When my Planet Green editor asked me to do a series on preserving a number of years ago, I was a bit reluctant. I didn't want to be responsible for potentially poisoning my readership, but the more reading I did, the more I realized that it was something I could do without any worries.
I ended up preserving just about everything I could get my hands on. If some fruit or vegetable stopped in front of me long enough I pickled it or made jam from it. Jams, chutneys, relishes, jellies, pickles and even olives (my only disaster) all started taking up space in my basement.
After I hit the three hundred jar mark, my husband and I cleaned out a small room in the back of the basement and put up some sturdy shelves.
Finding the Favorites
I still do a lot of preserving, but I don't make the same variety of things that I did then. I whittled the preserving list down to the things that my family loves. I still try something new if it sounds appealing, but we've decided which strawberry jam or dill pickle recipe we like best.
While there is something intoxicating about opening a jar of peach jam during a snow storm in February and having the aroma and taste of it transport you of summer, those aren't the kind of preserves that really make me happy. For me, the most important canning I do each year is preserving tomatoes.
The first year I canned tomatoes, I did one bushel on my own and it took me a couple of days. I started out following the recipe and crushing the tomatoes with my hands before putting them in the jar, but it took forever and I was getting frustrated. Then I got smart and just jammed the whole peeled tomatoes into the jars and that was much faster and more satisfying.
I don't wory about removing the seeds and the recipe below suggests. I ended up with over 40 jars of tomatoes that first year, and after sharing some with my mom and my kids, I ran out about half way through the winter. The second year I put up two bushels and managed to have enough until the early summer. Happily, I still have some jars left from 2011 and I'm only a few weeks away from this years' harvest.
Canning Tomatoes Saves You Money
Fruits and vegetables are getting more and more expensive, and sometimes canning isn't cost particularly effective. Then I do it because I love the actual work of doing it, or the pleasure of opening jam I made for breakfast, or knowing how it was made and exactly what is in it.
Tomatoes, on the other hand, have always been well worth the effort. I buy my bushels for $18, although I suspect it will be more this year. I get a yield of over one hundred jars of tomatoes from two bushels. Then of course, there is the residual benefit of using reusable jars and bands, keeping my recycling bin considerably emptier.
You don't need lots of fancy equipment to can tomatoes. I invested in a jar lifter, a little magnet to remove the sterlized lids from the bottom of the pot (which is totally optional, but very useful). I use a regular stock pot and bought a rack insert at the hardware store. As long as the pot is deep enough to allow for 3 inches of water over top of your jars, you are fine. Some people use tea towels on the bottom of the pot, although I've never tried that.
Tomato Canning Tips
Before you get started, here are some bits of information and some tips you should know.
1. Tomatoes are right on the edge of what is safe to use with the water bath canning method due to the high pH level. Choose plum or Roma tomatoes as they have a higher level of acidity. Regular varieties of eating tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes may not be safe to can.
2. You must add citric acid to the tomatoes to lower the pH. This recipe suggests Fruit Fresh, which is a commercial citric acid made for canning, but I simply use bottled lemon juice.
3. Fresh lemons vary in acidity and juice amount, so use bottled lemon juice instead of fresh. Use 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice per pint jar and 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice per quart jar.
4. You don't need to sterilize the jars because you are processing them for more than 10 minutes, but do scald them by dipping them in hot water before you fill them.
5. If the water is less than 3 inches over the tops of the jars in the pot, or if the water stops boiling, you must begin the processing over again at 40 minutes.
6. You can reuse the jars and the metal bands, but the sealing lid must be new each time.
7. Test each jar for a solid seal by lifting it by the sealing lid with just your fingertips. Any jars that aren't sealed should be refrigerated and used within a week.
8. Remove the metal band before storing. If any bacteria grows inside the jar, it will push the lid off.
9. Store jars in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
10. Before using jars that have been stored, check the seal. If the lid is not secure with a good seal, throw the tomatoes away.
This recipe is from Well Preserved by Eugenia Bone.
- 6 to 8 lbs ripe unblemished tomatoes, un-refrigerated
- 6 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp citric acid, such as Fruit Fresh, or 6 tbsp lemon juice
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, count off 10 seconds, then remove.
With a sharp paring knife, slit the tomato skins and peel them off. They will come off easily. Core the tomatoes and tear them in half, squeezing out the seeds. Toss into a pot. Drop the skins and seeds in a colander over a bowl. A lot of tomato juice is saved this way, which you can add to your canning tomatoes or refrigerate for use in, oh, say Bloody Marys.
2. Crush the tomatoes. You can use a food processor, or a potato masher, or you can just crush them with your hands and save on cleaning. Or you can do what I do and just fill the jar with whole tomatoes.
3. Heat the tomatoes and boil gently for 5 minutes. Have ready six scalded pint jars and their bands. Simmer new lids in a small pan of hot water, to soften the rubberized flange. Dump 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp citric acid (or 1 tbsp lemon juice, if using) into each jar.
Ladle in the hot tomatoes, leaving 1/2 to 3/4 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, set on the lids, and screw on the bands fingertip tight.
4. Place the jars in a pot fitted with a rack and add enough water to cover the jars by 3 inches. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.
If the tops of the jars are not covered with water at any point, you have to delete the time that the cans were not totally submerged, add water, bring back to a boil, and begin timing again. Process the tomatoes for 40 minutes, then turn off the heat. Wait 5 minutues or so, then remove the jars and let them rest. After about 8 hours remove the bands and check the lids. Do not store the jars with the screw top on.
If you make a big batch as I did and decide to use quart jars, process them for 45 minutes.
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