Friday, April 25, 2008

Alas, It Was Not To Be

So last December, we attended a New Years' Eve party with some church friends, and everyone brought a little food. It was a most excellent spread.

But the best stuff there, the stuff that stuck in my memory (because it nearly burned my lips off--you tend to remember that sort of thing) was some tomatillo salsa brought by my friend Keith.

I have never had salsa that good before. It was sweet, fruity, bold with a bit of a nose and floral bouquet, with undertones of oak and...

...and a serrano-based heat that could strip paint. At that moment, I decided that I would plant tomatillos and serranos the moment we got our garden up and running.

Today was the day! So we were getting ready to head out to the nursery to get the seedlings, and I decided to get online and look up what I could about tomatillos. After all, they're nothing like anything that my parents, or my wife's parents, grew in their gardens when we were growing up; what do you do with these things? Are they vines? Do they come from stalks? Do you need to stake them, or build wire cages around them? We figured we needed to know that, so we'd know what other stuff we needed to get when we got to the nursery.

So I went over to the Wikipedia page on tomatillos, and learned a little about them. They are grown on plants similar to tomato plants. They do not fruit unless there are two or more plants cross-pollinating, so we needed to get more than one. And, oh yeah: there's one little detail about these things that shouldn't be missed:
Other parts of the tomatillo plant also contain toxins, and should not be eaten.
Aaaaaarrrgh! It's not possible!

Well, that kills that idea. The trouble is we've got a not-quite fifteen-month-old Happy Boy, who is busily building up his immune system by putting everything he can find in his mouth. Dirt, rocks, leaves, grass, insects, you name it. If he ever gets infected with snails, his body is totally prepared, and will beat that infection off in no time.

Of course, this means we have to avoid planting any plant containing toxins, at least until he's old enough to know you don't eat that. No oleander, no rhubarb, no Black Locust Tree, and (alas) no tomatillos.


Yeah, we can buy them in the stores around here. But it's just not the same.

My wife did go to the nursery today, anyway; she got a bunch of zucchini plants, crookneck squash, yellow banana peppers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and marigolds. And yes, she got some serranos too. The way I see it, something will have to break the Happy Boy of his habit of putting everything in his mouth, and if they don't, nothing will. :-)


Anyway, I made a deal with Keith: he provides me with his recipe for Tomatillo Salsa, and I provide him with our recipe for Pomegranate Jelly. I figure this is as good a forum as any, so here goes.

We got our recipe from a book entitled The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, which was published in 1982--so it's an older book, and you're not likely to find it in a typical bookstore. Amazon doesn't even have copies in stock, but it can get them through some third-party sellers; it knows of five copies available as of this writing.

It says:
Pomegranate Jelly
3 1/2 Cups pomegranate juice, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/4 Cup lemon juice
1 package (2 ounces) powdered pectin
4 1/2 Cups sugar

Follow the standard directions for making jelly that come with the powdered pectin.
...which to us seems a little bit like a cop-out. It's a bit like being given instructions saying:
1. Get some real instructions.
2. Follow them.
Nevertheless, the ratios of the ingredients are what's important here.

We typically use the Sure-Jell brand pectin, and the instructions we follow go something like this:
  1. Mix all the juice (both lemon and pomegranate) and pectin in a large pot. We use 8-qt.
  2. Bring to a full, rolling boil.
  3. Mix in the sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Bring back to a full, rolling boil.
  5. Stir vigorously for one minute at a full boil.
  6. Take off the heat and pour it into the jars.
We also typically use the "inversion" method for canning: after we fill the jars (and one batch will fill four 12-oz. jars right up to the tops), we put the lids on, tighten them down, and turn the jars upside down for about five minutes. The heat of the near-boiling jelly is enough to kill any bacteria lurking anywhere on the lid. After five minutes, turn upright and let cool to room temperature. This method also produces a nice, tight vacuum seal.

That's how we do it. Keith, your turn to give me the recipe for the salsa. We may not be able to plant the tomatillos ourselves for the next couple of years, but I fully intend to make it anyway.

1 comment:

Wendy Power said...

I'm sorry you can't do tomatillos this year. They probably have good ones at the Saturday farmer's market at the Sunrise mall. I've given up on supermarket tomatoes in general.

Also - I lost an entire batch of peach jam to the inversion method a few years ago. I did it right, and the jam was all but boiling when I put it in the jars. It just didn't take. One by one, over three days, we heard the pops of the lids losing their vacuum seals. Bitter, bitter disappointment. I inherited my grandmother's canner, and haven't looked back.