Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Dog Days of Summer

Although we are a couple of weeks past the official "dog days", the hot humid weather continues here in Southern Ontario keeping us all in that slow, lazy, languorous state associated with late summer.

It's been a rather weird growing season as well.  After a cool and rather wet spring and early summer, for most of July we were in a severe drought with very little rain at all. Then August brought us a few decent rainfalls while still keeping the temperature hot.

What resulted is a garden that sprang to life, tomatoes and cucumbers full of blossoms and fruit which then seemed to come to a screeching halt through most of July.  I had lots of hard little green tomatoes which just refused to develop no matter how diligent I was about watering.  It was very strange -- everything was healthy and green, not shrivelling up and dying, but nothing was growing.

The cucumbers have been coming in very slowly -- one or two every week or so, so I've only managed to put up a couple of small batches thus far.  My beloved Black Brandywine Cherry tomatoes along with a new member of my garden this year, Sweet Gold Cherry have been acting similarly, coming in a handful at a time.  The full-size Black Brandywines have been very sluggish and I've only picked three ripe ones so far with only another 4 or 5 green ones left on the vines.

As for the plum tomatoes, I nearly lost all of them to blossom end rot, but fortunately I sprinkled some bone meal around all the plants quickly enough to stop it from developing further.

Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium, which is provided by a liberal application of bone meal. Ideally some bone meal should be sprinkled in the hole before planting with a light top-up later in the season.  Blossom end rot is characterized by circular dark brown lesions on the blossom end of the fruit as in the picture above. It's not contagious and all you need to do is remove the afflicted fruit and throw it out.

I'm still coming across a few diseased tomatoes, but they're few and far between now. And now with a number of good rain showers plus the continued heat, the tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.

It's nowhere near what last year's harvest was, so there is a lot less canning from the garden happening this year. 

Today's harvest

Instead, I am supplementing with produce from the farmer's market. This morning I went back out to the Port Credit Farmer's Market and picked up 2 liters of Ontario strawberries (the everbearing ones are still around although starting to dwindle), a 3 liter basket of freestone Ontario peaches and a 3 liter basket of Ontario plums.

The peaches and plums are destined to be canned in a very light syrup to be spooned over yogourt for breakfast on the coming dark mornings of winter. I will stew the strawberries together with some late-season rhubarb that my friend Fred gifted me.

First off, though, I wanted to add the few cucumbers I picked this morning to the ones in the refrigerator crisper and put up another couple of pints of pickles.

Same with the tomatoes. I figure I have enough now for a couple of jars of diced and a couple of the ones in the crisper are starting to go soft, so I will definitely get to that tomorrow.

While I was looking up the instructions for canning plums in very light syrup, on a whim I flipped through my jam recipes to see if there was anything plummy that might strike my fancy. And indeed there was! This one for Plum Jam with Star Anise sounded so simple and good I just had to try it. It calls for a pound of plums and the 3 liter basket I bought gave about 2 1/2 pounds so I thought I would try a batch of jam and put up the remaining 1 1/2 pounds in very light syrup.

So, tomatoes forgotten for the moment, I set about prepping the plums. I weighed out a pound of plums for the jam, then cut them in half, dug out the pit and chopped the fruit into small pieces.

Three quarters of a cup of granulated sugar and 3 star anise are added to the chopped plums then mixed well and set aside to macerate for an hour or so to let the star anise infuse the mixture.

I then pitted the remaining plums and cut them into quarters.

One pound of pitted and chopped plums macerating in 3/4 cup white sugar and 3 star anise on the right ready for jamming and 1 1/2 pounds of pitted and quartered plums on the left ready to be canned in very light syrup. After an hour of macerating, the star anise has infused the chopped plums and sugar with an exquisite warmth. It's truly a combination worth trying!

The quartered plums are now simmering in a very light syrup which is 1/2 cup white sugar dissolved in 5 cups of water and brought to a boil. I used half of the syrup here for the plums and I allowed the remaining syrup to cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge in a quart mason jar.

I will use this tomorrow when I do the peaches.

The jam is made in a non-stick frying pan instead of a saucepan so that the wider surface area allows the jam to cook up and set quicker.

I had originally thought I would use 2 jam jars for the jam and 2 pint jars for the plums in syrup. It turned out that I only needed 1 jam jar (on the right in the picture above) for the jam and I had enough plums in syrup left over to fill the other jam jar as well as the 2 pint jars. 

The jam only needed 10 minutes processing whereas the plums in syrup needed 20 minutes, so I put them all into the canner together and then pulled the jam out after 10 minutes and let the rest of the jars boil for an additional 10 minutes.

Tomorrow I will tackle the tomatoes, the peaches and the strawberries and rhubarb.

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