Putting Up the Harvest Requires Love and Tradition

Oct 5, 2017

Green tomatoes hanging on after a fall storm.
Credit Elspeth Hay

On the Local Food Report we’re still thinking a lot about why we make this show every week. It turns out a big part of it is love—a love of food and tradition. Today Elspeth Hay and Ali Berlow talk about putting up the harvest, and how their passions for this work have nurtured all kinds of different relationships and ways for honoring the bounty.

EH: My grandmother was a canner, and my mother, and my great-grandmother before them. When my grandmother decided she was done cooking—a few years before her death at 97—she gave me her recipe book.

B: That was my recipe…came down from my father’s family, green tomato pickle. Green tomato pickle…the only way I can describe the green tomato pickles is if you had a beautiful slice of roast beef or a good piece of steak all you needed beside it was some of that green tomato pickle.

EH: My grandmother taught me to make green tomato pickles in the fall, this time of year, just as the seasons are starting to change. Making strawberry jam with my parents brings me home to Maine every year in June. A few months ago a good friend moved two hours away, but we’ve already seen each other four or five times, because our relationship was built on food, and every month or so we’re getting together to put up peaches or can salsa or go blueberry picking or ferment a batch of kimchi.

AB: I think a lot of putting up the harvest is about those relationships, family and friends. For instance, I’d love to learn how to can. I’ve read about it but it’s not something I’m doing because I really feel like I need to learn it from someone else. On the other hand, it’s nice to know the farmers. I have a couple friends who raise chickens. Meat birds. And the other week I ended up with 50 pounds of fresh carcasses, bones, for short money because they weren’t going to use them. So I got to make stock all day. Lots and lots of stock for my freezer.

EH: I love taking a day to do something like make stock or kimchi or jam. My mom’s strawberry jam takes an entire day. We have to find a day at the right time during strawberry season, we have to plan the day, and we have to all dedicate ourselves to stopping and making jam on that day. So many peoples lives, ours included, are fragmented—and for me it’s both challenging and incredibly important for both my pantry and my relationships to find this uninterrupted food processing time.

AB: It’s almost an instinct to put up food, one I feel especially compelling this time of year when the seasons change. For me, I love the process. Like making all that stock, it’s good work. It’s satisfying and a comfort to me to have a freezer full and ready to cook with. I also like to put up the harvest in unexpected ways and places like syrups and oils, vinegars and liquors - by infusing those things with berries, tomatoes, chiles or herbs like lemongrass or basil. Cooking with a bright blueberry vinegar in the dead of winter always brings back memories of my summer kitchen.

EH: My babysitter this summer is from Puebla, in Mexico. We are different in all sorts of ways, and we sometimes have trouble communicating. But we connect in the kitchen. It turns out she’s studying food conservation, and she’s helped me with all kinds of freezing and canning projects. A few weeks ago I came home and she’d turned a bag of dent corn I didn’t know how to use into posole and then masa dough and finally tortillas and empanadas. To her it was no big deal; to me it was revolutionary!

AB: I love that. Because I know I get stuck in expectations of what putting up the harvest means or how much in terms of quantity you have to make. I’ve discovered it can be just a little bit, like a quart of this, a pound of that. And there are so many ingredients to choose from, like that dried corn, for example and there’s always new kitchen wisdoms to pick up. I remember going to a dinner party a while ago. Some people we’d just met invited us over, and there was that getting to know one another social awkwardness. But after a delicious meal, when I saw the host collecting bones off peoples’ plates and putting them in the freezer to make stock for later, I knew we’d become fast friends.

RECIPES

Blueberry Vinegar 

From Sherri Brooks Vinton, "Put ‘em Up! Fruit,” Storey Publishing, 2013.

Used with permission.

Ingredients:
2 cups blueberries
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup sugar 

Directions:
Place a quart canning jar in a pot of nearly-boiling water for about 10 minutes to sterilize it. Drain and put the blueberries in the hot jar.

Meanwhile, place the vinegar and sugar in a small pot and bring it to a boil (stir it to dissolve the sugar). Pour this mixture into the jar over the berries. Place a large square of wax paper over the mouth of the jar and then screw on the lid (the paper prevents the lid from rusting). Shake the jar and place it in a cool, dark place for about a week. Be sure to shake the jar daily.

After a week, strain out the blueberries and store the vinegar a clean jar or bottle. The vinegar will keep at room temperature for a few months (and even longer in the fridge).

Maw Maw's Green Tomato Pickles

From Elspeth Hay's grandmother, Dorothy Plumber Cary

Dates to the early 1900s

Slice 1 peck green tomatoes and 12 onions very thinly. Sprinkle with salt and layer on bottom of large pot. Take 1/4 pound ground mustard, 1/4 pound white mustard seed, 1 ounce whole cloves,1 ounce ground ginger, 1 ounce whole allspice, 1 ounce celery seed, and 1 ounce black pepper grains and mix well. Put in pot in alternate layers with tomatoes and onions. Cover with 1/2 gallon vinegar and cook till tender; about 3 hours. Use sugar to taste—about 3 pounds is good for above recipe. Put spices in cheesecloth bag (allspice, cloves, and whole peppers). Put in sterile jars.