Canning Tomatoes (as easy as I could make it)
Last time I did tomato sauce, which involved endless food mill time (it was my first time using the food mill–I do not like it, Sam I am! Glad I only paid $12 on ebay for the thing, because I really dislike using it!) and even more endless cooking down time, and which in the end still didn’t give me the result I wanted. So this time I took it easier and just did plain old Chunky Canned Tomatoes. Nothing added except a little lemon juice and red wine vinegar (because I ran out of lemon juice). I’ll do the adding at the other end, when I cook.
PickYourOwn.org has very good and easy directions for tomato canning, as do a few more places–at this point I feel comfortable enough canning that I do improvise slightly as long as I make sure safety measures (long enough processing time, sufficient acid content) are followed. So here’s what I did; total 2 hours with kids scurrying around and one barfing dog to deal with during that time, and the last 45 minutes was just waiting for the jars to process. The reason I improvised was that I wanted something bigger than diced tomatoes but which would already have cored and seeded the tomatoes before canning them. And I wanted something that would have the tomatoes packed in their own juice, not water or juice-purchased-elsewhere. And trust me–this method makes a LOT of its own juice!
Jenn’s Easy Canned Tomatoes
Put the canning pot on to boil FIRST. It’s a big sucker, and if you have a gas stove, it’ll take forever.
Put 7 or so quart canning jars in the dishwasher AT THE SAME TIME. And lightly simmer the lids, and follow whatever jar prep processes you like to follow.
Washing the tomatoes: Since these were not organic (even though they were local), I did definitely want to wash them. I filled half the sink with soapy water and the other half with clear. Swished them around in the soapy water, scrubbed them a bit, shifted them to the clear water. Rinsed out the soapy half and filled it again with clear cold water. (I didn’t use much soap; if you’re worried about rinsing, hey, rinse more!)
At this point, you’ll want to have ready:
- Big pot of boiling water
- Big cutting board and sharp knife
- Sink or MASSIVE bowl with cold water and ice cubes
- bowl for tomato skins and stems
- bowl for seeds and juice (what you’re discarding or doing something else with)
- bowl or pot for tomato pieces (what you’re canning)
- Lots of cleaning rags or paper towels.
- Clothes you don’t give a crap about, or a good apron, or both
When the water’s at a full boil, put as many tomatoes in as you can reasonably fit and let them stay for maybe 3 minutes. (I went 5 once for a batch and it didn’t hurt anything.) During this 3 minutes, add a bunch of ice cubes to the clear cold water sink. Then remove the tomatoes to that icy water immediately to keep them from cooking more.
At this point, honestly, I just used the tomato-skin water as my canning water, but if you chose to you could put new water on to boil right about now.
At this point the skin should slide off easily. Cut the stem end off, slide the skin off, and cut the tomato horizontally in half. Squeeze the seeds and inner juice into a separate bowl, and then squish the tomato pulp itself into your pot. (Oddly, this isn’t as gross as it sounds.) Continue this process until your pot is full or you run out of tomatoes. (I didn’t use my biggest pot and needed two batches. Live and learn.)
Put the pot of tomatoes on the stove and heat, and let it simmer for just a few minutes.
Into each quart jar, put a tablespoon or two (opinions vary–go with 2.) of lemon juice. This removes any doubt about the acid level of your tomatoes. Spoon tomatoes into quart jars, stir or “bubble” them down to make sure you don’t have air pockets, and add a little more juice from the pot as needed to fill them to the right head space level. I got just under 7 quarts of tomatoes, so one of my jars is very juice-heavy; I might just make tomato paste or something out of it, I don’t know. Place lids on, screw rings on lightly (“finger-tight,” is what they say), and process for 45 minutes in a hot water bath.
(And as usual–please do your homework on safe canning procedures–pickyourown.org is a good site, and I have listed a bunch of others at The Green Phone Booth. I am not a nutritionist, a doctor, or even a proper foodie, and I don’t even pretend to play one on the Internet. Consider this the disclaimer.)
I also, by the way, didn’t want to dispose of all that lovely tomato juice–I strained the seeds out (and it’s unbelievable how many seeds I did successfully get out of those tomatoes!), boiled it down a bit so it was less watery, and ended up with about a quart and a half of nice, fresh-tasting tomato juice. If you like tomatoes but don’t think you like tomato juice, give this stuff a try–it tastes simply like fresh tomatoes, and comparing it to anything I’ve gotten out of a bottle at the store is like comparing fresh summer peaches to the canned “cling peaches in heavy syrup” ones you get in the canned fruit aisle. I didn’t do the “proper” canning procedure with it, just the highly suspect “open kettle” method we’re not supposed to use any more, because I plan to drink it all within the next week or so anyway. (See the Food In Jars blog for other things not to do when you’re canning, and other handy Canning 101 tips!)
Made chili with one quart, just to see how they did: delicious. Very very good.
Only weird thing, probably because I didn’t cook them down enough beforehand–in the couple of days after sealing, the “head space” has increased quite a bit; they aren’t even close to full now. I’m assuming the tomato stuff just sort of broke down, and the air trapped inside the tomatoes is no longer inside but outside them, which means they won’t keep as long in the jars; I should have simmered them longer…(That’s okay–the way I use tomatoes, I’ll be lucky if they make it to November). Also, I was victim of the apparently very common issue of the water separating from the pulp, which mean I had an inch of sort of unattractive yellowish water at the bottom and the tomatoes at the top; it’s not a big deal, according to the sites I checked, and once I shook them up again after the jars cooled it hasn’t re-separated.
This was easy enough and tasty enough that I would do it again and probably will next year, maybe going for a full bushel (14 quarts in the end) instead of this year’s half bushel (7 quarts)–my canner holds seven quarts at a time, so that would basically be two full batches, probably more like 3-4 hours total.