Austin Urban Gardens

Raised Bed Gardening and Eating Well in Austin, Texas

San Marzano Tomatos for the Winter November 5, 2013

I don’t have any luck growing tomatoes in the Fall, pretty much ever.  Many of farms don’t even try, or just stick to cherry tomato varieties.  So was excited to see these great looking San Marzano tomatoes at Engel Farms at HOPE Farmer’s Market this past Sunday.   My hoarding instinct took over, and I snatched up maybe 8 pounds or so, for canning.

San Marzano Tomatoes

San Marzano Tomatoes

San Marzanos are a variety of plum tomato.  Considered a “paste tomato” they are really great for canning.  Each tomato has only 2 seed chambers, and thus more meat per fruit, and fewer seeds.  This Italian heirloom* variety is known for low acidity, sweetness and is frequently used in sauces for pizza and pasta.

Meaty little tomato

Meaty little tomato

I did the score, blanch, ice bath and peel method today.  I scored the stem end of each tomato, plopped them in batches into boiling water for about a minute, the removed them to a bowl of ice, so they wouldn’t continue cooking.

Boiling Water for a minute

Boiling Water for a minute

Once cooled, the skins peel off quite easily.  Once peeled, I drained the pan they were in of the water that had accumulated on the bottom.  Then I crushed them with my hands – the fun part!

Peeled easily

Peeled easily

Crush, crush

Crush, crush

There is no real method here, just squishing until they reached the consistency I was looking for.  I like to can crushed tomatoes, because if you need a smoother sauce later, you can always use an immersion blender.  Or, you might want more texture in a chili or pizza sauce.  I also don’t season the tomatoes at this point, because I don’t know how I might use them later.  You can always add, but you can’t take away.  I do add a pinch of sea salt in each jar, and a tablespoon of lemon juice, to raise their borderline acidity to a safe level.



Once the now cooled tomatoes are crushed to my liking, back on the stove they go. You always want to put hot food into hot jars, to reduce the chance of bacteria growth.  So, once these were heated and forming little volcanic eruptions, I pulled them off the stove, and funneled them in to their hot jars.  The jars went back into their water bath for 45 minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen.  And fortunately, all of the jars sealed.

5 pints of tomatoes

5 pints of tomatoes

What a nice way to spend a gloomy day!  And I have something to show for my efforts.  Canning always makes me feel as if I’ve accomplished something and I like that.

*A bit about the importance of preserving heirloom varieties.  Heirloom varieties of all fruits and vegetables were once specifically chosen for certain characteristics, flavor, size, or a certain taste.  There are literally hundreds of heirloom varieties of tomatoes.  With the industrialization of agriculture, these heirloom varieties  have been pushed aside for hybrids, (plants that have been cross bred) and genetically modified fruits and vegetables that can withstand drought, pests, disease, pesticides and tend to grow to a specific shape and size, tolerate time and travel, and to look uniform on the grocery store shelves.  This monoculture is geared toward mass production, rather than flavor.  Thankfully, many home gardeners and local farmers strive to keep these heirloom varieties around, so that they are not lost forever, to the tasteless, perfectly round, blemish free tomato we see lined up in rows  upon at the grocery store.


September 1, Austin Urban Garden – Stress and Success September 2, 2010

With this lingering heat, parts of the garden are struggling to get through each day.  The Corn in the Three Sisters Garden, has been looking pale and tired, although most of the stalks are making corn.  Setting cobs?  Since the other two sisters flew the coop, the beans and pumpkins, the garden isn’t getting nitrogen from the beans.  And corn needs nitrogen.  So I picked up some fish emulsion and hand watered the corn with a diluted mixture.  I also threw some worm castings on top of the soil, because I have an irrational belief that worm poo fixes everything.  We’ll see.  But for now:

Heat stressed corn

corn cobs growing

The peppers are doing fine, but do look a bit stressed in the heat of the day.

Peppers hanging in

The tomatoes in the garden are waiting for less heat to fully thrive.

Garden Tomatoes look puny

Butternut Squash or Cucumber?

This is either butternut squash or lemon cucumber.  I planted both and can’t tell the difference.  Whatever it is, it is happy.  Hoping for the butternut, but if life hands me lemon cucumbers, I’ll make lemon cucumber pickles again.

The broccoli seeds are up.  I need to thin them a bit every day.  I never know how they all show up in one end of the garden.  Watering, maybe.

Broccoli seedlings

The Black Seeded Simpson lettuce has sprouted as well.  I really hope it cools off, or it will be too hot for this lettuce.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

There are some strange things sprouting in the potato bed, although I’m not sure any of them are potatoes.  Still waiting.   They might be compost.

On the Herb Patio, the Bay Laurel, which sat as a barron stick for a year, has sprouted a friend!  This will be fabulous for winter soups and stews.  I love Bay.

Bay for Winter

The garden winners of the day, strangely, are the tomatoes in the Earthbox.  They are the healthiest and heartiest of the whole lot.

Tomatoes in an Earthbox Surviving the Heat

So, it’s still hot, but I’m ever hopeful for Fall weather, and a more and more productive Fall and Winter garden.  The Fall and Winter garden are my favorites.  So abundant and with such good food.


No Grocery Store, Day 237 August 25, 2010

This was really not my favorite food day.  I’m still attempting to eat my way through my early “no grocery store” days of hoarding.  So I pulled from the freezer, a grass fed beef filet  from J-5 Farms.  I think that is right.  I got it from the now defunct Truck Farm Farmer’s Market.  I also pulled out some Kocurek Spanish Chorizo which I had frozen.

Breakfast, was 1 scrambled Vital Farm egg.

Lunch was really a couple of small snacks throughout the afternoon, of bites of the Kocurek Chorizo and Full Quiver raw cheddar.

I went to Boggy Creek Farm, specifically to pick up some of their end of season tomatoes.  All they had left were some very smallish Sungold Cherry Tomatoes.  As the season winds to the end, all tomatoes get smaller.  These were pretty tiny, so I bought 2 tubs.  My master plan, came from a conversation with Lee Ann Kocurek, about roasting tomatoes with olive oil, for salad dressing.  So, I commenced that process:

Roasting Sungolds

I fired up the Big Green Egg, and then quartered an onion which I drenched in olive oil.  Then I seasoned the steak and put that on.  Before dinner was even cooked, I’d lost interest in it, not sure why.

The final plate, would make Gordon Ramsay throw something.  The steak looks fine, the emulsified sungolds with olive oil look like baby food, (carrots, perhaps?) and weren’t the revelation I’d imagined.   The salad, was from gifted Bella Verdi lettuce, a farmer’s market tomato and Texas Olive Ranch olive oil and fig balsamic.  Bah.  This meal seems to be a direct reflection of my mood today.  Things (like people) just don’t seem to turn out as I’d hoped.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow.

Tasted slightly better than it looks

Oh yeah.  I now know that I don’t like the flavor of Sungold Tomatoes.  Not their fault.


Tomatoes Three Ways and Seed Potatoes July 18, 2010

I’m on the fence about planting a Fall Tomato crop, because of the pestilence from the now ending Spring tomato season.  It is a major annoyance and so destructive to have so many stink bugs and leaf foots.  But, nothing compares to a fresh tomato, and that is pretty compelling.  The difference in a fresh and store bought tomato is so obvious to me now, I’ve been eating around tomatoes in restaurants that don’t taste homegrown.

So, I’ve been processing my own garden tomatoes to make them last. Last night, I made a cooked sauce, with onions and garlic, and froze it, for later, when we can’t get or grow tomatoes.

Cooking tomatoes for sauce

Simmering them down

Smooth Tomato Sauce

I processed the cooked tomatoes with the emulsion blender, for a smooth sauce.  It is totally unseasoned, for now.  I can season it when I use it this winter.  It is in the freezer.

Today, I went to the HOPE Farmer’s Market to look for lettuce.   Much to my surprise, there was Ben from Salt and Time – I had forgotten he was at that market, and I hadn’t been there for a while.  Johnson’s Backyard Gardens had loads of San Marzano Tomatoes still, so I bought 2 boxes full to split with my serious pizza making friendChristian. I decided to process most of these raw, and began running them through the food mill.

Box-o- San Marzano Tomatoes

So, a couple or three hours working them through the food mill, and I think I’m set for winter.

Raw San Marzano Sauce

The few tomatoes I have yet to process are going to be run through the food processor with a pepper or two, and maybe a bit of cucumber, salt and pepper, and will be a Bloody Mary before this day is over.  I”m feeling pretty good about the state of tomatoes.

A bit of exciting garden news – I’ve been looking for seed potatoes all over, to plant in a couple of weeks for a winter crop.  I have not had much luck, but today, I found Yukon Gold potatoes at Johnson’s Backyard Garden and have them stored in a cool dry place until time to plant.  No potato grow bags this time around, these have a reserved spot in the garden.


Garden Update, Mid July July 16, 2010

It’s hot, and most of the gardens space is in rest mode.  I’m not going to plant anything else for at least a couple of weeks.  The Three Sisters Garden is doing well, I think.  The corn looks perfect, but the second set of sisters beans, and pumpkins are not quite all up.  Something has sprung up, but I haven’t looked close enough to see if its the pumpkin or beans.

Three Sisters Garden

The purple hull peas in the former landscape Nadina bed are looking gorgeous.

Purple Hull Peas

An unexpected surprise from the Watermelon I planted way too late.


I’m still picking Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes from one plant, and Lemon Cucumbers are coming on strong.  Peppers are still producing as well.

The Limes are almost ready to be picked and the Meyer Lemon needs some more time.


Meyer Lemons

And, once again, its time to make pesto.

Basil and Thyme

The lettuce is coming up in pots and needs to be thinned, which I’m horrible at.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

I’m on the hunt for seed potatoes to plant the first of August.  If you see any out there, let me know since I can’t go to the grocery store to use those.  I can probably order some online.


Three Sisters Garden, Second Sister July 10, 2010

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For once, I’m following directions to a T on the Three Sisters Garden.  My normal gardening style is ignore all the rules, and plant what you want, where you want with little regard for standard practices.  But not on this one.  Legends don’t become legends without some attention to detail.  So, the corn is  approximately 6 inches tall, maybe 8.

Three Sisters Corn

So, following the directions I planted Rattlesnake Beans and Purple Pole Beans in between the corn.

Rattlesnake and Purple Pole Beans

The third sister will be a mix of Butternut Squash and Sugar Pie Pumpkins as soon as the beans come up.  I got a jump on the Butternut Squash in the greenhouse, but true to form, I didn’t mark my seedlings, so I don’t know which are the squash and which are the lemon cucumbers that I don’t want in that garden.

Butternut Squash, Lemon Cucumbers, and Tomato Seedlings

In other parts of the garden, the lemon cucumbers have taken over the tomatoes and started using them as a trellis.  I was going to pull these tomatoes out today, but it will be difficult as the cucumbers have totally claimed them, part of the peppers, and a good portion of the yard.

4x8 bed engulfed with lemon cucumbers

That’s a rogue eggplant sticking up out of the cucumbers trying to escape.  Its like wild kingdom in that bed and I’m not inclined to mess with it today.  The large bed is still resting, and I’ll turn it in the morning.  I haven’t figured out my plan for it yet.  It has some peppers growing and that’s about it.  I need to make some tomato decisions here in the next couple of weeks.  I’m overrun at the moment, but would like to fill my freezer with more fresh tomato sauce and chili for the winter.

Lots of ripe Celebrities this week

Happy Gardening!


No Grocery Store, Days 187 and 188 July 8, 2010

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Yesterday, I missed breakfast again.  I might not ever manage to convert to a breakfast person, as long as I need to be out of the house by 7:40.    I found myself out on Hwy. 620 at lunchtime, and had an unfortunate salad and tortilla soup at The Oasis.  Big happenings out there that were actually disorienting to me when I turned down the road. They are building 21 retail spots, and two more restaurants and that whole few acres of land overlooking the lake is under intense development.  Hopefully the two new restaurants will focus more on the food quality, rather than relying on the view.  Sad that both can’t go hand in hand, but I can see how they don’t really need to.  Dinner was the last of the leftover grilled chicken, and an arugula and chevre salad.

Today, I had to be at the Ford dealership really early because stuff starting falling off my car, so I missed breakfast again.  I pondered walking over to Rudy’s to see if they had breakfast, other than tacos, but the rain started so I stayed put.  I had to be out on Hwy. 620 again, and had read about Artisan Bistro while waiting for my car at the Ford Dealership.  There was a really nice write up in the XLent part of the Statesman.  So after dealing with trailers at Magnum, we headed over to Artisan Bistro which is in Lakeway.  The owner and her French husband chef, were amazing, friendly, greeted us in the parking lot and welcomed us in.  We each ordered the Nicoise  Salad and split the French Onion Soup.    The salad was great, but the soup was stellar.  I wanted to get in the bowl and drench myself in it.  Seriously the best soup I’ve ever had.  This place is cute, quaint, and is serving seriously French Cuisine.  Go now.  Dinner was boring because I was gone all day and didn’t plan.  Scrambled Vital Farms eggs with Sand Creek cheese and garden tomatoes and peppers.  Still thinking about that soup though and the place is looking to shop as locally as possible, so I’m going to try to help them with that.


No Grocery Store, Days 183-185 July 6, 2010

Day 183, my half way to a year point, was Saturday.  I started off at the downtown Farmer’s Market with a couple of missions, purchase a whole chicken, purchase Kocurek ribs for a party on Sunday, and have a hot Dai Due breakfast, on the next to last week they will be available this year, unless the City changes its ordinances.  For breakfast, Dai Due chorizo, duck egg breakfast taco on El Milagro corn tortilla.   Perfect.  I picked up the ribs from the Kocureks, as well as some other tasty things, coffee from Texas Coffee Traders, and sadly no Bella Verdi lettuce.  The chicken was last, and it was a doozy, 6.5 lbs, from Smith and Smith Farms.  I also got some eggs from them.

Huge chicken

One of my goals going forward, is to find solutions to my perceived problems with buying everything at the farmer’s markets and local farms.  Saturday was the day I was going to teach myself to properly break down a chicken.  I’ve done it before, find it difficult, and have had very lopsided results.  So today, I was prepared to take my time and follow instructions.

Cut up chicken

I succeeded, although I think I want a cleaver to break the bones easier.  So for dinner, grilled chicken, and grilled corn, onion and tomato salad.

Oh, I forgot lunch.  Pizza at Enoteca Vespaio.  I’m ruined for pizza forever by Austin Food Journal’s, Christian Bowers’ perfect pizza.  What I’ve come to learn from eating his pizza regularly, and taking his pizza class, is that most restaurants pay little attention to the crust, deeming it just a vessel for the toppings.  Tasteless crust covered with too much greasy cheese was the failure at Enoteca, a pizza I used to like, before I knew better.  When I picked up my first slice, the pizza slumped over and everything slid off, leaving a greasy mess.  Christian’s pizza is the perfect balance of crispy, full flavored crust, the perfect amount of toppings that to not overwhelm the crust.  Balance and flavor, and its just perfect.

Day 184, 4th of July.  Breakfast, 2 scrambled eggs with garden tomatoes.  Then early afternoon, off to a party and rib competition at a friend’s house.  Dinner, the best ribs I’ve ever eaten.  There were 6 entries in the rib competition, and 2 in the mac and cheese competition.  The first rib I ate was the best rib I’ve ever had.  The second was even better.  The third rib I ate was shockingly better than the first two.  Crazy.  I don’t even think I had one of the winning ribs.

Day 185. Breakfast, 2 scrambled eggs with garden tomatoes.  Lunch at Z Tejas with mom, trout salad.  Dinner was leftover chicken and arugula salad (Boggy Creek) with garden tomatoes and CKC Marinated Feta.


Seedlings are up!Preparing the Fall Garden July 3, 2010

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This morning I went out to check the gardens, pick tomatoes and peppers and get chased by stink bugs.  Most of the remaining tomato plants are starting to look craggy.  While the Celebrity is still producing tomatoes, they are getting smaller.  Fortunately, the stink bugs haven’t found that plant yet, hidden behind the corn, and the tomatoes are blemish, and cloudy spot free and gorgeous, if small.  The Chocolate Cherries are still covered in unripe tomatoes, but have stopped producing the quantity they provided all Spring.  Several of my jalapeno pepper plants got crowded out by the tomatoes, so I planted a couple more in the cleared out beds.  The seeds I planted a few days ago in the greenhouse, are up!

Hearty looking seedlings

The Lemon Cucumbers and Butternut Squash are up, little sign of the Sungold tomatoes yet.  Equally exciting, the newly planted corn has made an appearance, albeit tiny.

Corn, its there, I swear

I’m excited about the volume of corn I planted, 40 seeds, rather than the random planting on the side beds.  This bed is dedicated to Three Sisters.  I can’t wait to see the beans growing up the corn stalks!

The Purple Hulls continue their march upwards and seem to be happy.

Purple Hull Peas

All in all, I’m happy about the status of things.  I’ve got to think about what I want to be eating in 3 months, and do something about it now, keeping in mind what I need to be planting in 3 months for winter.   Always something to think about in the garden.


No Grocery Store, Day 179 June 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — austinurbangardens @ 9:14 pm
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Good eat in day, especially due to the rain.  Breakfast, 1 scrambled Richardson Farms egg.  Lunch, salad of farmer’s market lettuce (ran out!), 2 boiled eggs, 1 piece Kocurek bacon, garden tomatoes, and a dressing made by blending Wateroak garlic and herb Feta with Wateroak goat milk.  For-the-win.  I had myself an afternoon of cooking and planting, which was a great way to spend a rainy day.  I harvested lots of basil and made pesto.

cleaned basil for pesto

MMM Pesto

Garden basil, Texas Olive Ranch Olive Oil, Farmer’s Market garlic, Brazos Valley Parmesan, my pecans.  Cuz that’s how I roll.

Then I attempted to make mozzarella with Way Back When Diary milk.  By the dang book, and it never came together.  First cheese failure.  Boo.

The whole time I was rocking at pesto, and failing at cheese, I had Richardson Farms pork ribs in the oven on 250.  And that’s what I had for dinner.  Just ribs.

I paid Antonelli’s Cheese a visit earlier this afternoon to pick up my parmesan, and also got some Pure Luck June’s Joy which is amazing and Barrie Cullinan’s bread, which I stuck in the freezer when I remembered my “no wheat for a while” deal.  I also got some Salt and Time salami, which I knoshed in the car on the way home.  Not all of it, but I could have.  This is an exciting time to be in Austin if you like amazing local food.