Canning tomatoes: a late-summer task that's deeply satisfying

canning tomatoes
© K Martinko

Whenever September rolls around, it means the time has come to tackle a mountain of tomatoes, prepping them for winter eating.

Fifty pounds of big, juicy tomatoes are sitting on my back porch. These yellow, red, and orange beauties are seconds from the nearby organic farm that provides my weekly CSA share. They are the kind of tomatoes that taste sweet and soft, as fruit should, nothing like the pinkish-grey mealy tomatoes from the supermarket, and they hold that lovely summery flavour even after processing.

My task for today is to can as many of them as I can. It’s a big task, especially with two energetic sons and an infant to juggle on top of it all. By the end of the day, I’ll be sweaty, tired, and covered in sticky tomato juice, and will probably hate canning and say I never want to do this many tomatoes again. But time has a wonderful way of erasing the details of stressful days, and before long I’ll be so happy to have a stash of home-canned tomatoes that I’ll keep signing up for the task, year after year.

Heirloom Tomatoes© Katherine Martinko

Canning was something my mother, grandmother, and aunts always did. I didn’t participate, but was vaguely aware of the flurry of activity going on in the background while I played outside with my cousins. Before long the basement and pantry shelves would be lined with cans of summer produce – nothing fancy, just basic tomatoes, peaches, strawberry jam, zucchini relish, and pickled green beans.

Five years ago I taught myself how to can. My initial attempts were rather clueless and I’m amazed I didn’t get botulism in the process – filling Mason jars only three-quarters of the way, reusing old sealing lids, processing without covering completely with boiling water – all the things you’re not supposed to do. But I survived and have since learned a lot more. Kelly Rossiter’s posts about canning for TreeHugger have helped immensely, as does my copy of “The Art of Preserving” from Williams-Sonoma.

I’ve noticed that more and more young people are interested in canning. No longer is canning limited to eccentric hippy families like my own or older folks; it’s becoming mainstream. An online study conducted by Jardene Home Brands, maker of the Ball brand canning jars, found that 49% of Millennials want to do some canning this summer, and 81% of Americans agree that homemade jam tastes better than store-bought.

The interest in self-sufficiency is growing. An additional 47 percent expressed interest in preserving foods using other methods, such as dehydrating (26%), smoking (21%), brewing (15%), and cheese-making (13%).

This is a wonderful thing. Canning one’s own food (or “putting it up” for the winter, as my grandmother says) is a subtle act of rebellion. It sends a message to industrial food producers that says, “I don’t want to buy tomatoes that have been grown in a greenhouse in a drought-stricken state, packed into BPA-lined cans, and trucked across an entire continent to make my dinner.” Home canning brings together the best of so many elements of green living, including reusable jars, BPA-free sealer lids, reduction of food waste by using ‘ugly’ seconds and thirds that couldn’t be sold otherwise, food security by having a stash at home, supporting local farmers, keeping one’s diet seasonal, etc.

If you’re not already a dedicated canner, why not give it a try this year? Tomatoes are a great place to start.

Tags: Food Miles | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables | Preservation | Summer | Tomatoes

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