Monday, September 2, 2013

i've been canned!

oh no, not that kind of canned but you never know!  every few years i get the motivation to put up some of my own veggies, etc.  i've been feeling compelled this year since i quit my corporate job & don't have the steady income from dog grooming yet.  i've been trying to save money or reduce spending at every chance i get.
one of the items that i eat ALOT of is canned tomatoes.  and when my local grocery store stopped carrying my favorite brand, i figured now was as good a time as any to start canning my own. i may not have enough to get me through a winter, but i have a start.
i've frozen Roma tomatoes in the past, but we don't have a very larger freezer, and i think i pushed Nacho to his limit with the cherries i froze this year.  there simply is no room for normal food much less frozen tomatoes this time.  and with the kitchen remodel, i actually have some empty space in my cabinets since i got rid of so much unused stuff.  so canning it was going to be.
lots of history from the women in my family canning for years, lots of googling around "how to can tomatoes", and a very helpful book titled Food In Jars, and my process didn't differ that much from everyone elses....with one minor exception!
i start by getting a large pot of water on the stove & heating up to boil.  this will save you some time so you can clean & prep the tomatoes while waiting for the pot to boil.  lightly wash any sand/dirt off all the tomatoes - this is where a big sink comes in handy!
 i don't submerge mine for washing because i've seen where tomatoes will absorb that water & it dilutes the flavor so i just lightly wash them off.  the peels will be coming off so i don't feel compelled to clean them too much.  keep that bucket close by because it becomes the dumping ground for all things used/discarded - no stinking up my garbage!
after rinsing, i core & score each tomato. i like to core them before cooking because i hate the hard hearts that tomatoes can often have. some people like them, but not me.
you don't have to do either, but certainly scoring them makes removing the peels easier after shocking.
 and into the water they go!  make sure your water is boiling each time you put a new batch in!! if the water is not boiling, it makes getting the peels off even harder.
 notice i keep a pie pan full of tomatoes ready for the next batch!  several recipes i found said boil them for 1-2 minutes.  i just boiled them until it looked like the peels were nice & loose.  that seemed to be anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes.  riper tomatoes lost their peels sooner.
you're ready to remove & shock them!  my mesh ladle/strainer thingy was ideal for this.  i'm not a mess maker by nature, so this allowed me to let some of that water strain before transferring them to the "shock container".
my container was just another large pot filled with cold water. you'll also find most instructions say use ice water or an ice bath.  our refrigerator doesn't make a lot of ice because we don't use a lot of ice, so i just used cold water & it worked fine.
this stops the tomatoes from cooking & helps the peels come off.  this was by far the hardest part because it required me to be patient - something i anti-excel at.  if you don't give them long enough to cool down, handling them will teach you you should have!  at this point, i'd let the cooking pot get back to boiling & start another batch. just wait a few minutes & peel the cooling/shocked tomatoes & transfer them out to a bowl to sit while i finish the remaining batches.
you could transfer the peeled/shocked tomatoes directly to another pot for cooking, but i'm limited on pots so i had to use my same boiling pot for the next step, cooking, hence the temporary pyrex bowl above. 
once all my tomatoes had been cooked, cooled, peeled, and any remaining hearts taken out, i emptied out the water from the boiling pot & filled it with the processed tomatoes.
i brought this batch up to a boil, then dropped it down to simmer for 30 minutes.  i don't pretend to understand why, but if you are canning Whole tomatoes, you don't have to do this.  but if you cut them up like i did, you have to cook them.  
once the cooking was done, i began filling my jars with tomatoes.  i use a Ball canning kit that has the funnel and tongs for removing jars, lids, etc when processing.  you'll see in a bit, i didn't need the tongs, but the funnel is great because it's sized for Wide Mouth as well as Regular Mouth jars.
i also found numerous instructions that said to put a little lemon juice in the bottom of your jars before filling them. i have no idea what this is for, but did it anyway. i assume it must be something related to preserving the contents.  the chopstick that you see in the photo above was used to poke around and get rid of any air bubbles - but i'm not exactly consistent in doing that.  
the first batch of jars i did were just straight tomatoes.  nothing fancy in with them.  but the 2nd batch i did....
i went all spicy spicy on them!  all the jars have at least one clove of garlic.  some of the jars have Red Pepper Flakes and the others have Italian Seasoning.  can't wait to see how these taste (fingers crossed)!
so here's where things go off the beaten farmer guy that supplies me all my produce FOR FREE (thank you Jim), told me about an oven method.  normally, you'd have another larger pot of boiling water going, heat your lids up in a separate shallow pan of water to losen up their glue, put the lids & rings on your filled jars, and submerge them in the boiling pot for 5 minutes.  that's the standard for sealing them. 
the method i used this time was after filling the jars with tomatoes, put the lids and rings on - DO NOT heat the lids up in a shallow pan of simmering water.  turn your oven on to 200 degrees F & set the timer for 1 hour.  
 put your jars in directly on the racks (although i did use a cookie sheet for my 1st set - habit for not making messes in the oven but you don't need it).  shut the door & let the oven climb to temp & wait for the timer to go off.  seriously, that's it!
when the timer goes off, turn the oven off & either let them cool down in the oven, or take them out & let them cool on the counter.  i did both & it didn't seem to make a difference.
it's a bit weird because i'm used to the water bath for sealing them, but it makes sense: the gradual rise in temp does the same thing by softening the glue on the lids & sealing them down.  the only difference was after removing them, i didn't hear that gratifying "pop" when the seals took, but i did see the lids go down when i came back to check on them.  i tested the seals by waiting 24 hours & removing the rings & lifting the jars by the lids - none of them gave way which means the seals took!
i won't pretend the oven method is easier/better, especially since i haven't eaten any yet.  this winter will tell me that.  but it is a nice trade-off if you don't have a pot tall enough to process Quart jars in.  the water bath method is faster, usually on requiring 5-10 minutes of processing, but the oven eliminates that big pot of boiling water & having to lift filled jars out of it - something that always makes me nervous as the Most Clumsy Person in the World.
don't get me wrong, it's a good deal of work to do this.  but isn't there something so gratifying about canning your own stuff?  i come from a family that did all their own preserves, veggies, etc., and while i wish i had taken more of an interest in this when my mom, aunts, & grandma were here, i just feel good knowing i'm doing something that would make them proud. better late than never!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oven canning is so NOT safe Hope you don't get sick when you eat this

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