Austin Urban Gardens

Raised Bed Gardening and Eating Well in Austin, Texas

Canning Juliet Tomatoes and Trying to Avoid Fruit Float June 23, 2014

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Tomato season is here and in full swing!  That means lots of tomato canning for later use.

Fruit float is common in canning, especially when canning tomatoes.  Fruit float, is when the bulk of the tomato floats to the top of the jar, leaving sometimes considerable liquid at the bottom half (or quarter, or third) of the jar.  It can typically be resolved by shaking the jars around a bit after 24 hours, but there is still an element that you’ve done something wrong, because it just doesn’t look right.  I like my canned goods to be aesthetically pleasing, so I’m always looking at ways to make my jars more attractive.

We’ve had such good weather this year, with cooler highs, and plenty of rain, the tomatoes are abundant, to say the least.  I had a tomato canning day scheduled with Paula of Springdale Farm today, and she wanted to try cold packing Juliet tomatoes, because they are meaty and she thought we could pack them down in the jars, to get less float.

We started with 35 pounds of Springdale Farm Juliets.

35 pounds

35 pounds

35 pounds seemed daunting at first, especially because they needed to be peeled.  To loosen their skins, we took a workable portion out of the bin and poured boiling water over them in a bowl.

Loosening the skins

Loosening the skins

Once they were cool enough to work with, using paring knives, we took off the skins, from the stem end, which also removed the tiny stem.


Having read that we could dehydrate the skins, then later make tomato powder, we reserved the skins.   Working in batches, once we had enough to fill the water bath pot with quart jars, Paula started packing the jars, as I continued to peel tomatoes.


Packing the jars

Packing the jars

She packed the jars very tightly, trying not to crush all of the juice out of the tomatoes, but with enough pressure to remove the air pockets, and really get them packed in.  We used citric acid rather than lemon juice, to increase the acidity for canning.

We loaded up the dehydrator trays with tomato skins, and put those in to dry out.


Once the jars were packed, we put them in their water bath for 85 minutes, the amount necessary for cold packed tomatoes. After processing, we pulled out the jars, and found that we had achieved nearly zero fruit float!  Very exciting, indeed.


The skins are dried out as well, although I’ve not seen the final product.  We will grind them into tomato powder, which will be a great way to preserve tomato flavor for soups, eggs, or just about anything.

These will come in so handy once tomato season is long gone.


Canning Peaches with Confituras June 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 5:02 pm
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I have taken five or six classes with Stephanie McClenny, owner of Confituras, and credit her in part for fostering my obsession with canning.  Having canned and pickled just about everything I can think of and made jars upon jars of jam, I figured I had it down.  When Stephanie asked me to help her with her peach canning class last weekend, I happily agreed; but having already canned peaches a couple of times, I didn’t think I had a lot to learn.  Wrong.

When Lightsey Farms brought the first of their peaches to the farmer’s market, I bought about half a bushel, and proceeded to can them in light syrup with Bourbon and Brandy (separately.)  The peaches were clingstone, and hard to deal with, resulting in uneven pieces, lots of hard work and not a very attractive jar of fruit.  Not to mention, that dealing with them was not very fun.

In Stephanie’s class, I learned that as the peach season progresses, the peaches become freestone, and thus are easier to halve and remove the pit.  This is a lesson I will not forget, as the freestone peaches are so much easier and more pleasant to deal with.  I also learned that peaches plump up, when allowed to lightly simmer in syrup for a while, which results in less “fruit float” in the jars.

Plumping the peaches

The bigger lesson, however, is what sets Stephanie and Confituras apart from the rest, and why she continues to win Good Food Awards, and sell out wherever her products appear.  She understands that we eat with our eyes first, and that appearance is important.  She taught us to place the peaches into the jars such that the end result is equally as beautiful as it is delicious.  Yes it a bit more time consuming, than dumping peach halves into a jar, but the visual is stunning, and well worth the time.

My canned peaches before Stephanie’s class:


My canned peaches after Stephanie’s class:


Even if you are a seasoned canner or preserver, I highly recommend taking a class from Stephanie.  She has lots more to offer than just recipes and procedure.


Eating My Way through The Canning Obsession January 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 7:30 pm
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When I made the decision to eat only what I could buy locally, organically and in season (no grocery store), the idea of extending seasons, or preserving things to consume out of their season was something I really wanted to do, but had to learn how.  For the first year, I froze tomatoes and fruit.  My already taxed freezer space, became non-existent.  So I took classes to learn how to can.

I’m a compulsive girl, and I readily admit this.  I embraced my new found canning knowledge with verve and gusto, and canned everything in site, with little idea how much canned goodness I could  use and without plans for my well stocked larder.  (I’m obsessed with the word “larder”)

Just part of my stash

For some strange reason, I felt as if I had to wait until winter to start using some of the canned stuff, as if I’m a squirrel, or something.  Finally, with the colder weather, my inner hoarder has allowed me to start breaking out the canned foods, and I’m working my way through the pantry.

I’ ve been able to put a dent in that which I “put up.”  As I type this, there is a slow cooker filled with Rancho Gordo beans, seasoned with a pint of my Escabeche, or pickled serranos, onions, carrots, garlic and bay.  This will impart heat and flavor to the beans which will be paired with Dai Due Wild Boar sausages for dinner.


The pickled cucumbers have made a good side for BBQ, and also go very well chopped up in egg salad.  The pickled jalapeno and serrano peppers, certainly are a staple and get used in a wide variety of things.  Today, I made corn muffins with the cornmeal I got from Homestead Heritage, and added lots of chopped pickled peppers.

The Salsa Verde, which I canned obsessively with the tomatillos from Springdale Farm has formed the sauce for Chilaquiles, a Mexican dish using chicken, fried corn tortillas and cheese (sometimes with egg as well.)

Charred Salsa Verde

The Salsa Verde also made its way into chicken filling for tamales recently.  The other tamale filling, was Chipotles in Adobo, which I mixed into shredded pork.  The Chipotles have become my very favorite food to preserve and combined with Richardson Farms Pork roast, was perhaps one of the favorite things I’ve ever made.

Chipotles in Adobo

Many of the jams and marmalades I made this Fall were for Christmas gifts, and many of those have found their way into other pantries.  I have discovered that you can make a really delicious cocktail, from a spoonful of jam, a splash of Vodka and a bit of Topo Chico.   The sweet preserves are genius for topping a party brie, or hard cheese as well.

Pear Preserves

I have yet to make a dent in the tomatoes I canned from my garden and local farms, but I’m focusing my attention on those next.  I’d really like to eat what I’ve canned within a year or close to it, from its canning date, so I have another few months.  There is quite a lot.

Not even close to all of it

I shall continue to eat my way through what I’ve canned, pickled and preserved not only because it is delicious, but so that I can make room for more.


Garden Relish – A Canning Day November 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 4:23 pm
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Sometimes my schedule gets the best of me and I need to recharge at home for a day or two.  Last weekend was a whirlwind of Good Food Awards Road Show events, a Texas Game and Green Corn Project.  All of these were really fun, but I was wiped out come Monday morning, and began to plan a slow weekend at home, before the holidays rush sets in and things get hectic again.

The two, near freezing cold fronts reminded me that once winter moves in, the harvests available from my garden and local farms, will start to move toward greens, winter squashes, and foods that we don’t necessarily pickle or can.  And, with the gift giving season almost here, I wanted to get a lot of things in the larder for gifts for my mother to give to her neighbors, and some for me to give, as well.

I had been perusing relish recipes for a couple of weeks, and finally found one that agreed with me, with some adjustments.  I had seen green tomatoes at a couple of farmer’s markets, and really wanted to utilize those.  So, I set out to make the following recipe from Southern Food, by Diana Rattray.  I wanted a recipe that wasn’t predominately any one thing, and I didn’t want it to be sweet.

8 bell peppers

4 cups green tomatoes

4 cups cucumbers

3 cups onions

3/12 cups cider vinegar

2 cups sugar (I reduced this to about 1/8 cup)

2 Tbls pickling salt

2 Tbls mustard seeds

1 teas celery seeds (I substituted coriander seeds from Springfield Farm)

2 Tbls pickling spices in cheesecloth bag

Chop all vegetables in food processor, then cook over medium-high heat in 1 3/4 cups cider vinegar for 30 minutes.  Strain liquid off vegetables, return to pot with remaining 1 3/4 cups vinegar, salt, spices, and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Fill sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Green Tomatoes

Milagro Farms Red Peppers

All Vegetables Minced and Cooking in Vinegar

The vegetables for this relish came from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Milagro Farms.  I am always ecstatic when all of the lids, in this case 10 of them, pinged in evidence that they had properly sealed.

Garden Relish

With the kitchen all a mess, and a huge pot of water near boiling, I decided to sterilize more jars and pickle some peppers I picked up at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market.  Why not?

Pickled peppers

I use the same recipe I use for okra for peppers lately.  4 cups cider vinegar, 4 cups water, 2 Tbls pickling salt.  I put garlic, peppercorns and coriander seeds in each jar, not many, pack, fill and process in waterbath for 10 minutes.

My friend Jim was helping me and as he helps with Austin Urban Garden installations, was interested in seeing my garden.  So, we took out something to put picked green beans in, and commenced picking.  I had already cleaned up the kitchen for the most part, or I might have pickled some of these beans, which are so tender they really don’t need much cooking at all.

Green Beans from the Garden

And I still might.

I’m really happy that I took some time to be at home, in my garden and kitchen, where I am most peaceful and relaxed.   And, even better, all lids are down!  Next up, something with Love Creek Apples from the Barton Creek Farmer’s Market today.  They smell delicious.


Home CannedTomatoes and Green Chiles July 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 4:38 pm
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Until a couple of years ago, I always had Ro*Tel Diced Tomatoes and Chiles in my pantry.  And yes, for years that was the product that completed chile con queso for me, along with Velveeta.

If you’ve been here before, you know that I am on a canning kick, having just learned how to can properly.   (Diary of a mad canning woman.)  Last week, I picked a bowl full of Joe Parker Anaheim peppers.  I put them in the fridge, having not decided what to do with them.  This morning, I thought I might make a Green Chile Stew and put a chicken into the slow cooker.

While looking at recipes, one chicken stew recipe called for Ro*Tel Diced Tomatoes and Chiles.  I knew then that I wanted to make my own, and can it.  So, I again began the process of scoring, and par boiling the tomatoes.  Once peeled and cored, I squished them into a pan.  I then took the peppers and blistered them in a small skillet.

Blistering the Chiles

Once blackened, I tossed them into a gallon baggie to steam. The steaming makes it easier to remove the skin and softens the chiles.

Steaming the Chiles

After I peeled and chopped the chiles, I threw them into the tomato mixture and let it all cook for about 10 minutes, while I sterilized the jars.

Simmering the Mixture

Into each jar, we a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of fresh lime juice, to increase the acid.  The end result, was two jars of Tomatoes and Chiles.

I’m always happy when the jar top seals after the 10 minute water bath, indicating I’ve done it correctly.

Tomatoes and Green Chiles

Now, some folks think I’ve gone a little crazy with the canning, and that’s OK.  I’m taking another class soon, for sweet stuff, and as we speak, there is a modern canning book en route to my front door.  More crazy on the way!

Oh, yea, the chicken.  With the tomatoes and chiles that were left after filling these two jars, I added the shredded chicken, onions, Mexican Oregano, and the stock it cooked in, and made chicken stew for dinner.


Still Pickling – Chiles en Escabeche July 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 10:41 pm
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I seem to have developed an obsession with canning.  It is hard to explain, but there is something so gratifying about it, I find myself thinking about it all the time.  I do believe it is a manifestation of my food hoarding from the early months of the No Grocery Store Challenge.  I’m nearing my 19th month of no grocery store shopping, so I think its a way of life now.

I had been thinking about Chiles en Escabeche, with all the peppers, onions, carrots, and garlic in my garden and in the farmer’s markets now.  So, I set out to make some, armed with my friend Claudia Alarcon’s Mima’s recipe from her blog  Claudia’s family is from Mexico, and I was excited to try an authentic Mexican preparation.  I am fortunate to have several friends from Mexico, and I am fascinated by the cuisine.  Having grown up in Corpus Christi, I had an interesting perspective.

I have made this twice, the first time, using purple carrots from the farmer’s market, hoping to add some color.

Peppers, onions, garlic, herbs

Escabeche is basically pickled peppers, onions, carrots, garlic and aromatics.  I picked Bay Leaves and garden Oregano for my first batch with the purple carrots.  Each of the vegetables is chopped, then flash fried in good olive oil, briefly, for added color and flavor.

Frying the peppers

I used Serrano Peppers from Johnson’s Backyard Garden, and cut them into strips lengthwise, mostly to differentiate them in my pantry from the pickled garden peppers that are sliced. This first batch, I didn’t follow the recipe with regard to ratio of peppers to onions and carrots, and used the purple carrots.

The end result was quite lovely, in any event.

Purple Escabeche

After my purple Escabeche experience, I longed to have have some more traditional looking Escabeche, with its trademark orange carrots, white onion, and green chile.  So, I made another round, paying more attention to the ration of pepper to onion and carrot, and adding some garden thyme, bay and peppercorns.  The process was the same, flash frying each vegetable element in Olive Oil briefly, then layering the elements for visual intrigue.

Traditional Escabeche

Each of these jars has a huge clove of garlic, or two smaller ones, a garden Bay leaf, some garden Thyme, and some black peppercorns.  I can’t wait to eat this delicious mix, or blend it up for an interesting salsa.



Hide Your Vegetables, I Can’t Stop Canning! July 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 8:50 am
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When Jesse Griffiths said that canning is addictive at canning class last week at Johnson”s Backyard Garden, my first thought was, “Nah, I’m just canning out of necessity”.  I have too many garden tomatoes, and HAVE TO can them.  Now, 8 days later, I’m canning everything in sight, and have slowed down only because I’ve run out of produce.  When I left the farmer’s market on Saturday with two bags full of tomatoes, my friends just shook their heads.

I had a banner canning day on Saturday, starting with the over abundance of cucumbers and peppers from my garden.  I had also purchased some banana peppers from Milagro Farms, which were so pretty I couldn’t resist.  Apparently, they were initially grown for pickling.

Pickled Produce


Next I turned my attention to the tomatillos that were left behind from Mexican Cooking Class.  I cored them, then tossed them into a pan with some water, garlic and onion and started cooking them down.

Reducing the tomatillos


Once soft, I added salt to taste and a good amount of lime juice (also left behind) and processed it with the immersion blender, until smoother but slightly chunky.  The end result was a pint and a half pint of salsa verde which will be amazing for cheesy, chicken enchiladas.

Salsa Verde

Next up, in my hours long canning frenzy, I turned to the remaining tomatoes from the Johnson’s Backyard Garden class, some heirlooms from Springdale Farm, a few of my own, and some of the purchased tomatoes from Milagro Farms.

I separated the heirlooms from the hybrids, and cooked them down separately, adding garlic, garden oregano, and salt.  I let this sauce cook down until it reduced to the perfect consistency for pasta sauce.  The coolest thing about this is that once processed and put into the pantry, it is ready to go.  I will be able to make a simple yet delicious dinner, by tossing this sauce with some hot pasta and a little parmesan, and it will take mere minutes.

Pasta sauce

The remaining tomatoes I processed to the consistency of stewed tomatoes that I’ll be able to use for anything.  So the end result of my day of canning is below.  I have become my grandmother.

My Day of Canning