Readers have been tossing a lot of questions my way this summer, and the most recent batch tells me that a number of area gardens have produced a bumper harvest of at least one vegetable. The issue now is to preserve the bounty for later consumption.
Maureen and Bill Osborne e-mailed about their Spanish onions, which they'd like to dry and store for future use. Spanish onions generally are large, globe-shaped onions and come in several varieties.
How long they will keep depends on the shelf life of the particular variety and how thoroughly they are cured before storage. As a general rule, yellow onions keep longer than whites or reds.
Onions should be dug up after the tops turn brown. Remove them from the ground with the tops attached. This is important. Sometimes the tops fall off, but the onions will be OK if you have at least a couple of inches of neck intact. Onions whose necks are trimmed too close too early will rot. Also, do not wash the onions.
Lay the onions in the sun for a couple of days to dry. If the direct sun is too hot, you might shorten the sun time and move the onions under a covered porch after a day. You don't want the onions to sun-scald.
When the necks and outer husks have turned to paper, you can trim the necks down to an inch. Any dirt remaining on the onions should brush off easily.
Onions cured in this way and stored in a cool, airy place should keep from a few months to a year, again depending on the variety.
A reader named Susan called last week looking for a pickling recipe for her jalapenos. I pulled this one from the "Ball Blue Book," which is a wonderful reference for anyone who cans.
This recipe will work for any hot pepper.
4 quarts peppers
1 1/2 cups canning salt
4 quarts water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 cloves garlic
10 cups vinegar
2 cups water
Cut two small slits in each pepper. Dissolve salt in 4 quarts water. Pour over peppers and let stand 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Drain. Rinse thoroughly and drain again.
Combine remaining ingredients in a large sauce pot. Simmer 15 minutes. Remove garlic.
Pack peppers into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Bring pickling liquid to a boil. Pour hot liquid over peppers, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust caps. Process half pints and pints 10 minutes in boiling water bath.
Makes about 8 pints.
Kathy Reed e-mailed looking for a tomato salsa recipe. At one time I did have a written formula for red salsa, but I can't find it.
It really doesn't matter, though, because I never make it the same way twice. In addition, the seasoning is such a matter of personal preference and the character of the fresh ingredients varies, so recipes are unreliable. The idea is to get a recipe that you like and to use it as a guideline for making salsa.
Basically, to make a batch of salsa from scratch, cut an onion in half and then cut one of the halves into chunks. Toss it into the food processor and mince it. Leave it in the food processor bowl. (You can substitute a bunch of green onions.)
Next, take four to six tomatoes and slice them into quarters. Remove the seeds and most of the runny stuff. Toss the tomato pieces into the food processor. Add half a teaspoon of salt and a pressed garlic clove.
Start with one or two hot peppers (jalapenos or serranos work fine). Slice the peppers in half, seed them, cut them into small pieces and add them to the food processor bowl.
Pulse the food processor until you get the desired consistency. Now taste it for the balance of onion, tomato, salt and garlic, and correct if necessary.
Place the mixture in a nonreactive saucepan and simmer to reduce the moisture and deepen the tomato, garlic and onion flavors. Continue simmering until you achieve the degree of tomatoey-ness that you want.
Let the tomato mixture cool before adding other ingredients. Chop cilantro leaves to yield about 1 tablespoon and stir them in. Now taste and go back and correct the ingredients. Add cilantro and salt until you get it just the way you like it.
Some people add ground pepper, some add a bit of minced parsley, some add a splash of vinegar, lemon or lime juice. If you take notes as you go, you will have a recipe to guide you in the future.
Also, if you will be canning the salsa and using a hot bath, you may be able to eliminate the simmering step once you get the balance of ingredients right.
When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University in Baldwin. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.