I am a bit of a freak about my tomatoes. I admit it. It must be my 1/4 Italian blood, or something, who knows. I have clucked over these darlings since they were wee seeds and cheered their every milestone; spritzed them devotedly as seedlings, trimmed and pruned and tied and supported them as they grew to tower over me, heavy with fruit.
We have grown exclusively heirloom varieties, colours and tastes and shapes that were more often than not completely unknown. We grew about a dozen kinds and have found some hands-down favorites. There are many whose seeds we have saved for next year, and a few that we will leave for someone else.
We grew a lot of plants. A lot. 50 to be exact, all on our 30 x 108 city lot. We knew that was going to mean a lot of tomatoes, but I don’t think you can really comprehend how many tomatoes that really is until they are piled on every flat surface in your home. I stopped weighing the harvest when I hit 200 pounds.
So what does one do with that many tomatoes? Well you eat lots of tomato sandwiches, that’s for sure (see my earlier post on that topic), you give some away and the rest – you can.
Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to can and one of the smartest to do. Heirloom tomatoes are one of life’s greatest joys, in my book, anyway, and the thought of enjoying them mid-February is even better.
First thing you have to do in preparing to can is follow the steps from canning bootcamp: part one. Next thing you need to do is prep your tomatoes and that means peeling them.
Tomatoes are pretty easy to peel. Scoop out the core and score a little X on the bottom end. Pop them a few at a time into boiling water – not long, just enough that the skin starts to crack. Lift them out with a slotted spoon straight into an ice bath. The skin should slip off easily and will make a lovely addition to your compost pile. If you have a bumper crop, this is a good time to call in reinforcements. An assembly line will greatly reduce your time with your hands in tomato guts.
You can see from the picture on the left the way the skin will pucker and crack. Once peeled you can roughly chop them. I do this on a little cutting board by the sink – it gets messy and you’ll want to be able to rinse the seeds and goop off from time to time.
Pop all of your chopped tomatoes into a big pot and heat them up. You can just heat them through, or boil them down a bit. Totally up to you. I like mine a bit thicker as it reduces cooking time, so I cook some of the water out. The thickness will also depend on the tomatoes you’re using. Romas are meatier and will require less cooking time than the beefsteak varieties you see here.
Prep your work space by throughly cleaning it and laying out a clean tea towel. You’ll set your jars on this towel as you work. Keep your space clean, don’t cross-contaminate and you should be alright. Set out everything you need in terms of tools – canning funnel, big spoon for scooping, jar lifter, magnetic lid-picker-uper, that sort of thing. Paper towel is handy to have on hand to hold hot jars when closing the lid and wiping off rims of cans.
Once your jars are hot and sterilized and your tomatoes are to your liking all you need is some lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each 500 ml jar, 2 tbs to 1 liter jar. It must be bottled juice to ensure the right acidity.
Tomatoes are one of those veggies/fruit that are right on the edge of being just acid enough to can in a water bath. Any other low acid veg need to be canned in a pressure canner which ensures proper heat to kill any unwanted bacteria. Just to be safe, we always add lemon juice. Do one jar at a time and don’t rush. Everything is hot and has to stay clean. Set jars aside onto your clean tea towel as you finnish each one.
Ok so in goes the juice, in goes the tomatoes. You want to leave some “headspace” basically room between the tomatoes and the lid, in this case a half inch. You’re playing with pressure here, and if you read the last post, you’ll know a mistake here equals a big mess. (My feet are still sticky from the plum mishap.) Wipe off the rim, place the snap lid on and secure the screw band, making sure not to do it too tight. Just “fingertip tight”, whatever that means. Basically don’t let your hubby weld it on.
Once you’ve filled all the jars, you need to process them. You will already have a big pot of boiling water from sanitizing your jars. We’re now going to use that as our water bath. Carefully set the jars in the pot on the rack, making sure to keep them upright. The jar lifter comes in handy at this point. Ensure the water covers the jars completely. Cover them, bring them to a boil and process them for 35 minutes for 500 ml jars, 40 minutes for 1 liter.
When the timer goes off, carefully remove the jars, again being careful to keep them upright. Back they go onto the tea towel to cool. You will know you have success when you hear the fateful “pop!” of the seal on the lid sucking down. The lid of a properly processed can curves slightly downwards and doesn’t give when you push the little pop top. If you have a couple that don’t pop, don’t worry, let them cool and chuck them in the fridge to be devoured in short order.
Ta da! That’s all there is to it. Now you too can have a cupboard full of summertime to combat the winter blahs. Keep them someplace cool and dark. You’ll have them all eaten before they can even think about spoiling, trust me.