Monday, July 2, 2012

Canning Tomatoes 101


To Preserve (or Can) Tomatoes...
You need...
sterile hot canning jars
tight fitting lids
boiling hot super ripe tomatoes
salt
patience
 
If you have always wanted to say that you "can" and have never tried....tomatoes are about the easiest produce to learn on. So, I thought I'd cover how to approach this...my way.
First off...remember that you are dealing with food...so keep everything extra clean as you work. I like to start off by cleaning my sinks...really well. (Now, after I have dumped tomatoes in them and made a mess...I do wonder why I bother...but, at least I know that they were clean BEFORE I began!)
 
By the way...I have a tiny galley style kitchen in this little garage apartment...
 My total counter space includes the right side of my sink, before you get to the stove...
 and a sliver of space on the left side before you get to the refrigerator. So, I have to be organized. But, that just shows that you don't need tons of space to can tomatoes...
I do have a double sink...which comes in handy.
 ...and a dish washer under the counter.
I begin by putting my jars into the dishwasher, and make sure that is set for Heated Drying Cycle. This will get them clean and hot...but not sterile.
For that, I submerge them into boiling water for about 3 minutes. Because I don't have a lot of space, this is done in my largest soup stock pot...and I handle 2-3 quart size jars at a time.
Boiling water keeps the jars super hot until I need them...and I boil my jar lids in a small pan at the same time (see behind the big pot).
Next, I wash the tomatoes...and place them into a large dish pan. Using a bread knife (cause that works best for me) I score each tomato. The "slit" does not have to be very deep..it is just to encourage the peelings to come off. To make that happen easily...the tomatoes will be submerged into boiling hot water for about 3 minutes. 
Here is the largest pot I have...a huge pressure caner bottom. It is a great pot! Really thick...and holds about 3 gallons at least. Right now, it holding water...that just is taking forever to get hot! But, it will...in a few minutes. Then, I'll dip about a dozen tomatoes into it and let them get really hot...that takes around 3-5 minutes...so the skin will start to wrinkle and want to slide off.
See...here is the first one out of that hot water. The little "slit" that was made by scoring the tomato has caused the skin to start to curl up. Now, it goes into the sink...which I have filled about half full with cold water. Handling HOT tomatoes with your bare hands...is no fun! So, dunkning them into the cold water in the sink makes them manageable...and helps to get the skins to start loosing up even more.
Next, cut the cor out of each tomato. If you want to can whole tomatoes...and cut out any blemishes or bad spots the tomato might have. If you are canning whole tomatoes...that's all the cutting you do. But, for stewed tomatoes or chunky tomatoes...at least cut the tomatoes into four parts. You can see from the photo above that I've already done 3-4 tomatoes at this point. 
Next, just keep scoring, hot bath, cold bath, coring, peeling until all of the tomatoes are now finished and ready to be cooked.
At this point...your sink is a real mess! All of the discarded tomato cores and peels are still in there.
 So, take the time to dip these out into a plastic bag to be discarded. Actually, I had to do this about three times...emptying and re-filling my sink each time. Then, I squeezed out as much liquid from the plastic bag, down the drain, and put this bag...into a triple bag so it didn't run all over my garbage pail. Tomato parts are juicy!
Now that the messy part is over...I'm left with a huge dishpan full of tomatoes. They are all clean, and skinned, and cored! These are ready to go into the cooker. I have poured out the water from my big canning pot... washed it, dryed it...and it is ready to have the tomatoes put into it for cooking. Well, almost...
At my house, we have an extra step...the blender. 
Aidan does not like "chunky" tomatoes in her soups, stews, etc...so, I run the tomatoes through the blender...and can juice instead of stewed or large chunks of tomatoes. But, that step is optional in this process...you don't have to "pulverize" the tomatoes.
 Now, there is a huge pot of tomatoes on the stove. They have to be super hot to go into the jars...so, put them on medium high heat and stir occasionally. 
In a few minutes, they will begin to boil...cook them for about 3-4 minutes at least to ensure that they are super hot!
 After they start to boil...it's time to get a couple of jars ready to fill. Take them out of your hot water bath...being careful to pour the excess hot water completely out of them. I use a pair of metal tongs to lift the jars and pour the water from them as I'm lifting them from the pan. Then, I set them into my metal dish pan...about 2-3 at a time, open and ready to pour the hot tomatoes into them. I use a soup ladle...but a cup would also work to get the tomatoes from the canning pot into the jars. I like the ladle because the handle is long. You can use a large mouth funnel to help you get them the tomatoes into the jar...without making a mess. I didn't get a photo of this "filling"...sorry, was busy...but, you want to fill the jar almost all the way up.
Then, and this is IMPORTANT...wipe the top of the jar with a paper towel or clean dish towel. This is so that you remove any drops of water or tomato juice from the very top of mouth of the jar...so that when the jar lid is placed on the jar...there is NOTHING that prevents that lid from sealing to the jar. BUT, before you put the jar lid down...add 1 teaspoon of salt to the jar (for quart jar size). The salt will increase the acidity of the tomatoes...to help them preserve...AND will enhance the taste. (IF you are on a low-sodium diet...I suggest you freeze your tomatoes...cause they will not store correctly without a little salt...unless they are super acid types (perhaps)). I keep my salt in a bowl with my measuring spoon...and my paper towel handy...close by my dried off lids...so that I don't forget this step! The lids are removed from their hot water bath...only as I need them...and wiped dry. 
Put the hot dry jar lid on the jar of tomatoes...after you have salted them and wiped the jar top dry. Then place the jar ring on to hold the lid in place. There is no need to super tighten the ring at this point...just twist it on until it resists. 
 Use a thick towel or pot holder to grasp the filled jar and place it on the counter with the other filled jars. They should be about an inch of space between the jars while they cool...and cover all of them with a thick towel. This will keep them from cooling too quickly, and from getting "drafts" of cool air which could cause the jars to burst. 
 Later, after the jars have completely cooled off...tighten the jar rings and store them in your pantry. They will keep for about two years (IMHO). I use my canned tomatoes in vegetable soup and chili most often.
Note: properly sealed jars will have a slide "depressed" center to the jar lid. If after the jars have cooled, you can push the center of the lid down...that jar has not sealed properly...and you need to use those tomatoes immediately. 
 I had just enough juice left to place a glass full into the fridge to get good and cold.
Hugs!
Try canning tomatoes...it's messy...but easy...and rewarding!
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