A few weeks ago when Tom and I went to the Farmer’s Market together we saw a sign, “Canning Tomatoes, 25 lbs $18”. I was interested, but concerned. 25 lbs is a lot and I’ve never canned tomatoes. We demurred on the purchase and the vendor said he’d be there next week as long as a frost didn’t get the plants before then.
Cut to the next week. When Tom’s spending more time under the house than in it, I’m lawyering up in several states trying to finish the family trust business (this is in lieu of an estate for Gma) and trying to find a job. I was actually at a lawyer’s office the day of the Farmer’s Market and was going to just call the whole tomato thing off when Tom offered to go pick them up.
What did you expect a picture of?
That man likes him a woman in the kitchen. I’m just saying.
Actually, I believe he thinks it’s cool and practical and very Apocalypse Ready that his wife can preserve. That’s what I tell myself.
25lbs pounds of tomatoes for eighteen dollars may sound like a good deal to you, but I had already done the math. Not including the cost of jars or electricity or my time, JUST the tomatoes, it was coming out to something like nineteen cents cheaper to buy a can of tomatoes on sale at the grocery store.
So why do it? I had a few reasons for this specific project. One, it’s the first time I’ve ever worked with this much bulk. A flat of strawberries is a lot, but it makes nowhere near the volume of product.
Secondly, it’s my first experience canning something to just have it available to make other things. Until now, all my canning has been recipes of finished products to eat – salsas and jams. I want to see how much use I get out of canning my tomatoes since I make a bunch of chili, spaghetti sauce, and Brunswick stew (OK, Tom makes that) throughout the year. Will it taste better than store bought canned tomatoes? Tune in later if I ever remember to follow up on that.
And although it wasn’t necessary to go through with the actual canning process, my third reason was in researching how to can tomatoes I learned more about preserving and ingredients in general. You know how I’m always looking for canned and frozen items with the least number of ingredients possible? Well, I learned I will pretty much never find a can of tomatoes with just “tomatoes” listed. Because tomatoes are riiiiight on the border of acidity for canning, you need to add an acid to ensure safe canning.
(Low acidity foods need to be pressure canned instead of just water bath canned. My canners are pressure canners but as of right now I have not done anything but water bath canning.)
I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for my canning recipes. It is a very good book. It’s easy to follow, with lots of tips in the side bars. While they try to repeat the tips on several relevant pages, I would recommend reading an entire section or all the recipes including a certain main ingredient before just starting out on one recipe. With some recipes, I have found it helpful to write out my own steps to ensure I do not get ahead of myself in one area of the recipe. Specifically, when and how to proceed with cleaning/cutting produce, cleaning and heating jars, etc. But the tomato recipes were easy enough I didn’t require that.
Ready to Rumble
I had enough tomatoes that I did this in two days, with two different recipes. I originally thought I might make them all in one day. But each recipe I used required all four burners on my stove so there was no ability to add a second canner to the mix. (Yes, I own more than one canner.) While I could process one batch while prepping another, the processing time on tomatoes is so long that I was exhausted after the first batch day 1.
I did a quick and dirty search on how to get the most out of the lycopenes (an antioxidant) in tomatoes and found that cooking the tomatoes makes them more available for absorption when eaten. So day 1 I chose to make crushed tomatoes, where you core, peel, cut up tomatoes and then heat them up. You crush a first layer with an old fashioned potato masher, but the following tomatoes simply degrade on their own in the hot liquid of already-crushed tomatoes.
I learned a few things from this recipe. I learned that my great soup/stew pot (as I think of it) can hold almost exactly 9 pints of crushed tomatoes. My canner, incidentally, can hold 9 pint jars perfectly. This should be useful information when making other soupy-type recipes and determining how many jars I’ll need.
Why exactly am I captioning this? It’s a pot of crushed tomatoes. Please try to follow along.
It was also the first time I had really tried to skin tomatoes (you blanch them, then shock them in ice water. The skin will slip off). In general, I’m not fan of removing skins and peels from foods. I’ve always heard that’s where lots of the nutrients are, although a quick search says that may be a myth with lots of foods. I’m not sure what, if any, chemical and/or physical reason there is to remove the skins. But for the most part I follow the recipes instructions on canning until I find a reason to dig deeper. For example, just writing this post led me to do a quick search and find the main reasons for removing the skins are 1) skin is where most bacteria will reside so removing them is an extra safety measure and 2) the skins peel away from tomatoes and make “unpleasant” little twigs. Since I’ve made tons of sauces with fresh tomatoes that I didn’t skin, I’d say Tom and I would be fine with skins-on canned tomatoes from now on.
Poor skinless, crushed tomatoes.
After today’s exhausting success, I decided I wanted to try canning raw tomatoes. After a nap.