Tomatoes, pH, and Canning

I started canning tomatoes from my garden at least 10 years ago. Perhaps 11 or 12 years ago.

At the time I started, I did some research on the Internet and got comfortable with a method of canning that essentially requires the tomatoes to be boiled down and blended into a coulis or semi-sauce consistency (for at least 45 minutes, usually much more – for example, today, I simmered the tomatoes for 3 hours) and then pouring the cooked/blended liquid into sterilized jars with salt and a little bottled lemon juice. This approach puts boiling liquid into hot jars with boiled lids, but does not require boiling the jars once they’ve been filled.

Sometime in the interim, the English Internet got much more concerned about food safety with canning. For example, the USDA Guidelines on Tomato Canning state that all canned tomato preparations need to be processed in a water bath or pressure cooker (even if you’re dealing with a boiled preparation).

But, there are plenty of Internet resources in French and Italian (as well as a few in English) that still swear by this style of canning as what multiple generations of families have historically done with no problems.

After a few years of the annual debate about whether I needed to change my approach because the Internet says so, in this time of COVID-19 stay-at-home, I decided to buy a proper pH meter to figure out if my canned preparations were below the 4.6 pH cutoff of acidity, below which, C. botulinum bacteria cannot grow.

First, I ordered my new science toy. Then, I calibrated the pH meter according to the instructions. At first I thought it may be broken because the distilled water kept testing at a pH below 6 and I thought we all knew that water was supposed to be a pH of 7. Welp, turns out that’s true immediately after distillation, but when it sits around exposed to the atmosphere, distilled water absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes slightly acidic with a pH of around 5.8.

Relieved that my new toy wasn’t broken, I proceeded to test the pH of the raw tomatoes I was going to use to make the sauce — I took 3 samples for most of the tomatoes and there was some variance, even within the same piece of fruit. My pH meter is rated to be correct to within 0.01 pH. Here are the readings:

  • White Oxheart: 3.90, 3.83, 3.97
  • Snowberry: 3.90, 4.37, 3.96
  • Amish Salad: 4.39
  • Kentucky Beefsteak: 4.01, 4.15, 4.17
  • Golden Globe: 4.61, 4.86, 4.41
  • Isis Candy Cherry: 4.51, 4.37, 4.83

After 1 hour of boiling, the sauce tested at 3.96 & 3.99. After 2 hours of boiling, I used the stick blender to break up the remaining chunks of flesh and skins and tested the pH immediately after blending, where it measured 4.09 & 4.08.

Before Blending

After 3 hours of boiling, I tested the sauce and it measured 3.98 & 4.01. At this point, I was feeling pretty good. Since pH is a logarithmic scale. A pH of 4 is significantly more acidic than 4.6.

After 1 hour of boiling — pH of 3.96

For fun, I tested the lemon juice and it measured at a pH of 2.54 and 2.53. I put some lemon juice in each of the quart jars as well as some salt, filled the jars, and then stirred the mixture in each jar with a chopstick before my final pH measurement.

Final pH of 3.88

The five quart jars measured 3.95, 3.69, 3.88, 3.85, and 3.78. All well under the 4.6 danger point. So, I cleaned the rims, put the boiled lids on top, tightened the bands, and turned the jars upside down to cool. I am now very comfortable that the science supports my traditional no-water-bath approach to canning tomato coulis from my garden.

Pandemic Cooking — Potatoes Duchesse

Almost like mashed potato muffins.

Last weekend, I decided to make hash browns from scratch. I looked it up in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and was shocked to find there was no entry. I looked it up in The Complete America’s Test Kitchen — also, no entry. I decided to pull out the big guns and go to my 1966 Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery.

Every volume has a unique cover and is chock-full of amazing images.
The full set. Inherited from my maternal grandmother. One of my most prized possessions.

Although there were easily over 100 entries for potatoes in the index, there were no hash browns. So, I killed an hour researching potato cooking in the US, the history of hash browns, and reading foreign potato entries in the encyclopedia that were similar. After I’d read enough recipes to feel confident I could make hash browns, I made them. They were good.

Look at all those potato options!

However, while the hash browns were satisfying. One entry in the index intrigued me — Potatoes Duchesse. What on earth could they be? I’d never heard of them. So, I did what you do in these pandemic times and I put in another hour or so on the potato-web when I was bored during the week. I was fascinated — mashed potatoes with dairy *and eggs* that are piped into designs and baked? What a wonderful way to spend some time in the kitchen.

Like many preparations of food, I found all sorts of variations between my encyclopedia’s two entries and several online recipes. I decided to try my own version (with garlic & herbs). They were DELICIOUS!

If you, too, are looking for a good way to stress-cook for a couple hours and have a delicious potato treat at the end, please enjoy!

  • 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 T sour cream (not required, but I had leftovers)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs (Note: many recipes just call for the yolks, which is undoubtedly more creamy, but I hate to waste animal protein, and I very much enjoyed the levity and texture that the whites added.)
  • 2-3 T minced fresh herbs
  • 4 T salted butter
  • salt & black pepper

Place potatoes and garlic in a pot and cover with twice their volume of water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil for 20 minutes.

After the boil.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Mince the herbs (I used thyme and rosemary). Melt the butter and mix with the herbs over low heat in a cast iron pan. Turn off the heat when melted and mixed.

When the potatoes are done, drain the water, and send them and the garlic through a ricer or food mill into the cast iron pan. Mix the potato mixture with the butter and herbs over low heat until fully integrated. Add salt to taste.

In a glass bowl, mix the sour cream, the milk, the eggs, 2-3 T black pepper and stir well. Then slowly add spoonfuls of the potato mixture and stir until creamy. When all of the potatoes have been added it should be roughly the consistency of a heavy icing. (Add milk if it’s too thick.)

Spoon the potato mixture in a piping bag (or, if you, like me, don’t have one, then spoon it into a ziploc and cut off the corner for a makeshift piping bag).

Turn the broiler on low. Squeeze swirls or whatever design you prefer onto a baking sheet. Place the sheets under the broiler on the middle rack until they are browned on top (~10 minutes). Remove the baking sheet from the oven, let the little duchesses chill out for a couple of minutes and then transfer them to serving plates with a spatula. Enjoy!

Beluga Lentils with Garlic Buttered Mushrooms

Not the most beautiful looking meal, but so delicious!
  • 1 cup black beluga lentils
  • 1 yellow onion, 1/2 minced, 1/2 chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 celery stalks, minced
  • EVOO
  • 6 T butter
  • 1 lb mushrooms, cut in halves or thirds, parallel to the stem
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth or bouillion
  • splash white wine
  • splash champagne vinegar

Melt 2 T butter in 1 T EVOO in a sauce pan & sautee celery and minced onions ’til soft (~9 minutes) on medium heat. Add lentils & thyme and stir ’til coated. Add 3 cups broth or bouillion/water, 1 T black pepper, and bring to a low simmer. Cover & cook until lentils are al dente (~35-40 minutes), checking the liquid level to stir and add more liquid if necessary every 10 minutes. Turn of the heat, remove the thyme sprigs, add champagne vinegar to taste (~1-2 T) and continue to stir the lentils as they cool to allow the remaining liquid to boil off.

The liquid level when my lentils were properly cooked. These lentils were delicious without the mushrooms.

In a cast iron pan, heat 2 T EVOO on medium, and brown the mushrooms on their sides 4-5 minutes each side. Add 2 T butter, garlic & chopped onions and cook the mixture until the onions are soft. Turn off the heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes, deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine, add the remainder of the butter and stir until melted.

These mushrooms are amazing on their own.

Add the lentils to the cast iron pan, turn up the heat, and cook together while mixing for a few minutes to cook off a little bit of the remaining mixture.


University of Alaska, Fairbanks — IP overview for new engineering graduates

I recently was honored to give a lecture to graduating seniors in engineering at the University of Alaska fairbanks.  I spoke on Intellectual Property stuff that’s relevant to new hires and those working in the university environment.

Slides are here: IP overview for engineering graduates entering the US work force 2018.04.03

(As usual, feel free to use, quote, distribute, etc. so long as you leave my copyright notices in place for substantially similar works and note my presentation as the source for any material you may use in derivative works you may create.)

Oracle v. Google and Cisco v. Arista: Recent US Copyright Law and FOSS

SCaLE 15x (The Southern California Linux Expo) put on yet another wonderful full-day MCLE on Free and Open Source Law.  I spoke on recent US Copyright cases and their applicability to the Free and Open Source Software world.

Slides on APIs and CLIs in US copyright law available here in case others may find them useful.  (As usual, feel free to use, quote, distribute, etc. so long as you leave my copyright notices in place for substantially similar works and note my presentation as the source for any material you may use in derivative works you may create.)

Recent US Copyright Law Cases from the F/OSS Perspective

SCaLE 14X (The Southern California Linux Expo) put on a wonderful full-day MCLE last week.  I spoke on recent US Copyright cases and their applicability to the Free and Open Source Software world.

Slides available here (US Copyright Law Recent Developments and FOSS 2016.01.22) in case others may find them useful.  (As usual, feel free to use, quote, distribute, etc. so long as you leave my copyright notices in place for substantially similar works and note my presentation as the source for any material you may use in derivative works you may create.)

Uncomfortable Conversations You Don’t Want to Have With Your Start-Up Lawyer

These conversations are ugly.

But I’m not scared of ugly.

I try to have these conversations with my clients when they are doing well, have money, are growing, and the sky is blue. But, occasionally, especially for the first time entrepreneur team, at that point, even though they’ve been referred to me by someone who says, “she tells it like it is” they don’t want to listen.

In the hopes that you are here because you do want to listen — here goes:

First and foremost – That money in the bank account is not yours. If you decide to shut down your start-up and you move money from its bank accounts into your own, or others who aren’t *legally* entitled to it, you may be *personally* liable.

I know. I know. You want to pivot. You think that money is yours. You think you *need* it to pivot. But contract law and employment law (and god help you, tort law) all have first dibs on that money – if you move it, you are giving your creditors a good argument that they should be able to come after you personally. Pivot from within the corporate entity — don’t try to divert the cash.

Second — When I explain bluntly *why* you may want a termination for convenience, even when your customers insist you don’t need one — it’s because when you are running out of money and want to shut down your non-profitable contracts, you won’t be able to pick and choose what customers to terminate without one.

Third — when I explain carefully *that you must not specify detail X* if you need the flexibility you have told me is essential – you are not in a good spot if you later specify detail X with particularity in a written contract in order to close a deal with a customer who later comes back with a nastygram demanding performance on the detail you were trying to avoid.

Finally, at the end of the game, if you come to me and demand legal assistance for “continued relationships” and “good will” and “recommendations to your peers” please be sympathetic to my perspective.

Like your fledging business, mine is one that makes or breaks it by collecting on bills due and payable. Only, unlike a venture-backed business, I have no free checks from people who are betting on my future success to run with.

For me, it’s do or die, every month (my staff gets paid, regardless of whether I do). As such, my firm is not likely to put much stock in a continued relationship, good will, or recommendations to peers of a company who didn’t think it was important to pay for the services they consumed.

Yes — I understand that there are large law firms out there who are willing to float businesses with tons of potential for months or even years. If you can get them to do your legal work for a future promise of payment, you should take that deal. It’s amazing. Unfortunately, while I wish I was cash-flush enough to do so, I can’t offer it.

Patents and Copyrights for Startups

One of my clients asked me to prepare a general presentation regarding Patents and Copyrights and the things to keep in mind for startup employees.

Here it is (anonymized and generalized, of course).

Patents and Copyright 2014.12.15 FINAL (Feel free to use, quote, distribute, etc. so long as you leave my copyright notices in place for substantially similar works and note my presentation as the source for any material you may use in derivative works you may create.)

Summer Bounty

The stars aligned, and the hard work in the garden met with great luck from the weather gods.  This is how legends are made. In all areas of life, and yes, particularly for my clients’ businesses — you have to be good, diligent, and prepared, but you *also* have to be lucky.

And I am this year.  So, without further adieu, I present the earliest, largest harvest I’ve ever collected (from about 75% less plants than last year):