139-Old Time Skills Are In Vogue Again

This year, 2020 has been like no other.

We have operated with a mindset of modern homesteading for a number of years. For us, modern homesteading means to practice as many of the skills of our ancestors as possible while still using modern conveniences.

For example, even though most of the bread we eat is made right here at home, often it is a bread machine doing the work.

Through this pandemic, others are beginning to embrace these same skills. We support their efforts. Their new skills however are impacting our practice of self-sufficiency. There have been waves of flour shortages, yeast shortages, and now it is canning lids and freezer bags.

Now we are reaching into our skill of flexibility and finding work arounds.

In this episode you will also hear us discuss the benefits of our Gert’s Garden Turmeric balm. This is a story of personal experience with this product. If you would like to get your own, you can order online or request when you visit the farm on Fridays.

Gert’s Garden Balm

Thanks for listening.

Until next time…

Donna, Julia and the Felines

What I Did With the Tomatoes

Last week I posted about using up the last of the home grown garden tomatoes. As part of the final garden tasks for the year, the plants were removed and the last green tomatoes harvested. These slowly ripen in the garage allowing us the opportunity to have fresh, local tomatoes through a winter freeze.

Attempting to cram too many tasks into a day left me with limited time to do something with the tomatoes. So I resorted to a tried and true, relatively quick method of using up a random quantity.

Placing the tomatoes in a colander in the sink, I poured boiling water over them then rinsed in cold water. This made peeling easier. The next step was to squeeze out the seeds, quarter and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkled with my favorite Tuscan Sunset Herb blend from Penzey’s and drizzled with olive oil, these baked at 350º convection for about 45 minutes.

The baked tomatoes were dumped into a stock pot and blended with an immersion blender. (If you do not have one of these awesome kitchen gadgets, you need one. Stop reading right now and order on Amazon. Several inexpensive models are available and it is worth it.) Back to the tomato sauce: season to taste with salt and pepper, then keep warm while making the rest of the meal.

This is a super versatile sauce, but sometimes there is nothing like simple spaghetti noodles with this fresh sauce topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I added a quick salad and cheesy bread. Simple, satisfying and fresh.

This meal did not use up all of the sauce; what is left will make a tasty lasagna several days later. I will layer wide noodles with sauce, mozzarella and ricotta. Lasagna always makes enough for leftovers and is even better the second time around in my opinion.

At the end of this round of sauce, which took less than an hour of active time, we will have at least three meals. Not bad for November tomatoes.

I still intend to get out the Julia Child cookbooks, but when you run out of time during the day and just need to get something quick on the table; fix an old favorite and don’t apologize.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Plus if you are coming to the Mercantile on Saturday, order pies and scones by 5:00 PM on Thursday. The Mercantile will be open every Saturday through December 21, 2019 with special hours on Black Friday.

How To Remove Seeds

Do you like seeds in your jam?

I’ve only met one person who reported liking seeds in her jam. In fact she said “the more the better”. But most people seem to prefer seedless jam. The same is true for tomato sauce. No seeds.

How do you remove all those tiny seeds?

Blackberries, raspberries and tomatoes all have bothersome seeds. I have two different methods for removing seeds. The choice of which to use depends on the final product.  

For blackberry or raspberry jam, I use a Juice Mate.

Juice Mate

This hand cranked strainer has a spiral inside that pushes the berries through and squeezes it against a fine mesh strainer. It will remove almost all seeds of these berries. The resulting pulp and juice makes a fine seedless jam.  

The Juice Mate also works wonders for tomato juice. After washing, coring and quartering the tomatoes, the Juice Mate will remove seeds and skin.

Juice Mate showing screen

One downside to this system is the cleanup, but here’s a tip: take the screen outside and use the garden hose for the first rinse. The power of the hose blasts out the stuck seeds allowing for an easier wash back in the house.

What about tomato sauce?

When making tomato sauce, I want the meaty sections of the tomato intact and  an occasional seed is not as much of a concern. After removing the skin, I cut the tomatoes in half and drag out as much of the seed section as possible with a finger. Sometimes with juicier tomatoes simply squeezing the tomato half does the trick.  

If you have any tricks or tips for removing seeds, we would love to hear about it. Send us a message through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or an old-fashioned email.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Forget about that thin, tasteless, bland tomato-colored sauce you buy in a can. In only a few steps you can make your own, either to store for future use or eat immediately.  The current abundance of fresh, ripe tomatoes is the perfect time to create your own delicious and nutritious sauce.

How many tomatoes do I need?

Most recipes in a canning or preserving guide require weighing tomatoes. It is hard to weigh out 10 pounds or 15 pounds of tomatoes in a home kitchen. Plus, what if you have 13 pounds? Or 7?

I don’t have much time. How long will this take?

We all need to maximize our time. There is a certain amount of time required to turn home grown tomatoes into a delicious seasoned sauce. My method allows you to make sauce easily with large blocks of unattended time. You will not have to stand over the stove, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.

Here’s how you do it.

Prepare a boiling water bath and large bowl of ice water. Wash tomatoes. Working in batches, drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds then place into ice bath. This will help the skins slip off easily.

Hint: I use a large pasta pot to do this task. The inner strainer basket can be lifted out and tomatoes dumped at once into the bowl of ice water. This saves fishing out each tomato one at a time.

Peel, seed and quarter tomatoes. Place on a parchment lined, rimmed sheet pan in a single layer. Add olive oil and Italian herbs to taste. There is no real way to give a measurement as the amount is based on how many tomatoes you have and your personal taste. (I use approximately 1/4 cup olive oil and 2-3 Tbsp of seasoning for a full pan.) Leaving out salt at this stage is purposeful. If you are going to use the sauce fresh, go ahead and salt to taste. If you are freezing for later use, add salt at the time of use.

Seasoned Tomatoes on Baking Pan

Bake at 300º convection or 325º, stirring every hour until the tomatoes have cooked and thickened. This will take approximately 2 hours, or more depending on the liquid content of the tomatoes. This is where you can go do another task while the sauce bakes.

When the tomatoes have cooked and thickened to your liking, pour into a deep bowl and puree with an immersion blender. If you don’t have one of these, you should stop everything and go get one. Seriously. There are many inexpensive versions available. Otherwise, you can use a blender, but work in small batches to avoid splashing burns.

Use now or preserve.

Your sauce is now ready for use. Boil a pasta of your choice, top with sauce and freshly grated parmesan.

I have successfully frozen this in 1 cup portions in a ziplock baggie. It will keep for one year in the freezer. My next batch will be preserved in canning jars following the Ball book canning guidelines for seasoned tomato sauce.

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