Monday, September 29, 2014

Seasoned Tomatoes: Italian, Mexican, & Cajun Spice Blends

I love having these canned tomatoes on my shelf!  Italian, Mexican, and Cajun seasoned tomatoes are one of the tomato product I use the most in cooking. They always have a place in my pantry.  Any recipe that calls for diced, crushed, or whole tomatoes I choose one of these seasoned tomatoes whose herbs will enhance the recipe.  The Italian seasoned tomatoes are a must in pasta dishes.  The Mexican seasoned tomatoes in taco mixes, Mexican soups. beans, or rice dishes.

I love the blend of herbs in each of these recipes.  All these recipes come from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Preparing the Tomatoes

Wash the tomatoes.  I submerge the tomatoes in water. I wash all the tomatoes then get a saucepan with water boil. You can use either slicing or plum tomatoes.  Some heirloom varieties may be too juicy but some are fine for canning.


Skin the tomatoes.  

The easiest way to skin tomatoes is to submerge them in boiling water for 30-60 second. Then submerge them in ice water This causes the skins split and the tomato slips easily out all ready to slice.  I don't not leave them in the boiling water longer than this or it cooks them.  The skins will peel easily even if the skin is not split.  Have a tray ready to put all the tomatoes on. Finish all the tomatoes then go on to prepare the jars and herbs.

Use a tray with sides so you don't have juice everywhere.

Prepare the jars, water bath canner, and herbs

Sterilize your jars.  I do this in the dishwasher and leave them there until I need them.  Prepare the lids and rings.  Fill the canner with water and have it on the stove.  Add a little vinegar if you have hard water.

Choose the spice blend and quantity desired.  Mix in a small bowl.

Italian Spice Blend

Dried herbs                      2 Jars                 6 Jars
Basil                                1 tsp                  4 tsp
Thyme                             1 tsp                  2 tsp
Oregano                          1 tsp                  2 1/2 tsp    
Rosemary                        1/2 tsp               1 1/2 tsp
Sage                               1/2 tsp               1 1/2 tsp
Garlic powder                   1/4 tsp               1 tsp
For each pint jar, and only use pint jars for this recipe, use 2 1/4 tsp of the blended spices. You also need to add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each pint jar.

 Mexican Spice Blend

Dried Herbs                    2 Jars                   6 jars
Chili Powder                      2 tsp                    6 tsp
Ground Cumin                  1 tsp                    2 tsp
Oregano                          1 tsp                    2 tsp
Garlic powder                   1 tsp                    2 tsp
Ground coriander              1 tsp                   2 tsp
Seasoned Salt                  1/2 tsp                 1 1/2 tsp

For each pint jar use 2 1/2 tsp of the spice blend.  Add 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each pint also.

With the spice blend and lemon juice in the jars you are ready to fill the jar.

Add desired spice blend and 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each jar. 


 A helpful tip is to place your cutting board in a tray.  The tray will trap the juices of the tomatoes so you don't have such a mess.


Fill the Jars

Dice the tomatoes and fill the jars leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.  You will be using the tomatoes own juice as your liquid so as you add the tomatoes, press down with a spatula to release the juices.  Release air bubbles as you go.

Wipe the rims and adjust lids.  Process for 40 minutes in a water bath canner.  I add 10 minutes because of my altitude.  When the time is up remove the lid and leave jars for 10 minutes in the canner.  Remove from the canner and let them cool.

When the jars are cool check your seals, remove the rings, and wipe the jars clean.  

Enjoy having these beautiful, delicious tomatoes in your pantry!

The jar on the right is Old Ivory Egg, an heirloom variety which is fun to have on hand to cook with.  It's nice mixed with the red tomatoes.
The recipe for the Cajun spice blend is in the book.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Canned Pineapple Zucchini

Need a new way to use zucchini?  Try canning pineapple zucchini.  Diced or shredded this zucchini tastes like pineapple.  It makes a great treat out of the jar.  It has pineapple flavor with a softer texture.  You could also substitute it in recipes calling for pineapple tidbits or use the shredded pineapple zucchini in bread recipes.  I'm excited to try it.

A heads up.  I learned that I have a allergic dermatitis to raw zucchini.  Yes, such a thing exists.  The skin on my hand got tight, dry, and just peeled off.  Not too pleasant. So I wear gloves when dicing raw zucchini.


This recipe came from the USDA Home Canning Guide 2.  This is a great guide available online from the extension office. There are other guides for canning tomato products, vegetable products, meats, pickling, and jams and jellies.  Wonderful resource with information on how to can safely and recipes to try.

USDA Home Canning Guides


4 quarts zucchini, grated or diced
1 1/2 cups bottled lemon juice (standardized acidity)
1 can ( 46 oz. ) unsweetened pineapple juice
3 cups sugar

Yield:  8 pints

Peel zucchini and cut into cubes or shred.  Mix the zucchini with all the other ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Fill hot jars leaving 1/2 headspace.  Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and adjust lids and process in a water bath canner.  Process half pints and pints for 15 minutes below 1000ft add 10 minutes at 5000 ft. 

Caveli is one of my favorite varieties because it has few seeds

Caveli zucchini
Diced zucchini

Beautiful finished product

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Preparedness Fair & The Growing Organic: One Box Challenge!

Preserving the harvest.

Display at our local Preparedness Fair

 Saturday I participated in a Preparedness Carnival.  Lots of great information and displays were provided to help families on their goals to be self-reliant and to get prepared.   This was a local event for my community.  I introduced an idea I got from helping my married children garden for the first time.  Even though they helped at home, they apparently didn't pay very close attention.  They wanted very simple instructions on gardening.

This inspired me to challenge my friends and neighbors to participate in the "One Box Challenge."  The idea, whether a first time gardener or just a dissatisfied gardener, is that you commit to growing organically in at least one raised bed. Experience success on a small scale and learn the skills to expand your garden to meet your own personal goals.

New to gardening?  Tired of being dissatisfied with the harvests of your garden?  Decide to take the Growing Organic: One Box Challenge.


Your Part of the Challenge:

Commit to organic methods
Devote at least one raised bed box to the Growing Organic Method
Follow the recommendations

I will provide information on:

Schedules of what garden chores need to be done and when
Lists of what supplies you need
How to deal with garden problems and prevent them
Suggestions on what to plant and when to plant

If you are interested in joining the New Harmony Gardeners in this challenge, leave a comment and be sure to clink on the link to get the info on the fall schedule of garden preparations.
Below are pictures of my adult children's gardens.  Looking awesome!

My grandkids in northern Utah showing off their garden.

Raspberry harvest.
My daughter in Idaho.  Their first year gardening.

Preparing the soil.

Building raised beds. My son in New Mexico and his little helper. 

Choosing a Site, Building Raised Beds, & Preparing your Soil

Planting at the right time, allows you to feed you family consistently throughout the garden season.
Preparing beds in the fall means you are ready to plant when soil temps warm up.

Fall is a great time of year to work in the garden.  Each season I will give you a list of garden preparations.  Why start now?  Being prepared spreads the cost out, spreads the work load out over seasons, and your soil will be prepared and ready to plant when the time is right.  You will be ready to produce food for your family and produce for your pantry.


For the first time gardener:

First:  Choose your garden site
Second:  Build your raised bed box
Third:  Prepare your soil

For an existing garden:

First:  Clean out your existing garden
Second:  Build raised bed boxes
Third:  Prepare your soil

#1 The Garden Site

For the First Time Gardener 

 Choose your garden site

  • Gardens do best when they get 6-8 hours of sunlight.  Late afternoon shade is fine.  
  • Consider a site with protection from the wind
  • You need easy access to water in the garden
  • Choose a site close to your house with easy access.  Nobody likes to hike to the garden.
  • Avoid micro climates... planting in a hole where cold air sinks or where too much reflective sunlight exists from a fence, windows, or nearby structures
  • Avoid any area with heavy clay or poor water drainage which is a sign of clay
  • If deer or rabbits are a problem in your area consider a fence
  • Pick a place where you can visually see your garden from the house and will be able to enjoy it
  • Since you just might love gardening, choose an area that can be expanded

For an existing garden:

Clean out your existing garden:

  • Fall clean up is very important.  Pests and disease overwinter in debris
  • Remove all spent plants and debris.  It's very important to get diseased plants out of the garden and in the garbage not the compost pile
  • Add 1 - 2 inches of compost to to top of your bed.  If you haven't been doing this then work it into the bed with a shovel; otherwise, just add it on the top
  • Smooth out the bed and it's ready to plant in early spring
  • If you have organic material like plant matter, dried corn stalks, or leaves start a compost pile.  Mix equal part brown and green material.  Wet it until it feels like a damp sponge.  Turn the pile every couple of weeks to keep it decomposing aerobically.  Make your pile 4x4x4 feet.
  • Drain water from existing water systems
  • Organize all your garden supplies 

#2 The Raised Bed

 Building a raised bed box

  • 4'x8' is a good size for a raised bed.  They can be any length but the width should be no wider than 4 feet.  You need to be able to access the box from the side without stepping into the box.
  • I like to use 10" or 12" high boxes.  You can build the boxes taller but you need to be able to fill the box with good soil and it will require more soil amendments.  Taller boxes are easier on the back.
  • To build one bed that is 4'x8', buy three 2x12x8's.  Tow boards are the sides and one board cut in half will provide the two sides
  • Use screws to join the sides together
  • Build the box away from the garden so you can prepare the site for the box
  • There are fancy raised bed plans online.  When your garden is mature, your plants will be the focus not the box.  I think if you have limited funds use whatever lumber you have available and put your money into building your soil.

 Preparing to Install the Raised Bed

  • Be sure to think about the layout of your garden.  You will be so excited about the success of your garden box next year you will want to add more.
  • Be sure to allow wide enough paths between the boxes to get a wheel barrow around
  • Rototill the ground where you are going to put the box
  • If you have a broad fork which has 18 inch tines you can use that instead of a rototiller
  • A shovel also works to turn the ground over and loosen the soil.  Compacted soil is an enemy to good, healthy gardens
  • Remember do NOT put your garden in an area of heavy clay
  • Remove a rocks.  The roots will go very deep in the ground
  • Level the ground and place your box on top
  • Do not put a cover on the bottom.  Trust me you'll regret it.  It inhibits root growth.  It's better to have a gopher hole you can put a trap in than a hole down under the box that you can't get to.

Raised Bed Rule:  When you are done, do NOT walk on your beds!

Chinese Cabbage from an early spring planting


#3  Preparing your soil

Building healthy soil is what makes organic gardening successful!

The study of soil is fascinating.  When you hold a handful of healthy soil, you are holding a microscopic world teeming with life.  Healthy soil is composed of air water, minerals, organic matter, and microbes.  All of these elements are essential to fertile, healthy soil.  Isn't that fascinating?


  • Creates pore space
  • Roots require oxygen


  • Needed to transport nutrients
  • Transpiration


  • Gives soil its texture 
  • Does not determine soil fertility

Microbes and Soil Life

  •  Decomposers
  • Holds nutrients in the soil
  • Makes nutrients available to plants
  • Builds soil structure

Organic Matter

  • Builds soil structure
  • Increases water holding capacity
  • Adds nutrients
  • Increases microbe activity

We are now going to turn ordinary dirt into extraordinary garden soil! 


Preparing the Soil

Evaluate the texture of your soil.  Is it mostly sand, silt, or clay?  Sandy loam is the ideal garden soil.

If you have more than 40% clay or sand it will behave like clay or sand.  Huge amounts of amendments would be required to change the texture.

If the soil is adequate, then fill the box about 1/2 full

If your soil has too much clay I STRONGLY suggest you find and bring in a better soil.  You will not have very good results and gardening will be a huge frustration in clay.

Add 2 bags of compost.  I like Nutri-mulch which is composted turkey manure.  

Add a bag of peat moss

Be careful with bulk manures and composts.  Sometimes they are very high in salts.

Incorporate the compost and peat moss into the box with a shovel.  Level it. Water the bed.

Congratulations! You are now prepared for spring with a box all ready to plant in.

Compost nothing else no added fertilizers or other amendments.

Look What I Learned To Drive!

Look what I learned to drive!  With all the boys grown and gone I guess I was Stann's only remaining option.  I thought I did great.  The barn and fences are still standing. And I even dumped the load in the right place. That's pretty good considering there are no brakes on that old backhoe. There was one moment of uncertainty, but I handled it. It was fun.

 This time of year is always so busy in the garden and orchard.  The hubby was off these last two days so we really worked hard.  Weeding, mucking stalls, harvesting berries, kamut, veggies, tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, and apples. We are suppose to get rain the next few days so maybe I can get caught up preserving the harvest. 

Kamut an experiment with grains.

I'm always running out of containers.  I need to order some baskets.

Sundance, Liberty, and Fuji apples

More strawberries

Purple Viking potatoes

Cleaned up Purple Viking potatoes I had to throw these in the oven while we were digging potatoes.

Digging potatoes

Jake, the cat, helping look for potatoes
Someone has to hold the lid open.

He's exhausted.  Always so helpful in the garden.

Carola potatoes

With each season the beauty of one bloom fades but welcomes in another.  Thought I'd share some of falls blooms.


It wouldn't be fall without sunflowers