It’s September 19th, and I don’t think I can procrastinate any longer. Despite mustering up my very deepest reserves of denial and avoidance, the inevitable has caught up with me: Summer ends on Saturday. So this, the last full week of summer, finds me a bit brooding and energy-drained.
It’s suddenly still dark at 6:30am, my normal waking time, and I stumble around the house getting ready for the day, stubbing toes, stubbornly refusing to turn on a light. Just yesterday, it seems, the sun was low on the horizon at this early hour, pink and full of promise, but now he’s no where to be found. And worse, the evenings are full on dark before I even finish cleaning up after dinner. No more puttering in the garden late in the evening, swatting mosquitoes and collecting the day’s ripe goodies, like the sweet little pimento pepper I picked on Saturday (above).
However, like June, September has some fantastically beautiful days, and this past weekend was a showcase of Nature’s most perfect weather: bright blue skies, sunny, warm with low humidity. It would be beyond ridiculous of me to give into a pouty mood and miss out on some outdoor joy. So, I didn’t. It was a good weekend, full of outdoor shopping and quality time with loved ones … and tomatoes from the garden.
A flea market is, quite frankly, a very unlikely place to find me on a Saturday morning.
An unfortunate — and, I might add, quite annoying — propensity towards motion sickness makes the constant looking-left-right-up-down of scouring tables rather unpleasant. The weather has to be perfect in terms of temperature and humidity, and even still, it requires a hefty dose of dramamine to get through it (totally not kidding).
But, on bright, cool mornings such as last Saturday, it’s worth it. This flea market in particular is a treasure trove of super affordable food photography props. As someone who has spent far too much money on retail-priced, hopelessly mismatched (and sadly often tacky) plates, bowls, and flatware, my summer mandate to knock it the hell off coordinates nicely with the pennies-on-the-dollar sales strategy of the open-air flea market.
This weekend, I found an old metal measuring cup, a tarnished, vintage biscuit cutter, and a rustically scuffed-up wooden spoon (all for a $1). Last weekend, my brother found the beautiful filigreed plate seen on my last post, the salted caramel apple skillet cake. I love old kitchenware, so the urge to buy yet another white dish at Target has been effectively tempered by these early Saturday morning treasure hunts.
When the July heatwave broke, my gardens took off like a shot, pumping out all the fresh veggies I could ever hope to eat. My weekend trips to the farmers’ markets became few and far between. I saved money, but I missed seeing my favorite farmers and producers. But — since I don’t grow the monstrous, vining winter squashes, like pumpkins and butternuts — I’m happy to be hitting the markets again, now through October, to stock up.
The photo above (left), taken at the Hyde Park Farmers’ Market, makes me smile. For one thing, this view was just lovely last Sunday, zen and comforting. But for another, it shows only half of the scene. This market takes over the central intersection — Hyde Park Square — of this community, and consists of split northbound (shown here) and southbound lanes that wrap completely around a grassy rectangle. Traffic is closed off and some three dozen vendors line both sides of the Square. The southbound lane (which would be off to the left in this photo) is jam-packed as I snapped this picture of the serene northbound lane. Blue Oven Bakery, a much-loved local bread producer that sells only at farmers’ markets, sets up on the northwest corner of the Square, and attracts a bread-rabid crowd that queues up a full half hour before market start time, stretching out in messy clumps of people and dogs on leashes all the way down the southbound lane.
Happily for me, I made my Blue Oven purchases (including the English muffin below — a dreamy round that smells like puff pastry and tastes like no dried-out grocery store English muffin you’ve ever had) earlier in the week at a smaller market with shorter lines, leaving me free to head, unimpeded, straight for winter squash and fresh eggs on the temporarily peaceful northbound side (it quickly fills up as shoppers, fiercely clutching their Blue Oven Bakery bags, stream over from the southbound side).
Hello, my little pretties! For the last few weeks, I’ve been preserving tomatoes at a crazy pace, making sauces and pastes like there’s no tomorrow. Except for one last, huge batch of Pink Brandywines and Purple Russians awaiting canning (frozen for safe keeping), my freezer and pantry shelves are satisfactorily stocked for the winter.
So, when a quick trip through the garden on Saturday yielded the kaleidoscope of tomatoes above (left), I did the only thing a tomato-gifted girl could do: I made jam.
I had been eyeballing an old tomato jam recipe from In Jennie’s Kitchen for a while. Though original recipe sounds awesome on its own, I’d been itching to do my own riff on it, adding Moroccan flavors and spices. Back in January, I had salt-preserved some Meyer lemons and have been sneaking it into dishes ever since. Along with the lemon juice called for in the recipe, I added a tablespoon of preserved lemon rinds, plus the fabulous Moroccan spice blend, ras el hanout, and a healthy helping of harissa.
The scent was completely intoxicating as it cooked on the stove, and the result — muah! I’m so glad I made a lot and jarred the extras so that I can enjoy it all winter long. Spread on fresh bread and topped with thin slices of manchego … simply mahvelous.
Thanks to the freezer, I’d been able to save up my yellow cherry tomatoes until I had enough to make some sauce. Super flavorful sun gold and blondkopfchen cherries make super flavorful sauce, and the bright yellow sauce will be amazing sometime deep in heart of winter when I desperately need a shot summer sunshine.
And so, here’s a sampling of my summer tomato preserving efforts. A rainbow of varietal tomato sauces (the yellow sun gold/blondkopfchen tomato sauce so fresh from the canner that it’s still sporting its Weck jar clamps and continues to bubble and boil in the jar as I snap this photo — hot!), tomato jam, and loads of tomato paste (if you haven’t seen my most recent recipe on Huffington Post, here’s the link to my oven roasted cherry tomato paste).
Before I sign off for the day, I wanted to share a tidbit about peeling tomatoes, in case some of you are still in the process of preserving them, as I am. Here are three methods to peel tomatoes that I’ve tried with varying degrees of success:
- Vegetable peeler — this method works fairly well on firm tomatoes, which can be peeled like apples. A super sharp peeler is best (serrated, even better). Beware of soft tomatoes: you’re likely to end up wearing juice and seeds on your shirt. If you need to remove the skins of just a few tomatoes, this is the way to go, quick and easy.
- Blanching — drop tomatoes into boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then remove and plunge into a large bowl of ice water until cool. The skins will crack and peel off fairly easily. This method works well for four or five tomatoes, but has the rather substantial drawback (for me, at least) during canning season of being tedious and cumbersome. When you’re canning 15 pounds of tomatoes, you have to blanch them in batches, constantly refreshing the ice in the ice water (all the while losing patience and attempting to peel the skins when they’re not quite ready — maddening), which adds a ridiculous amount of time — usually a half an hour or so — to an already lengthy project. Plus, it requires yet another pot of boiling liquid on the stove, which is just plain unpleasant in August.
- Freezing — my favorite method, by far. Place the tomatoes in the freezer until frozen solid. The morning before use, remove and thaw in a bowl. The skins will slip right off. Seriously: right.off. I’ve found this method to have several advantages in addition to peeling. The thawed tomatoes exude their liquids readily into the bowl, making quicker work of cooking them down for sauces. For gardeners like myself, freezing makes it possible to collect tomatoes until there’s enough for canning. Freezing whole, unpeeled tomatoes in a heavy-duty bag or container lets you keep them for several months without canning or saucing — well into late autumn and early winter (very handy for when you just can’t face making more sauce, but still want access to summer tomatoes). (Note that they are not really suitable for fresh eating, as they’re quite mushy when thawed. But they’re perfect for any recipe that cooks them up.)
Oh, Summer. I will miss you more than you know and will keep your memory safe and snug in my pantry. See you bright and early next June.