Friday, May 18, 2012

Foodie Friday! Canning tomatoes

My favorite food as a kid was macaroni and tomato.  I thought it might be a Wisconsin thing but very few people have heard of it, in or outside of Wisconsin.  I got to eat it on a pretty regular basis due to the fact we canned our own tomatoes.  Last weekend I put up some tomatoes and ended up with 21 quarts and as promised, I’ve made a tutorial.  Tomatoes are very easy to can and its one of the few foods that is acidic enough that you can do it without a pressure canner.  Its advised that you at least use a water bath but sometimes I skip it.

Set up
If you put up one bushel you can expect to get 18-20 quarts.  To prepare, wash all of your jars, and use the sanitize setting on your dishwasher if available.  Put a small pot on to boil with enough water to cover the lids for all your jars.  Put a large pot, filled ¾ of the way with water, on to boil.  This one will be used to blanch the tomatoes.  Also put a cleaned, extra large stock pot on the stove so its ready when you are to the step to put the tomatoes in.  Fill your sink with cold water to cool the tomatoes after blanching.  Put ice cubes in the water to cool them faster if you like.

Blanching and Peeling
Put 4 or 5 tomatoes in the boiling pot of water until the skin cracks or about a minute.  Its not necessary for the skin to crack but it’s a good sign the tomatoes is ready.  You don’t want to cook the tomatoes through.  Transfer the blanched tomatoes to the cold water and let them cool until they can be handled.  With a paring knife, remove the core, skin and bad spots if there are any.  The skin should peel off pretty easy.  If it doesn’t, blanch the tomatoes for 30 seconds longer.

Cutting and cooking
You can cut the tomatoes however you like.  My mom likes to quarter them, I like to make them 8ths or even smash them with my hands.  Think about the recipes you will use them to decide how to cut them. Put the tomato chunks into the stock pot and turn it on medium heat.  It’s best to heat the tomatoes as you add them because it takes a long time to heat the whole pot full.  You’ll eventually want to bring it to a boil.  Continue blanching and cutting tomatoes, remembering to stir the pot, until your pot is full.  At this point you may turn the burner to a medium/high but keep stirring it and make sure the bottom doesn’t scorch.  Bring them to a boil for about 5 minutes.

The jars have to be hot when you fill them.  You can put them in the sink and fill them with hot water, or put them in a hot water bath or if you time it right, use them right after the dishwasher cycle ends. It’s best to use a funnel and a large ladle to scoop the tomatoes into the jars quickly and cleanly.  Fill to ¼ inch of the top of the jar, then with a butter knife, stir around to make sure there are no trapped bubbles.  With a clean cloth wipe the rim to make sure there isn’t anything that could prevent a seal.  Place a warmed lid on the jar and secure a ring on tightly. This is where you should do as I say and not as I do and put your filled jars of tomatoes in the hot water bath to process for 45 minutes.

Now set all your jars in a place where they can cool without being disturbed.  As they begin to cool and seal, you will hear the joyous sound of the lids popping into place.  When the jars are cooled to room temperature, test to see if they all sealed by pressing in the center of the lid.  If you press down and it pops back up, it hasn’t sealed. That jar should be put in the fridge and used within a week.  The sealed jars can now be moved to where they will be stored. 

This time I also put a tablespoon of lemon juice in some of the jars.  I heard that you won’t taste it, but it will increase the acidity, and keep the color brighter.  We’ll see how that turns out.  If the lemon is undetectable, it sounds like a good idea for when I don’t use a water bath or pressure canner.  In the years that my family has canned tomatoes, I don’t remember any going bad.

I hope you give this a try!  Even if you only put up 4 quarts when the grocery store has a sale, it’s better than nothing. Please ask if you have any questions.

-UPDATE- I have opened and tasted the tomatoes that I tried putting the lemon juice in.  I couldn't taste the lemon at all, and they tasted just like the ones without it.  Every one of the jars sealed fine and tasted great.  I only have one jar left to last me until next tomatoe season.  I won't be using the lemon juice option again just because I don't want to add the extra step.

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