November 2013
The Herb Farm

Catching Up for Winter

The other day I looked into my freezer and took inventory of the fruits and vegetables I had put up for winter.

I must admit I was more than a little disappointed. It isn’t that I had a bad year for farming herbs. There were just a few things that conflicted with the fruit and vegetable production.

Each year, I try to add a little more plantings of food-producing plants. I don’t necessarily do it because I need more food to live on. Rather, I like to try new veggies and I like to share what I grow with my friends and neighbors. When the weather is fair, some of my farmer friends stop by and brag about their personal gardens over a game of chess and a cup of coffee. It’s always fun to show off a four-pound eggplant or an unusual squash to these fellows.

This year, the squash borers, pickleworms and deer were fed very well here.

  Open 24/7/365, the Farmers Market in Birmingham is the place to go to buy any quantity of fruits and vegetables.

A trip into Birmingham was months overdue, so I decided to visit some friends at the original farmers market on Finley Avenue.

The Jefferson County Truck Growers Association has operated the market for more than 85 years and that market is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

I remember going there as a child. In the wintertime, the farmers would hover around fire barrels to keep warm. They unloaded their produce from their trucks onto block tables and we would walk through the aisles and choose the best of what was available at the lowest prices in the United States because we were buying it directly from the farmers.

Not much has changed since then. I have been shopping there for more than 50 years. The farmers drive their trucks into sheds where they set up to sell their fruits and veggies. They are divided into categories. You know if you are buying from an Alabama farmer or farmers from out of state. There are even large warehouses located at the market where you can buy in bulk.

Bama Tomato Company is one of my regular stops when I travel to the market. There you can buy a case (or a dozen tractor-trailer loads) of tomatoes, potatoes and even bananas.

My excursion took me to Bama first. Production tomatoes were still around $8 per box for #2 canning grade, so I bought 300 pounds of them.

That may seem like a bunch of tomatoes to you, but I needed some for juicing. I drink a lot of tomato juice, hard and not. It takes at least a year for tomato wine to mature and it is one of my signature libations I offer my dinner guests. The cellar was running low on that spirit.

No worries. I’ll give you a recipe that will make this fine liquid treat in small quantities. Just remember I respect and use all spirit recipes to the letter. If you miss a step, you may not know for a few months or years how bad of a mistake it was.

At the farmers market, I also found some really sweet and large muscadines from Tennessee. I bought a half bushel for jellies and muscadine-hull cobbler.

I think I bought the last bushel of baseball-size, South Carolina peaches. I spread them out on the dining room table for a couple of days to let them fully ripen (ate a bunch that were maturing faster than most) and processed them for freezing. The fuzzy skins and pits were removed. Some of the peaches were halved, quartered or sliced for baking pies and cobblers. The rest were pureed and sugar-sweetened for homemade ice cream.

Amazingly enough, I found a farmer from Creola selling yellow summer squash in half-bushel boxes. I bought two. A bushel of yellow squash weights about 38-44 pounds. My two boxes weighed out at 40.5 pounds, so I blanched and froze 38 pounds and ate fresh squash for a week.

Out of the 100 pounds of small #1 red potatoes purchased, 35 quarts were pressure canned and the rest went into my fresh root storage bins.

Oh. I also bought some pumpkins from a friend from Cullman. I didn’t have a plant that produced anything worth cooking this year. I can hardly wait until Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pies are my favorite!

For me, preserving food starts in late June and goes right up to mid-November. We can’t grow everything, but we can shop smart.

Find your values at your local farmers market.

  Top to bottom, the Squeezo is certainly the easiest way to juice tomatoes for wine. A primary fermenting bucket with about four-gallons of tomato wine must. The yeast has been pitched and it is working its magic!

Red Tomato Wine

4 pounds fresh, ripe red tomatoes
2 pounds granulated sugar
3½ quarts water
2 teaspoons acid blend
½ teaspoon pectic enzyme
1/8 teaspoon grape tannin
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 Campden tablet, crushed
1 package Champagne or Montrachet yeast

Boil water and dissolve sugar. Wash and cut tomatoes into chunks, discarding any bruised or insect-scarred parts. Pour fruit and any juice from cutting into nylon straining bag in primary. Tie bag and squash the fruit. Pour the boiling water with dissolved sugar over fruit. Cover and allow to cool one hour. Add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient and Campden tablet. Stir, re-cover and after 12 hours add pectic enzyme. Wait another 12 hours and add yeast. Stir twice a day for 7 days. Remove nylon bag and allow to drip drain, adding drained juice to primary; do not squeeze bag. Siphon liquid off sediments into secondary fermenter, top up and fit airlock. Rack every 60 days until wine clears, then wait two weeks and rack again. Add stabilizer, wait 10 days, sweeten to taste with sugar water, then bottle. Wine will mature in one year and should be served chilled. Makes 1 gallon.

Let me know if you have questions about this recipe.

Remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading.

For more information, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Be sure to find me on Facebook at Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy. n