Monday, September 29, 2008

Tomatoes, figs, dried fruit, and bake sale prep

DRIED TOMATOES: Friday, I received my 9-tray Excalibur dehydrator - a bargain at $149 for a refurbished demo model (not a refurbished customer model) with shipping included. It looks brand new -- it has no "blemishes" on the case as described in the Ebay ad and if I didn't know any better, I'd say it was new.

Saturday, I put it to work right away on some Principe Borghese tomatoes - they are smaller than some of my cherry tomatoes.

1 - 16 oz jar dried tomatoes
1 - 8 oz jar dried tomatoes

YELLOW KETCHUP: Sunday, I put a couple pots of tomatoes on -- one full of 5# of yellow and orange tomatoes for ketchup and another of around 6# for marinara sauce. For the ketchup, I found a lot of recipes and even one ketchup recipe on a site that lets you customize the yield and adjusts the quantities of ingredients.

  • 5# seeded and halved tomatoes - cook down and process in food mill to remove skins, return to pot.
  • 1/2 large onion, pureed in blender or food processor
  • 5 cloves garlic, pressed
In a small sauce pot, simmer:
  • 2 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 stick Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1.5 Tbs cloves
  • 1 Tsp fenugreek seed
  • Pinch chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seed

Reduce the vinegar by 50% over low flame (you don't want to boil it off too quickly!)

Strain and add vinegar to pot with tomato sauce, onion and garlic. Cook down and then put in a slow cooker on low until it reaches a consistency you like. Puree in blender to reduce the rest of onion & garlc pieces. Can or store in refrigerator.

4 c orange ketchup

TOMATO SAUCE: Six pounds of tomatoes cooks down to just enough sauce for two plates of fresh rotini pasta, and leftovers for four lunches, after you've added herbs and vegetables.

GARDEN MARINARA RECIPE: 6# fresh tomatoes, seeded & halved - cook down and process in food mill to remove skins, return to pot.

Sautee in olive oil until soft:
  • 1/2 large white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped

Add to sauce bring to simmer:
  • 4-5 2" basil plant tops, chiffonade & chopped
  • 4-5 2" oregano sprigs, chopped

10 4" zucchini (or courgettes) cut into 1/2" rounds, sauteed until soft - add to sauce right before serving.

YIELD: about 10 cups sauce with vegetables
2 dinners over fresh rotini pasta with bread
4 lunch portions of pasta sauce

FIG PRESERVES: James' mom brought us some delicious figs from her neighobor's garden in Sacramento. "I brought you four dozen figs!" she exclaimed. We we curious to know why the figure was so exact and then impressed with her genius -- to keep the very ripe figs from crushing under their weight, she put them into egg cartons!

I brought home 2 dozen figs and decided to turn them into jam.

24 ripe figs, halved and mashed
1.5 c sugar
1/4 c lemon juice

Simmer figs in 1-2 cups of water until soft and mash. Measure - you should have about 4 cups of figs & water. Add the lemon juice and follow the pectin instructions -- in my case, 3 tsp of calcium water, and 4 tsp of pectin added to the sugar before mixing it into the preserves.

2 12 oz recycled jars, stored in the fridge (one for me, one for James)

DEHYDRATING: The new Excalibur works great! I dried tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. The Principe Borghese tomatoes from Saturday came out on Sunday and are about the size of dried cherries. I also dried some of the other cherry tomatoes -- the volunteer cherries came out about the same as the Principe Borghese, while the Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen and Aunt Ruby's Yellow Cherry tomatoes were a bit smaller.

I also put in the rest of the Asian pears I had been saving in the refrigerator, along with a whole cantalope sliced up, and the rest of the red flesh apples and a few other apples I had been saving.

1 1.5 liter baling wire jar of thin dried fruit slices (I'll try to photograph before I eat them all)

(UN)BAKING: Last but not least - I also put together a double batch of lemon bars from the "Joy of Vegan Baking" cookbook, and started the Cafe Gratitude raw coconut cream pie recipe (but ran out of time and energy).

BIG THANKS to Lisa for coming over and helping to halve and seed tomatoes for the dehydrator, mill tomatoes, clean dishes and keep me company - we had a lot of fun for a few hours and it was really good to have some help. She also loaned her slow cooker so I could put the ketchup in it overnight.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Darfur Stoves Project

If you're reading this, chances are you don't risk rape or other violent attacks when you prepare your meals. If you are a woman living in Darfur, where millions of refugees live in very dense camps, and you have to walk for up to 7 hours to collect firewood for cooking, chances are you will be assaulted and raped if you encounter a militia group. The catch is - you can't bring a man along for protection because he'll most certainly be killed by the militia and the camps are only about 20% male because of the genocide.

A group in Berkeley has engineered a cookstove that uses 75% less fuel than the traditional three-stone hearth used by these refugees.

Please consider donating to this project -- just $20 will help someone make dinner with less risk to her life and health.

Darfur Stoves Project
Engineers Without Borders

Monday, September 22, 2008

Paste Tomato Sauce-Off

This weekend I scored some killer tomatoes from an organic garden at a lovely private campground in Willits. These babies were huge -- like 7" long, looking more like big red peppers than tomatoes. The gardener said they were Romas -- and that all the big tomatoes had been picked and made into sauce already. I brought home about 10 of them and tonight I made a small batch of sauce (saving the seeds, of course) with these Romas, and a small batch of sauce with some of my Debarao tomatoes.

The Romas had a very sweet flavor before I even cooked them -- it's a lot hotter up there in Willits! The Debarao tomatoes had a very solid flesh and less juice than the Romas, and a very tomato-y taste. Both are good and after packing four small jars, I ate the rest of the sauce on warm bread.

2 - 8 oz jars Roma tomato sauce
2 - 8 oz jars Debarao tomato sauce

The Hawaiian pineapple and Yellow Ruffled are starting to come in, as are the Amana Orange. I think I am going to make some yellow and orange pasta sauce out of those babies, too. The Italian Tree tomatoes are starting to get really ripe, and may make a nice little batch of sauce as well.

I'm looking at buying an Excalibur dehydrator - we haven't had enough heat or sun for my solar dehydrator to work very well. I'm pretty disappointed in the lack of weather cooperation at tomato harvest time here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pear Vanilla Vodka

Today I decanted the green pear infused vodka -- the jar that had half a vanilla bean and four allspice berries in it? I just want to say "YUM" -- I put some into a flask with about a tablespoon of maple syrup and it makes a very delicious, fruity liqueur. I may try agave with this as well, before serving.

1 750 ml bottle pear-vanilla fruit brandy

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Quince Butter, Round 2

Tonight, I was determined to make membrillo. I took the last 8 cups of quince pulp, added some juice and water to puree it in the blender, measured the sugar and pectin and cooked. And cooked - we're going on four hours now and I don't think it's going to be membrillo, so this, too, will be quince butter.

I also took the rest of the first membrillo attempt, added juice and pectin to it and made it into a nice thick but still liquid quince butter. I just hope it is still spreadable once it cools -- I'm afraid the first batch of quince butter is going to be rather firm and sticky, ideal for crispy toast or spreading on a slice of manchego (for those non-vegans) but not so good for soft bread. Might make a killer filling between two pizzelles, though.

I confess that this stuff is probably really good out of the jar with a spoon but I'll pass along those calories to my friends and family instead.


Quince butter #1 (super caramelized, same as Monday's batch)
4 - 12 oz jars
8 - 8 oz jars
1 - 4 oz jar
plus one 10 oz jar that went into the fridge.

Quince butter #2 (dark pink)
12 - 8 oz jars

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quince Preserves

The membrillo just didn't behave. All I can imagine is that there wasn't enough pectin in the fruit - perhaps it wasn't ripe enough. The quince paste has caramelized to a deep dark brown, it tastes great but it's not membrillo. It has the rich, dark, sweet texture of my favorite apple butter from cider mills in Ohio and Michigan -- most apple butter I find these days is just slightly thicker than apple sauce.

Tonight, I heated up a batch and put it into 4 oz jars, and labelled it:

Quince Butter

10 4 oz jars

I'm going heat up the rest of the quince paste and add pectin to see if that helps it out. I still have about 8 cups of quince pulp in the refrigerator and I'm going to add a shitload of pectin to it to make it set very hard. I will have membrillo, dammit!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pottsfield Relish

Pottsfield Relish
Pottsfield Relish, September 2007

After breakfast, James and I made up a big batch of Pottsfield Relish. This is from my grandmother's recipe -- it's a sweet tomato, onion and pepper relish. I actually found other versions online (varies as Pottsfield and Pottsville) which include cabbage, but the basic recipe is: tomatoes, onions, green peppers, a bit of vinegar and sugar. That's it.

6 large tomatoes - peel, cook and strain
4 large onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped

Add 1 c. sugar
1/2 c. vinegar
1 t. salt

Cook on stove 40-45 minutes or until thick. Ladle into jars and hot water bath process 10 minutes.

USE: This stuff is great to add to recipes, on top of potatoes, on top of mac-n-cheese and all sorts of things. My grandmother always put it on top of meatloaf and pot roast while they baked in the oven. As kids, we relished chilled Pottsfield relish on top of a bubbly open face cheese sandwich.

NOTES: After going out on my own, I continued to make Pottsfield Relish and applesauce every year -- even if I didn't have the time or resources to make other preserves. These two things are staples in my kitchen.

However, I've always double, triple or quadrupled the recipe, spending hours over the sink with a pile of large plum tomatoes, scalding them, seeding them, cooking them down. I always reserve the juice from the seeds to strain and reserve with the juice I pour off the tomatoes before adding the onions and peppers -- it makes a great soup base.

This year's batch, turned out a bit different -- it was a lot more watery and the tomatoes really cooked down lot.

I realize now, after looking at the results, the recipe and last year's photo that I did a few things differently. First, this batch of relish came out much like my grandmother's relish in her later years, after they moved to a retirement community. What I did differently this time:
  • I used Heirloom tomatoes - not just plum tomatoes - and they cooked down a lot more
  • I seeded the tomatoes, but didn't cook them down before adding the peppers and onions.
  • I didn't peel the tomatoes (they were really ripe and I thought they would just dissolve).
It's been years since I have used tomatoes that weren't plum tomatoes for this -- now I remember why! Plum tomatoes have stronger meat and hold their own in cooking a lot better. The result tastes great, but looks a bit different from last year's relish (I've got the last quart in the fridge having opened it only two weeks ago when tomatoes appeared imminent).

Still yummy, though.

13 - 12 oz jars Pottsfield relish
1 - 12 oz jar tomato juice
1 - ice cube tray of tomato juice


I got my vintage Rival waffle/pizzelle iron on Friday -- so today, we put it to use. It took several attempts and two batches of batter to figure out how to get it right, but I think I may have it figured out. It's been over 20 years since I have made waffles or pizzelles. I plan to make up a batch of pizzelles for a fundraiser at work... or maybe vegan cannoli since this came with cannoli forms.

Friday, September 12, 2008



Wednesday night, I spent about five hours peeling, quartering and coring 25# of quince. My plan was to use the juicer to process the quince -- taking the juice for jelly and using the pulp to make membrillo.

Sadly, this experiment did not work. The quince just aren't juicy enough. I cooked down all the quince and set the mash to drain in the colanders overnight, reserving about 1.5 gallons of juice for jelly.

Today, I took a PTO day to finish up the quince. I really wanted to get this mess out of my kitchen. I still have 15# of Asian pears in my refrigerator to manage!


QUINCE JELLY: The quince jelly turned out great -- it set nicely, though I think I boiled it down a bit too much and could have had more jars if I hadn't been distracted with outher housework.

14 8 oz jars

MEMBRILLO: Next project was to make membrillo. I used the leftover pulp for one batch and the juice/mash from the juicer for another batch. I followed the instructions and added equal weight of sugar to fruit and it got thick. It got like molten lava. The spoon could stand up and jumbo drops of molten quince goo came out of the pot and to burn my arm and leave blisters. I figured, it was ready. I put the quince goo into baking dishes (and some onto a silicone mat on a half-sheet) and put it in the oven at 125 to set.

But, after 8 hours in the oven, it didn't set. It's going to stay in the oven overnight in the hopes that it reduces enough.


Black Cherry Tomatoes


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dried Tomatoes!


The Principe Borgheses turn into little tomato raisins - pretty, and tasty. I don't like this dehydrator because it dries things unevenly. Some tomatoes looked burned on the edges, others got a bit moldy and didn't look like they were drying at all.

James borrowed a 5-tray Excalibur dryer from his friends for Asian pears and the results are amazing: dry, soft and chewable, super sweet Asian pear slices. It's still too foggy and cold to consider using the solar dehydrator. Beginning to think that it is a Bad Idea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Here's a pile of cherry tomatoes from the garden -- all varieties are represented here, including the volunteer cherry tomatoes (they are the biggest round tomatoes).

DRYING UPDATE: the Principe Borghese tomatoes are doing alright, but drying unevenly. The pears are crispy. They are brown. Not pretty.

Late Summer Bonanza

I owe a few posts - I have some started, and have some photos but haven't actually finished them up. The solar dehydrator is done, and late summer produce is kicking into high gear. My tomatoes are really taking off -- I made raw vegetable lasagna for my Labor Day Weekend getaway.
  • Last week, I juiced about 15# of Eureka lemons from Regan's yard.
  • Saturday, James and I decanted the plum-ginger and apricot infused vodkas.
  • James' friend has an Asian pear and a Meyer lemon in her backyard, so Sunday we juiced a big paper grocery sack of about 20# of Asian pears and got a gallon of juice which we put away in his freezer in quart bags.
  • After the juicefest, we went to clean off the Asian pear and Meyer trees, leaving us with about 20# of Asian pears and 15# of large Meyer lemons. Then we went to another friend's house and got 36# of quince.
  • Monday, we processed about 8# (a packed full paper grocery sack) of basil from James' yard and he made basil-pistachio and basil-pine nut pesto to freeze.
  • Tonight I'm working on the quince -- I have 10# of quince chopped and simmering for jelly, and another 5# for membrill0 -- 10# are going to Asiya at Forage Oakland and another 5# are going to a coworker who wants to make membrillo. The other 5# will be turned into a vodka infusion.
I've been busy. I swear, half-written posts with photos will magically reveal on this blog soon.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Houston, we have a problem!

The weather really changed -- it got chilly and foggy (just like summer) and there's no way the solar dehydrator can be effective. The pears have all gone into the oven at 125 degrees.

I've pulled out the "el cheapo" electric dehydrator - five round trays, heating element and no fan. I have put a bunch of Principe Borghese tomatoes into the small dehydrator. I halved them and reserved the seeds to ferment to save for next year. There are 2 trays full - we will see how they turn out.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Asian Pears, Tomatoes & not so hot solar dehydrating action

BREAKFAST at James included some of the most gorgeous heirloom tomatoes out of my garden, including one ripe Aunt Ruby's German Green

Heirloom Tomatoes

Clockwise, from 6:00: Green Zebra, Moskovich Extra Early, Brandywine, Moskovich, Aunt Ruby's German Green

TOMATO REPORT: SO far, we have tasted quite a lot of the tomatoes that we have planted. Here are some notes:

  • Principe Borghese: this tomato is listed as a great drying tomato - they are a lot smaller than I expected, even smaller than the volunteer cherry tomatoes! They are firm and meaty with few seeds. Pretty tasty but not overly sweet, fresh.
  • Moscovich Extra Early: I expected these to happen in June or July, but two months of fog doesn't encourage me to do much, either. These are a great dark red, tender and very sweet.
  • Yellow Ruffled: very mild flavor, not exciting. We have only had a couple of these so far, so the jury is still out.
  • Amana Orange: these are really pretty tomatoes -- the size has varied, but most of them aren't yet ripe. They are tasty but I haven't decided if I want to grow them again next year, yet.
  • Deberao: a nice red paste tomato - this has the most outstanding flavor of any plum tomato I have ever bought. I plan to grow a lot more of these next year for canning.
  • Aunt Ruby's German Green: outstanding flavor, juicy, meaty and we can't wait for more to ripen! I will definitely grow these next year.
  • Paul Robeson: Very large, gorgeous and very delicious tomatoes. Definitely growing these next year.
  • Brandywine: A late season tomato which can't seem to wait for the earlies and mids to finish up! These are pretty tasty, I can see why they are a favorite and I'll definitely grow more next year.
  • Green Zebra: these are really good, but they have to be really ripe when you eat them or they don't have much flavor. I'll have one of these plants next year, for sure.
  • Italian Tree: the plant near the fence with more space got about 12' high, but the other plants were more closely planted and didn't get nearly as high. These are really big tomatoes, as big as the Paul Robesons and have a great flavor. Most still aren't ripe, so we'll have more feedback on these later.
  • Aker's West Virginia: a few of these ripened and they are great!
  • Black Cherry: the most amazing cherry tomato ever. Definitely growing next year.
  • Peacevine Cherry: small and delicious, I can't believe I only put in one plant!
  • Super Snow White: large white-yellow cherry tomatoes, tart and citrusy. I like them but not sure about growing them again next year.
  • Blondkopfchen: tiny yellow-gold cherry tomatoes, these are really good when they are really ripe. I'll definitely have one of these plants next year.
  • Aunt Ruby's Yellow Cherry: tasty but not exciting. I need a couple of hot days to really decide on this one.
  • Late Tomatoes: still waiting on Hawaiian Pineapple and Wonderlight. The Wonderlight plants barely germinated, I have two small, stunted plants that have about four large plum tomatoes that aren't ripe yet.

Notes: The tomatoes in pots did not do as well as the plants in the ground. I'm seriously considering doing raised beds next year as I think this will resolve drainage and spacing issues. "French Intensive" is a method of raised bed gardening that allows planting things more closely together. It should also help keep the slugs out of my garden.

PEAR PRESERVATION: James and I juiced up a pile of Asian pears -- it made fantastic juice, though I did notice that leaving the skins on gave the juice a bit of a fermented taste and the juice darkened up a lot more.

MORE FORAGING: After breakfast, we headed over to his friend's house to pick more Asian pears and Meyer lemons, then we went over to Larissa's to pick her quince tree.

DRYING: Around 11:30, the sun started to come out so we put the pears back in the solar dehydrator. Then, the fog rolled back in. Fog is not good for using a solar dehydrator.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pears, Brandies and Lemons

BIG FRUIT DAY today - I cut up a bunch of Asian pears and green pears and set up two half-gallon jars to infuse with the fruit. I went up to Regan's house and picked a ton of lemons, in all their lemony glory:

Next, I quartered green pears and sliced up Asian pears, dipped them in lemon juice and put them out in the solar dehydrator. I had to work fast - it was getting late and I wanted to take advantage of as much heat of the day as possible.

FRUIT BRANDY: After getting the fruit out in the solar dehydrator, I decanted the fruit brandies -- a half gallon jar of apricots (and pits) and another jar of those gorgeous Santa Rosa plums and ginger spent about six weeks in vodka.

My friend Eric had recommended leaving the pits for the apricot infusion, resulting in a complex apricots and almonds scented infusion. The apricots held their form pretty well and only diluted the 750ml bottle of vodka by a cup or so.

The Santa Rosa plums nearly completely broke down into mush - James helped with filtering the brandies in the jelly bag and with a complicated system of wire mesh filters, and we still ended up with about a bottle and a half of liqueur -- it diluted by about 50% because of the break down of the plums. Both taste delicious -- the apricot infusion doesn't require any sweetening, but the plum-ginger is a bit tart.

DRYING: At the end of the day, we took the fruit out of the solar dehydrator. The fruit hadn't really dried much, and the oven thermometer showed that the temperature inside was about 115 or 120. That's not quite not enough.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Solar Dehydrator - Mission Accomplished

After working on painting, attaching the screens and trying to figure out my options for the cover -- I finally finished up the solar dehydrator this week.

Painting and shelves completed, cover frame leaning against front:


Totally finished:

IMGP8031 Completed!

Lid Open:

Thanks to: Jon for all his help putting this together, Tom for helping with prototyping the internal frame, and James for his emotional support and help attaching screens, hasps and moving this thing around.

FIRST DRYING PROJECT: James has a pile of Asian pears from his friend, I'm going to pick a pile of lemons from Regan's house and dry some pears!