Harvest Day

It's almost officially fall (only five days till the equinox!) and like all the squirrels in Madison, I've been feeling a strong urge to put food away for the winter. So early Sunday morning Dave and I took a trip out to The Tree Farm. It's a pick your own heaven - everything from flowers to all kinds of vegetables to Christmas trees. Not organic, but it's obvious from being there that much care is taken to make sure the land and the plants are treated well. The picture above is one Dave took of the pick your own flowers. We didn't pick any, but the photo is too beautiful to leave out.

We got there right at 9am when they opened, and were the first customers of the day. We were hoping to get peppers and tomatoes to freeze, and possibly some cabbage for sauerkraut. We were not disappointed.

Here is just a tiny fraction of the peppers on offer at The Tree Farm. They had everything.... fancy hot peppers, all colors of bells, poblano, jalapeno, pimento, Hungarian wax, Italian fryers.....Not too many red ones (it's been a cool summer and red peppers haven't had a good chance to develop) but being the first ones there we got whatever reds there were to be gotten.

Check out these big beautiful Italian fryers!

I love these deep purple bell peppers - so dramatic!

Next we went for the tomatoes. These are paste tomatoes - not staked up, which is a surprisingly common way to do it. They're for sauce, so it's OK that they get some scarring from the ground. There were certainly plenty of them! It took us less than a half hour to pick 50lb, and we could have kept going all day.

Here's our final haul. 50lb of paste tomatoes, close to 30 pounds of peppers, 5 pounds or so of tomatillos, and some of the biggest most beautiful cabbages I've seen, all for the low low price of $60.00. I just love pick your own! Not only do you get a deal, but you can pick exactly what you want at the stage of ripeness you want. It's great!

Now the work began - we went home and started the processing.

Priority number one was the tomatoes. We wanted to make paste to freeze. Some people might cringe at this, but I try not to peel anything if I can help it. We just washed them and put them through the food processor seeds, skin, and all, and then put them on the stove to cook down slowly. I don't mind a little peel in things, and processing them chopped the peel up to almost unnoticeable bits. Maybe if I didn't work a full time job and all the rest I'd have time for things like peeling tomatoes, but it's just not worth it to me at this point.

We filled out biggest pot, along with an even bigger pot we borrowed from our mom. They were both filled to the brim when we started. We let them come to a boil, then turned them down super low and simmered for almost 24 hours. By the time they were done, they'd reduced by nearly half and were super thick and full of tomato flavor. We got 13 or 14 quart bags of paste total, which I put in the fridge to cool and then into the chest freezer in the basement.

Once the tomatoes were going, we started in on the peppers. Here they all are, getting washed outside in Dave's big Tupperware. Just gorgeous!

He fired up the grill and started the long task of roasting them all. It was at least 4 or 5 batches before he was done, and it took most of the afternoon.

Not the best picture of me, but you can get a good idea of the size of these cabbages. They were nearly 10lb each.

Just one of them nearly filled my sauerkraut crock. You put the cabbage in in layers with salt and pound it down in between to release the water. Here it is before pounding.

It's amazing how much it reduces when you pound it. I was able to add half of the red cabbage we picked to the top and pound that down. After thinking about it, I decided I should have put the red cabbage in first - this way the color is going to sink down and discolor the green, but it's too late now.

I put a small plate on top.....

..... and weighted it all down with two bricks. (washed and sterilized bricks of course!) I also added some water to bring the level up way over the cabbage. My problem with sauerkraut in the past has been not enough water so the top of cabbage gets ucky. It's all supposed to be submerged. I made sure there was plenty of water this time, so hopefully it works better. It'll be at least a few weeks before it's ready to try out. I covered it with a dish towel and put it in the basement to do it's fermentation thing.

Meanwhile, Dave was still out there grilling peppers.

They cooked down to just a fraction of their fresh size. We packed them into freezer bags and put them into the fridge to cool before going into the chest freezer in the basement. I didn't get pictures, but my low tech way of packing freezer bags without too much air is to close the Ziploc almost all the way, put a straw into the open corner, and suck as much air out as I can. They you just take the straw out and close it up as fast as possible. Once again, some purists will probably shudder at this, but it works well for me. I'm not picky.

By the end of the day, our fridge was full of bags of peppers and tomatoes ready to go into the freezer. The green bags are salsa verde I made with the tomatillos we'd picked - just tomatillos, salt, lime juice, and an anaheim pepper or two.

But we weren't done yet! Dave didn't grill all these cayenne peppers, he was afraid they would slip through the grates in the grill and he was totally sick of grilling peppers anyway, so a few days later he cooked them up in a pan with some grape seed oil and garlic and then pureed it all in the food processor with apple cider vinegar and honey. Be carefull it your ever try something like this at home - the spicy peppers off-gassed and made us cough every time we went near the kitchen!

He ended up with this beautiful hot sauce. Very very spicy of course, but with just enough sweet and vinegar to make a nice flavor. A little goes a long way, but it's delicious!

As if I hadn't gotten enough of the pick my own thing, on Monday I went to Blue Skies Farm in Oregon and picked these beautiful raspberries to freeze. The pale yellow ones are ripe, just a different variety. I kept two pints fresh for myself and froze the rest. It works really well to first lay them all out in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer, and then pack them into freezer bags. That way they don't clump together as they freeze.

Here's my freezer in the basement as it looks now. We've still got a ways to go to fill it up, but not bad for one weekend!
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