Sunday, November 3, 2013

How to can tomatoes!

One of the best things I've done the past few summers is to can a batch of tomatoes.  Each year I've done a little more....first a bushel, then a bushel and a half, now two bushels and each year I use them all up!

I've also had lots of people say to me that they wish they could can!  You can do it!  I am so very lucky to do this with my mom, but it can be done.  Here are the steps we took! (these are pictures from two different years so the tomatoes are different colors)

You will need the following:

  • tomatoes
  • lemon juice
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • assorted fresh herbs (oregano and parsley)
  • fresh basil
  • a large pot (or two or three) 
  • a large bowl for ice water
  • spoons and ladles 
  • small paring knife
The next list of things are specific to canning and can be found at just about any of your local retail stores around the months of July, August and September (I've seen them in Walmart, Target, Dollar General, Ace Hardware, and even some grocery stores)
  • pint mason jars (be sure to use real mason jars, not reused retail glass jars).  You can reuse your mason jars year to year!
  • canning rings.  You can reuse your rings every year!
  • canning flats (the little round lids).  These are not reusable, but are inexpensive.
  • jar lifter 
  • canning funnel
  • water bath canner (a big pot with a wire rack inside it)
  • food mill (optional)
You will also need a lot of cooking space so clear up your kitchen and counters.  Anything that is left out usually gets spattered with tomatoes, so move anything you typically have on your counter!  

If you have a glass cooktop you might need another location for the waterbath canner.  This is a heavy metal pot filled with lots of water and cans of tomatoes so it weighs a lot.  We can't put this on my mom's glass cooktop, so we do this on a Coleman propane stove on the back porch for our canning sessions.  We've also had it on the grill other years!   

First - find your tomatoes.   Usually out in the country you can find a farm stand that has fresh, no-pesticide tomatoes.  Find that guy or gal and go back to that farmer year after year.  Bring them home and spread them out on a table.  Look for bad spots and trim them off with your paring knife.   Take off the leaves and stems.

Next, bring a pot of water to a boil and fill a large plastic bowl with ice water.   When the water boils, drop about 5-6 (depending on the size) tomatoes into the pot.  Leave them in for just about 30 seconds.  This will cause the skins to split just  little.  Use a slotted spoon and scoop them out, drop them in the bowl of ice water.  Use your hands to pull the skins off.  Put the peeled tomatoes in another big bowl.

Here is the setup I used to go faster (third year of doing this we have it down to a science!).  Over on the stove I have a pot that has water boiling.   Then in the sink I have another pot (hot) and the dishpan of ice water.   The tomatoes cool down the hot pot of water pretty quickly.  Instead of waiting for the pot to boil again, I dump the water from the stove into the pot in the sink and then fill it right back up and set it back on the stove.

Third, depending how chunky you want your tomatoes, this is the time to use a food mill.  It takes your chunks of tomatoes and grinds them down to a sauce while straining out any bits of core, seeds or leftover skin.  

If you want chunky cans of tomatoes, don't worry about the food mill and just cut the tomatoes into chunks and put into your big pot to simmer.  The tomato juice will cook out and make it more sauce like! 

Fourth - time to make your sauce!  I use the Better Homes and Gardens Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce recipe with some modification.  For each of the 12 lbs of tomatoes (about 25 tomatoes), add 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt, a Tbsp of Balsamic Vinegar, a tsp of black pepper, 1 cup of freshly torn basil, 1 cup of freshly cut other herbs (oregano and curly leaf parsley).  Let it simmer and cook down till you have the consistency you desire.  Near the end of the cooking time, add another 1 cup of freshly torn basil (this keeps it very green!)

Now it's time to prepare your canning jars.  In another big pot, put your jars, lids and rings into boiling water.  Boil your jars to get them nice and hot and sanitized.  

Use your jar lifter to lift out a jar from the boiling water and stand it upright on a folded tea towel (to catch your spills).  Add one Tbsp of lemon juice to the jar.  Place your funnel in the mouth of the jar and ladle your sauce into the jar, leaving a 1/2 inch of space at the top. Wipe the top of the jar and add a lid and a ring.  Tighten the lid.

Next it's time to do the hot water processing.  This is where will use the hot water canner (and we moved out to the porch and the campstove).   Put the rack into the canner and fill about 2/3 of the way with water.  Bring to a boil - it takes a while!  Use the jar lifter and put the filled jars gently into the hot water bath.  They should be standing upright and not touching.  In our canner, that means we can do 7 pints at a time. Be sure the water is about an inch over the top of the jars - this might mean you have to add more water.

Return to a boil and process (this just means continue to boil) for 35 minutes.  Set a timer!   And then use this "free" time to fill the next batch of jars.  After time is up, remove (using the jar lifter) and lift them out.  We put them into a 9x13 pan lined with a tea towel to cool.   Be sure that all of the lids "pop" down.  The heat will cause the metal lid to suction seal onto the jar.  You won't be able to press down on the lid and feel any movement after they seal.  Let them cool completely before putting them in the house for storage.

Add more water, put the lid on the canner and return to a boil for the next batch.

Keep repeating this process (filling the jars with 1 T lemon juice and tomato sauce, processing in the hot water bath for 35 minutes and cooling on the the picnic table) until all your sauce is ready for storage. 

You will have delicious tomatoes that are fresh all winter long!

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