Busy, Busy, Busy

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Too busy to write an actual post, but the pictures will give you a feel for the week’s activities…

Sugar Snap Peas.
Ready for winnowing.
Just a few big chunks to pick out.
SloBolt Lettuce – great in hot summer areas.
Oats make a lot of very fine chaff.
About half-winnowed.
Barley.
This is Gopal barley – the dark heads make an interesting contrast.
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Canning Tomatoes

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Not sure what the variety name is but these are similar to Romas in taste and texture.

Eating well in winter means you need to prepare and preserve in late summer and fall. Even if they don’t do anything else, many people like canning tomatoes. Of course, that also means you need to plan in spring so you have a sufficiency of food to put away in the freezer or on the shelf. While I did the necessary planning, deer depredations left me with no peppers and a single tomato plant with one lonely tomato. Considering that I started with 24 and 38 plants, respectively, it was more than a little disheartening. Luckily the guy who supplies my daughter’s store had a good crop of canning tomatoes. I spent today stocking up on various foodstuffs.

Putting your cutting board over the bowl or pot makes it easy to keep the mess contained (and off your counters or floors).

Those who’ve read my post on waterbathing jams and jellies will be aware that the “expert” recommendations are sometimes nothing but hooey. I always like to do a little research to see if anything has changed in the canning world before I fire up the stove. This year I was struck by the tremendous variation in recommended waterbath times from various sources. Depending on the source, diced tomatoes in pint jars “should” spend 10/35/40/45/85/90 minutes in the water bath. Our ranch sits at an elevation of 2,200 feet, so these recommendations are obviously slightly higher than for flatlander tomatoes.

Why the tremendous difference in recommended processing times for canning tomatoes? Well, first, it makes a difference whether we’re talking raw pack or hot pack. Obviously, hot pack will take less processing time because the food is already partially cooked. The next variable is whether you add liquid. Diced tomatoes without additional liquid are more dense and take a longer cooking time. If you use tomato juice (as opposed to water), the processing time is longer because the juice as well as the tomatoes must be cooked. But even in recipes that were otherwise exactly the same, some “experts” recommended waterbath times that were twice as long as others.

Here’s another of those situations where experience trumps the experts. Since I’ve been canning for about 50 years and I know that 40 minutes in a water bath for pint jars has always produced tomatoes that were safe to eat, that’s the processing time I went with. By the way, I don’t peel canning tomatoes or remove the seeds – I think the flavor’s better that way. I do add four tablespoons of cider vinegar per quart to ensure adequate acidity; it also improves the flavor. There are so many variables in terms of tomato acidity (variety, water, soil, weather conditions, ripeness) that I think it’s just safer to add the acid. Not being good at only doing one thing at a time, I also packaged and froze several quarts of chili as well as a few dozen dollops of raw milk cottage cheese (the texture suffers with freezing so it’s best used in cooked dishes like lasagna), shredded and froze a half-dozen BIG summer squash, and made some fermented bread and butter pickles. That should help get us through the Hunger Moon.

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IANS – Soaking Grains

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It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

Barley – almost ripe; see how the heads bend down from the stalks?

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 200 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

You can make a loaf of bread in an hour or two.

Yes, but you should first soak the grains at least overnight. Most grains, nuts and seeds should be soaked before they are eaten, cooked or made into breads. The soaking breaks down phytate, which makes the grain more digestible. Phytates also tie up iron, zinc, manganese and calcium, and slow their absorption, which limits the nutrition you can get out of the grain. Once upon a time, the only way to make bread was with wild yeast. The cook made a slurry with flour and water or milk and let the dough sit out at room temperature for a few days until it became fragrantly sour. To bake bread (which most cooks did every day or two, but at least once a week), you mix the starter with more flour and water or milk, let it sit for about 24 hours, then add a little more flour and some salt to the sponge and shape the loaves. The overnight souring process also allowed the flour to absorb liquid, which has the same effect as soaking the whole grain.

Rice, whole wheat, oats and other grains should be soaked overnight in water or broth before cooking. Soaking oats in this fashion, by the way, means the grain will cook almost as quickly as “instant” oatmeal, which is not nearly as nutritious and doesn’t taste as good. Nuts and seeds also benefit from soaking. These should be soaked about eight to 12 hours – the longer time for nuts – in water with a tablespoon of salt added. Spread the soaked nuts and seeds to dry in a dehydrator or stove set at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir occasionally. Store in the fridge or freezer.

Take a Missouri Approach

Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum is credited as the person who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. In fact, there’s no evidence that he did say it; however, there is some evidence that it was said about Barnum’s tactics, by a banker named David Hannum. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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