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Food for Thought
Summer Foursome: Beans, Tomatoes, Corn, and Zucchini
It's September and I am buried in bounty, scrambling to keep up with the vegetables pouring out of my garden and reminding myself to be thankful. This is the payoff for months of toil, and I really am thrilled the garden did so well. I just wish everything didn't need my attention all at once! It's how I imagine it would feel to have twins. Or in my case, quadruplets: beans, tomatoes, corn, and zucchini.
My green beans have been so abundant this year that I have almost filled an entire chest freezer with them. I've given them away to anyone who will take them, and still they blossom and grow. It's a nice problem to have, for sure. Next week I'll take a big pile of them to the local food bank, because as much as I love beans, I don't want to burn out on them now; there's that whole freezer full to consume!
I may have gotten a little carried away last winter when the seed catalogs started arriving, because I bought seven different varieties. Green and purple bush beans, green and purple pole beans, flat beans, noodle beans . . . it made for a lot of picking! I personally prefer the flavor and texture of the bush beans. My back, however, prefers the taller pole beans.
I've decided to stick with green beans in the future. In theory, the purple beans were supposed to be easier to see and pick, but I found that they easily hide in the shadows and lurk there, growing enormous and tough. Although the purple beans taste good, and they do turn green when they are cooked, the green is more of an olive color . . . not quite as pleasing to the eye as the beautiful emerald green I'm accustomed to.
I canned some dilly beans, but if the response I got on Facebook means anything, I guess I'd better can a few more batches. And maybe buy stock in UPS, because a lot of friends and family want me to ship them some. If you've never heard of dilly beans, they are spicy pickled beans. The vinegar you add to the beans provides acid, so they are safe to can without lugging out the pressure canner; you only need to water process them. They're trimmed, washed, packed into jars with dill, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and covered with a boiling mixture of water, salt, and vinegar. The jars are boiled for five minutes (ten for me because we're at a high altitude) and they're ready to store.
Remember: Only pickled beans can be water processed. Regular green beans must be carefully pressure canned!
I experimented with sturdy green pole beans, purple flat beans, purple bush beans, and a thinner green bush bean. The purple beans turn green when they're cooked, but in the jar the color had nowhere to go, so it turned the liquid a pretty light ruby hue.
When I first made dilly beans, I wasn't sure what a "head" of dill was. A head of dill is one of the round flower heads that make up the big starburst-type flower. The wispy, feathery parts (dillweed) are what are usually sold as fresh dill in the grocery store. For this batch of beans I used heads in three of the jars and dillweed in the other three. Hint: If you have leftover dill, chop it up and freeze it in a little water in ice cube trays for another use.
I may bake with abandon, but I can with precision. I haven't been doing it for very long, so I don't take any chances. I read the recipes over and over, and then follow them exactly. My two favorite sources for recipes are the Ball Blue Book and a great online resource: National Center for Home Food Preservation. Here's the link to the recipe I used for my dilly beans: Pickled Dilled Beans. Did I say I follow the recipes exactly? Well . . . almost. I would recommend one tiny little change to this recipe: Divide the pepper flakes up between the jars before adding the boiling mixture, because otherwise the flakes sink to the bottom of the pan and won't be evenly distributed when the liquid is poured over the beans.
I must pack my jars a little too much, because this recipe only makes six pints for me. But that's six beautiful, sparkling, spicy pints of beans. Make sure to let the jars sit for a couple of weeks to let the beans plump back up (they are a little shriveled at first) and allow the flavor to develop.
My other go-to bean recipe is really, really easy: just three ingredients (four, if you choose to add onions). Green Beans and Bacon is perfect for a side dish, but we generally make a meal out of it. It doesn't take much bacon to add a whole lot of flavor, so this dish is very easy on the budget.
This year my tomatoes have been enthusiastic, so I've been busy making Spicy Tomato Sauce. It cooks down in stages, taking hours to thicken into paste. Along the way we enjoy the thinner sauce as a vegetable drink or Bloody Mary, the thickened sauce as pasta or pizza sauce, and the final paste in various soups and casseroles. Frozen in ice cube trays, extra paste is enjoyed all winter long.
Tomato sauce is a staple in my household, so every tomato is gratefully picked and cherished. I sometimes can plain tomato sauce, but usually I just freeze it in heavy freezer bags. They are stacking up in my freezer, which makes me deliriously happy.
Corn is a little tricky here in the Inland Northwest. It's hot enough, but we have a fairly short season, and I've been skunked many times. One year frost hit a week before the corn was ready to pick. Last year for some reason we just had "failure to thrive." The corn grew beautifully until it was about a foot tall, and then it just languished. This year it is over seven feet tall and some of my stalks have three corn cobssomething I've never been lucky enough to get before. I'll can some, freeze some, eat a lot, and . . . make jelly!
Corn cob jelly is a beautiful honey-like jelly made from the cobs of corn. Waste not, want not! Traditionally it is made with red field corn and is a lovely pink tone. I make mine with sweet corn, and it is pale yellow. It's fun to give as gifts because many people have never heard of it, so you have the whole novelty factor in your favor.
If you don't want to cook 12 ears of corn at a time, just cook a few, cut the corn off the cob, and freeze the cobs until you have enough. I staggered my planting this year, so I don't have to deal with the entire corn patch at once (been there, done that) but still will have no problem coming up with 12 cobs. They're boiled and then the liquid is strained, sugar and pectin is added, the mixture is boiled, and then poured into jelly jars and processed in a boiling water canner.
This recipe has been around forever and there are lots of "Grandma's Favorite Corn Cob Jelly" recipes out there, but once again I played it safe and used a recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation: Corncob Jelly
You know what's coming next, don't you? What September food column would be complete without a zucchini recipe? I only planted two plants this year, but still have zucchini and yellow neck squash chasing me out of the garden. It grows so quickly! I grate and freeze a lot of it for zucchini bread, and we eat it in stir-fry regularly, but I swear it multiplies on my counter.
Here's a truly delicious use for zucchini. I layered ham and cheese on thin slices of sautéed zucchini and rolled it up. When baked in a garlic wine sauce, it was tender and incredibly flavorful. I didn't miss the pasta at all; the zucchini was a perfect substitution.
Next month everything should be harvested and tucked away in the fruit room or garage. It's going to be touch and go with the squash and pumpkins . . . they're close to being ready, but with only two weeks left before our usual frost, anything could happen. You know I won't be able to resist throwing a pumpkin recipe or two your way next month, even if I need to use canned pumpkin.
Enjoy the harvest, whether it's from your own backyard, a neighbor's, or a farmers market. Fresh, local food is always the best.
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2014.