Saturday, June 13, 2009

Preserving the Taste, again

When the New York Times had an article a few weeks ago about the revived craft of canning and preserving, this book, Preserving the Taste, by Edon Waycott, was called the "bible" of the new canning movement. I tried three times to buy it online, and each time got an email that the book was no longer available.
The other day, I had the chance to buy some raspberries for making jam, so I tried again to find the book online. At, which is a site that accesses hundreds of online booksellers, there were only about six copies available. The first one, for $6, was of course not really available, I discovered; the next one was priced at $67.11, from Alibris. But after that the prices rose steeply, to $3,725.23 in Germany!

Luckily the copy that my library owns was back on the shelves, so I raced over there to check it out. I debated whether I should tell them that their copy was now worth thousands of dollars. Nah, then they might put it on reserve and I wouldn't get to take it home, and then photocopy it before I take it back.

I've been using it, and I don't know if it's worth $3K, but it's really good. The recipes use less sugar (for the jams) and less salt (for the pickles). There is a recipe for making your own pectin! Apparently homemade pectin doesn't require the large amounts of sugar that store-bought pectin requires, and it's easy to make from green apples. We don't have any apples at all this year, but next summer, early in the summer before preserving season kicks into high gear, I plan to make a lot of pectin and freeze it.

Today I made nectarine and raspberry preserves from a recipe in the book. I got the nectarines at Walmart (Ok, I'm not a snob about these things; I know that local and organic is better, but there are no local nectarines as far as I can tell, and they were cheap and good); and I got the black raspberries from Brinna Spaetgens, who is managing Hidden Springs Orchard this year.

You slice up the nectarines (8 cups), add 3 cups of sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and let them macerate overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, you put the nectarines in a colander in a bowl and let all the juice drip out for thirty minutes. Next, you boil that sugary juice for 30 minutes, skimming the foam. Then add the nectarines back into the syrup, boil for ten minutes, and then add the raspberries for another five minutes of boiling. Pack as usual and process for five minutes. What pretty jars!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tomato Cages

Most gardeners love to grow tomatoes. And the big indeterminate types that keep growing and growing are some of the best types to grow. But they quickly outgrow those spindly little cages that garden and farm centers sell. (Those work well for peppers, though, in my experience.)

I made some tomato cages years ago that really work for indeterminate tomatoes (as well as the determinate types). I made them out of concrete reinforcing mesh. This looks a little like woven wire fencing, but it's not galvanized, and all the openings are the same size, big enough to put your hand through. With the woven wire fencing, some of the openings near the bottom are too small to reach through.

Concrete reinforcing wire is about five feet tall, as tall as I am and as tall as any tomato is likely to grow. You figure out the diameter of the cage you want--say 2 or 3 feet--and then figure out how long of a piece to cut, using wire cutters. If you want a cage 30" across, that would mean cutting a piece about seven or eight feet long, and then bending it into a circle. You bend the end wires around the beginning of the hoop so that it stays bent into a circle. Make sure any ends are bent into the inside of the circle, not sticking out toward the picker, because you don't want to get poked in the eye by one of these wires while you're picking tomatoes.

If your garden is on a slope, as mine is, make sure that you get the cages more or less plumb. You might have to dig them in a bit on the uphill side to achieve this. If they're leaning now, later in the summer, when the vines are heavy, they might tip over.

Make sure the ends go inside the cage and don't poke pickers in the eye.

These cages have to be staked, in turn, to keep them from falling over later in the summer when they are laden with tomato vines and fruit. You can use rebar, in lengths of about three feet. Pound these into the ground next to the cages and attach them to the cages with fine wire. You need about two or three stakes per cage.

The observant reader will notice that these cages are rather large for one tomato plant. Right. It's kind of hard to make smaller ones, so I make big ones and put two or three plants per cage.

These cages are also handy for growing green beans or cucumbers, or anything else that needs a sturdy trellis.