In a post I wrote last week, I promised that I’d share with you the method by which I can my tomatoes, and since I am a woman of my word, that’s what I’m going to do. To wit.
When I was a much younger thing (ahem), I was floundering about, trying to decide the best way to put up my tomato harvest. I was a little afraid of the pressure canner (still am) and yet there were all these “official” recommendations about not using the water-bath method any longer, in canning tomatoes. The open-kettle method, from all my searching, was just one step better than intentionally poisoning yourself.
I called the county extension office. The lady who answered the ‘phone assured me that they no longer recommended the “open kettle” method, and if I didn’t use the pressure canner that I needed to boil my jars in a water bath for 1 hour and 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe that was necessary! “How could any nutrients be left in the tomatoes after that treatment?” I sputtered. “That’s my official advice,” she muttered.
I sensed something in her answer. “What do you do with your tomatoes?” I asked. “Unofficially?”
“I use the open kettle method,” she said, “Always have . . . but I can’t tell you that officially.”
I thought she was hiding something. Hmph. Such intrigue in the county extension office, I never would have guessed!
I consulted many other sources and talked to lots of different people, all while the tomatoes in my garden ripened and accumulated. I was confused by all the varied recommendations, and because I was quite a bit younger then, I was also intimidated by them, too. But . . . I’m one of those people that stubbornly tends to forge my own path. Not, of course, that I want to poison anybody. What was best? And what, really, was necessary?
Mind you, sometimes my independent thinking (good husband Bryan would probably call it something else, a word that starts with “st” but what does he know, really?) works out well, sometimes not. (We won’t talk about the “not” episodes.)
But in this case, I veered away from conventional wisdom (i.e. the “on the record” advice of the county extension agent, and the advice of several canning books) and went with the common sense advice of a Mennonite woman in our community, Lucille. I struck up a conversation with her while I was standing in the check-out line of the grocery store.
What she said made so much sense. And she assured me that she had been canning tomatoes this way for over 50 years and had never poisoned anybody. Not once! “What about heirloom tomatoes?” I asked. “Honey, when I started raising tomatoes,” she assured me, “they were all heirlooms.” That was enough for me. Folk wisdom over official government-sanctioned wisdom always rules the day for me. Obviously.
I realize that you may not want to take this leap of faith, Gentle Reader, and that’s okay. Everybody seems to have their own strongly-held opinion on tomato-canning methods. So go with what you have decided is the best way, Gentle Reader.
Naturally it would be foolish to follow anybody blindly–even me–especially me!!–without doing your own research, first. Right? Of course, right!
So here’s what happened the other day, as my daughter Amalia and I prepared to can tomatoes. Amalia had other things to do that day–can you imagine–and so, as a matter of fact, did I, so we decided to see how quickly and efficiently we could actually accomplish this task, the two of us.
I told my daughter that I was going to jot down notes, to turn into this blog post, later, when I felt like sitting for a spell. “This’ll be fun!” I enthused. “Like a science experiment. We’ll be focussed–single-minded–and we’ll go straight from picking to processing, to canning, just to see how quickly to do it. Game?”
My daughter is a good sport, and the idea of taking as little time as possible to do this routine fall chore appealed to her. I had already picked the tomatoes.
I loaded the tomatoes into my kitchen sink and looked at the clock. “Nothing will interrupt us. Here we go. It’s 10:00,” I said. I made a note. “10:00. Begin washing tomatoes.”
We both sprung into action. I filled a big pot on the stove with water, for scalding, and Amalia got a big bowl of ice water on the counter top, for peeling skins. I found a good paring knife. Amalia put on music and found another big bowl for the skinned tomatoes to rest in, before being transferred to the big stock pot on the stovetop.
“10:05,” I jotted down. “Set up prep station.” I got started coring the tomatoes, and when I had a bowlful, I’d hand them to Amalia, who would dip them into the boiling water for a minute or two, or until the skins split. Then she’d pull them out and plunge them into the ice water.
It was only 10:15 when we had our first interruption. Little Mack came into the kitchen. “Dad said could you send out some clean cheesecloth,” he said.
Oh boy. Bryan had chosen this day to take the honey off the bees, too, and the cheesecloth for the spigot of the honey extractor is an item that doesn’t exactly have its own place in our kitchen, since we only need it once a year. I grabbed a chair and started scrabbling about in the upper cupboards, trying to find the leftover cheesecloth from last year. I knew that if I couldn’t find it, that one of us (probably me) would have to run to the store for some. Please let there be leftover cheesecloth . . . please . . I found it!
Amalia and I got right back to work. I cored and cut out bad spots at the sink, and then handed her bowlful after bowlful, which she then scalded and plunged into the ice water, and then I skinned and cut up and transferred to the stock pot. We had a definite rhythm going. We were making great time.
It was about 11:15 when we had the large stock pot full of tomatoes, though it wasn’t boiling yet. We had another pot on the stovetop, full of water to sterilize the jars, and another, smaller saucepan with the lids. I turned the heat up underneath the tomatoes, waiting for it to come to a boil, and gave it a few stirs. “We could have these ready for the jars by noon, honey!” I noted to my daughter.
It sounds like so much trouble to can tomatoes, but I wanted to demonstrate to myself (and to my daughter) that it didn’t take so long to do it, if you have your system down. . . and if you have a willing helper it’s great, too . . .
I turned the heat up underneath the potful of tomatoes and took a few stirs. It was starting to smell lovely. Amalia continued to work on the tomatoes. It looked like we’d have a potful and another half potful before we were finished.
“Dad says come look at the honey, Mom!” little Mack said, poking his head into the kitchen. “11:15. Went to admire the honey.”
Oh, it was so beautiful, it was certainly worth the pause in our progress to admire it. And to take a few tastes. And to chat with Bryan about its general quality and goodness. And to remind myself of how blessed I am, that we have a healthy hive of honeybees that make this absolutely miraculous sweet for us each and every year. Well, not every year, actually.
Because of pesticide use and certain pesticides in particular and GMOs and other man-generated environmental factors, we can’t always count on this. We lose at least half our hives every year. I think this is just very, very sad, and I hope that somebody does something about it before long. We need our bees.
I was mulling this over in my mind, when I smelled something. Something, perhaps, possibly, a bit scorched, or . . . something.
You think I’m going to say that I burned the tomatoes at this point, don’t you? But no. The pot full of tomatoes had started boiling and some had splashed out on the burner. Phew! I’ve actually ruined an entire stockpot of tomatoes before, but that was before my Dad took pity on me and my thin-bottomed stock pot that I used at the time and bought me a decent one with a substantial bottom. (No human parallels here, please!)
We were cleaning up the counter and feeling pretty smug about our progress, the tomatoes bubbling away nicely, when Bryan came into the kitchen. “Hey–ya wanna let me take you out for lunch?” he asked. I looked at the clock. I looked at my pitiful sheet full of notes. I looked at me bubbling pot full of tomatoes. I looked at my husband.
“Sure,” I said. Lunch out always trumps attempting a tomato-canning speed record, don’t you agree? So I turned off the burner underneath the stockpot, and washed up and went out to lunch.
Oh well. When we got home, our son Andrew and nephew Davey arrived to do some work on a web project with our son Timothy. Here’s Milford’s newest creative braintrust: Milford doesn’t even know that this team exists yet, but it will. Oh yes. It will.
I turned the burner back on, and brought the tomatoes to a boil. While they boiled, I got jars ready, visited with the brain trust, and cleaned up the kitchen. I wasn’t making good time any more, but I didn’t really care.
Once the tomatoes had boiled for half an hour, I put them into jars.
By the way, I just bought this book (full of tantalizing recipes like “Carrot Cake Preserves” and “Ginger whatwhat” and “Dilly whatnot”) and I just love it. If you do some canning every year and don’t have a good all-purpose canning book, this one is a great resource!
You might want to add it to your kitchen library, too! Then if you have way too many carrots in your garden to eat, or your family is getting tired of corn-on-the-cob every stinkin’ meal, but you don’t want to let your sweet corn harvest go to waste, you’ll have a number of great ideas for how to preserve them.
This book is wonderful, too. My daughter-in-law Rachel has it and I enjoyed reading through it the last time we were visiting in St. Louis. She embodies the next generation of canners, and a joyful and creative lot they are! (I want to buy this book as soon as I can justify another book purchase.)
So back to the tomatoes, shameless product plant aside. By the way, in a shameless attempt to make a few pennies off my blog, I am an affiliate of Amazon.com (you may have heard of this little company) so if you click on the link above to buy your book, I’ll make a bit of cash which I’ll turn around and buy more canning jars with! Or a package of lids. Or some canning salt. Something. Anyway.
So to make a long story not quite so long, we ended up with 12 and a half quarts of absolutely beautiful canned tomatoes, but not a canning-speed record, by a long shot. We’ll try for that another time. We stopped to taste honey, visit with creative folks, and find items for short people, and that’s okay. I think I answered the ‘phone in there a few times, too, for good measure.
Now for the real reason I wrote this post: Here is how I can my tomatoes, in an easy-to-read list. Before you try it for yourself, though, familiarize yourself with basic canning methods, which you can find just about anywhere.
- Wash, scald, peel, and chop tomatoes
- Bring to boil in large thick-bottomed (watch it!) stock-pot and stir occasionally, 30 minutes.
- Sterilize jars and lids.
- Pull one jar at a time out of the boiling water. Add 1 Tb. vinegar and 1 tsp pickling salt, and pour in boiling tomatoes. Leave 1/2″ headspace and seal. Screw on rings firmly.
- Let your jars cool and sit for 24 hours.
- Check jars for sealing, and if any don’t seal, refrigerate and use within a day or two.
That’s it! It’s not so difficult, after all, is it, Gentle Reader? That’s just one thing you can do with your tomato harvest, and canned tomatoes are a wonderful base for chilis and soups and spaghetti sauces and whatnot. They are a meal-starter in a jar! We’ll be making some roasted tomato sauce later this week, and so check back!
By the way, Gentle Readers, hop on over to The Prairie Homestead for their weekly blog hop. If this post of mine was helpful to you, than you’ll find plenty more over there to instruct, inspire, and delight! Tell them Amy sent you!