Friday, September 21, 2012

How to Can Tomatoes

This past weekend I had a few gardeners over for a Mini-Canning Workshop. Every weekend while gardening at the Eric Waller Community Garden many of us talk about canning and preserving but we never actually get to share with others how to do it.  If you are not familiar with canning it can be a bit of a mystery and often seeing is believing and I think, well I hope, I dispelled the mystery for a few that day. We had a lot of fun and got to know one another a bit more while teaching and learning  a worthwhile skill.
Basically hot water bath canning is meant for high-acid foods like tomatoes, pickles, jams/jellies, fruit butters, sauces, salsa, chutneys and fruit. The concept and goal is to create a sterile and sealed environment to keep foods preserved without preservatives for months and even years. My canning experience goes way back to some of my very first memories; the basement pantry/cellar that housed my Mom's canned cache of tomatoes, carrots, green beans, pickled watermelon rind, salsa, beets, stews and sauces. Every visit to my Grandparents house out in the Minnesota countryside was not complete without Grandma Alice's apple butter pancakes and a double-dare visit to the seemingly endless cavern of her root cellar (and her incredible garden!). Before she passed away she gave me some Ball canning jars that belonged to her Mother. I watched my Mom pressure can green beans for the County Fair (she won blue ribbons) and helped my dad can an endless supply of salsa every late summer (everything from our garden of course). I think I lived off salsa my entire high school career. I tell everyone who is interested in learning to can that it is a lot of work, it takes time and care. Yet, there is nothing better in the whole wide world then using your own grown and canned tomatoes come mid-February in your stew or sauce. Nothing.

Get your can on here with these supplies....

How to Can: Tomatoes in their own Juice (adapted from the Ball Canning Guide) Makes about 6 Quarts or 12 pints

You will need:

A enamel water bath canner.
The wire rack that hold the jars (to keep them off the bottom of the pot and still while boiling).
Tool set: magnet tool for retrieving the lids from their sterile bath, head-space measuring device, jar grabber and funnel).

Next stop; tomatoes, lots and lots of 'em. The general rule of thumb is 3-4 pounds per quart. The water bath canner will fit 7 quarts at most, BUT it gets very, very full. I recommend doing 6 at a time. So if you wanted to can 6 quarts you will need about 18-24 pounds of ripe tomatoes. "That's a lot of 'maters..." as my Dad would say. So it can be worth your while and a friends to can together! Then split the profits. Also, it's nice to have some company while canning.

To Begin: 
Check your jars for chips, cracks, dirt, and other objects you don't want in your food. Run them through the dishwasher to be safe or wash them really well with water and soap. Make sure you have fresh lids and rings (never re-use a lid, the rings you can). Next, prep your water bath by placing the rack inside with your jars, fill each jar with water THEN fill the pot with water until the jars have about two inches of water covering them. With the help of a friend place the very heavy pot on the largest burner of your stove, cover with the lid and set to high to boil. Meanwhile bring another large stock pot filled with water to a boil. While you are waiting for the water baths, wash your tomatoes and remove the "belly button" from the tomato and any other blemishes. Then clear and clean your sink, fill it with cold water and some ice. When your small pot with water comes to a boil add about 8 tomatoes with a slotted spoon, count to thirty and transfer them to a colander set inside a large bowl, then dump them in your sink, repeat until all the tomatoes are blanched. Next, set to work on removing the skins, they should slip off quite easily. If not plop them back into the hot water for 10-15 seconds more. You can seed the tomatoes; keep in mind that when you do you lose about half of the tomato, frankly I don't mind the seeds so they stay.
Once the skins are removed, you can discard your small pot you used to blanch them in and replace it with a small sauce pan, place the lids that came with your jars (or from the pack) into the sauce pan and cover with water, set to a boil then keep on low until you are ready to use them.

Setting up your space: 
Key word: tidy. Canning is messy. So stake your claim on all the counter space you can get. Have a space on your counter with cork pads, a thick towel or a sturdy baking rack covered with a towel. This is your jarring station where you will park the jars, fill the jars and let them rest after you can. Next to this space is where your big beautiful bowl of tomatoes should go and your salt and lemon juice. Have extra towels on hand for spills.

Start Canning!
Once you have everything ready to-go the process goes quickly. Have a bowl of kosher salt ready with a 1/2 or 1/4 teaspoon and a liquid measuring cup of lemon juice with a tablespoon measurement. Your hot water bath should be rolling along nicely at this point. Carefully remove the lid from your bath and set aside. Using your jar tongs remove one jar at a time emptying the water from each jar and setting the jar on your designated work-space. Repeat until each jar is removed and cover your bath.
Next fill each quart jar with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, for pints a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Then add your tomatoes, starting with a few at a time. Press them down by using the head space measuring device or a wood spoon, repeat this until the juice does not allow you to add any more. Then remove some of the juice to a bowl so you can squeeze in a couple more tomatoes. Tip: I usually don't leave the tomatoes whole, I use my hand to "crush" and break them up a bit. If you want them whole then press them in just a little bit. Next, measure your head space; for a quart you want 3/4 of an inch for pints its 1/2 and inch. Tip: you want to get as much of the air out as you can, you do get a lot already when you pack the tomatoes, but just to be sure give each jar another good press and an extra pinch of salt and sprinkle of lemon juice.
THEN...Use a clean cloth to wipe up the rims and edges of each jar, then use the magnetic wand to fish out a lid from your sauce pan, repeat for each jar. THEN... place the rings on each but only finger tight. are ready to place each jar into the hot water bath, remove the lid and...carefully...mindfully...pick up each jar with your jar tongs and slowly dip each jar into the pot going around and finally the middle (if you are doing pints). Cover and set your timer for an hour and a half for quarts and 1 hour for pints. Kick back and enjoy a cocktail!
When the time is up there are a couple of options. Option 1: Maybe you are still canning! Way to go! Carefully...mindfully remove each jar and set them in a designated space to cool. Then load up round two. Option 2: You are DONE. Leave the jars in the bath and turn off the heat. Remove after the water has cooled slightly or simply remove them and let them cool. When they are cool tighten the rings and date/label them. Place them in your pantry to ogle and ah at and show off to friends.
Tip: I leave the water to cool and pour it over my compost or potted outdoor plants.
Warning: Canning is not always fool proof. You want to make sure each of your jars seals. You may hear "pings!" or pops after you remove your jars from the bath. Or they may come out sealed. If they do not seal you can add them back to the bath to try again. After a second round and no seal make them part of lunch or supper. Botulism occurs when the jars have not been properly sealed and you did not leave them in the bath long enough to kill any harmful bacteria. The reason why you boil the jars and food is to kill anything that may rot it and of course seal the jars.

Any questions? Email me!


By the way accidents do happen; in all my years of canning this was my first casualty. So take caution and be careful and no one gets hurt.