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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Tomato Odyssey and a Lesson in Humility

Apparently I’m human.  I learned this overdue lesson this weekend when I set out on the tomato odyssey I promised a few weeks back.  In the excitement of the Red Fire Farm tomato fest, I hatched grand plans to get a bulk order of sauce tomatoes and make barbeque sauce, marinara sauce, and hot sauce with them in time for the September swap.  The plan hatched but didn’t exactly grow wings or fly the coop.  In fact, hot sauce fell squarely off of the table!

First, there was apparently a tomato blight this season that delayed and made scarce saucing tomatoes.  I planned to get them the week after the tomato festival and could only get them this week – 3 weeks later.  Second, I started peeling tomatoes late and my tomato creations were nothing more than a watery mess when the swap started.  On the plus side, I’m enough of a bona fide food nerd that I had a few jars of apple butter and peach chutney stashed in my pantry so I had something to show for myself (BTW, got marshmallows, toffee, peanut butter cookies, mozzarella, and focaccia in exchange – food swap win!).  The best part?  Now, I have tomato sauce and barbecue sauce and a healthy appreciation for my limitations.  Who could ask for anything more?  Even better, I managed a barbecue recipe that doesn’t start with “ketchup” or “BBQ sauce.”  Damn internet recipe searches!

The journey started with a ½ bushel of saucing tomatoes from Red Fire Farm. 

NTS, tomatoes cook down a lot – next year get 2 bushels!
Then I peeled them.  And inadvertently stumbled upon my Food Day story – stay tuned for details!

Half were dedicated to an Italian marinara sauce and ½ went to barbecue sauce.  Apparently I didn’t have enough tomatoes for hot sauce and now I still have a ton of hot peppers.  Any suggestions?
For the Italian leg of my tour, I used Red Fire Farm garlic and onions.  From my sad little parking lot flower pot garden, I recruited basil.  And, even though I would have otherwise forgot it, dumb luck would have it that a savvy food swapper brought oregano on Sunday, making my quality sourcing of marinara sauce complete.
Then it all went in to the brand new stock pot!  Have you ever been to China Fair in Porter Square?  If you haven’t yet, you should.  It’s pretty amazing.  The good people there brought me my new tall stock pot which is already making me very happy.
After 12 more hours than I expected, I had TWO whole quarts of marinara sauce.  This is when I reminded myself about next year’s 2 bushel rule.  They look pretty damn good though.  Lonely, but hot.

At this point, I’d like to point out my kitchen designed to match fresh fruit and vegetables. I chose lime green so it would always look good with fresh produce inspired food. At times likes this I really appreciate the decision.
The southwestern portion of this journey included sweet peppers, hot peppers, and celery – all from Red Fire Farm.  Again, in a pot.

After a lot of simmering, two days later, the finished barbecue sauce was able to keep the lonely marinara sauce company.

If you happen to have a lot of tomatoes and some Ball preserving jars, here’s my BBQ sauce recipe:

Real Barbecue Sauce – from Tomatoes, not Ketchup
If you don't want to run in to the same timing problems that I did, I suggest that you prepare the vegetables the night before, put them (up to the hot peppers) in the pot and start simmering as early as you can wake up the next morning.

  •        2 Tbsp olive oil
  •         ¼ bushel of tomatoes
  •        1 large onion – I used a small white and a small red onion
  •        4 cloves garlic
  •        1 head of farm fresh celery (the stalks tend to be smaller than regular supermarket celery – I think it came out to approximately 3 cups in practice)
  •         3 hot peppers – I like it hot.  Use what you get from your farm share or the farmer’s market.
  •        1 tsp whole mustard seed
  •        ½ tsp whole celery seed
  •        1 tsp whole peppercorns
  •        1 tsp allspice
  •        1 cinnamon stick
  •        1 cup brown sugar
  •         2 Tbsp molasses
  •        Salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper to taste
  •        1.5 cup white vinegar

  1.      Wash and score the ends of the tomatoes (an X on each end)
  2.      Put tomatoes in to boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (until skins peel back)
  3.      Quickly take tomatoes from boiling water and plunge them in to ice water.  This makes them easier to handle when you peel them.
  4.      Peel the skins off of the tomatoes and take the seeds out.  This is the fun part!  You get to plunge your fingers in to soft tomatoes and make a GIANT mess!  This is the kinf of step that just screams for little kids to help.
  5.     Chop the celery, onions, hots, sweets, and garlic.
  6.      Saute onion in olive oil until translucent
  7.     Add garlic for about 30 seconds
  8.     Add tomatoes, celery, sweet peppers, and hot peppers 
  9.      Simmer until reduced by about half
  10.     Puree mixture with your immersion blender.  Don't have a immersion blender?  Run - don't walk - to the nearest store to get one.  You'll love it - I promise!  If you are elbow deep in tomatoes right now and don't have one, then a food processor, blender, or food mill will also work.
  11.     Wrap peppercorns, mustard seed, celery seed, allspice, and cinnamon stick in cheesecloth tied in to a bag with string.  Put it in the pot.
  12.     Add brown sugar, molasses, ground spices, and vinegar
  13.     Simmer until the consistency of BBQ sauce.  It will take a while, you need to start early in the day!
  14.     If you are preserving your sauce for later, can them in pint or half pint jars with 1/4" headspace in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.  

My tomato odyssey inspired my Food Day story, specifically the Italian portion of the journey – check the Community Sourced Potluck microsite regularly for the post.  And sign up for the next food swap – if I have any BBQ sauce left by then, you can try it!

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