Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

How to Can Your Tomatoes

Backyard Homesteading, Canning Tomatoes, Dangerous Kitchen Experiments, Gardening, Home Canning

It comes as no small surprise that canning vegetables has enjoyed a rise in popularity.  Whether it's a hobby or out of necessity more families are giving it a try.  As evidence of this I suggest you visit Fleet Farm this time of year.  Mr. Mills doesn't stock entire aisles of shelves with Ball jars, lids, rings, Foodsaver wrap and all of the assorted paraphernalia that goes with canning and preserving for nothing.

For me it's a lot like cutting-up your own deer.  You get some measure of assurance that everything is handled and processed correctly when you do it yourself.  The butcher can't filch any of your meat and there is no possibility of someone else's mishandled deer carcass contaminating your kill.

The same is true of storing vegetables.  I get a great deal of satisfaction from growing, picking and packing the fruits of our garden.  Both from the small measure of food security it provides - also the knowledge that no corners were cut.

If any of you have tomatoes growing in your garden you've probably noticed that it's difficult to keep-up with the production lately.  Such is the way of tomatoes.  Slow to start, then a trickle of fruit that is easily consumed in the form of BLTs, sliced and slapped on a burger or served with baby mozzarella. This is usually followed by the inevitable avalanche. 

Since there are only so many ways to prepare and eat fresh tomatoes - what do you do with the surplus?  You can take them to the day job and leave them in the company kitchen.  They'll disappear soon enough.  You can take them to the Tosa Food Pantry which always has a welcome mat out for fresh produce.  Or you can put some up for future use.  Or any combination of the foregoing.

Canned tomatoes have a shelf life measured in years and are a remarkable addition to soups, stews, chili or gumbo - you name it.  I guarantee that when you pop the lid-off of a jar of home-preserved tomatoes in February you will be transported back to summer.  Furthermore, you might become a tomato snob and eschew the ordinary and bland canned variety purchased from the grocery.  Give them a sniff sometime.  They smell of tin and solder.  Blech.  So here's a handy step-by-step guide to preserving some of those surplus tomatoes. 

Begin by putting the dogs down for a nap.  Then assemble a large quantity of fresh, vine-ripened fruit.  

No garden?  No problem.  Purchase a big pile at the farmer's market.  There's no point in processing a couple of jars - think big.

Your tomatoes will need to shed their skins so fill a pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Add some of your tomatoes to the boiling water until the skin splits - but for not longer than 30 seconds. 

Pluck them from the pot and immediately transfer them to a sink full of cold water. Repeat until all of your fruit is in the sink. 

Helpful hint:  Small quantities of tomatoes into the pot and you won't have to wait for it to return to a boil.  Regularly refresh the sink water from the tap to keep it cold.

The next step is coring, skinning and cutting the fruit. 

Arm yourself with a sharp paring knife and do this right in your sink.  Clean-up will be a snap.

I prepared two types of tomatoes for this project.  Plum (Roma) variety for making rich and thick sauces.  And Beefsteak, Champion and Early Girl for other uses. 

Grab a plum tomato (the elongated and less-than-bulbous fruits) and slice the top-off and give it a slight squeeze to slide-off the skin.  Slice it lengthwise and use your thumbs (and the back of the knife) to remove the seeds and any green core.  Doing this in the sink helps to rinse all the seeds from these meatier fruits.  Place them in their own bowl.

For the other types of tomatoes core them with your knife, slip-off the skin and cut in halves or thirds depending upon size.  Don't worry about the seeds.  If you run these through a food mill in January to make soup, juice or use as an ingredient in a dish - the seeds are captured then.

Plum tomatoes in the brown bowl - all the others in the yellow bowls.  All the debris is in the sink.  If you're like me you'll put all the tomato viscera in a colander to dump in the compost bin.  If you are really lazy simply hit the switch on your garbage disposal and send everything down stream for MMSD to figure out.  Working in the sink leaves no messy cutting boards or counter top to clean-up.

Next step - pack your jars. 

A jar funnel helps to keep things tidy.  Start stuffing your jars - packing them tightly.  Leave about a half-inch-plus of head space.  Add one scant teaspoon of kosher salt to each quart jar.  Food safety is a big deal and you'll want to make sure that your acidity is adequate to prevent spoilage.  Adding two teaspoons of lemon juice to each quart jar assures the proper pH.  No, it will not alter the taste. 

See that clear plastic wand in the lower right corner?  I use it to poke around inside my packed jars making certain there are no air pockets.  Wipe your rims, add a new lid, screw-on a band and place in a canner filled with hot water making sure that the water comes over the top of your jars. 

Cover the canner, bring to a boil and process for 50 minutes.  Carefully remove the hot jars with a jar grabber.  This is the most nerve-wracking part of the process.  It's like removing the fuse from a bomb.  Imagine dropping a jar of scalding-hot tomatoes on the kitchen floor when you work in shorts and bare feet.  Be careful!

After removal from the canner the lids will 'pop' signaling a proper seal.  Anything that doesn't seal should be kept in the fridge for current use. 

This yielded a couple of quarts of seedless plum and six quarts of the remaining tomatoes. 

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