Sunday, September 6, 2009

Five Reasons to Can Your Own Tomatoes

  1. You’re in charge. When you can your own, you are in total control of what’s in and what’s out. Salt? Garlic? Basil? You get to dictate how much, if any, go in. Plus there are no worries about what ooky plastic was used to line the tomato can, because your cans will be made of glass.

  2. It’s an event. Make a canning date with friends or family, then share the work. You can make one giant day of it and put up a whole winter’s supply for your household. Or you can grab a friend, cut a morning’s work down to just a couple of hours, and each walk away with a few quarts.

  3. It’s an economical present. Even if you buy brand-new jars with no expectation of getting them back, you can make a quart of tomatoes for under five bucks. (If you grow your own tomatoes and retrieve/reuse your jars year after year, then it’s almost as cheap as free.) Trust me, people are more than five bucks’ worth of impressed with them at Christmastime.

  4. It stretches out summer. Here’s the answer to “How am I supposed to eat local food during the winter?” Just take summer with you. Instead of giving away gluts of garden produce or walking past amazing deals at the farmer’s market, make the season last by sealing it in a jar.

  5. It’s tradition. No, wait, it’s trendy. Um… Oh. Well, I’m a fourth-generation American and my family has been preserving food here since arrival. But America is also in the midst of a home-canning revival. Whether you grew up doing it or you learn how online, canning is easy enough to get right the first time.

Tomatoes by the Quart
This recipe comes from a 2002 pamphlet called “The Great Tomato Primer,” reincarnated as a Web site here.

For each quart, you need

2 ½ - 3 ½ lb tomatoes
2 T Lemon juice (not optional—needed for safe levels of acid)
1 t salt (optional)

If you don’t have a canner, you can improvise one from any pot. You need a way to keep the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. A few standard-sized jar rings work fine. You can use twist-ties to wire them together for added stability. As long as the pot is deep enough to hold your rings, your jars, an inch of water overhead, and another inch of headspace, you’re fine. You should, however, invest in a jar puller—the special tongs used to get hot jars out of boiling water. A canning funnel is also helpful.

  1. Wash your jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Rinse and put the jars in the canner, fill the jars and canner with water, and put on to boil. Put the lids and rings in a pan of water over low heat. You’ll want those hot, but not boiling.

  2. Wash the tomatoes and drain. Dip tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute. Peel, core, and halve or quarter.

  3. Put the tomatoes in a pot. (There should be some liquid, too, and the tomatoes will make it themselves.) Boil gently for 5 minutes.

  4. By now, the canner should be boiling. Pull out the jars and set them, empty, on a clean towel. Put the lemon juice and salt in the jars. Set your canning funnel on the first jar.

  5. Fish the tomatoes out of their juice with a slotted spoon and pack the hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace from the top. You can top off the tomatoes with a little of their juice if you need it to fill the quart.

  6. With a clean cloth, wipe off the rim and threads of the jar. The rim must be completely free of food to form a good seal.

  7. Fit the hot lid and ring onto the jar. Tighten the ring only until you meet resistance. Do not screw the rings on too tightly because air has to be able to escape the jar as it processes.

  8. Immerse the jars in the canner and process for 45 minutes, counting from when the water starts boiling again. You should see it bubbling up between the jars.

  9. Remove the jars from the canner and set on a towel in a quiet corner. Cover them with another towel to slow their cooling and protect them from breezes. When you hear a metallic PING, it’s because one of your jars has vacuum-sealed. Give them a little cheer! That encourages the others.