Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tomato Canning Time!



Every year, I can tomatoes for the winter. Some of my favorite summer memories are of my family canning tomatoes, green beans, and other fruits and vegetables.  For a time, the house is full of tomatoes and infused with the delicious smell of cooking tomatoes, and then the time is over until next year.  Buy some extra produce from the Farmers Market and you can bypass the canned-goods aisle next winter.

I use a pressure canner, like the Presto 1781 23-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker/Canner,  to can mine.  Many people use a water bath canner, such as the  Columbian Home 0707-1 Granite Ware 21-1/2-Quart Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack which I tried, but you have to add lemon juice or citric acid to make sure the tomatoes remain acidic enough to prevent botulism and I did not like the taste.  If you do much food preservation, you'll soon want a pressure canner, which will enable you to preserve, safely, many different fruits, vegetables, and meats.  The initial cost of the pressure canner is higher than that of the water bath canner, but the expense and peace of mind of knowing your food is safe is worth it.  For folks who make chili and freeze it, for example, you could pressure can it instead and safely store it even when the power goes out.  My mother has been using hers for at least 40 years, so it's not something you should have to buy again as long as you take care of it.     

My mother steams the tomatoes enough to split the skins, peels them, cuts them up, heats the tomatoes, and cans them.  I did this, but wanted to have less juice in my sauce.  I read about it and learned that if you cook the tomatoes thoroughly before you cut them, it prevents a chemical reaction that releases the juice.  I also didn't like having to handle the hot tomatoes to remove their skins.
To prevent the chemical reaction, I start with washed, whole tomatoes.  I do cut off any really gross places, and I wash them.  I put a splash of water in the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching.
Fresh, whole tomatoes in the pot


Clara "helping" put the tomatoes through the food mill
  

After the tomatoes are thoroughly cooked, I cool them some, and I put them through the food mill; I use the Roma Food Strainer and Sauce Maker for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.  The tomatoes and juice come down the white slide into the pot, and some of the seeds and the skin goes out the clear tube to the left into the compost bowl. And, I don't have to peel any tomatoes or burn my fingers on any that are still hot!


Tomato pulp and juice comes out into a pot for further cooking

 Everything must be boiling hot when you assemble the jars.  This setup works for me; the electric frying pan gives me some extra space on the stove.  In it I put the jars, rims, and flats, in about an inch of water.  I put a dishcloth on the bottom of the pan to keep the jars from bumping against the metal and breaking.  You will need a Norpro 600 Jar Lifter to put the jars into the boiling water, a Norpro Stainless Steel Wide-Mouth Funnel, and a magnetic stick is useful to get the lids out of the boiling water without burning your fingers. 

Filling the jars with sauce, making sure to leave about an inch of empty space at the top
Pressure canning works by heating the contents of the jars to a temperature above boiling, which kills spores of botulism and other diseases that simple boiling cannot do.  Pressure canning is safe, and easy, as long as you read and follow the directions that come with your canner.

Filled jars ready to go in the pressure cooker
My pressure cooker holds seven quart jars of tomatoes.  I reuse the rims and the jars, but I have to buy new flat lids because the seals will not work reliably more than once. Ball Regular Mouth Lids and Bands will get you started.  You will also have to buy jars, like Ball Regular Mason Canning Jar 1/2 Pt., Case of 12.  Ask some relatives or friends if they have any supplies stashed in the attic before you buy anything.  Make sure you use jars intended for canning; old mayonnaise jars, for example, are not sturdy enough to stand up to the pressure. 
Pressure cooker doing its thing

I have an extra stove in the garage so I do my canning out there.  I have a glass-topped stove in the house and the directions say not to use a canner on it.  Plus, if I have an explosion, I'd rather it happen out there than in the house!  Don't let that scare you though: modern canners have many safety valves built in and as long as you pay attention to the directions and to your canner, you will be safe too.  My mother has canned food for decades and has never had an explosion. 

I will not attempt to give you specific directions about canning on this blog post, but you can get the book Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to get you started.  The book contains directions for water bath canning.  My pressure cooker came with a book of recipes and directions. 

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