If you've been following my blog these past few years, you'll know that I'm part of Cedarmore CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Each week is a new surprise bounty of wholesome goodness. One of my favorite things to receive are the tomatoes. They have SO much more flavor than the ones that you get at a grocery store. Those impostors really shouldn't even be called tomatoes! So when the farm said they had canning tomatoes available for just $0.50/lb, I jumped at the chance to give canning, something I'd always wanted to try, a shot.
My first order of tomatoes was 20 pounds. I figured it would be a trial run without too much risk (I can spare $10!) and would give me lots of fresh organically grown tomatoes throughout the dreary Winter months if things went right. The first adventure was whole tomatoes because it looked like it would require the least amount of effort. It actually turned out so well and was quite fun so I ended up ordering ANOTHER 20 pounds for myself to make tomato sauce!
How did it go? Well, I'd say quite well! My labor yielded 12 pints (2 cups each) of whole tomatoes and 5 quarts (4 cups each) of fresh tomato sauce. I used the Ball regular-mouth pints and quarts because their jars are high quality and made right here in the USA!
Sure, it was a lot of work (maybe 5-6 hours?) and each pint cost roughly $0.50 or $1 per quart for the tomatoes plus the cost of jars (less than $1/jar) but the satisfaction of knowing EXACTLY where my tomatoes came from and how they came to be, knowing they were pesticide free and packed in BPA-free, glass jars. This was priceless to me and I know my long-term health will be all the better for it.
But how did we get to such a glorious end result? By starting with a big 'ol box of tomatoes! This was the box that contained my first 20 pounds....
The first step to canning tomatoes is to core them then remove the skins by blanching them. Some people say to cut an "X" into the bottom of the tomato to make the peeling easier but personally, I find that the skins slide off just fine without that step so I skip it. I'm all about simplification. Since these are canning tomatoes and therefore contain imperfections, you want to cut out any bad parts, too. You don't want that yucky stuff in your jars.
So here are the first batch of blanched tomatoes, naked and ready to be placed into their jars.
Now, when canning whole tomatoes, you'd want to keep them as...well...whole as possible! After gently squishing (we're not making crushed tomatoes, here!) a few whole ones into my pint-sized jars, I found there was still extra room so I cut some into holes and even quarters to fill the voids. In the case of making sauce, you'd use the handy wide-mouth funnel to help you easily transfer the saucy goodness.
Now acidify the jars with a tablespoon of lemon juice (Note: For quarts, add 2 tablespoons). This will make sure the tomatoes have the proper pH level to be safely canned using a simple water bath. I ran out of bottled lemon juice here so had to use fresh lemons but again for simplicity's sake, TOTALLY recommend getting a big bottle of pre-squeezed lemon juice when you can your tomatoes!
Then you use this handy dandy bubble remover which came with my new Ball Canning Utensils Set. See how much fun I was having?! Die bubbles, die!
You'd think that the jar is ready to be closed with the lid but not quite yet. First you want to wipe the mouth of the jar real clean with a clean, dry, lint-free cloth. My mother-in-law, Mary Lynn, helped with that. You may have tried your darndest to be neat but let's face it, things get a little messy in the kitchen. If you skip this step, you risk the chance of not forming a good seal and then all your hard work will have gone to waste!
Now time to use the magnetic tool from the Ball Canning Utensils Set. This thing was so handy because you could dip it right into your pot of simmering water to retrieve a sterilized lid and ring without contaminating them with your super tomatoey hands! Onto the jars they go and then into the water bath. For our first batch, we just used a regular old pot which unfortunately only held four jars at a time. It did the job without added cost but you know what they say, time is money! To speed things along in subsequent canning adventures, Mary Lynn bought huge pot with lots of capacity because it is designed for canning.
Once you process the jars
forever for 45 minutes (pints), you lift them out using...you guessed, it, more handy tools from your Ball Canning Utensils Set! Place them on a clean, dry kitchen towel to cool and then pray that you hear the glorious sound of popping which indicates that they have sealed correctly. I can't tell you how elated I was to hear that first pop and then to my delight, an entire SYMPHONY of popping soon followed. SUCCESS!
Before you tuck your pretty new jars of homemade, canned tomatoes away, make sure you label them so you know what they are and when you made them :).
I hope you enjoyed my photo adventure. Check out the real instructions for canning at Food in Jars or Annie's Eats also did a wonderful feature including step-by-step photos recently, too.
By the way, to do tomato sauce, there's an extra step of milling your whole tomatoes in a food mill to get rid of those pesky seeds and cooking them down to your desired thickness but worth the effort! We had just about a cup or two extra so made some dipping sauce for stromboli. It was the richest, freshest sauce I've ever experienced and was so proud that it came out of MY kitchen!
Now, I'm leaving on a jet plane for a few weeks for work. But no worries, starting tomorrow, I have lined up SEVEN fabulous bloggers who will be guest posting for me while I'm gone. There are some seriously drool-worthy recipes coming up and a little bit of something for everyone. I hope that you discover a new blog to love! :)
Happy canning and until we meet again!