Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Salsa Behind Me, The Salad Before Me

I had a failure this week.  Well, a partial failure.  And sometimes you can only hold your head up so long amidst stress and failure and plans not going like you thought.  I was down, really down for 2 days.

My failure?  Salsa. I really like salsa.  I eat it on my eggs, in mac and cheese and mixed with rice and beans, as well as on tacos.  I love Paul Newman's peach or mango salsa (my mil got me started on it).  It is tomatoey,  but a bit sweet.  It is $3 per jar.  Ouch.  So of course I want to hack it and make my own.  And this year, I had the tomatoes with which to do it.  Fifteen Purple Cherokees, all more or less ripe at once meant some for eating, some for gifting, and some for salsaing. 

Here is one of the Purple Cherokee tomatoes I had left after salsaing - it wasn't quite ripe enough at the time.
I found a knock off recipe on the internet, made a small test batch, tweaked it a little and gave it to family to try.  It was awesome!  I pictured 20 jars of salsa on my pantry shelves by fall.  I pulled out my mom's old Mirro pressure canner, read the directions and tried to find a bit more info on the internet. Called my friend the canning and crochet goddess (who is also a photographer, knits, milks goats, directs theatrical endeavors, and dresses down her four kids without breaking a sweat) for advice.  A lot of people water bath can salsa (put the jars in boiling water), but without really knowing the acidity, which would prevent botulism growth, I decided to pressure can.  The very high temperatures of pressure canning kills the botulism spores.  I purchased an e book, Introduction to Pressure Canning but somehow missed the download link to click on after I purchased it.  I kept waiting for it to show up in my inbox.

My mom's old 6qt. Mirro pressure canner.  

So I forged ahead and made my large batch of salsa with the help of my oldest daughter, Mica. She learned about scalding tomatoes in hot water to peel them, then she diligently cut them into small pieces.  Mica is the best of all my children and she loves horses!!!! :) Hmmm....methinks my blog post was hacked with that last sentence....anyway... I got 6 pints of salsa in the canner (the recipe said 8 pints, oh well),  placed the weight at 10lbs of pressure and waited for it to start "rocking".  I waited and waited - steam all around, especially the handle area, but no jiggling.  Finally I remembered the manual in the box had mentioned giving the handle a tap to make sure the handle had "locked".  I did this and immediately the steam from the handle stopped.  Soon the weight was rocking vigorously.  I set the timer and adjusted the heat so it was jiggling occasionally but not constantly, as per the manual.  After the allotted time I removed the pressure canner from the heat and let it cool down slowly. 

After an hour or so, I lifted the jars out of the canner.  I wasn't sure they had all sealed, but this does happen as they cool.  I used 3 normal metal lids that can be used once and thrown, and 3 reusable lids, the first time I had used Tattler lids.    After cooling, the Tattler lids did not seal, the regular ones did.  This was probably because I tightened the rings on the Tattler ones too tight and it ended up being a good thing.  I put these jars in the fridge, and was very discouraged.  I spent the better part of two days on this project and had 3 jars to put on the shelves.  My tomatoes were gone.  And all my recent "trials" of tight budgeting, parenting struggles and gardening frustrations closed in on me.  I couldn't shake my feeling of failure, no matter how much I rationalized that I had made good salsa, it just didn't all can, I'm learning alot, most people who can and garden experiment and fail and try again etc. 

So this morning I refocused on the garden.  Not much produce to pick (thus my frustration), but I had purchased several medium large pots at a garage sale last week, and I decided to fill these and plant some lettuce.  If I can get it to grow and not wither during August, it should really like cool fall weather. 

 Newly planted spinach, oak leaf lettuce and deer tongue lettuce, the containers nestled in the wooden frame of a lawn chair. The sign to the left is was used this spring to discourage chipmunk raiding of spring lettuce. 

I combined my last few crumbs of purchased container soil with some spaded up clay from bare patches by my back trees.  Mixed a bit of water in with it, sprinkled seed, gently covered with some reserved good soil.  As I misted my new seed beds with water, my spirit was able to let go and look ahead.  At 43, I have so many of the faults I had at 23 and even 13.  But one profound life lesson I have learned, for myself at least as one who struggles with up and down emotions, is to fix my eyes on a new project when I am disappointed. The salsa behind me, the salad before me. (Sing to I Have Decided to Follow Jesus - "the world behind me, the cross before me".)

As I cleaned up from my project I mused over how and where to start a compost heap.  I have been heavily mulching (as mulch as I can) and throwing food scraps on my in ground garden a la Ruth Stout. But it occurred to me, as I turn more and more to container gardening, that I need an inexpensive source of good dirt.  Hence, a compost pile to start new containers with.  I then had a lightbulb moment - use the Little Tykes play house that I have been wanting hauled away this summer.  I will have to block off an arched door/crawlway eventually, but it works for now. 

My compost pile has been started with leaves and kitchen scraps.  Coffee ground soon to follow.

Just no one tell Coral, my 4 year old, who hasn't played with this much in the past year, but will want to if she knows it has been repurposed.

The ending to the salsa story? The nice people at Rural Revolution kindly explained the missed link for the canning guide and sent the link to me via email.  Turns out my mom's old pressure canner is considered too small by today's modern standards to use for canning at all.  The fridged jars will be eaten by my family and I within a week I'm sure, if tonight is any judge.  We downed a whole pint of salsa (it comes in pints?) with tacos and tortilla chips.  The sealed jars have sat out for a day and will be dumped.  But by now I am over it.  I have my heading.  Salad greens --engage.