Tag Archives: canning

A simple but sacred sound

canning, strainer

The strainer. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s a simple sound, one that would go nearly unnoticed if it weren’t for all the work involved, and the anticipated joy on a cold winter day.

This time of year, the sudden, short, pleasing pop of canning lids sealing brings smiles to the faces and hearts of many folks young and old. It’s as sweet and lovely as the produce stored inside the glistening glass containers.

When I shared these thoughts on a Facebook post, I was pleasantly surprised at the immediate response from friends. Folks across several generations testified to the pleasure and joy this momentary, miniscule explosion instills.

Kelsie, said, “Just a tiny noise, but it implies so much.” Indeed, it does.

“It is the sound of successful accomplishment,” wrote Alexander from Russia. Exactly! That pop is the universal sound of delicious meals ahead. It is the announcement of another happy harvest.

“Love it!” Patty implored. “The sound of a job well done.” Knowing her family, Patty spoke from personal experience.

“Love that sound,” Vernon mused. His family history knows that blessed soothing sound, too.

“It’s always exciting and may be why I put up with the canning mess,” wrote Joanne. Professional, honest person that she is, Joanne pretty well nailed the harvest time celebration.

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Canning does have its stresses, though. Just ask Cathy.

“Boy do I worry when I don’t hear one of them,” she commented. “It’s exciting times around here to hear those pops!”

Those weren’t frivolous exclamation points either. A canner experiences great relief upon hearing that barely audible sound above rushing traffic, ornery children, and televisions blaring. Though this tinny ping of a noise lasts but a millisecond, it represents the efforts of months of intensive work and hopeful patience. Ask any gardener.

A lot of planning goes into ensuring a productive, successful vegetable garden. From the time the first seed catalog arrives in the mail mid-winter, gardeners envision what, when and where they’ll plant their seeds and seedlings.

Those who follow the almanac or family tradition have their peas planted by the Ides of March. Given Ohio’s extended winters lately, I doubt those plans played out.

Nevertheless, those who love getting their hands dirty can’t wait to plant those first seeds or set the initial tomato and pepper plants. First, though, comes fertilizing and tilling the soil.

A lot more active verbs follow planning and planting. Collectively, buying, watering, weeding, pruning, husking, peeling, cleaning, cooking, pouring outline the ground to jar process.

For those with truck patches, it’s fun to spot the first ripening tomato. It’s horrid to discover a tomato worm, however. Like it or not, that’s all part of the natural growing process.

The hope for the cunning canner is that the sweet corn, tomatoes and apples won’t all come ripe in the same week. If they do, everything else gets set aside. When it’s time to preserve the canning and freezing commence.

With burners blazing, kitchens quickly heat up often in the warmest weather of the year. It’s a sweaty but necessary price to pay for such sweet rewards.

Jeanne summed up the preserving procedure with these questions and a one-word answer. “Tomatoes? Juice? Pickles? Yum,” she said.

Come January, I just hope I remember all that went into creating a healthy meal of tasty tomato soup, pickled beets, frozen Incredible sweet corn, spicy salsa, and homemade jam. Most of all, I don’t want to forget that satisfying sound that seals the deal.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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August is a busy, often forgotten month

oats shocks, Holmes Co. OH

Shocking scene. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

By Bruce Stambaugh

Poor August. Like Rodney Dangerfield, our eighth month just doesn’t seem to get any respect.

August is the forgotten month. No holiday graces its 31 days. Still, we often get lost in all that August has to offer and forget the month itself.

August calls to us daily, appealing to our innate senses. The month tantalizes us with good things to eat, smell, see, touch and hear. August is an equal opportunity sensation.

sunflower, August

Backlit sunflower. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Urban, suburban or country, August flies a multitude of colors. Cultivated and wildflowers grace gardens, country roads and even median strips on interstate highways.

The beauty is ever changing from month’s beginning to end. Cosmos, gladiolas, and hollyhock replace daylilies and daisies. Roadside royalties like asters and chicory are ubiquitous.

The colors of the floral circus attract fluttering visitors. A variety of gorgeous butterflies and exotically patterned insects help pollinate the blooms and entertain us humans.

Tiger Swallowtail, Conflower

Garden beauty. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

August days grow shorter of course. But its sunrises and sunsets are unsurpassed. Often, smoke and gritty particles blown high into the atmosphere diffuse the sun’s rays to create glorious dawn and dusk events.

Locally, the county fair is in full swing. That means fun and excitement for children both in years and in the heart. It also often means at least one good soaker.

In a properly configured growing season, gardens, orchards, and croplands are yielding an abundant harvest. Despite the late start, this year looks like a bumper crop of color and nutrition except for those poor peaches that were frozen out by two consecutive harsh winters.

All harvesting doesn’t always come from the garden. Picking wild raspberries, elderberries, and even blueberries provides a satisfaction all its own. On a recent jaunt through the West Virginia mountains, I witnessed a few folks staining their hands with those precious fruits.

Commercial and domestic kitchens are abuzz with activity. Jellies, jams, applesauce, salsas and many other seasonal delights are all being cranked out at their demand, not always our convenience.

canning tomato soup

Canning tomato soup. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

When they’re ripe, they take priority or there’ll be no goodies to spread on warm bread on a cold January evening. Besides the tasty preserves, generations of families and friends gather for the food frolic.

Back to school shopping makes the August to do list, too. Teachers, students, parents, and grandparents crowd the aisles snapping up pencils, paper, glue, and clothing. If you look closely, you’ll likely find a year’s supply of antacids in the teachers’ carts.

When the calendar flips to August, all of this rushes into our lives. Before we know it, Labor Day weekend will be upon us, and August will be but a memory.

young song sparrow, birding

Juvenile Song Sparrow. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

The oats stand at attention in shocks atop an emerald carpet of alfalfa. The radiant afterglow of another golden August sunset bathed the entire landscape, toasting even darker the already amber grains.

In the evening, choruses of crickets and katydids lull you to sleep. If you awake during the night, you can take in another of August’s wonders. The Perseid meteor showers can entertain you with magical streaks of pure awe.

Only the House Wren, attending its second or perhaps third brood, continues to sing regularly. Other bird species, having done their duties, have mostly grown quiet.

Many migrating birds have already begun their journey south. In the birding world, August is considered the beginning of fall.

See what I mean about August getting no respect?

August sunset, grain field

Russet sunset. © Bruce Stambaugh 2015

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

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The trellises worked: A tomato success story

Brandywine tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Red Brandywines ripening in the shade of the tomato trellis.

Tomatoes ripening on the vine by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes ripening on the vine.

How did our tomatoes grow this year? They did quite well, thank you very much, and little thanks to me. My wife did most of the work. I just took the pictures and enjoyed the bounty.

As you may recall, we tried something different this year. Tired of the weighty tomatoes collapsing the stakes and metal cages we “secured” them with, my wife found a plan for tomato trellises. Our son, who has become quite the food guru, lives in a loft in Wooster, Ohio, 16 miles north of us. He and his wife have no outdoor space for growing the vegetables and herbs that he loves to use for his gourmet cooking. (See the May 27, 2010 post entitled “A beautiful morning well spent.”)

Amish farm Ohio by Bruce Stambaugh

The Amish farm on which our home is built.

Our house is built on an Amish farm four miles southwest of Mt. Hope and four miles northwest of Berlin, the unofficial capital of Ohio’s largest Amish population. In other words, we’re out in the country with Amish neighbors and farms all around. Since our son drives right by us every workday, he asked to join us in our limited gardening. After the drought of 1988, we gave up most gardening. My wife turned to flower gardening, which adds a multitude of color to our little acre and a half each growing season.

Wildflower garden by Bruce Stambaugh

The backyard wildflowers are only some of the beautiful flowers my wife cultivates each year.

The tomato trellis plans called for plenty of space, which required me to dig out more yard along the bricked garage wall at the south end of our home where we annually grow the tomatoes. We have discovered that the tomatoes seemed to thrive on the extra heat radiated by the bricks.

I dug out the grass by a couple of more feet, spaded the ground and added some horse manure the neighbor supplied when he fertilized the fields adjacent to our home. Our son, my wife and I erected a pair of the trellises on May 15. My wife purchased and planted a dozen heirloom tomato plants. Varieties included Hillbilly, Striped Zebra, Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Red Brandywine, Roma’s, and Old German. A friend from church also gave us an unknown variety. And several Yellow Pear tomato plants volunteered from last year’s crop.

Driving tomato stakes by Bruce Stambaugh

Our son drove 7 ft. stakes into the ground to form the support of the trellis.

We purchased seven foot oak stakes at a local nursery. The original plans called for eight-foot stakes, but the sevens were the best we could find without having some special ordered at a much-increased price. The main stakes were pounded into the ground, and the lateral ones were spaced and tied with garden twine.

The plants seemed to grow slowly the first month. But once the summer heat and humidity really kicked in, the tomato plants boomed. My wife repeatedly tied the ever-increasing shoots as best she could. Still, the end result looked like a jungle.

The plants are still producing, but with the peak of the season behind us, the plants production has slowed considerably. We did have to fight a bit of blight throughout the summer, but the plants continued to thrive. And we enjoyed their abundant production.

Green Zebra tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Green Zebra tomatoes growing on the vine.

I especially enjoyed the Green Zebras and the Hillbilly. They were sweet and low on acid. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, they made many summer lunches on the back porch tasty and enjoyable.

My wife also made delectable tomato salads with slices and chunks of the different varieties offered on the same plate, sprinkled with fresh mozzarella cheese and virgin olive oil. Cuttings of fresh basil perfectly seasoned the offering.

Mixed tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

A plate of colorful heirloom tomatoes.

Sliced heirloom tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Heirloom tomatoes ready to eat.

Canned tomato products by Bruce Stambaugh

Just some of the beautiful and delicious handy work of my wife.

Of course my industrious wife also canned whole tomatoes as well as chunked tomatoes, made tomato soup, and peach salsa. I did persuade her to reveal her delicious tomato soup recipe, which is as follows:

Tomato Soup

Group 1
14 qts. cut up tomatoes (preferably Roma’s)
14 stems of celery cut up
14 bay leaves
27 whole cloves
1 green pepper diced

Cook the above until all vegetables are soft. I use a roaster. Then put through a strainer. I let the initial liquid drain off before cranking the strainer handle. I can this for juice. Keep hot until ready to add group 2.

Group 2 (Note that any recipe with dairy products like butter and cream should be properly pressure canned.)
12 Tbsp. flour
1 # butter
6 tsp. salt
1 cup cream
16 Tbsp. sugar

Slowly cook group 2 to make a paste.

In a kettle/roaster bring the strained group 1 to a boil and add group 2. Stir often. Bring back to a slow boil. This is not a thick soup.

Put in jars, makes approx. 17 pints. Process in a water bath 30 min.

When ready to use put 1 jar in kettle with ½ jar milk and heat thoroughly.

Neva Stambaugh

Of course I tried to document the progress of the tomato growing and harvesting throughout the summer. Following is a sequence of how our tomatoes grew following the May 15, 2010 installation of the trellises.

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-June by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-July by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-July.

Tomatoes mid-August by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-August.

Tomatoes mid-Sept. by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes mid-Sept., beginning to die out.

Tomato blossoms by Bruce Stambaugh

Tomatoes in blossom.

Green tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Green tomatoes on the vine.

Ripe tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Ready to pick.

By the way, after the first frost, the plan is to disassemble the trellises and store them for the winter. We also plan on extending the growing area yet again to allow more room to maneuver between the garage and the trellises.

We found several advantages to using the trellises. They were much more effective in cutting the loss of tomatoes to dry rot. Varmints, especially the four-legged variety, caused less damage, and the tomatoes were much easier to pick.

If you used trellises or have other options and suggestions, we would like to hear them. Please leave a message with your successes, ideas and lessons learned.

Enjoy your tomatoes while they last.

Bruce Stambaugh
Sept. 29, 2010

Roma tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

Roma tomatoes awaiting the canner.

Picked tomatoes by Bruce Stambaugh

A variety of heirloom tomatoes.

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