Canning Tomatoes: A Tutorial
But today, you are all my guests!
One of the stalls at the local farmer's market sells half-bushel baskets of tomatoes for those who are into canning. I first made the attempt last year -- buying a pound at a time every weekend and canning that -- and failed to kill anyone, so I must know what I'm doing. But it made for some boring moments on the weekends, so I resolved to get one of the baskets this year and do it all in one afternoon.
And this was that afternoon.
Some people who hear that I've canned things are either impressed that I get into this, or skeptical that it could be done at home. But it really isn't that hard -- here, I'll show you.
First, you need the jars:
The standard Ball jars here. I had five left over from last year -- you can re-use the jars, but you have to get new lids each time -- and picked up a dozen more from the hardware store.
Yeah, that is a lot of jars. But I had a lot of tomatoes:
About twenty pounds. Some of these were a little too bruised, but after picking them over I still had a hefty amount.
So. First you wash the hell out of your jars. Then you need to sterilize them -- I found the best way is to bring them to a boil as you start preparing the tomatoes.
I just put them in the big stock pot and fill with water to cover them by a couple inches.
Now for the tomatoes. Ideally, you should peel them -- you do that by preparing two more pots side-by-side. One with boiling water, one with ice water. Drop the tomatoes in the boiling water first for about 60 seconds, then move them to the ice water.
Or, in my case, freezer pack water.
It's one of those miracles of cooking that this is sufficient to split the skin on the tomato, so it peels off really easily:
You do get tomato googe on your hands, though, unfortunately.
Anyway. You peel the tomatoes and cut out the core; then set them aside. By now your jars are probably boiling. Let's fish one out and start packing in the tomatoes (but leave the water boiling, we'll use it in a minute).
Add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice to the bottom first. Tomatoes don't have enough acid to keep properly, so you either have to do this or use a pressure canner. We're using pint jars here, so the taste effect is nil.
Then in go the tomatoes. You can smoosh them a bit to fill up the space; leave about a half inch of space on the top and wipe off the lip of the jar. Then pop on the top and screw on the screw ring.
I started with about five or six pounds, and that was enough for four jars of whole tomatoes.
Now -- for the "canning" part, the part that seals the jars and preserves everything. Now -- you know how you left the water boiling for the jars? This is why --
Because you're now going to boil that sealed jar. That's really all it takes -- leaving your jars in a boiling water bath for 45 minutes. If you've kept things clean up to this point, the heat from the water bath takes over, forcing any trapped air out through the lid, and when you pull it out 45 minutes later, the vacuum sucks the lid down solidly over the tomatoes, and you don't need to do anything else. Seriously, that's it.
It works the same way for crushed tomatoes.
For crushed tomatoes, you just take those same peeled tomatoes, quarter them, and then add a couple handfuls to a big pot and crush them up; then keep gradually adding more tomatoes and stirring until they're all in the pot. Then let the whole thing boil for about five minutes, until the tomatoes in the pot start to get gloppy. You prepare the jars the same way -- boiling to sterilize, prepping them with the lemon juice -- and ladle the tomato glop into them, leaving a half inch of space up top again, wiping the rims off, and adding them to another water bath.
And again, that's it.
Now. I have to be honest -- this is not wildy fun. This gets tedious. It gets messy. You will splatter tomato googe all over everything. You are guaranteed to burn yourself at least once, you can't really leave the house until this is done, and until the filled jars are in the water bath you have to pay attention. There is expense -- while it's true you can reuse the jars year after year, you do have to pay for them the first year, and they run a buck apiece. Add the cost of the tomatoes, and you may pay a few pennies more than what you would pay for the same amount of canned tomatoes in the supermarket.
These do not taste anywhere near like supermarket tomatoes. If you start with about 20 pounds of raw tomatoes, you could end up with about fifteen jars of just-picked local-grown freshness, ready for you to use throughout the winter and spring. And THAT is why you want to do this. A pantry full of fresh tomatoes is a pantry prepared for an emergency.
ETA: I checked one of my favorite blogs just today, and look -- great minds think alike.