Friday, September 20, 2013

Roasted Tomato Paste

One thing I've really missed since I moved away from Iowa is the delight of vegetable gardening in the summer.  The first summer here, I had no garden because I only moved into the house in June, and it was too late, and there was far too much to be done inside.  The second summer here was the dreadful summer of working at the blueberry factory and floundering in the pit of despair, so the tomatoes didn't do very well then either.  This year, finally, I had enough tomatoes to make roasted tomato paste.  Gardening here in Nova Scotia is a short-season affair, so growing tomatoes is a bit challenging compared to what I had become used to in Iowa.  If I had a greenhouse, it would be much easier, but still, I managed to get a decent yield this year - at least enough to make a pan of roasted sauce.  I was used to making say 30-40 pans of sauce in Iowa, but that's the benefit of a warmer, longer summer!  If I'm lucky and the frost doesn't hit for another week or so, I might get 1 or 2 more pans done.

Here's what I do to make my roasted tomato sauce (which is closer to a paste, really).

Select a good assortment of tomatoes and wash.

Chop roughly and put the tomatoes into a glass roasting pan - I generally use an 8 x 13" pan.  I drizzle olive oil over them and then add some Italian seasonings.  Some people add onions, garlic, or other herbs.  Be creative - do as you like!

I set the oven to 400 F and put the pan on the middle rack for about 2 hours, turning the tomatoes with a spoon now and then, until the liquid is considerably reduced.  Here's how they looked when they came out today.  Keep an eye on them - you don't want the top layer browning too heavily because it will give a burnt, acrid taste to the paste.

After they are out of the oven, I let them cool for a while.

I have a stainless steel manual food mill.  This was very handy when I was making a lot of tomato paste, and is great for other vegetable purees and fruit purees.

I had an electric food mill for a while but it was cantankerous and inefficient - I much prefer this manual one. Mine has 3 different sizes of metal plates for the bottom that allow different sizes of particles to pass through. I use the one with the smallest holes for tomatoes because I don't really want lots of seeds.

If you don't have a food mill, you could crush the tomatoes with a potato masher or forks, and then use a medium-mesh strainer to achieve the same end product.

I place the food mill over a bowl and pour in the tomato mixture.

After some elbow grease has been applied, the remainder in the food mill is just skins and seeds (which the chickens will get as a snack in the morning!)

The resulting tomato sauce can be further reduced if you wish to make it even thicker, or it can be frozen immediately.  This stuff is wonderful - it is the pure essence of ripe tomato, concentrated and thickened into a dose of summer.

I freeze it in freezer bags because it makes for very efficient storage.  Squeeze the air out of the bag when it is laid flat, so that the paste is almost at the top.  Lay flat in the freezer to freeze, and then once frozen, the bag can be placed on its side or end in a "library" of bags.  I used to make paste with red, orange, yellow, and mixes of tomatoes, so I always had many colours of paste to choose from.

It's great in winter for lasagna or other pasta dishes, soups, stews, and almost any recipe where tomato sauce or paste is used.  Give it a try if you have a lot of tomatoes on hand!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I think a bear was there!

This morning on the way down the driveway for Jet's walk, I noticed that a tree limb was hanging at a strange angle.  It definitely wasn't like that yesterday.  You can see it in roughly the middle of this picture, hanging out from the right side of the drive.

As I got closer, I could see it was quite definitely broken, and that it was a reasonably large branch in terms of the diameter.  I figured the goats had been up to mischief as usual.
Then I noticed, when I came closer, that the vegetation to one side was really squashed down.  It appeared to me to be more squashed than I would expect to see from a few goat hooves, or even a goat that had decided to lay down for a while and ruminate.  It's a little hard to tell from this picture, but the area that is squashed is about a 3 foot diameter patch.

Then I noticed that on the other side of the branch that was broken, there was another completely squashed area where something large had crushed all the vegetation.
Here you can see where the branch was broken from the main stem - it's not an easy break for a small animal to make.
Black bears live in this area and they're preparing for hibernation at this time of year.  They eat a lot of berries.  This tree has berries on it - I think they are service berries or choke cherries - I'm not entirely sure. There were still berries on the broken branch though, so if it was a bear, it wasn't terribly efficient.
Overall, I'm not sure if there was a bear, there, or not.  I tried to look for any hair or evidence of bear fur (or droppings) but there was nothing I could find.  No goat droppings either!  I thought I detected a very faint musky smell, but that could have been my overactive imagination.  Still, something definitely did break the branch and cause a lot of vegetation damage in the immediate area.  The other clue was that Jet was really very excited about sniffing that area.  He could definitely smell the visitor!
I guess I'll be keeping an eye out for large mammals on our walks!

In the meantime, signs of fall are beginning to show.  I love the colour of the Virginia Creeper vine, even if it is a nuisance plant!  There is still plenty of lovely green grazing for the goats and sheep though.  I hope the hard frosts are still a long way off!

On our afternoon walk, Jet and I went across to the open pasture over the road.  We found definite evidence of bear!  This, my dear readers, is bear poop!  I put a small apple on it for scale.  You can see all the berry seeds in it.  That's no small animal leaving evidence, that's a full "power dump" from a big ol' bear!
Jet did a lot of sniffing over there too.  He definitely is on the bear trail!  I was just enjoying the lovely blue skies and gentle breezes.
We also found a destroyed paper wasp nest.  Quite possibly a bear would do that.

I believe this is some kind of Viburnum species, and I suspect the bear likes these berries too.   They provide a lovely splash of colour in the sea of green.

There are also a few last apples hanging on.  I think the bear will be feasting around here for a while!