While we were on our two-week vacation, the garden was on the cusp of bursting with produce. We kept up with what was growing as we neared our vacation. Mostly. We told our friend who was house-sitting that she could take home all the cucumbers she wanted, but we asked that she chuck any ripe tomatoes into a bag in the freezer if she had the time and inclination. (I’d have offered our peppers, but she’s really allergic… so that suggestion could certainly have been misinterpreted!).
We returned to a garden bursting with peppers and tomatoes, some of which had themselves burst. Our freezer also had quite the assortment of tomatoes before my friend stopping picking them because she found herself allergic to something in the garden besides the peppers. We went through and pulled out another gigantic heap of tomatoes, some San Marzano plum tomatoes and others various beefsteak heirlooms. After a slight miscommunication, my husband also threw them in the freezer. Whoops.
I now had three gallons of frozen tomatoes, and after another brief foray into the garden to pick the next round of tomatoes, another three pounds of fresh tomatoes on my kitchen counter. I surprised no one when I busted out the canner and the mason jars. We surprised ourselves by not thinking critically and leaving the frozen tomatoes out on the counter overnight. We woke to a soggy mess of tomatoes and their juices all over the counter; they had even seeped into one of our kitchen drawers. My ever patient husband made me coffee and cleaned up the initial tomato juice explosion. Perhaps we should have just chopped them frozen, but lessons are often learned the hard way.
I elected to make a salsa and some homemade ketchup. I didn’t really have enough tomatoes to make the large batches of tomato sauce I had hoped to be able to make this summer, but I had enough peppers and jalapeños to make homemade salsa. I’ve also been rather curious about what a homemade ketchup might taste like.
I used mostly frozen tomatoes to make the homemade salsa, tossing in a few fresh beefsteak tomatoes. On the bright side, the skins of the frozen tomatoes popped right off, and then the tomatoes gushed the remnants of their frozen juices pretty much everywhere, those that hadn’t already exploded or oozed out overnight anyway. Initially, I left the juices go, but I realized I was making a very pulpy salsa, so I collected all the juices of some of the last rounds of tomatoes to go into the salsa. I deviated from the Zesty Salsa recipe in Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to add cumin and oregano. I probably should’ve added more garlic powder, but my husband declared it good enough as it was. I’m happy I ended up with more yield than I had anticipated, especially after the eternity I spent mincing vegetables; I’m not sure why I didn’t think about using the food processor—probably because having a usable food processor is still a relatively new luxury. Instead of six pints, I have eight and a half of homemade salsa with most ingredients fresh from my own garden! I also ended up standing on a towel. Working with frozen and then dethawed tomatoes is even messier than working with fresh tomatoes. I also should have worn an apron. When I raced out to run a quick errand, I was splattered in red juices.
I didn’t quite have enough fresh tomatoes to make a full batch of classic ketchup from The Pickled Pantry, so I more or less halved it, though I also ended up with a touch more yield than anticipated. I still had a few frozen tomatoes leftover from the salsa too. When I was reading the recipe, I thought it incredibly odd that it didn’t mention removing the skins and the seeds from the recipe. I almost went ahead and did it anyway, but then the ketchup recipe on the opposite page (which I had no desire to make because it used corn syrup) mentioned quartering or wedging the tomatoes, which seemed antithetical to removing the skins the seeds and all. So, I didn’t. I faithfully followed the recipe, albeit halving it and adding a little extra vinegar in case I ended up with more yield (which I did, so I’m glad I added the extra vinegar). The ketchup took much longer to reduce than expected. I won’t lie: the skins and seeds definitely look weird to me. Still, it tastes great, and I made it with ingredients I grew myself. Not quite all, (the honey, onions, and spices came from the store), but I feel like a boss all the same. And it tastes great!
In the kitchen, few things look as pretty to me as freshly processed mason jars. The salsa, with its eternity of minced vegetables, looks particularly festive this morning!