The Little Blogger who Can… Can.

This weekend was when we hit a lot of milestones – I had three ripe butternut squash sitting on the counter and more than 11 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer, so I decided to take the kitchen that Husband so lovingly cleaned and cover it in canning equipment and tomato guts. I also did some cooking and roasting of butternut squash, but I’ll save that for another day.

I knew I was starting at a disadvantage with the whole canning process, because I had too large jars and too small a pot, but I managed to fit 3 jars into my pot at a time, which was good. I cooked down the tomatoes with a little water for hours, maybe 3? because I hadn’t taken the skins off or cut them up much to begin with. I figure, when I want to use the sauce, I can chop up the sauce a little in the food processor if I don’t want it chunky. Then it was the old standby: clean jars and lids, sanitize jars and lids, add sauce, put lids on to finger tight, and process for whatever amount of time multiple blogs say is right (45 minutes was the consensus for mine).

For my first batch, I forgot the lemon juice until I realized they were already processing with the lids on, so I decided those would get used in the next couple of weeks and could live in the fridge. No one said your first canning experiment is perfect. But for the second batch, I mixed in tablespoons of lemon juice to get the acidity up and I think that will be enough. I really recommend following some old-school directions (from a box of mason jars, or from a canning cookbook) on this – there are so many steps in the process that could introduce germs/bacteria/something else into your tomatoes that it’s good to follow to the letter. I would prefer to throw more tomatoes into my next few meals than to save them all winter and find them moldy or full of poisonous substances.

Overall, I see the accomplishment people get from canning, but I also understand the impulse to just give away ripe tomatoes if you have too many, so that others can enjoy the garden flavors. It really isn’t a money saver, at least not this first year, but I liked the sense of accomplishment on what was otherwise a pretty lazy Sunday for me.


Canning Plans and Anxieties

Estimating my output of tomatoes this year has me somewhat excited: it looks like we’re going to get 200-300 cherry tomatoes and 50-100 San Marzano paste tomatoes. I’m excited that we raised the San Marzanos from seed, and that the cherry tomatoes all came from the same small seedling that Husband’s friend D sent us. However, we’re starting to hit the point in the harvest, as 10-15 cherry tomatoes come in each day and the San Marzanos are turning rosy, where I have to think about how to handle them.

I love a good tomato-based pasta sauce, especially now that I’m putting some sauces onto quinoa, so I am tempted to can my San Marzanos, which have a reputation for making a wonderful red sauce. I’ve seen lots of sites that say to just cook the tomatoes, add lots of lemon juice, and can them sterilely; I am tempted to do this, but it seems like so much work that I would need more than the few pounds of tomatoes I’m likely to pull this year. I don’t know if the tomatoes will ripen in a way that will make it possible to gather a big group and cook them down.

I also love sun-dried tomatoes, but I don’t know if there is a good way to make them fully dry and keep them on the shelf. I’m considering making a full-on tomato sauce and packaging it for freezing instead of room-temperature, but I think the quart-sized mason jars I have aren’t freezer proof… You can see I’m a bit at a loss. What is your favorite way to preserve tomatoes, in terms of ease of using down the road, ease of preparation upfront, and total flavor retention? I will certainly let you all know what I choose, because while I love a good story, I don’t have any childhood stories that connect to canning tomatoes… I bet my grandmother knows a little, though, so I think I might give her a call this weekend and find out if she’s got any tips.

Also… a small animal stole one of my beautiful, half-ripe san marzanos last night. I’m fine with critters eating in the garden a little, but he just bit it a bunch of times and left!!! Sigh. Sharing the world with animals, I suppose!