Preserving the Seasons

Preserving the Seasons

Luke’s Local is all about seasonal, local produce. Weekly, we hand select what we think is at its peak of flavor.  Changing our produce weekly, not seasonally, gives us the opportunity to use produce that may otherwise not meet its flavor for a whole season, and this allows us to use it just as long as it meets our approved palettes.

In order to savor this peak of the season produce, we’ve created a canning program that we’re all very excited about. Not only do we sell these canned products directly to our customers, but we also use them in our kitchen, letting us use peak season produce all year long!  We’ve even built shelving into the wall in our common area, which we like to call the canning wall.  Here, we display all of our canned produce from the seasons past, showing off the variety of colors and the sheer beauty of these brightly colored vegetables and fruit.

So far this year, we’ve jared a bounty of peak season fruits and veggies. Around this time of the year, Andy, the owner of Mariquita Farm, has an abundance of dry farmed early girl tomatoes.  When we hit our first heat wave a few weeks back, these tomatoes started ripening rapidly so Andy needed to get rid of them fast. We took 500 pounds off his hands and spent a good 7 hours jarring these up. We ended up with around 250 quart sized jars!  

Andy also has Jimmy Nardello peppers this time of year. They have a mild spice and the flavor is quite sweet and complex.  These, we decided to pickle and we will be leaving them in vinegar for a few months. This aging process gives these peppers a more soft, floral flavor that is quite pleasant. From there, we will blend these up and make our own hot sauce. Once we start selling these, I know they will go fast!

When it comes to our peak season fruit, we’ve been regularly making jam and canning it.  This is a great way to utilize what we haven’t used by the end of the week, which would otherwise eventually be thrown away. Paula, our butcher/jam expert has been doing a great job of making these different jams and canning them up. Personally, I really enjoyed the Concord grape jelly.  The yield from these grapes is small, but it’s definitely worth the effort.  Right now, we also have strawberry jam, peach jam, muscat grape jelly. All are amazing, especially with some almond butter on toasted Josey Baker bread.

Our canning process is quite simple and pretty much the same process from product to product. In order to make a canned product “shelf stable” - which means capable of being stored outside of a refrigerated area - you must heat both your product and the jar.  

For example, when canning dry farmed early girl tomatoes - and anything for that matter - the most important first step before canning is to sanitize everything. This will prevent bacteria from growing and spoiling your final product.  We wash, then cut the tomatoes in half. With sea salt and a touch of red wine vinegar, the tomatoes are cooked down into their liquid and  brought to a boil. The boiling hot tomatoes are put into the jars where we then close the lids. At this point, we submerge them in boiling water for about 20 minutes. This process pulls any extra oxygen out of the jar so they are essentially vacuum sealed. If this is done properly and are stored in a cool, dark place, they will last about 1 ½ years!

As the seasons move forward, we are always trying new ways to can and preserve produce.  From pickling, to preserving to even olive oil preserving, its always a reward to open a peak season can of tomatoes in January, persimmons jam in July or even pickled green beans in November.  I encourage anyone who has access to peak season produce to do some research and try your hand at canning. If done properly, it can be quite a treat!