Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Canning: Tomatoes in their own juice

I was so happy to come home last night and find that my tomatoes had started to ripen!  This year has been a particularly bad season for tomatoes (really hot so that the flowers wouldn't fruit and then super cold so they won't grow and ripen in addition to fighting the birds for them), and before last night I'd only gotten maybe 5 tomatoes off of my 4 vines so far this year!  Here's last night's haul:

Don't adjust your screen--they are yellow with a few pink (Brandywine I think) and purple guys (Black Kirin?) in there, too.  Yellow tomatoes tend to be sweeter than red or pink tomatoes, and carry a higher sugar content and usually a lower water content. Purple tomatoes tend to be the most tart tomatoes.

Since I knew we'd never be able to eat all of these before they started rotting, and I just killed the last jar of last year's tomatoes when I made a chili two weeks ago, I knew these needed to be canned.  I use Ball's Blue Book of Preserving as my guide for all canning matters.

If you're interested at all in canning or freezing or dehydrating or even just some fun chutney recipes, I highly recommend getting acopy of Ball's Blue Book.  I think I paid $7 for mine a few years back, and refer to it constantly when I have a surplus of fruit or veggies.  I took a picture of my copy since it's relatively new; I would imagine the edition hasn't been updated yet...

The tools:
For this many tomatoes, I'm only going to get 4-5 jars going, so I don't bother using my huge canning pot.  I use a large sauce pot for skinning the tomatoes and a 5 qt stock pot for the sterilizing and processing of the tomatoes.  I fill them with water and set them on the stove (with lids of course) to boil before I tend to the tomatoes.

I also assemble my jars (5 in this case, but I only used 4 ultimately), new lids, rings, jar tongs (not sure what the real name is), canning funnel (not shown below), measuring/air removal tool, lid retrieving magnet, stainless tongs, and measuring spoons.

You'll also need an ice bath (I used a large bowl) and colander set up.  You can also do this in your sink if you like, but I like the be able to have the ice bath mobile.

It's also a good idea to get out the bottle of lemon juice and kosher salt at this time if you have the counter space.

So the first thing I do is is wash the tomatoes, take off the green stem if it's still there, and then mark an x in the bottom.  This really helps with skin removal.

Once the smaller pot is boiling, place a few (3 or 4) tomatoes in there.  This won't take but a half minutes tops to get the skins to start waving in the water.  Once the skin starts to separate, move the tomato to the ice bath you set up.  You don't want to wait, or you'll start to cook the tomato; you'll lose some of the flavor to the water and the mushiness will make the peeling difficult.

I made a video of how quickly this part goes, just in case you don't believe me

Once the tomatoes have cooled enough for you to handle them, start peeling.  Don't forget to take out the core, any blemishes, and as many seeds as you can muster.  I just put 4 or so slits down the side of the tomato and scoop of the seeds with my fingers.  The cleaned tomatoes look something like this:
Now, that you've cleaned and skinned all of your tomatoes, I bet the water in your processing pot is boiling.  Now's the time to sanitize your jars, lids, measuring tool, canning funnel, and stainless tongs.  I always put the jars in first as they take the longest and you'll need them first.  You can put the tongs in so that just the ends (that which touches the tomatoes) is in.  Leave them to process for at least 1 minute, and retrieve with the jar tongs.
I usually put the jars on a towel to cool for a minute (don't touch the lip or inside of the jars!) and then start preparing them for the tomatoes.  Don't sanitize the lids for too long, or the adhesive ring can melt and be ineffective.  These should be retrieved with the lid magnet, and left to dry face up on a towel or counter.

First, add at least 1 Tbs of lemon juice to each pint jar (use 2Tbs for a quart size jar), and a dash of kosher salt.  For these tomatoes, I used 2 Tbs per pint jar because they're sweeter tomatoes than most, and the acid must be high enough to ensure good preserving.  Also, use bottled lemon juice for this step and not fresh--bottle lemon juice has a constant level of acid (they make it that way on purpose) while a real lemon's PH level varies widely depending on variety, age, time of year, etc.
Now we start to add our tomatoes!
Put the funnel in the jar and stuff the tomatoes in the jar until you have about an inch (usually about where the screw top rings start on the jar).  Use the measuring tool's flat side (or a sanitized spoon or butter knife) to work any air bubbles out around the side of the jars.  Usually after I do this, I have to add at least a half tomato more to get to an 1/2 inch of head space (the measure between the lip and the top of the tomatoes) needed for effective processing.
Each one of those little stairs is a 1/4 inch!  It's really a great tool to have if you plan to start canning a lot.

If I need a bit more tomato to meet my head space requirement, I use the juice left from the tomatoes in my cleaned tomato bowl. Sometimes there's not enough, and then I'll grab a Tbs or so from the boiling processing pot.

Now we start to put the lids and rings on.  Make sure the lip of the jar is clean before you put the lid on by dabbing a towel in the boiling water and wiping the lip only, being careful not to touch the inside of the jar.  Place the lid on top (shiny side up), and then tighten the ring so that it just closes.  You don't want to tighten it too tight or air can't escape from the jar while boiling and will interfere with the vacuum needed for a good seal.

Put the jars in BOILING water.  Once all the jars are in, make sure you have about one inch of water above the tops of the jars.  I keep a hot kettle ready sometimes to help top it off and keep the water temp pretty close to boiling.  Bring the water back to a strong rolling boil and start your timers for 40 minutes (for pint jars like mine).
Be very careful when putting the jars in.  I don't want anyone getting burned.

After forty minutes, use your jars tongs to retrieve the jars, and set them on a towel or trivet or something that won't melt to cool.  They will need a few hours to cool down completely, but you might start to hear the lids popping after only a few minutes!  It's pretty fun even after a few years to hear them pop.  You may also hear a weird sucking noise as they begin to cool--and that's a good thing!  That means your vacuum is working.

One thing to look out for before putting the jars of tomatoes into storage:
*The lid didn't suck down all the way.  If you can press down on the lid and it pops back up, you'll have to reprocess the jar. (Use a new lid, wipe the lip down again, and boil again).

Two things to look out for before using the jars:
1. The lid pops back up. (I don't recommend reprocessing if the jar has sat for longer than a day.)
2. Any weird colors that pop up.  Black, purple, brown, green are not supposed to be there.  That means you got some bacteria or yeast in there.
Toss these jars immediately.  The $1 or $2 you save by using them is not enough to warrant a night over the toilet or poisoning your family.  Some icky things can live in improperly processed jars...

I've stored tomatoes for a full year with no problems and made some great dishes with them, too.  Store them in a dark, cool , dry place--your pantry!

Time requirements:
For newbies, set aside a few hours to get this all done for sure.  You might want to give yourself at least 4 hours.
I got this all done after I got home from work at 6pm, went into my garden for the tomatoes, canned them, cleaned up from it, and made dinner all the same time, all before 9pm.

No comments:

Post a Comment