The other day I was asked what I do most days. My initial response was that I see patients two days a week and go to the garden two days a week. The obvious follow-up question was, what about the other three days? After giving it some thought, my answer was, I go for a walk on the beach twice a week, but mostly I process food. That is especially true this time of year.
My basic rule for food processing is it has to be very simple and give me the foundation for many dishes to be made in the wintertime. What follows are the basics of how I turn our current garden abundance into strorable food. Some other time, I’ll go into the pickling and fermented I do. In this blog, my basic tools are just an oven, a dehydrator and a freezer.
I use homemade tomato sauce in many dishes throughout the year, so I try to have at least 30 quart jars of frozen tomato sauce by mid-September. Again, my main rule is keep it easy and simple, so even though I might get a better finished product if I peeled and cored each tomato, that would be too much work for me. Instead, the quick and easy way is simply to wash the tomatoes and put them whole into a big stockpot. I add salt, herbs, garlic and cook them down on low heat for a few hours. Then I blend them in a Vitamix, pour into quart Mason jars, leaving room to expand at the top, allow to cool, then put them right into the freezer.
I grow pumpkins that produce hull-less seeds and pumpkins that are used to make pumpkin pies. My favorite pie pumpkin is the heirloom jarrahdale, which originates in New Zealand. I scoop out the seeds, rinse, sprinkle with sea salt or our Citrus Salt and dehydrate until crispy, usually about 12 hours at 124 degrees. The pie pumpkins I bake whole in the oven. When it is soft all the way, through I allow it to cool and scoop out the flesh, which is sweet and soft. I blend this in a food processor until smooth, allow to cool and again, then right into the freezer. This pumpkin puree makes awesome pumpkin pies in the winter.
These I just store for the winter. The important point here is that it’s best to cure them in the sun at least two weeks before putting them in a cool, dry place inside the house. I do this on our deck, making sure to turn the squash every few days.
I grow a whole variety of peppers, everything from sweet bell peppers to hot chili peppers. These I simply rinse off and put whole in the dehydrator at about 95 degrees. They take three to seven days to fully dry at this temperature, but any higher cooks off some of the flavor. When dry, I just put them in a glass container and use as needed all year.
The simplest way I’ve found is to put the whole cobs, husk and all, in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. I allow them to cool, cut the kernels off with a knife and put the kernels into freezer bags. They seem to retain their full sweetness and are a welcome addition to soups in the winter.
Watermelon is a surprisingly nutritious food. Watermelon juice is loaded with amino acids, which relax blood vessels and support normal blood pressure. Almost nothing tastes better than pure, cold watermelon juice. I make a very simple watermelon drink by scooping out the inner part and putting this right into the Vitamix, seeds and all. Then I give it a gentle blend and pour into a nut-milk bag over a strainer, and allow this to drip into a glass container. After a few hours, I squeeze the bag to get out all the juice and pour the juice into Mason jars, leaving a half-inch of space for expansion at the top. These jars go into the freezer for use any time in the year.
I hope you enjoy the bounty of the year as we all savor the last days of this summer!
Whoever coined the term ‘comfort food’ is a genius. I can’t think of a better way to describe this quick and easy family meal, and I have lost count of the number of times I have cooked it. It’s versatile, requires minimal preparation, which you can do in advance, and above all, it’s wonderfully satisfying and won’t have you reaching for pumpkin spice muffins an hour after dinner.