Home Canned Tomatoes
There are a few things that come to mind when I think about home canning:
- Neato! Let’s all pretend we’re in the ‘50s for a while.
- Uhh, what about botulism? I mean, I don’t even buy dented cans at the grocery store.
- Trendy Mason jars.
- Amish people.
- Hipsters. People have been canning for quite some time, but it seems like hipsters have just discovered it.
- Zombie apocalypse – there’s bound to be one sometime or another… better stock up on home goods (and learn how to preserve things for the winter when I’m harvesting veggies from my summer garden as a sole survivor of said apocalypse).
I tend more toward the hipster admiration for canning, although canning isn’t entirely new to me. I have eaten enough home canned foods in my life to be relatively certain that I am not in danger of contracting botulism, at least from food (my black-tar heroin habit needs to go, though…kidding!)
When I was a kid, my family had a grape vine in our backyard, and every couple of years, it seemed to have an extra prolific crop. Or maybe they were just the vine’s lucky years when the squirrels didn’t eat all of the fruit. I witnessed a few grape jelly and juice concentrate canning sessions during these years, and I did feel like it was very satisfying to save and eat food that was grown in our own backyard.
But if there is one food in a can that I use more than any other, it is tomatoes. I use them for sauces, soups, chili, casseroles. They are so handy to have around. So, I invited some friends over for a little canning party, both to learn how to can under the expert tutelage of my mother-in-law, and to share in all of the work that goes into canning a big batch of anything as well as the loot.
Three of us went to a pick-your-own local farm that morning to pick 40 lbs of tomatoes. My mother-in-law brought 25 lbs as well, and we had enough to make about 2 dozen quart sized jars. While canning is not a particularly economical thing to do if you are buying the tomatoes as opposed to growing them in your yard (we priced it out, and each jar we made cost $5, for the ingredients alone), if you view it more as a hobby and a fun experience of preparing and saving some nice local produce, it’s definitely worth doing. Plus, we were learning a post-apocalyptic life skill, and I don’t have a yard to grow tomatoes in anyway.
We blanched the tomatoes, peeled and cored them, and then cut them into quarters. We used a raw-pack method and recipe on from the Ball canning book that calls 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of salt added to the bottom of each quart jar. The lemon juice adds enough acidity to the tomatoes so that we can all feel safe cracking open a jar and eating them later without getting dead.
We used steam canners, which are have a very clever design (check these out). The processing time in the canners when doing a raw-pack method is 85 minutes—if we had cooked the tomatoes first and done a hot-pack method, this would have been 45 minutes. We actually had 2 jars break in the canners! It’s apparently pretty rare for that to happen, but we think it was likely due to hairline fractures in the jars, which had been used multiple times before and were probably roughed up. Both failures exploded pretty neatly, somehow, so it was not a huge deal to take them out of the canners and keep going with the other jars. We all felt a strong sense of loss when it happened, though.
At the end of the day, we had 23 quarts and 1 pint of lovely tomatoes. All of them sealed successfully excepting one quart jar, which looked like it had overflowed a bit during processing. The jars were too hot for people to take home that evening, but I delivered them to friends’ houses the next day. I have five jars for myself, and I like looking at them so much that it will be hard to bring myself to eat them. I know they will be especially delicious in a couple of months when it’s cold outside and my memory of summer has faded. Until then, I’ve cleared some prime real estate in my pantry to display them. Neato!