It’s that time of summer, when the bounties from the garden start rolling in. It is a satisfying feeling to know that the food on my table is so fresh, only hours or sometimes minutes since it went from plant to plate. It is this time of year that I start using my surplus vegetables to create delicious recipes that I preserve so that I can bring my family the fresh taste of summer throughout the dead of winter.
Today I made this year’s first double batch of homemade salsa. I had been looking forward to this day all week. Tomatoes had been ripening. Peppers had been growing bigger. The garlic had been curing. And the onions, still dirty from their garden row, had been filling the mudroom with a particular aroma that older onions just don’t have have.
Salsa has been among my repertoire of food preservation recipes for several years now, but this year was different. This was the first year that I was able to create the recipe using 100% ingredients that I had grown myself. In prior years, there was always something missing: cilantro that had already gone to seed, with a new crop not rightly planned; a pepper crop that had failed; or garlic that was not quite ready. This year, everything was perfect.
I love hearing that sound of jars cooling on the counter, that one-by-one clicking pop when the lids spontaneously concave as the pressure difference between the jar environment and that of the room create a vacuum seal. I love that feeling of success when the jars audibly seal in the distinct taste of natural, fresh food. It’s a signal. It’s a voice that says, “You did it. Be proud.”
This year’s tomatoes are beautiful, with no cracks or blemishes, and oh so delicious. Eating the summer’s first tomato sparks a memory of how tomatoes are supposed to taste, and one that gradually fades as winter deepens and you’re forced to consume the mealy red hothouse globes utterly void of zest. Garden tomatoes provide the base for much of our winter eating. With their high acidity, they are very easy to put by. We choose from a variety of salsa recipes, delicious tomato-based chutneys, sauces with different spice combinations, or just jarring them whole, they carry us through the cold season when the concept of growth seems at times forever incomprehensible in upstate New York.
I start all of my vegetables from seed, including a variety of hot pepper plants that have been generously producing a gorgeous palette of vividly colored fruits. It doesn’t take much to give a dish a kick. While I like my salsa on the spicy side, my children do not and I am forced to halve the called for amount of these little gems.
The growing season has been good. My herb garden is a treasury of abundance. Each day we choose our particular palate from herbs such as parsley, basil, sage, mint, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and marjoram. My salsa recipe calls for cilantro and I was happy to oblige. I love the flavor of cilantro and I cherish the bouquet of it freshly chopped.
I grew a variety of onions this year: white, yellow, and red. They too did well… that is until two specific mother hens and their brood of chicks kept escaping and decided it was quite lovely to scratch around the organic mulch of the onion patch for insects and worms. Unfortunately, this disturbance damaged the delicate green part of the onion above ground and stunted the growth of the bulbs under the earth. These onions never reached the full potential of size, but none the less made a delectable homegrown addition to my salsa.
We harvested beautiful garlic this year. After enjoying delicious garlic scapes while they were in season, the bulbs themselves continued to grow in their furrows, producing extra large cloves on some of the hardneck varieties. Most of the bulbs are still drying for longterm storage, but the fresh cloves were a delightfully spicy inclusion in this year’s salsa.
This double batch of salsa used 20 cups of chopped tomatoes, 10 cups of chopped green peppers, 10 cups of chopped onions, 8 cloves of minced garlic, about 1 1/2 cups of chopped hot peppers, and about 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro. With the required addition of cider vinegar and some salt, we produced 16 pints of storable food. This is just the beginning! We await many more happy returns from our vegetable garden before the end of summer arrives. There are plenty of small peppers still growing. The tomatoes are really just starting. And summer squash, green beans, corn, eggplants, and more grow presently in our gardens.