Dreamy's Delights

It's all about the food!

An experiment: slow cooker tomato paste

I’m sure that my readers have noticed I’ve been rather quiet lately. I apologize but life has been busy kicking me in the shins. It’s been very hot here for the last several weeks and it messes with my Multiple Sclerosis. The result is that I have the brain power of your average carrot and the energy of your average rock. I’ve been sleeping up 15 hours a night. Unfortunately that doesn’t leave much time for cooking, let alone blogging. To top things off, a dear friend of mine passed away and I started back to school. However, I have the most insane tomato plants EVER this year and sometimes you just gotta do something with them.

So… Sunday afternoon I picked about 20lbs of tomatoes. Yep, you read that right, 20 POUNDS of tomatoes. I knew that with the heat I wasn’t in any condition to peel and can them whole, plus a lot of them were slightly over-ripe. I still have several quarts of tomato sauce in the freeze from last year so I don’t need sauce… what to do, what to do. Then I got an email with an update on my friend Cat’s blog. She was using some of the tomatoes I gave her to make tomato paste.

Now, at some point in the past I vaguely remember reading a recipe for making tomato paste in a slow cooker. Being the lazy sort I thought that sounded just right up my alley. Also being the lazy sort, I didn’t actually go find the directions, I just decided to play it by ear. So yes, I’m trying something I might have read an article about as long as ten years ago without actually looking it up again. I’m just special that way. πŸ˜‰

So the first thing I did was toss all the tomatoes in the slow cooker for a day and a half on warm. I would have used one of my big pots but Jene (my usually very helpful husband) had placed all my large pots out of reach and wasn’t around to get them off the high shelf. (He hates having them sitting around in accessible places like the top of the chest freezer or the dining table. Go figure…) So I thought if I was going to use the slow cooker anyway, I might as well start with it. So I put almost all 20 lbs of tomatoes in the slow cooker. I did leave a few out for making salads πŸ™‚

Obviously, with that many tomatoes, you can’t put the lid on but that’s ok because you don’t really want the lid on. That was on Sunday. Today I came back and ran everything through my food mill to get the seeds and skins out. I actually have a cool contraption, Cat calls her’s The Machine, that will do this too but it was too much like work to go find it and put it together. Food mill being at hand, that was my tomato smooshing weapon of choice.

Now this is where things get really experimental… According to my vague memory, the tomato puree goes in the slow cooker on the lowest heat setting without the lid on. Leaving the lid off allows the extra water to evaporate as opposed to just running back down off the lid. So I now have about 3.5 qts of puree in my slow cooker. I have no idea how long it’s going to take to cook down to paste. My guess is that I’ll be able to ignore it for a couple of days except for occasionally giving it a stir.

Come back later and I’ll tell you how it turned out! πŸ˜€

Oh and a note about pickles… my pickled mushrooms came out quite tasty but could have definitely used some more time to mellow. So I won’t be opening the dill pickles or the mixed veggie pickles for another week or two.

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2013 Garden: Completed!

Well, it’s taken me a couple of weeks but I finally have the last of the plants in the garden. Everything is staked and trellised and ready to grow!

My final tally is:

Indeterminate Tomatoes- Big Rainbow, Orange Strawberry, Indigo Rose, Japanese Black Trifele and Sungold – These will produce fruit all summer long.

Determinate Tomatoes – San Marzano (2 plants), Principe Borghese, and a Roma. These plants will grow, blossom and produce fruit pretty much all at one time. These are the ones that I’ll be canning and sharing with my friend Cat in exchange for peppers. πŸ™‚

Cucumbers – 1 pickling variety, 1 gherkin variety

Chard – 2 sets of Rainbow Chard

Kale – 1 green and 1 red russian

Green Beans – I got a six pack of Romano Green Beans which grow a bean 5-6″ in length. This is my first try at growing green beans so I hope they do well.

While I was at Dale Hardware today I made a new friend named Brian. He showed me this cool method of creating a trellis called a “basketweave” trellis. You take bambo sticks and literally weave them together to create a trellis. Then I sent Brian on a hunt for tomato cages which, much to my embarrassment, I had walked past three times. Turns out they were hiding behind some other cages. I’m very particular, I only use the Ultomato cages. Fortunately, Brian took it in good grace and wasn’t grumpy with me. We had a great time discussing gardening, guns and all sorts of other random stuff.

Now that I’ve told you about my garden, here’s some pictures!

basketweavetrellisThis is the basket weave trellis. It’s really easy to make and I think it was about $7 for 20 stakes. The poor little plant at the bottom is my gherkin cucumber. The snails have eaten the crap out of it. I put down a heavy dose of snail bait today so with luck, they’ll pull through. The chunks of brick are holding down the newspaper I’m using for mulch. So far it’s working really well at keeping the weeds down.

 

This next picture is the short side of the garden. It’s hard to see since it’s in shade but I have 3 bean plants in front of the trellis, 2 kale plants to the right of that and off the side where you can see them, 2 chard plants. At the very corner, where two trellises meet is my pickling cucumber plant. It’s doing better than my gherkin too. This arrangement will allow the cucumber to climb up both trellises around the corner.

gardenshortside

gardenlongsidThis is most of the long side of the garden.Β  There’s actually two more tomato plants to the left that you can’t see. The cages look a little funky right now because I haven’t put them together completely. The plants are large enough yet to need all the cross pieces. I’ll add them as I need them AND I was pretty exhausted at this point lol.

Finally, the last thing we did was put out some lady bugs. Aphids can be a real problem and since there are also a couple of rose plants in the yard, they help in lots of ways. Here’s a few of them clustered at the top of a stake. It’s fun to let them loose because they crawl all over your hands and arms and it tickles. πŸ˜€

ladybugs

So that’s it, my final garden after planting. I am SO excited to see how things grow and produce. Getting my garden in makes me feel like I’m a productive person instead of a useless lump.

I should mention I also have an herb garden growing on my patio. I have a big batch of genovese basil, african blue basil, cat nip, lemon thyme and dill. I’ve been using lots of lemon thyme and dill lately. It’s a lovely combo. πŸ™‚

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Let there be plants!

Well, it’s not finished yet but Jene and I got the majority of the garden planted today. It was a long day’s work because we had to dig up all of last year’s weeds and work in some good compost. Sadly, I had to buy the compost because I don’t have place to create my own. However, the shredded remains of our juicing will be going into the garden. I think this year will be very productive.

So after two years of bad luck with peppers, I’ve given up on growing them. I do not know what I’m doing wrong with them but they just will not grow for me. Tomatoes grow great so I’m focusing on those lol.

We put in two types of cucumbers, a pickling variety (imagine that) and a gherkin. Now I can make MINI pickles lol. If they produce as well as I hope I will have pickles for decades.

Tomatoes (so far) consist of an Italian paste tomato who’s name I can’t remember, a Roma-style paste tomato (both are determinate) and several indeterminate plants.

For those who don’t know the different, determinate plants blossom all at once so that the plants are pretty much ready to harvest all at once. Indeterminate plants blossom and produce fruit over the course of the season. You don’t get as many plants all at onceΒ  but you get them for longer.

The reason for planting the two types is to allow me to have a big harvest all at once to process for sauce or canned tomatoes. Then the indeterminates can be harvested and processed as the summer goes along, depending on my energy levels. I’m also sharing my harvest with my friend Cat. She’s growing peppers for me and I’m growing tomatoes for her lol.

So the indeterminate varieties are my go to trio of flavors, Big Rainbow, Japanese Black Trifele, and Sungold. In addition I’ve got a couple of new flavors I’m trying this year. Indigo Rose is a dark purple, plum sized tomato and Orange Strawberry is another orange/red stripped beef steak similar to the Big Rainbow.

Finally, we have some leafy greens. We’ve got a couple of batches of Rainbow Chard and a Curly Green Kale. I plan on putting in some more because you can NOT have empty garden space.

I’ll also add at least one more plum tomato for Cat. However, that is a task for NEXT weekend. I’m done for this week lol. Thank goodness for Epsom Salt!

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