Thursday, August 11, 2011

Musings on the Tomato, with Lacto-Fermented Salsa

Yes, it's been a long time since I've posted. I think this is a record. Yeah for me.
Last year my friend Dave pointed out that my anemic tomatoes weren't the result of the universe plotting against me, but simply that I'd not paid attention to their needing more sun than my semi-wooded backyard would afford. Noted. This year I moved the tomatoes to the front yard, and while we've only had six plants, I've been beside myself with how they've thrived. Simply beside myself. If you have any doubt what sun can do for sun-loving plants like tomatoes, here are two heirloom tomatoes, one in the backyard (because I had some extra plants and a little extra room in the raised beds) and one in the front yard. Case closed.
Sylvia explaining last May why we planted tomatoes out front.
It's been a fun gardening year. I tried potatoes for the first time and am giddy that you can put a part of a potato under ground, and a couple months later dig under the resulting foliage and find... Potatoes. As Phil says, "honest potatoes." I planted a 4 X 4 box with Purple Haze potatoes and we've been eating on them for a bit. I can't find a good source for seed potatoes this fall, so I'm sprouting some myself, and sharing them with my dad, who's never grown potatoes but was fascinated when I told him about our experience this year. By the way, if you're thinking of planting potatoes, you might want to check out The Resilient Gardener, which devotes a whole chapter to spuds. One thing I learned from that book was to watch for the foliage to die, wait another week or two, and then dig up the potatoes. Apparently they keep growing and getting nutrients even while their foliage looks dead and as if nothing good is going to come of them.

Backyard on the left; front yard on the right.
So, back to the sun. I took Dave too literally. While I moved the tomatoes to the front yard, I didn't apply his lessons to all summer vegetables needing sunlight. So my first attempt at corn turned out miniature. The raccoons got it, and frankly, they could have it. Ditto the peppers, which were less than impressive other than one hot pepper plant that did me proud. So the plan next year is to expand the little garden plot next to the driveway , and stock it with tomatoes, peppers, corn, rhubarb, and everything else that's been struggling in the backyard. The raised beds in the backyard will be planted solely with the leafy greens and spring/fall vegetables that thrive there: radishes, lettuce, kale, chard, mache.
Meanwhile, the tomatoes.
I will admit that my ultimate strategy is that we'll be able to grow all or most of our vegetables, and even fruit, on our little 1/4 acre suburban lot. But this year the thought of canning tomatoes made me tired. So very tired. So we're eating and enjoying them fresh, and I'm going to rely on the eight packs of Del Monte organic tomatoes at Costco to get through the winter. Sue me.
That said, we've got an abundance of tomatoes, and even tomato-philes like me and Phil are a little overwhelmed. And we've got a raccoon problem that ends in slightly blemished tomatoes that are still mainly good, if a bit scratched or bitten here and there. Bring in lacto-fermenting. I'm a little in love with it. This is a way to get probiatics (you know... Jamie Lee Curtis yelling at you about a yogurt brand that helps keep you "on track") through crazy-quick and easy prep. No canning. Essentially, you're prepping vegetables (pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut) and then letting them sit at room temperature. The result is living food filled with good bacteria; canning, on the opposite spectrum, kills all bacteria -- bad and harmful as well as good.
So I'm loving lacto-fermented salsa, which uses up less-than-perfect tomatoes, takes about five minutes to make, and tastes phenomenal. (Phil, who is more sensitive to salt than me, says it's a bit salty; I haven't noticed.) I'm using a combination of the method from Nourishing Days and a very slight riff on the recipe from Cheeseslave. I'm tickled that the tomato, garlic, and hot peppers all come from my garden. Next year, the onions will, too. Here's what I've been doing.

Lacto-Fermented Salsa

1 small to medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 to 2 hot peppers, depending on your taste, split and seeded
Juice from 2 lemons
1 Tbsp. salt
4 oz. whey or 1 Tbsp. salt
About 3-4 decent-sized tomatoes
If you like, fresh herbs like cilantro or oregano

In a food processor, process the onion, peppers, and garlic. Now add the tomatoes and whir them a bit. I have a very small food processor, so I have to add the tomatoes, quartered, one at at time. If you're using fresh herbs, put those in and whir them a bit more. Now pour into a bowl, add the lemon juice, salt, and whey (or additional salt). You should have about a quart, so after it's all mixed up, pour it into a quart canning jar, making sure you have about an inch of headspace (space between the top of the salsa and the lid) and let it sit on the counter for a few days. The salsa should be pretty watery, and you'll want to be sure that stray pieces aren't clinging to the lid, as these could develop mold. In two or three days, taste your salsa; it'll be a little tangy and, in my opinion, crazy-delicious. Stick it in the fridge, and it'll keep for a long long time.

If you're really into this, just double the recipe and use a half-gallon canning jar.
For a lot more about lacto-fermenting, which used to scare the bejezus out of me, you might want to check the books Wild Fermentations or Nourishing Traditions.

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