Ready, Aim, Fire!

Canning season is upon us.  Our supply of dill pickles has been slowly but surely dwindling, and replacements must be made.  Cucumbers have been available for a month or more, but the dill plants are only now coming into their own.

We had massage/osteopathy appointments on Thursday, so we were unable to go to the Farmers’ Market.  We had to go Saturday.  Neither the wife nor daughter is an early riser, and usually we get there 10:00/10:30 AM.  This was Labor Day Saturday!!!  D-Day would have been easier.  With both of them handicapped, I insisted that we get there 8:00/8:30 AM, to be able to park in the same Postal Code, and we still nearly needed to bring our own parking space.

More and more, we are joining the ranks of the Lazy And Incompetent cooks I wrote about 15 months ago.  A couple of weeks ago, the wife found that the Wholesale Warehouse has gallon cans of diced tomatoes, which we could use for making salsa or chili sauce whenever they are needed.  The cost is less than the equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes, bought at the market, and they have already been skinned and chopped.

Dill pickles though, still require the personal touch.  We bought a half a bushel of small cucumbers from a favorite vendor, and some fragrant dill stalks from a Mennonite, and hauled them home.  The car still smells of dill – Mmmh!  Saturday evening, we scrubbed the cucumbers and put them to soak overnight.  Sunday afternoon, we started cutting and slicing.

Then we made up the first batch of canning syrup.  We had obtained a couple of pounds of de-skinned garlic, which needed to be blanched.  We used the water from that, to add garlic flavor to the pickling mixture.  We, (as in, the wife) cut the heads off the dill plants, to add to each jar, and cut up the stems to be boiled with the syrup, to add more dill flavor.

The first batch complete by about 9:30, we sent the son out to pick up a couple of pizzas for supper, and then mixed up another pot of witches’ brew, for a second batch.  By 2 AM we had canned (bottled) 15 quarts, 15 pints, and three half-pints, of slices, chunks, and quarters.  Actually, both the son and the grandson like to eat the garlic chunks which add flavor at the bottom of the jars, so, two of the half-pints were the last of the garlic which didn’t go in with the pickles.

Just as we were bottling the last of the pickles we’d obtained at the market the day before, the main building at the Farmers’ Market was busy burning down.  A passerby reported flames at about 1:30 AM, and by the time firemen arrived, all they could do was prevent damage to other, nearby buildings.  Designed to resemble a Mennonite barn, only the fittings and contents were metal and glass.  All the rest was solid, dry wood.

It will take a few days to establish the cause.  In the meantime, 60 vendors and countless customers are impacted.  Many of the locations on the main floor sold meat, as well as eggs, or Guernsey milk.  There were also a candy vendor, produce, fish, cheese, baked goods, a specialty tea/coffee place tucked under the stairs, and an eating area at one end with picnic-table seating, and several stalls selling donairs, pizza, perogies, cinnamon buns, hot apple fritters, Oktoberfest sausages and fries and burgers.  Outlets on mezzanines on both sides provided Mennonite quilts, footwear, leather clothing, dream-catchers, jewelry, semi-precious gemstones, and other various kitsch.  There may be a small puddle of melted gold in the ashes.

The market is a huge tourist trap attraction, with busloads of blue-haired walker-pushers being bussed in from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.  We met a nice couple from London, Ontario, over coffee, Saturday morning.  Management is not sure whether cleanup will proceed quickly enough to allow the rest of the market to open as soon as this coming Thursday.

The Market is Waterloo Region’s answer to Santa’s Village, Niagara Falls, or the Shakespeare Festival.  I am sure that the structure will be rebuilt, perhaps even larger, grander, more Mennonite-ish, but winter is almost upon us.  It could be up to a year to get it replaced.  Built just before legislation made it mandatory, it had no sprinkler system.  Any replacement must provide an elevator, if a second storey is included.

In the meantime, we can attend to get our vegetables, and apple fritters and hot chocolate.  We may have to follow that with longer, scenic drives to other Southern-Ontario tiny hamlets, with names like Heidelberg, Dorking and Elora, to get the quality meats we have grown used to. (Do you like Dorking??  I don’t know, I’ve never Dorked.  Yeah, right!)

Like fine wine, it takes a while for pickles to age.  By early next summer these could be ready to open, and let breathe.  Anybody up for a barbecue?  I could show up with the hamburger slices.  All you’d have to provide would be the burgers and beer – and potato salad – and corn….could we do corn??

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Harvest Moon

It’s all about food and drink, one way or another.  Well, perhaps not all, but much of what we do involves sustaining ourselves with caloric and fluid intake.  Working is obvious, driving to and from work, shopping, all work toward filling us up.

We could say that things like blogging are just to satisfy our creative and social needs, but even there, KayJai posts about what she does at work, Hotspur blogs about what he sees and does on the way to work, and produces three books about his experiences, which he hopes to sell, to make money to buy food and drink.  I don’t feel guilty that so much of my stuff revolves around food and drink.

It’s that time of year again, harvest time.  Many of the things we like to have to eat are ripe, and plentiful.  The wife and I have been at it again, actually three times in the last two weeks.  We’ve been canning again, and again, and again.

I looked up the concept of canning in the dictionary.  Many people only understand the term *can* to refer to a metal container, but the word goes back to Old Norse, and means any type of vessel, so we “can”, in glass jars.

I remember helping my mother can, lo these many years ago.  Back then, she melted paraffin wax and poured it on the top of foodstuffs she was preserving.  Some people cut lengths of string and hung them on the sides of the jars, so that they could use them to pull the wax off the top.  We just used a knife to pry the wax off, and then a standard lid for refrigerator storage.

First the wife and I went up to the farmers market and bought a half a bushel of Roma tomatoes, to make homemade salsa with.   As we were buying the half bushel bag, there was another woman who was getting a bushel and a half to also make salsa with.  The wife asked her if she ran a restaurant, but the answer was no, it was just for the family and gifts for friends.  I’m glad our family is small and we don’t have many friends.

I do a lot of fetching and toting, but the wife is stuck with the old-school chopping and preparation.  De-seeding a half bushel so that we had just the flesh, took her most of an afternoon.  Then there were the onions and peppers to chop up.  I peeled the onions, but she did the rest.  By the time we were finished, we had 21 pints of glorious homemade salsa to garnish my beloved Tex-Mex dishes for a year.  We will be making quesadillas for supper this Saturday, but I’ve already had some on another platter of nachos on Monday.  Delicious!!  We saved the skins and ran them through a manual apple-saucer, and used the residue to make an exquisite home-style tomato soup.

We also bought a half a bushel of cucumbers carefully chosen for size, to make some dill pickles with.  We preserve dill pickles in a variety of shapes/styles, for different uses, and still have certain ones left from last year.  We bottle a few whole dills, some dill halves, a lot of quartered dills, some dill slices, for hamburgers and sandwiches, and dill chunks.  These are cut off the ends of cucumbers a little too long to fit in pint jars, or ones with bad spots.

A quart of chunks, run through a Magic Bullet food-processor and drained, yields a pint of dill relish, which the wife and son prefer to sweet relish for hot dogs.  You can also mix it 50/50 with mayonnaise, some lemon juice and a few drops of Tabasco sauce to produce a great tartar sauce for fish, or home-made falafel patties.  We put down 18 pints of dill quarters, and four more quarts of chunks.

As a special treat, we have come to love crab-apple jelly, especially on croissants for Sunday brunch.  The taste is exquisite, but it’s fairly expensive, because tiny crab-apples require more labor to harvest.  The daughter lived on a street where there were four apple trees on the boulevard, alongside a church parking lot.  We picked our own for several years.  We went back last year, and the city had widened the road, taking down the trees.

The daughter found a house backing the community trail near her place, which had two trees beside the trail.  The owner told her she could have all the apples she wanted.  We made a big batch of crab-apple jelly last year.  We went back this year and found that the home-owner had removed the trees.  She must eat it a lot faster than the wife and I.  We still have enough left, but the daughter is out.  She paid the bucks and bought a six-quart basket at the farmers’ market and gave them, along with a bag of beet sugar to us, for us to make her a batch.

It took three days of on-and-off labor, but we finally bottled 17 half-pint jars of this ambrosia.  So crystal clear you can read a paper through the bottles, but with a deep golden/claret color.  If you are lucky enough to find it in a store, each of those little jars would cost about $3, but if you ever spot any, it could be worth the money.  Of course, the store-bought stuff isn’t nearly as good as our home-made product.

I think that’s it for produce this year.  Next stop is to start accumulating ingredients for home-made Christmas cake.  Gotta stop typing now.  It’s snack time!  You coming?