Friday, August 9, 2013

Tomato Canning

I have memories of my mom canning tomatoes and peaches when I was younger, but I don't remember helping with the process and I never thought much about canning until after getting married and having my own kitchen. Then suddenly, that Pennsylvania Dutch canning/preserving gene kicked in and I've been adding to the canning list ever since.

When Dan and I first started canning we consulted 3 resources: the Internet, my mom and his mom. And I must confess, when the information differs between sources, the mom methods usually win out (you'll see what I mean later.)

A friend recently asked me about how I can chopped tomatoes and tomato juice, so I thought I'd write a post in case any one else out there is interested. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures. I didn't take any while canning my most recent. Here's what I do.

Gather tomatoes and supplies:

Jars, lids, rings, salt, vinegar or lemon juice, canner, stockpot, basin, food mill (I have my mom's old cone-shaped one), funnel, large spoon and/ladle, cutting board and knife and a couple of bowls for holding the tomatoes as well as a smaller bowl for the skins and cores.

I first wash the jars I'll be using and have them ready. I put the lids in a small sauce pan and heat the water to almost boiling to soften the rubber. And you may want to note that I don't technically sterilize my jars. So far we've never had an issue, but I know I'm breaking a canning rule here.

Before canning chopped tomatoes, I remove the skins (although one year I didn't and the tomatoes were fine) by blanching them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. I then move them directly to a basin filled with ice water.

Then I cut the core out of the tomato and slip off the skins. Next, I chop the tomatoes. You'll notice I don't remove the seeds. I don't mind seeds in chopped tomatoes, and when I use the food mill most of the seeds don't get in the tomato juice.

If you are making sauce or juice, you don't need to skin the tomatoes. Just remove the core, and chop them up a little bit. Then put them in a stock pot and cook them until they are heated through. If it's juice, just put everything directly through the food mill. If you want sauce, let the heated tomatoes drain multiple times in a colander so that you can drain off the juice before making sauce (the more you drain, the thicker the sauce).Then you put them through the food mill. The food mill will remove the skins and seeds for you.

After I've chopped, sauced or juiced enough to fill my canner (7 quart jars), I start filling the jars. I fill them up to the neck of the jar. Then I usually add about a teaspoon of vinegar and a few grains of salt. My mom recommends the salt. She says her mom said tomatoes need a little bit so they seal better, so I do this partly just because my grandmother did it too. However, my mom maintains that some years when she skipped the mini dash of salt, her tomatoes didn't all seal.

I put the lids and rings on tight and place the jars in the canner. Here's where I break more rules. I only put water up to the neck of the jar. Just below the ring. Most canning directions tell you 2 inches above the jars. My experience (gleaned from past generations as well) tells me that's not necessary. And apparently, my great aunt used to only put a few inches of water in the bottom of the canner and would have to check to see if it was boiling by using a flashlight because she didn't want to take the lid off the whole way to check.

I bring the water to a full, rolling boil and then set a timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes (for both chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and juice), I take the jars out and let them sit, undisturbed, for 24

Here also, my mom recommends taking the jars out in a draftless room. So I close the windows and shut off any fans. I think I actually read this on some canning website, but otherwise, I never heard of it from anyone else. But, in honor of tradition and generational wisdom, I do it too. (Call me silly, if you want to.)

Want to know how the kids help? Edwin can take the blanched tomatoes from the cold water and put them in a bowl. He can put more ice in the cold water. He then helps set out lids and rings for each jar I've set out. He also likes to put the tomatoes into the jar using the spoon and funnel, and he's getting good at putting on lids and rings. Elena, well, she was able to bring me tomatoes to blanch. I actually saved most of the work for when it was nap time.