Tomatoes are in Season: Don’t Miss Them!

Tomatoes, on the vine“Bob, slow down! Now get ready to pull over! There’s a stand around the next corner. We can’t miss it!” Mom chirped at Dad in the front seat of our 1961 Pontiac, Bonneville.

“Oh hell! Don’t you already have enough tomatoes to keep you canning for a week?” Dad grumbled. It was their usual tomato season banter. Dad took it all in his stride never loosing the momentum of puffing on his pipe, something he’d mastered so well.

My brother and I whined from a dusty back seat while we were zigzagging over curvy country roads in search of Beefsteaks, Romas and Early Girls. Each sign that read FRUIT in bold red letters brought renewed hope of finding the juiciest, freshest, plumpest, and the lowest-priced tomatoes. Tomatoes seemed to be Mom’s weakness or her passion, I never really figured out which was the case.

When Mom couldn’t persuade Dad to go fruit stand hopping with her, she’d round up my grandmother and I and we’d once again wind through the valley roads. I began enjoying the outings by the time I reached my preteen years, and later as a young adult I looked forward to the yearly event.

In looking back I think it may have been the Norman Rockwell atmosphere of the road-side fruit stands that called out to Mom. Perhaps the rustic sheds that popped-up at the end of long dirt driveways recaptured a slice of yesterday that Mom longed to preserve. Sadly the lazy, down-home ambiance of small, family-owned fruit and vegetable farms are becoming a ghost of the past.

Thoughts of our tomato hunting adventures came back to me last week when the Heatwave and Big Boy tomato plants just outside my kitchen door began producing a bumper crop of the juicy jumbos. This year I planted an assortment of tomatoes plants mostly as an experiment to see what types of tomatoes produce well in my area of the Southwest. To my delight the experiment was a success.

Once again I’m enjoying the simple pleasure of having fresh tomatoes at my doorstep. The days of putting up pints of home-canned tomato sauce and ketchup are behind me, but I took full advantage of these red beauties by making CB’s Marinated Tomatoes. It’s a recipe I’ve made for years, which originates from the kitchen of Lucille Edwards, Auburn, Washington. It’s sure to make your taste buds sing, but only if home-grown or heirloom tomatoes are used – anything else just won’t cut it.

Tomatoes are in season from now until the end of September or until the first frost. They’re available at most roadside vegetable stands. But remember, “Slow down, you don’t want to miss ‘em!”

Tomatoes, in a box

CB’s Marinated Tomatoes

6 large homegrown or heirloom tomatoes, washed and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
Marinade
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1 sprig fresh marjoram, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons scallions or green onions with some green stem, finely chopped
Parmesan cheese, shaved (optional)

Combine marinade ingredients in a shaker. Pour over sliced tomatoes; gently stir so all tomatoes are coated with marinade. Cover and marinate at least 1 hour before serving.

Serve as a side dish garnished with shaved Parmesan cheese, or with dollops of cottage cheese and seasoned croutons as a light lunch. Yum!

Cook’s Note: If fresh herbs aren’t available, they may be replaced with dried herbs. Use less herbs when using dried and let the tomatoes marinate at least 3 hours before serving.

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Homeade Frozen Corn

A sweet remembrance of summer with garden corn on the table in fall and winter garnished with crisp bacon crumbles.

garden corn w bacon crumbles

Every summer we cordoned off a portion of our garden for sweet corn. It was a fun food for us to grow, especially the kids. After the seeds were planted, they patrolled the garden for birds, shooing them away so they wouldn’t steel the newly planted seeds. Once the crop was taking shape and looking like there’d be fresh corn for the table, the kids would sometimes build a scarecrow to help with the job of keeping the more determined birds away. In looking back, I think the bird patrol added to the anticipation of fresh, buttery corn on the cob, and believe me, there’s nothing you can buy in the store that will begin to compare.

ears of fresh corn

Most years I used the recipe below to fill the freezer with sweet corn for winter. It’s a standard recipe one might find anywhere but I consider it vintage because it was given to me many years ago by an elderly Norwegian lady who lived on an adjoining farm. Whether you freeze or pressure can the corn it’s wise to use the young ears (as pictured) and choosing the yellow and white corn mix makes for a naturally sweeter blend.

Pressure canning is another method of preserving the corn but to me it just seemed faster, easier and tastier when it came from the freezer instead of a jar. For me, it’s a feeling of accomplishment to see the containers stacked in the freezer waiting to wow family and guests with “something from the garden” when they least expect it. Enjoy!

Preserving Fresh Garden Corn

  • 10-cups corn, cut off the cob and not cut too close
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-level tablespoon salt
  • Scrape the corn “milk” extract and pulp from the stripped cobs into a separate bowl; set aside

Cook corn, sugar and salt in a large pan on top of stove for 10 minutes using medium-high heat, stirring constantly.

Cool quickly and thoroughly (see note below), and then stir in corn “milk” and mix thoroughly. Place mixture in freezer containers of your choice being sure to distribute corn “milk” evenly between packages.

bags of frozen homemade corn

To serve, add a bit of water if needed and simmer on stove top for 5 minutes. Add butter, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with crisp, crumbled bacon for an added flavor, if desired.

Yield: Five 2-cup family size servings

Note: To cool corn quickly, place hot corn in a large metal bowl that’s set in a larger container of ice; stir corn until cooled and package for freezing. Corn will keep in the freezer for 6-months and up to 1-year if double bagged.

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Bing Cherry Jam

My recipe below for Bing cherry jam bursts with a full fruity flavor that captures the sweetness of summer cherries. Its pleasing hint of almond, cloves and cinnamon makes it nothing less than spectacular. When placed on the pantry shelf, the jars glint like sunlit stained glass, which sparked thoughts of those shiny dark cherry clusters that teased me from a high limb as a child.

These jewels are perfect for gift giving. Just make sure you save at least one jar of “summer memories” to pile high on hot buttered corn meal muffins.

bing cherry jam

Bing Cherry Jam

4 cups ripe Bing cherries, pitted and chopped
1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1-fluid ounce bottle almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups granulated sugar
6 pint jars with 6 lids and 6 bands, sterilized

Except for the 4-cups granulated sugar, place all ingredients in a 6-quart kettle. Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil on high-medium heat; immediately add sugar. Return mixture to a full rolling boil and continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and skim foam from mixture using a large metal spoon.

Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch space. Add lids and screw bands on tightly. Process jam for 10 minutes in a water bath canner or cool overnight and then place in freezer until ready to serve. Yield: 5 to 6 half-pints

Cook’s Note: This recipe is also delicious when tart “pie” cherries are used in place of the sweet Bing cherries. Consider increasing the granulated sugar by at least 1-cup possibly more when using the tart cherries.

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Homemade Dill Pickles

dill pickles in jar side view

It was nearly 50 summers ago, when I first tested my dill pickle making skill using my Aunt Jo’s recipe. I was a bit edgy about how the pickles would turn out after warnings from my family that if I used Jo’s dill pickle recipe I’d end up with quart jars full of “green, gooey, gunk”.

Making pickles, the first year, seemed like a mysterious process to me. I’ll admit I was a bit reluctant, but then decided that all I had to loose was a few cucumbers, a bit of salt, a big bunch of fresh dill and an even tinier dab of alum.

When I screwed the jar ring onto the last jar, I wondered if my pickles would be a delight to the taste buds with a hint of garlic, dill, red pepper and vinegar.

I found my very first pickle project rewarding, in fact a lot of fun. It was exciting when the crunchy, flood-your-mouth-with-saliva dill pickle snapped between my teeth and squirted juice across the room, which gave me a true feeling of success. Aunt Jo would have been proud!

Below are the rules my Aunt Jo swore me to on the day she trusted me with her treasured dill pickle recipe.

Aunt Jo’s Pickle-Making Rules:

  1. To ensure fresh cucumbers; pick them yourself at a farm unless you know a farmer whom you can fully trust to sell them to you freshly picked. Do not buy them at a grocery store, as they’re too old, tough and often dipped in wax.
  2. Use plain salt; never used iodized salt or specialty salts of any kind.
  3. Buy fresh alum.
  4. Buy white vinegar that’s a trusted name brand such as Heinz.

dill pickles in jar top view

Jo’s Dill Pickle Recipe

12 pounds small to medium size fresh-from-the-field pickling cucumbers
1-gallon tap water
1-quart white vinegar
1-cup plain salt (do not use iodized)
1 scant teaspoon alum
16 whole cloves garlic, peeled
8 dried red peppers
16 heads fresh dill
8 wide-mouth canning jars with lids and rings, sterilized

Wash and scrub cucumbers; quarter lengthwise and set aside. Put 2 heads dill, 1 red pepper and 2 garlic cloves in the bottom of each jar. Pack cucumbers in jar.

In a large kettle, bring water, vinegar, salt and alum to a rolling boil and pour over cucumbers. Immediately place a lid on jar and tightly screw on a ring (do not tighten rings after jars cool). Pickles can be eaten any time, however they’re more flavorful if seasoned for 4-6 weeks before serving. Yield: 8 quarts

Note: The lid to each jar will make a popping sound and become concave indicating that it’s sealed. If lid is convex or bubbled up and clicks when pushed on with a finger, the jar has not sealed, therefore it needs to be stored in the refrigerator and then eaten within 4 weeks. Serve with homemade Pumpernickel Bread as a delightful snack or appetizer.

Recipe comes from the kitchen of the late Jo Grey, Seattle, Washington.

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Light Pumpernickel Rye Bread

light pumpernickel bread loaf

Light Pumpernickel Rye Bread was a treat at our house back in the 70s. The kids waited not so patiently for the bread to cool enough to slice. In the wintertime, real softened butter was at the ready to slather onto the fresh from the oven bread. During the summer months, the kids loved popping the top off my homemade dill pickles to accompany the bread, I’m not sure why they chose that particular combination, but a quart of dill pickles and a loaf of pumpernickel bread disappeared in a flash. Their father, usually away at work, was fortunate that each recipe yielded 2-loaves. Enjoy this old family recipe with an origin that’s unknown.

light pumpernickel bread slices on plate

Light Pumpernickel Rye Bread

2-packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups ever-so-slightly warm water
2 3/4 cups unsifted rye flour
1-tablespoon table salt
1-tablespoon caraway seeds
2-tablespoons margarine or butter, softened
1/3 cup molasses
3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (use less flour rather than more)
2-tablespoons yellow corn meal

Night before: in a large bowl, sprinkle yeast into slightly warm water and stir until yeast dissolves. Add rye flour and beat until smooth. Cover and let stand in warm place overnight. Note: To create a warm place, heat a cup of water in the microwave; remove the water and then leave the yeast mixture in the microwave overnight.

Next morning: mix in salt, caraway seeds, shortening, molasses and 2 cups of the all-purpose flour; gradually work more flour into the dough a little at a time. Keep adding flour until 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups flour is used or until dough is quite stiff and cleans the side of the bowl. It’s wise to always use less rather than more flour. A stand-up mixer with dough hoops or food processor works in place of hand kneading, if desired. Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl; turn the dough so a smooth shiny side is up; cover and let rise for 1 hour or until almost double in bulk.

Punch down the dough and divide into 2 halves; round each half into a smooth ball using a small amount of vegetable oil, if desired. Sprinkle a baking sheet with corn meal; place loaves on baking sheet over top of cornmeal. Cover the bread loosely with plastic wrap and then with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour. Brush top of each loaf with cold water.

Preheat oven to 375° and bake bread for 35 to 45 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Cool (at least slightly) before cutting into slices with a serrated knife. Yield: 2 loaves with approximately 8 slices each

light pumpernickel bread slices side view

Next month’s feature will be my family’s recipe for homemade garlic dill pickles.

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Old-fashioned Pineapple Cream Pie with Meringue

Old Fashioned Pineapple Cream Pie with Meringue

Prepare yourself for a mini-vacation to the Hawaiian Islands with my recipe for Old-fashioned Pineapple Cream Pie with Meringue. This pineapple cream pie captures the fresh flavor of pineapple with every rich and creamy bite. It’s one of my favorite recipes to make during the winter when fresh fruit from the grocery store just isn’t cutting it. I’m also putting a spoiler alert on the made-from-scratch cream pie filling because once you’ve tasted homemade cream filling, there’s no going back to the store-bought, packaged variety. Yes, it’s that delightful, and the same is true of home-prepared meringue.

Old Fashioned Pineapple Cream Pie with Meringue

2 cups 2% milk, scalded
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 9-inch pie shell, baked and cooled
1/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained

Separate eggs and set aside so whites can warm to room temperature. Scald milk, remove unwanted residue; cover and set aside. Beat egg yolks; add sugar, salt, flour and butter. Gradually add scalded milk, stirring constantly. Cook in double boiler until mixture thickens (this can also be done in a microwave if you prefer). Stir in 1 cup drained pineapple. Cool slightly; turn into a baked pie shell.

To prepare meringue, preheat oven to 425°F. and then beat egg whites with 1/3 cup sugar until peaks form (here are a few tips for making perfect meringue). Spread meringue over pie making sure to touch the meringue to the crust’s edge to seal. Make “nests” in meringue using a bowl or spoon. Bake pie for 4 or 5 minutes, or until meringue is golden. When meringue is cool, fill the “nests” with 1/4 cup drained pineapple, if desired.

Yield: 6 servings

Note: If desired, add coconut to the pie filling and/or dusted onto the meringue before toasting.

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