Building a better world… with tomatoes and goats

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Sometimes it’s hard to feel anything but angry about the current state of things, but there are lots of positive actions that can be done that boost personal resilience and wellbeing as well as reducing ecological footprints.

There’s a new book all about this, currently on Kickstarter here. My new book ‘Backyard Dairy Goats‘ is included as a stretch goal on it!

Preserving tomatoes at home

This year I did something I’d been thinking about for a long time. I bottled our entire tomato supply for the year…

I’d delayed this in the past due to annoying finicky instructions that insist on peeling the tomatoes, removing seeds, putting them through an expensive single-purpose gadget, and all kinds of stuff, but in the end I thought it was about time I tried this myself, using nothing more than a kitchen knife.

Our own garden harvest was not that big this year, for a few reasons that I’ve hopefully learned from, but rather than buying in bottled tomatoes from the other side of the world, I found a local organic grower, bought more than 30kg of sauce-grade tomatoes and bottled them all.

This is how we did it:

Step 1:
This step is only worth doing if you have too many tomatoes to fit in your pot at once. Sort through all the tomatoes and separate the damaged and super-ripe ones from the ones that can wait for a bit longer. Put the ones that can wait aside for another day (we preserved our 30kg+ of tomatoes over 3 days).

Step 2:
Wash the tomatoes, remove any leaves and stems (this is a good job for little helpers).

Step 3:
Roughly chop the tomatoes and put them in a big stainless steel pot (I used my 20 litre one).

Step 4:
Heat the chopped tomatoes over medium-high heat, smashing them up as you stir every so often. Once the tomatoes are bubbling you can either bottle them now, or reduce them for a bit. The jars I used were a bit smaller than the passata bottles I’m used to, so I chose to boil them to reduce them by around 1/4 to 1/3, to make for a more concentrated jar of tomato goodness. If you’re using plum tomatoes or paste tomatoes you’re more likely to get away with boiling them for less time, but ‘sauce tomatoes’ here just means any tomatoes that aren’t quite perfect, so they can use a bit of boiling to get rid of the extra liquid.

While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to heat up or reduce, sterilise your jars and lids and keep them warm.

Step 5:
If you’re concerned about the tomatoes not being acidic enough on their own to store safely, then add a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice to each 500-600ml jar, or 2 tablespoons to larger jars.

Put the hot tomatoes in the warm jars and seal them with their clips or rings, depending on which jar type you’re using. Put a big canning pot with a false bottom or canning rack on the stove (or use a tea towel or some cutlery at the bottom of a normal pot), put a small amount of warm water in it (so that the hot jars aren’t shocked by a sudden change of temperature), then carefully add your jars. Add more water, so that the jars are surrounded by water either to just above the top of the lid, or at least 3/4 of the way up.

Put the lid on the pot and bring it to the boil, or at least above 90ºC (195ºF). Hold it at this temperature for 40-45 minutes, then allow the pot to sit with the lid off for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter and allow them to cool on the bench before storing.

Fill up the next batch of jars for the pot and repeat until you’ve run out of hot tomatoes, making sure that the water in the pot at the beginning is around the same temperature as the jars. You can do this over two or more days, as long as the tomatoes are brought to the boil and kept hot for a while before bottling, and put into hot sterilised jars.

The result:
Bottling my own tomatoes at home has reduced the amount of far-away foods in our diet, reduced our tomato costs by half, made us more resilient, reduced waste, and they taste better than factory-bottled ones. It was an enjoyable time with family, with all of us appreciating the process and the results.

Peas

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“I am very good at hide and seek and so are peas, that’s why I’m so good at finding them”

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Zucchini Pickle

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There’s not much that gives a feeling of abundance like zucchini does. It grows easily and prolifically, some people complain that it provides too much food, and then end up gifting some of their harvest to me. I end up picking most of mine before the flowers have dropped off, eager to make all kinds of zucchini cakes, zucchini gratin, minestrone and other soups, and making this zucchini pickle to accompany cheese and cold meats for the year ahead.

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Ingredients
1.3kg zucchini
200g onions (2 small-medium ones)
150g salt
Water for rinsing the salt off
5 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon dry turmeric or 3 teaspoons freshly grated
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
85g honey (around 2 tablespoons)
500ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Grate the zucchini and finely dice the onions. Mix with the salt in a bowl and set aside for at least half an hour, or overnight. Drain the liquid, rinse the vegetables, and then drain again, squash them into a fine sieve to remove as much liquid as possible.

Sterilise some jars and lids and keep them warm.

When the vegetables have been drained and rinsed, put them in a pot with the spices, vinegar, and honey. Bring to the boil with the lid on, reduce the heat, and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another ten or twenty minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onion tastes cooked. Put into the sterilised jars, put the lids on, then turn them upside down for a few minutes. Turn the right way up again and leave them to cool.

This pickle will taste best after it’s been in storage at least a month. It keeps for around 12 months in the cupboard. I’ve opened ones that were two years old and they were still good.

One day I hope to have enough zucchini to make this recipe and this recipe. This year we’ve had two plants, next year I think we will have four or more.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Cheese

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I’ve never successfully made a hard cheese with a natural rind before.

On a biodynamic fruit day, back when we still had Buttercup the cow, I mixed some of her milk with some of our goats milk, cultured it, sort-of followed an asiago recipe (I am not so good with all the continuous stirring), pressed it, salted it, and put it in the makeshift cheese cave to age. Roughly once a week, mostly on other biodynamic fruit days, I would tend to the cheese. I would rub more salt on it, brush it, to keep the growth of some things in check, and to help it form a rind. For months I looked at this cheese every week, wondering what it would taste like.

After around five months I cut into it. It’s probably the best cheese we’ve ever tasted!

Today I made this salad with it. Feta is really good in this, as is any hard cheese, or you can use chopped walnuts instead. This is a good salad to make ahead of time, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, just make sure the squash has fully cooled down before you add it to the spinach.

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Salad with Cheese
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Strategies to move away from cities: Market gardening in small spaces

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Photo credit: here

One of the things many folks struggle with when wanting to move to rural areas is income. Since the increased mechanisation of farming less people are needed to work in mainstream farming operations, and there aren’t many jobs available in these areas. People in cities often feel trapped in them, under the assumption that they need a typical ‘job’ in the country in order to move there.

For most people, a move to the country will involve needing to find a local source of income. Market gardening offers us the opportunity to create our own secure jobs in rural areas.
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