It has been a very weird year for the garden. I have had very little success with my tomato plants, which do not appear to have enjoyed the prolonged period of near 100° temperatures coupled with no rain. Similarly, my bean patch is suffering. It took a long time to get going, and then when it did no blossoms actually set beans. Now I have a beautiful trellis full of vines with flowers and all, and still no beans.
While the tomatoes in my garden are not doing well at all, there are tomatoes available in the area from local growers. So we have purchased tomatoes to put up for the winter. We roasted and froze about 25 pounds; the freezer is mostly full so we aren’t going to freeze any more. Usually we make puree from the raw tomatoes, reduce it to about half the volume by putting it on the back burner at a very low heat for several hours, and then can it.
The other day, Jim conceived of a brilliant idea. He thought it might be easier to put the tomatoes through the strainer if they had been blanched first rather than just cutting them and doing it raw. As we were not really sure about it, he decided to make a trial run and cut up five or six tomatoes, blanched them until they softened a little, and ran them through the strainer. Voila! So much easier, he proclaimed. This was our first big mistake, because we neglected to take into account the scale of the job, and what was easy with 5 tomatoes turned out to be not that easy with 50 pounds of them.
In blissful ignorance, we all got busy and cut up the rest of the 50 pounds of tomatoes that needed to be processed. Since we were pre-cooking them partially, we didn’t really deem it necessary to remove the hard stems and cores. This turned out to be our second really big mistake, because the par-boiling process did not soften those parts of the tomatoes at all, and they wound up being major clogs in the screw area of the strainer.
The third big mistake was assuming that partially cooked tomato pulp would act the same way in the screen part of the strainer that raw pulp does.
What happened was the cooking process released a LOT of juice from the tomatoes. The screen got all goobered up with tomato pulp, and the screw sustained repeated clogs due to the hard cores that were in the mixture. When the screen is clogged and the screw is clogged, the juice does not go through the screen and run down into the collection container. It backs up and then comes out every orifice of the strainer.
There’s always a little spillage, hence the newspaper under the work area. Our particular set of problems resulted in a river of spilled juice, which is why the towel wound up down there. Also, juice under pressure was squirting out of the hole the crank goes through, so both the workers in this job also got covered with tomato splatter. After we wasted a good quart of juice on the floor it came to me that perhaps I should put a big bowl under there to catch it.
Mallory was absolutely fascinated by the magical stuff falling from the mysterious ether.
In an attempt to reduce the amount of liquid that we were trying to put through the strainer, I first tried straining the partially cooked tomatoes in the kitchen strainer, which helped. But it didn’t help enough, and I finally got out my hand operated colander and partially mashed them through.
After that process, straining the rest of the tomatoes became a lot easier, although this did not help with the hard core problem. Eventually I wound up cutting those core pieces off the tomatoes before we put them in the strainer.
At the end of the day, I had every large bowl in the place tomatoed, as well as all my versions of straining equipment. Clean-up was an extended process, because not only did I have to wash all that stuff, I also had to clean the floor in the dining room and kitchen, the walls in the dining room, the backs of the books in the shelf near our work area, myself, and the cat. Okay, the cat cleaned herself, but still. A job which normally would take about an hour extended to three hours.
We finally sat down for lunch at 2 p.m. Mallory had to watch that, too.
While we were eating, I heard a heck of a ruckus going on outside the dining room window, and what I discovered when I looked out into the rain was that the house wren on the porch had fledged ANOTHER batch of kids (this makes three hatchings so far this year, and as far as I can tell she is busy laying more eggs as we speak).
This is one of the fledglings, you can tell it is a youngun because of the short tail.
After lunch, I decided to cook the plums and get them strained so I could start plum butter. I managed to boil the pot of plums over but at least I did not burn them. I DID burn the bread, which I put into the oven and then a client came for her massage 20 minutes early and I forgot about the loaf in the oven as I focused on her issues. Fortunately, Zoey noticed that the bread was done and took it out before it had gotten more than just really really crusty and dark brown.
But really, that was a day which seemed that no project could be completed without some sort of fubar occuring, so I decided not to start any other projects so as not to have a flood, explode the kitchen or burn the house down or some other disaster.
In other news, Mallory discovered the piano yesterday while I was doing a massage. I heard one tentative bass note come from the instrument, then another. I wondered who was playing the piano, when the unmistakable pattern of kitten walking on piano keys burst forth, solving the mystery.
“Excuse me,” I said breathlessly to my massage client. “Kitten playing the piano…” I explained as I dashed out of the room on a mission to close the lid of the piano. Apparently, Jim had gotten the same memo, because we pretty much collided in the hall. I looked around the corner to see Mallory disappearing under the bed. The piano lid was closed, and the massage concluded in peace and quiet.
What delights does today hold? Who knows. I’m sure we’ll find out in due time.