There is a point in the growing season, that it almost feels as if the tomatoes will never ripen. The plants sit, loaded down with green globes, waiting for something, of what you’re not sure. You check every day, peering into each bush hoping to find the red gems inside, but to no avail. Then finally, they start and before you know it, you are inundated with tomatoes. This is a good thing. Tomatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables in the garden: they can go on sandwiches, in salads, canned whole, chopped or crushed, cooked down into sauce, juiced, frozen, processed into an endless array of condiments, the list goes on. And for each culinary use, there is a specific tomato that breeders and gardeners have selected for over the years.

At my house, we eat what we can fresh, and turn the rest into chopped tomatoes or sauce for pizzas and soups later in the year, and likewise, we always grow a couple of varieties of tomatoes: big hearty ones with few seeds that are great for slicing and chopping that break down well in sauce, and smaller cherry varieties ideal for snacking and salads. Unfortunately, this year, due in part to a very wet spring, our cherry tomatoes did not fare well, luckily we had planted a number of Black Vernissage as a test crop, and while not a cherry tomato per se, they are on the smaller side with most fruits smaller than a golf ball and for all intents and purposes, they eat just like a cherry.

<img class=”alignright size-full wp-image-300″ src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/spiced-e1533295060622.jpg?w=310&#8243; alt=”spiced.jpg” width=”310″ height=”344″ />Making sauce, while enjoyable the first seven quarts, can become something of a burden, especially when it’s 95°F outside, and you are filling the already hot kitchen with more heat and steam. And let us be serious, no one is really salivating when it comes time to crack open a jar of sauce; it is an excellent addition to a dish, but you can not snack on it by itself. Of course, we add some of our cherry-types to sauce for additional flavor, but we also like to turn many of our cherry tomatoes into a healthy garden snack that can last well beyond a tomatoes natural shelf life: sun-dried tomatoes. It may be up for debate as to whether or not these actually qualify as sun-dried tomatoes, but that is neither here nor there, the fact of the matter is they are a delicious snack and exceptionally easy to make.

This year we used our Black Vernissage, but because of their larger size, we had to cut them up into quarters or even sixths; when using typical marble size cherry tomatoes, we only cut them in half. Once cut up we toss them in a bowl with some spices. Sometimes we will stick to traditional Italian flavorings, and other times we attempt more exotic flavors – a personal favorite is salt, cocoa powder, cayenne and olive oil – but whatever flavorings you choose, make sure to use salt and olive oil as these ingredients help speed the drying process and mitigate potential mold growth. Once the tomatoes are thoroughly coated, they are laid out – so as not to touch each other – on old dehydrator trays, or cookie sheets, or whatever is easily movable and available. Sometimes with juicier tomatoes, it is better to start them on solid trays so the juice does not drip to the surface below. Once everything is laid out, I put them in my van.

<img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-301″ src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/tom-car-e1533295125254.jpg?w=331&#8243; alt=”tom-car.jpg” width=”331″ height=”414″ />Yes, you read that right. In the summer, my van works as the ideal solar oven. I put the trays on the dashboard and let the sun do the work. If you have vents (like I do in my man-van) you can crack them, or you can just crack the windows a little, but some air flow is vital. After the first day, when most of the dripping juice has evaporated, I will move the tomatoes onto some aluminum screen that I have set aside just for this purpose, or you can use the screen inserts from a dehydrator if they are not in use elsewhere. Do not stack your trays and make sure they are laid out in the full sun. The olive oil and salt help keep mold at bay, but so do the heat, sun and air flow. I have also found that turning the tomatoes over so the skin side is facing the sun after the first day helps to speed drying. The whole process takes two to three days, depending on the weather, but it is important to check them often; believe it or not, they can go too long and then they not only become too hard to chew, but they can actually burn.

<img class=” wp-image-302 aligncenter” src=”https://libertymindedagrarian.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/sun-dried-tom-hands-e1533295397416.jpg&#8221; alt=”sun dried tom hands” width=”318″ height=”436″ />Once cured, we try to get them in jars with rubber gaskets before the kids eat them all. They make great additions to salads and pastas or simply as individual snacks, and they make your car smell garden fresh!

<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/02/14/homestead-hack-4-paint-your-tools/”>Homestead Hack #4: Paint Your Tools</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/31/homestead-hack-3-steam-your-eggs/”>Homestead Hack #3: Steam Your Eggs!</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/17/homestead-hack-2-steal-the-batteries/”>Homestead Hack #2: Steal the Batteries!</a>
<a href=”https://homesteadsandhomeschools.com/2018/01/03/homestead-hack-1-label-your-eggs/”>Homestead Hack #1: Label Your Eggs!</a>

SCOBYs, Get Your SCOBYs

scoby
A big old SCOBY ready to be bagged and shipped off.

Making a SCOBY is not super difficult. In fact, I think it is fairly easy. Though for some this is not the case. (My brother has tried multiple times to start a culture, but continued to fail until I gave him one.) Once you have kombucha brewing, you will have an abundance of SCOBYs.

If you cannot get a SCOBY to grow, we offer some of our SCOBYs for sale. All the SCOBYs we sell are raised on organic black tea and sugar (any SCOBYs grown on flavored teas are given to the chickens).

We sell SCOBYs wet or dehydrated. Dehydrated come in packages of two – in case one does not rehydrate properly – wet SCOBYs come individually.

Dehydrated: $6.00
Wet: $6.00
Both prices include shipping fees. Send us an email, and we will get you a SCOBY, or two.

Fermented Fridays: Carrots!

After college, I was not sure what to do in terms of a job, I had not applied to graduate school, so I started to peruse the Yahoo! Jobs section. Long story short, I ended up in South Korea teaching English for a year. It took me a while, but eventually I fell in love with that pungent, spicy dish we call kim chi. When I returned home, I struggled to find authentic kim chi the way the ajumma’s in Korea make it. The stuff in the jar at the grocery store was passable, but by no means a substitution for what could be found at any random Korean restaurant. I then started to venture into making my own kim chi, and sadly, was never able to make it right. (I think a fair bit of it has to do with getting authentic go chu jang powder – this is probably the best.)

Despite not being able to make truly authentic kim chi, I experimented with some other vegetables and eventually – with some assistance through Sandor Katz – found the world of fermentation. Really, you can ferment anything, especially if you go the lacto-fermentation route; granted some things taste better than others, but it’s always fun to experiment and see what happens. Sometimes you get a winner, and sometimes you made some chicken food.

This past winter we had a spectacular carrot harvest. We froze some, and kept a supply in the refrigerator, but we still had plenty left over. (Unfortunately, here in Georgia, it would seem that no one has heard of a basement or a root-cellar so we have no ideal place for storage.) Rather than just chuck more carrots in the freezer, I decided to lacto-ferment a few and see what happened.

We don’t use pesticides or chemicals in our garden, so I have no concerns about eating the skins of our vegetables, so before cutting the carrots into spears I gave them a good scrub, but left the skins on. I’m a big fan of garlic, ginger, and hot pepper, so naturally, they were part of my supply list as was a jar that has a slight taper towards the top with a rubber gasket – and of course sea salt. My wife got this jar a long time ago for storing dried goods, but the slight taper allows me to pack things in, and then the pressure keeps vegetables submerged without needing any sort of weight to keep them down.

Dragon Carrots, purple on the outside, orange on the inside.

Lacto-fermenting is really one of the easiest ways to preserve food. I peeled a couple garlic cloves and cut a couple big chunks of ginger up before tossing them into the bottom of the jar and adding a healthy dose of hot pepper. I cut the tops off the carrots before slicing them lengthwise into quarters – sixths for the bigger carrots – and then shoved them in lengthwise packing them tight. When I could fit no more, I used a measuring cup, keeping track of how much water it took to fill my jar about half an inch above the top of the carrots. I like to use a ratio of 1:1, tablespoons of salt:cups of water, so I ended up needing just under two tablespoons of salt. I added the salt and used a chopstick to wiggle the carrots around which helped the salt sink down, but who’s real purpose was to allow any trapped air bubbles to escape. (If you trap air bubbles, you defeat the idea of lacto-fermentation and you’ll get inedible rot.)

carrot topWhen my salt, carrots, spices and water were added, I shut the lid and put the jar in the closet of the warmest room in our house. By about day two, I noticed little tiny bubbles rising to the surface, on day three I burped the jar, but probably did not need to as there was no pressure to speak of. (Secretly I wanted to give them the sniff test and it’s really hard to leave them alone.) At this point you don’t want to agitate the carrots any. The carbon dioxide – a byproduct of the lacto-fermentation process – is heavier than air and will sit on top of your ferment, keeping the nasty oxygen away from your vegetables and preventing contamination.

How long you let your carrots sit is really up to you. It depends on how warm the ambient air temps are, how big your ferment batch is, and how tangy you like your veggies. I left our carrots for five days. As this was the first time trying to ferment carrots, I wasn’t really sure how they would come out and part of me was ready to march straight away to the chicken coop – my wife has disallowed me from keeping ferments in the fridge that I “might” eat “one day” – but much to my surprise, they were delicious – crisp and slightly reminiscent of relish, but with that lacto-fermented-almost-kim chi- flavor I’d been searching for. Next to some radish kim chi I made a few years ago, this was the closest flavor I had come to that reminded me of that spicy goodness every capable Korean grandmother creates. And, as a bit of a surprise, the red-purple coloring from our Dragon Carrots leached into the water giving it a red hue. Give it a shot!

Fermented Friday: Oatmeal!
Fermented Friday: Ginger Bug!
Fermented Friday: SCOBY Dooby Doo!

Homestead Hack #4: Paint Your Tools!

If you’ve had any metal outdoor tool for a while, you’ll know that eventually the shiny factory sheen starts to fade and the metal begins to pick-up a dingy, brown, earthen hue. You might also be wise enough to know that that dingy brown is almost the color as the dirt and leaf litter that covers the forest floor. I’m not sure about you, but if there is one thing that annoys me to no end when I’m out cutting firewood or digging around in the garden, it’s misplacing a tool mid-job because it’s lost among the leaves and dirt. And, as an aside, it can also get a little expensive. So how do we fix this issue? (Other than being overly pre-cautious and slowing the whole process down to put tools in the exact same spot mid-job…). Spray paint! A sweet bright vibrant splitting wedge will ensure you’ll have a hard time loosing it ever again. It works well for garden tools like shovels and hoes, and don’t forget the the always necessary but ever so small chain saw tool!

img_20180110_145154407315301230.jpg
Brighter is better!

Homestead Hack #3: Steam Your Eggs!