Prime Picking: Enjoying Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables with the Canning Diva

by Dianne Devereaux, AKA the Canning Diva • photography by Two Eagles Marcus

Summer is here, and our gardens are finally starting to show signs of growth. Before we know it, we will be harvesting, eating and preserving its beautiful bounty. Whether a home gardener, a CSA member or a frequent shopper at your local farmers market, here are some tips to help you identify when food is ripe and ready to eat so you may enjoy it in its prime.

Diane Devereaux, the Canning Diva

Tomatoes

There are two surefire ways to check your tomatoes – squeezing and smelling. Make it a point to lightly squeeze the tomatoes, looking for each to feel slightly firm within your grip.  If it’s very hard, it will require more time to ripen— an additional day or two on the kitchen counter will suffice. If the tomato is overly soft, that’s an indication the tomato has started to break down and will likely rot much quicker. A perfectly ripe and ready-to-eat tomato should be somewhere in the middle of these two textures.

Now for the sniff test! A ripe tomato will smell like a freshly picked tomato. Breathe it in, because you got a keeper.  Now, if you detect a musty smell, the tomato may be overly ripe and past its prime.

Green Beans

The best way to tell if a green bean is ready to pick and eat is by visible inspection. Each of the seeds in the pods should still be small while the pod itself should be firm yet pliable. If the seeds are bulging out of the pod, the pod itself will be less tender and often stringy.

Peaches 

We look forward to Michigan peaches all year long, as they are not only beautiful but oh, so delicious. How do you tell if a peach is ripe for eating enjoyment?  Here are two great tips: its yellow color should be a deep golden color and not pale in hue. If the skin around the stem shows some wrinkles, the peach is likely juicy inside. Next, touch this lovely lady— when squeezing gently, you should feel it equally soft in your palm, but not mushy. This is a perfect peach!  If you squeeze the peach and it only slightly gives, leave it on the counter to ripen for a couple more days.

Photo by Jeff Hage

Tangy Pepper Salsa 

makes approx. 5 pints

This salsa utilizes Michigan grown treasures and  embodies the right amount of heat, sweet and tang, making it is the perfect complement to any grilled meat, and of course, tortilla chip.

Ingredients

6 cups Roma tomatoes, diced
3 cups carrots, peeled and grated
1 cup orange bell pepper
2 cups peaches, peeled and diced
1 ½ cups cider vinegar
1 ¼ cups brown sugar
½ cup onion, finely chopped
½ cup jalapeno peppers, finely chopped – leave seeds for more heat
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped

Instructions

In a large stainless steel stock pot, combine all ingredients except the cilantro. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often to avoid scorching. Reduce heat and boil gently until mixture starts to thicken, upwards of one hour.  Stir in cilantro and cook for an additional 15 minutes on low heat.

Ladle hot salsa into hot jars leaving a half an inch of headspace. Remove any air bubbles and adjust headspace if necessary. Using a warm wash cloth dipped in vinegar, wipe jar rims and screw bands. Add sterilized lid and rings. Hand tighten.

Place jars in water bather and cover with 2” of water.  Process pints for 20 minutes, half pints for 15 minutes. Remember, processing time does not begin until water is at a full rolling boil.


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