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Mary Lowther column: Time to do the canning with summer veggies

I bought a flat of tomatoes to make tomato sauce
Tomato vegetable relish all ready for winter. (Mary Lowther photo)

By Mary Lowther

David insists the calendar is long overdue for an overhaul that brings it back in tune with the seasons. Julius Caesar, he says, did so in 49 B.C., and Pope Gregory XIII again in 1582, but since then it has remained the same despite the eccentric orbit of our planet. This is probably not going to change any time soon because nobody has enough gravitas to get everyone else to agree. When David waxes historical I suspect the Earth is not the only body with an eccentric orbit.

Whatever the cause, it’s October already, we are now in stage four drought, but I have already put my hoses away! The late summer has lingered on into autumn, and now I’m going to have to lay them out again, well, not all of them; just the ones for my rows of fall, winter and overwintering crops. I’ll have to hand water newly sown cover crop seeds until the fall rains arrive. If September next year is equally dry the soaker hoses will stay in place till the rains become dependable.

Sponge-like conditions in the soil make a difference especially now because plants can access water that the soil has retained from summer irrigation. Compost, complete organic fertilizer and rotted roots from previous cover crops all contribute to this water retention layer, a mulch helps keep the soil from evaporating and the long, cool mornings also enable dew to be absorbed by plants.

In the meantime, there are new seedlings in flats destined for the cold frame to tend to and the filling of the pantry. I don’t have much from this year’s garden because we’ve moved, so I bought a flat of tomatoes to make tomato sauce that I use for spaghetti as is, perk it up with chillies for salsa, or add an equal amount of water to a jar full for soup.

I went seeking a flat of cucumbers to make relish with, but found out that the markets were sold out of them in August and even then there weren’t many due to the cold, wet spring, so I decided to make relish with the few cucumbers I did find, a bunch of tomatoes that were available and a few different kinds of vegetables, and here’s my adaptation of a recipe:

Vegetable/Tomato Relish

1 cup sugar

1 T. turmeric

4 cups chopped vegetables

2 cups chopped tomatoes

2 cups chopped onions

2 cups chopped green pepper

1 cup chopped celery

2 cups chopped cucumber

1 cup vinegar

2 tsp. mustard seeds

2 T. cornstarch

Method: combine everything except the cornstarch in a large pot, stir well and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir ¼ cup water into the cornstarch, blend well and add to the vegetables; cook and stir till slightly thickened, about five minutes. Ladle mixture into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath (pints) 15 minutes. Makes 4 ½ pints. (I used my food processor on “pulse” to chop the vegetables and allowed them to drain in a sieve for an hour before measuring them and I doubled the recipe, but then, I’m a glutton for punishment).

As for who has enough gravitas to fix the calendar, I nominate Ken Jennings. He has all the answers.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.