soup
7 quarts of tomato sauce (I save the tomato sauce for the end because by then I'm sick of tomatoes and just want them done with)

All of the above (except the tomato soup) I canned using recipes from my favorite canning book of all time, Growing and Canning Your Own Food by my canning hero, Jackie Clay.  This book is my go-to manual for all things canning.  Her meals in a jar are my winter-time canning regimen.

The tomato soup recipe is from Georgean Lick and the lutheran ladies cookbook from my highschool days.  I never liked tomato soup growing up.  We had it every other Friday in school with grilled cheese sandwiches.  Ick.  But Hubby loves it and asked me to make it for him when we got married.  

{sigh} Fine, but I don't want to eat it.  I looked and looked for a recipe and found hers.  Georgean is a wonderful cook and I knew that if I didn't like her tomato soup, then I would never like tomato soup.  It is delicious!!  Here's the recipe:

Tomato Soup
16c tomatoes
1 bunch celery
6 onions
4 cloves garlic
1c sugar
1/4c salt

Cook the first four ingredients together until soft.  Process through food mill to puree.  Cook down until desire thickness, add sugar and salt.  Pour hot soup into hot jars (I use quarts), process for 40 minutes in water bath canner.

When serving:
Melt 2Tbsp butter.  Add 2Tbsp flour to make a roux.  Add milk (an equal amount of the soup, if you are using a quart of soup you'll add a quart of milk) and a pinch of baking soda.  Heat through and add soup.  When heated and bubbly, serve.

(I often add tiny, thin egg noodles to this soup so that my kids have something to use with their spoons.)

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