2019 Garden: Canning Tomatoes, Pickled Veggies, + My Sweet Potato Harvest30. September 2019
Whew, this year’s garden is nearly finished for the season. I had some success and some less than stellar performances. I tried and surprisingly succeeded at growing sweet potatoes for the first time. I experimented with new green beans for shelling. And I was almost overrun by tomatoes. Woot. Take a look at what I harvested and canned :)
I planted several new varieties of tomatoes this year. Brad’s Atomic Grape tomatoes had very mixed reviews online. You either loved it or hated it. My plants were loaded, but I could never tell when they were ripe because they were always so firm. Then they ended up splitting if I let them go too long. The skins are thick... and the taste??? I am not sure. They tasted unripe? Was that because they were unripe or because that's just what they tasted like?
Ultimately I decided to pick most of them green to pickle them. And they tasted amazing like that. So this plant worked out fine for me because I didn't have to wait until the end of the season to pickle green tomatoes.
Our Custom Vintage Apothecary canning labels can be customized for any food variety and sugar scrubs too.
Brad’s Atomic Grape tomatoes are super cool looking for sure though! They start off black and green before morphing into an iridescent array of cosmic colors.
I planted Mushroom Basket tomatoes because they looked really neat. Several plants were prolific while the other plants were stunted and barely produced. Tons of fruit were very large in size. One plant had a giant cluster of fruit resulting in some getting crushed under the weight. I have never had that issue before because my plants never produce that heavily. I realize now that I should’ve thinned the plants out a little, but I wasn’t expecting such a large harvest. Plus I’m totally lazy when it comes to pruning tomato plants. I like unruly and rambling greenery taking over my garden.
I had one really fun triangle-shaped Mushroom Basket tomato. It reminded me of the first GMO tomato called "Flavor Savr.” And no I didn't spell that wrong or make it up. Flavor Savr was designed to ripen on the vines unlike other factory farmed tomatoes that are picked green so they are easier to ship. Green tomatoes are then ripened with ethylene gas. Flavor Savr was tougher and could be stacked since it had a flatter bottom. Did you know there were tomatoes bred to be square in the 50s so they were easier to harvest and ship? Anyway, Flavor Savr wasn't designed for better taste or nutrition, it was all about the industrial food system doing what it does. And can you believe that it had good publicity? Tom Brokaw said on nightly news that it stayed ripe longer and was tastier. FAKE NEWS!!! Apparently it had an awful taste, gasp, I'm shocked. AND it wasn't very square either. I read about Flavor Savr in a great book called Food Fight, GMOs & the Future of the American Diet. It's a fair and balanced book that covers the pros and cons of GMOs. Check it out!
From left to right, Top Row: Black Krim, mixed green tomatoes, Mushroom Basket. Middle Row: Mushroom Basket, Black Krim. Bottom Rows: Brad’s Atomic Grape, Dark Galaxy, mixed tomatoes
I put of 7 quarts of tomatoes and 17 pints of salsa so far. There are several ways to peel tomatoes for canning. You can dunk them in boiling water for a minute, then place in a pot of ice water. The skins will slide right off. Or you can core and freeze the tomatoes whole to process later on. This is a handy time saving tip if you are overwhelmed with ripe tomatoes and don’t have time to can right away. Once you thaw the tomatoes, the skins slide off easily. Except on Mushroom Basket tomatoes. I felt like I was picking a dozen wedgies out of each tomato. Sorry for the gross analogy. I have no other way to describe peeling this tomato variety. All the pleats made it more time consuming to peel than your traditional round or Roma tomato. This was still a prolific variety and the fruit was semi-solid. I’m just not sure if I’ll plant it again next year.
Our Country Quilt Tomato canning labels come pre-printed for salsa, sauce, jam, juice, or a blank label to handwrite your own text.
I made sloppy joe sauce for the first time. My husband cannot eat anything with high fructose corn syrup or corn byproducts. It’s tough to find sloppy joe sauce free of corn, so I wanted to try making my own. I used this sloppy joe starter mix recipe from Chez LaRae. LaRae has done several guest blog recipe posts for our website. Try her Three Citrus & Vanilla Bean Marmalade and Watermelon Rind & Habanero Pickles recipes. And LaRae's sloppy joe sauce mix is great too. I only make two sandwiches at a time, so I decided to can these in the small 4-oz jars for a single use meal.
I dehydrated my tomato skins. My husband said I was crazy. Newsflash: I was crazy before I dehydrated tomato skins ;) I attempted to dry skins last year in my very sad 30-year old Mr. Coffee dehydrator. It took over a day. So I decided to upgrade to a new dehydrator. The skins took about three hours to dry in my new Excaliber dehydrator. Woot. Once dry, I processed them in my coffee grinder to make tomato powder. I’ve never used tomato powder before, but I gather you can add it to all types of seasonings and foods.
I harvested all my green tomatoes because it was supposed to frost (it did not). I made pickled green tomatoes and also this wonderful Green Tomato Chutney. The chutney worked wonderfully on a grilled gouda cheese sandwich. I felt like aI was eating an “adult” grilled cheese sammie, not one that came out of flimsy plastic wrap. Then I canned this Green Tomato Relish that my husband claims smells like a mustard ketchup explosion in our kitchen (it does).
I made use of our new Country Quilt Green Tomato canning labels. These come pre-printed with several food options plus a blank label to handwrite text.
Green Tomato Mock Apple Crisp. YES, that's a thing! NO it's not gross... but I'll be the first to admit I was skeptical. It has lots of sugar and cinnamon and is topped with more sugar and oats. So it's similar to a sweet apple crisp. It's worth a try if you have extra green tomatoes left. Just swap maters in place of apples because why the heck not? There's a slightly different taste from the tomatoes, but it's not bad, like oh my gosh I'm eating tomatoes in dessert. It's pretty good, so I will definitely make this again next season.
I had great success with my new Rainbow Mix carrot variety which you can read all about on my last blog post. Since I harvested a bunch, I decided to pickle many of them. I used my go-to pickled carrot recipe of course. You must get a copy of Can It & Ferment It: 75 Satisfying Small-Batch Canning and Fermentation Recipes for the Whole Year by Stephanie Thurow. I use Stephanie's spicy pickled carrot recipe, except I cut way back on the red pepper flakes because I’m a super wimp. The garlic does still make it a little zippy, but not so much that someone afraid of heat can’t eat it.
I pickled Black Nebula carrots too. Pretty neat-o, right? The coloring of the black carrots looks a lot like pickled beets. I've been asked before if pickled carrots are crunchy. They aren't crunchy like raw carrots, but they also aren't super soft like cooked carrots. I've done pickled fridge carrots before and those are super crunchy. So processing them does soften them some. These are great to eat just like pickles, or I add them to egg or potato salad too.
I confess, I did NOT grow cucumbers but rather got them from the farmer’s market. And this was my first time CANNING pickles! In the past I've only made fridge pickles, and many years ago I fermented some. I processed these using the guidelines in Can It & Ferment It: 75 Satisfying Small-Batch Canning and Fermentation Recipes for the Whole Year by Stephanie Thurow. The cucs got an ice bath to insure they stayed crisp. I'm letting these pickle a while before trying them out, so I'll keep y'all posted on the "crunch.” As a test, I tried Ball's Pickle Crisp in one of the jars and marked the lid so I knew which one it was. But honestly, I wouldn't be bothered by a soggy pickle. Unless it was a sweet pickle. That might make me punch someone. ALSO, I used apple cider vinegar in a few of the jars instead of white. Why did I do that? I dunno. Now I'm nervous those may taste like sweet pickles. Does ANYONE like sweet pickles?
Our Country Quilt Pickle canning labels are available for all styles of pickles and also a blank label to handwrite your own text.
Black Turtle Beans
This was my first time growing a bean just for shelling purposes. In the past I’ve only grown green beans. So I was pretty excited to give this a try. The Black Turtle Bean were very prolific. I only planted a few rows in the garden, but every plant was loaded with beans. I picked a handful of green beans early on to make dilly beans, but then I let the rest grow until the plants browned. I picked the beans when the shells were dry on the plants at the end of this summer. Then I shelled them periodically throughout the next week. It was quite calming shelling beans. I only had one pot full of shells, so I wasn’t anticipating a huge harvest.
I ended up getting about 3 cups worth of dried beans. That’s way more than I expected. Each pod had quite a few beans in it. The Black Turtle beans are a little smaller than the regular dry black beans I get from the store. I have yet to cook these, so I can’t comment on the taste yet.
Last year I attempted to grow my own sweet potato slips and failed miserably. Nearly every blog and tutorial I came across all touted the same claim “It’s so easy to grow your own sweet potato slips!” Who writes this stuff? Not me. Here’s my rundown on starting your own slips “It’s supposed to be easy, but good luck, you’ll need it.” I tried two different methods for growing slips. The standard method of poking sticks in a sweet potato and semi-submerging it in a mason jar of water sort of worked. I had several slips shoot up after a week or so. But once I twisted them off to root in water, I ran into issues. They rotted and withered. Oops. I changed the water periodically and did my best to keep them warm, but only a few started to root before they died. Then I tried another method of partially burying a whole sweet potato in a pot while it sits on a heat mat. Supposedly if you keep it watered, it will grow slips crazy fast and you’ll never go back to the standard method (so sayeth the blogger whose tutorial I stumbled across). Yeah yeah yeah, anyway, that sweet potato rotted. No slips, just a pot of funk with a smell that had me wandering around the kitchen looking for what died.
So fast-forward to this season. I pre-ordered sweet potato slips online last fall. Lazy. They came in a set of 25 slips which I knew would be too many for the small garden spot I had. I felt like I was overpaying, but I wasn’t sure if I could find slips locally so I pre-ordered the slips anyway. LUCKILY, after I planted half the slips, they were eaten by rabbits. Wow, I just happened to have over a dozen more slips to plant. So no slips went to waste. How lucky is that (insert eye-roll here). Then I fenced the pots in with chicken wire, which is what I should've done first thing. Lesson learned (until I repeat the same mistake again next time).
I bought two 20-gallon fabric containers that were 30 inches wide but only 8 inches deep. I wondered if that would be too shallow, but I went forward with it anyway. The slips came about two full weeks early and looked pretty awful. I ended up planting them a week earlier than I should have. And since I wanted to “get my money’s worth” on the 25 slips I bought, I overcrowded the container. Typical Alison. But hey, once the rabbits ate them, I had less to replant in the container on round two. Winner. But I still spaced them closer together than I should have. I prepped the spoil with compost and bone meal. Then I did weekly waterings with banana peel fertilizer until I got lazy and only fertilized twice a month. So I wasn’t expecting much for my very first sweet potato harvest. I wondered if I would end up with a pot full of packed roots. I was pleasantly surprised with my harvest. Digging potatoes always feels like a treasure hunt. And look at my treasure!
I had numerous large tubers and some really long ones. There were lots of smaller sweet potatoes with some fun shapes. Then there were some that looked like... intestines? Do these count as sweet potatoes? I’m going to eat them anyway. Right now the potatoes are curing on my back porch. They need to sit a week to develop a thicker skin so they can be stored. Also, the curing allows them to get sweeter. So I’ll cook some in the coming weeks and decide if it’s worth it to grow them again. They were fairly easy to grow, and the harvest was decent.
I planted Magic Molly purple potatoes for the first time. Unfortunately, this did NOT do well for me. I grew it vertically in a fabric pot which is probably where I went wrong. I attempted to grow potatoes vertically in a trash can years ago and had similar results. When you grow vertically, you add more dirt as the plant grows. So ultimately you are supposed to end up with a lot of potatoes in a small area. Initially my potato plants seemed to flourish. But at some point, they didn’t look great. The soil was loose and filled with lots of compost. I think the fabric pots dried out too fast.
I only harvest a couple of potatoes that were very small. In fact, my seed potatoes were larger than anything I harvested. I was kind of bummed, especially considering the price I paid for tubers. I have always had success planting potatoes in my raised bed in hills. But since my garden has limited space, vertical growing seems worth trying. I will do my best to remember NOT to grow potatoes vertically again. As for the taste of Magic Molly? It tasted like a potato.
Below is Dark Galaxy, Brad's Atomic Grape, Mushroom Basket, Amish Paste, & 1 teeny tiny Black Krim tomato... Can you spot the Krim? It's the BEST tomato on this whole glorious plate, IMO.
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