As I wind down my last week of summer before the kiddos come back to school, I've been doing some major batch cooking to make the first few weeks of the school year easy. I've talked about batch cooking before, but this time it has taken a slightly different twist with all the fresh summer produce available. So, here's the run down...
I've begun canning and freezing more produce. I started with jam at Michele's and have moved on to blanching green beans to freeze, making applesauce from our apples here at the house, and canning salsa and marmalade (which is working on the stove right now and smelling great). I've also done some refrigerator pickles with cucumbers from our garden which will be ready to add to sandwiches and burgers in about a month.
The applesauce is so easy it's ridiculous, as long as you have the right tools. When mom was here, she was helping me do some of the jam and thought a food mill might come in handy. She picked up one from a retailer in Hickory (it's the OXO brand), and it worked great! All you do it wash and quarter your apples and simmer them with some water until they start to fall apart. For me, this took about 20 minutes, since the apples were small. Then, you just ladle the mixture into the food mill, which is positioned over a bowl, and turn the crank. I ended up with about three gallons of homemade applesauce to use, and it was totally free! It will be a great addition to winter time meals, lunches, and a substitute in baking for the extra oil. The food mill is also nice for making other fruit purees and baby food, so I'll probably make some homemade baby food to give as gifts at Christmas.
I decided on canning salsa, since it's one of our favorite condiments and additions to casseroles, and we've had several friends give us jalapeños, and the tomatoes looked great at the farmer's market this weekend. (I don't have enough coming in from my plants to do a whole batch.) I'm using this recipe for the salsa, which sounds really easy and will give us the flavors we want. The nice thing about working with the tomatoes is that you don't have to use the pressure canner, since they have a high enough acid content (to keep out the nasty bacteria). This means that I can do this with the canning rack and pot we found while cleaning out mom's shed (I saw the same thing at Lowe's for about $60--free is so much better!). If you know you won't be doing a ton of canning, you might want to purchase one of these with a friend or borrow one to try it out. (I was a little intimidated by the canning thing at first, but it really is simple, as long as you plan well.)
We've also started a supper club, which means that my first recipe (the zucchini and ricotta tart) goes out today and we get a main dish from someone else. We've decided to do it as a once a month thing for starters, just to see how it goes, and so we have room in the freezer for the leftovers. This frees up more time for all of us involved in the long run, because it means that we don't have to worry about what's for dinner that night and we can simply make a double batch of a great recipe to share.
Of course, the bread machine keeps on whirring as I crank out zucchini bread and sunflower bread for sandwiches and breakfast toast. The machine also makes it incredibly easy to make bread for friends. (We're taking some to a family with a new baby on Thursday.)
All of this means that I'm saving money by purchasing (or bartering or growing) produce at it's best and cheapest (and local, when I can), and saving it for later. By canning my own things, I am able to reuse the jars each year, which means I save a ton on that cost. (You can also find jars rather inexpensively at thrift stores and flea markets, if you look. Your friends may also have some that they're going to recycle, so you might ask around there.) Plus, I really like knowing what's going into our food and having a connection with the people who grew what we're eating.
So, how're you continuing to use that summer produce? Are you finding time to make the minutes in the kitchen count? Are you managing to save some green while living green this summer? I'd love to hear from you!