Channelling My Inner Ant

September 30, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Melissa Graham

Photograph Courtesy of Artisan Events

When the lonely autumn winds begin to wail, I am gripped with a sense of such urgency. For weeks, the markets have been so full with summer’s bounty that it is easy to forget that the growing season will end. The arrival of first real fall day never fails to take me by surprise. The lengthening shadows are a rude reminder that fruits need to be frozen, peppers preserved and marmalade made. Fall is a serious time for serious cooks. Farewell grasshopper, I need to channel my inner ant. The following is an account of this year’s preserving period.

Day 1: Friday

I collect my recipes, check the pantry for staples that need replacing and make my shopping list, checking it twice.

Day 2: Saturday

At the beginning of a busy day, I stop at Green City Market to pick up my orders: 7 pounds of yellow tomatoes and 10 pounds red bell peppers from Genesis, a flat of golden raspberries from Ellis, 10 pounds of roma tomatoes and 5 pounds black plum tomatoes from Green Acres. Although I intend to start my recipes today, it doesn’t quite happen.

Day 3: After the final Sox home game, I take a trip to Whole Foods to pick up the remaining ingredients. While listening to Thor’s bass lesson, I blanch and peel the yellow tomatoes, halve and salt the black plums set on racks in half sheet pans for oven-drying, thinly slice 4 oranges and 2 lemons for the tomato marmalade. As dinner is cooking, I start the tomato marmalade in my massive unlined copper jamming pot. After an hour and a half, I cover the mixture with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature overnight. I also slice up a pound and half of rhubarb, mix it with sugar, and cover the two with the juice and zest of two grapefruit. This gets covered with plastic wrap and set aside on my kitchen counter to macerate overnight.

Day 4: I fire the oven to 200° F and put both trays of salted tomatoes into it. Pulling out the golden raspberries from my extra refrigerator, I inspect them for mold. Out of 12 pints, I lose one. Half is spread onto two half sheet pans lined with Silpat. The first pan goes into the freezer. The remaining half will be made into jam. I fill the canning pot that I inherited from my grandmother with cold water and submerge 5 quilted jam jars in it. Setting on two burners, I bring the water to a boil. I scrape the macerated rhubarb into my small canning pot. Over medium high heat, I bring it to a simmer. Once the sugar is fully dissolved, I turn the heat to high boiling it until the temperature of the rhubarb is 200° F. When the jars have been in the boiling water for 10 minutes, I remove them with my jar lifter to my towel lined counter setting them upside down to drain. When the rhubarb is ready, I return the jars to their right side and fill them with the assistance of a ladle and a wide-mouthed funnel. With hot lids and rings, I seal them. Right afterwards, I set the tomato marmalade back onto the stove, remove the plastic wrap and bring it to a simmer. I add twelve more Ball jars to the water inside my canning pot. Despite the outside 63º temperature, it’s boiling in my kitchen. Once the marmalade is hot, I remove the 12 jars and fill them. Damn, there’s enough for two more jars. Add those to the canning pot, process for 10 minutes, while leaving the marmalade on a low simmer. I fill those and seal. Out of the freezer comes pan number one of the raspberries. In my foodsaver, I vacuum seal them into three packages bringing them to my downstairs freezer. The second pan goes into the freezer. The remaining raspberries are poured into the cleaned jam pot, sugar dumped on top then mashed. I bring these to a boil over medium heat. When the raspberries come to full boil, they start giving off a ton of foam the color over-cooked salmon and so the next half hour is spent skimming. Finally, the mixture turns clear. Testing it on a plate from the freezer, it has the right consistency, just slightly runny. I reduce the heat to low and add another dozen jars to my canning pot. After 10 minutes in the bath, I remove and drain these filling them with the jam. The heat is slowing. My fan shuts down. I check the oven to see how the tomatoes are doing. They need a few more hours. Time to clean and shower before I pick up Thor from school. Mike, Thor and I have a lovely dinner at West Town Tavern. We come home. I check the peppers that will become catsup tomorrow. Ugh, they got a little crushed. Remove them from the bag and spread them out on a sheet pan. Roma tomatoes, are fine. I head downstairs to watch a little tv and promptly fall asleep. 10:30pm I wake up and remove the dried black plums from the oven. The ones on the end are a little crispy. Oh well.

Day 5: Time to package up the remaining raspberries. Boy, the freezer’s getting full. I pack the tomatoes in 3 jam jars, covering them with oil. I reread the recipe for the catsup. Of course, I forgot onions. I make a shopping list. Having been in the kitchen all of yesterday, I had computer work to do today so it wasn’t until late afternoon until I could turn my attention towards cutting up what seems like an enormous amount of peppers and onions in my small kitchen. In olive oil, I cooked them down with garlic and ginger. I spice them, simmer them, puree them and simmer them again. During that last simmer, I sterilize another dozen jars. Late afternoon turns into evening, afterschool snack into dinner, the drive home to bedtime. Another dozen jars are sterilized and filled. Finally, all are processed and drained, set row by row on a clean dish towel. As I stand back and admire the jars of brick red puree and my hard work. Then I notice a lone pepper seed through the glass. Oh well. Preserving never was an exact art for me.

I head downstairs, exhausted again. While watching Ken Burns’ Baseball (Chicago baseball doesn’t have much appeal this late September), I hear the ping, ping, ping of cooling jars – the happiest sound for an avid canner.

I was recently featured in First Magazine for Women for the making the following recipe, which I’ll be teaching at Cassie Green’s Green Grocer this Saturday. Check back with my blog for the recipe for Golden Raspberry Jam, an encapulation of summer itself.

Tomato Marmalade
A Bakers Dozen of ½ Pint Jars

6 pounds yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
5 cups granulated sugar
4 navel oranges, quartered, seeded and thinly sliced
2 lemons, quartered, seeded and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Add all the ingredients to a large pot. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has softened and thickened. Turn off the heat and cover the marmalade. Let it sit at room temperature overnight. Sterilize 13 half-pint canning jars, lids and screw bands in boiling water for 10 minutes. Heat the marmalade over medium heat while the jars are sterilizing. Fill the drained jars with marmalade, seal and process for 10 minutes. Drain on a clean towel.


One Comment

  1. Alex Lopez says:

    Thanks for sharing. I agree that “ping, ping, ping” is a delight to hear after a full day of chopping, slicing, canning and cleaning.

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