Monday, July 26, 2010

Let the Canning Begin! Tomatoes

My husband grows an amazing garden.  I cook and can.  It's a match made in heaven.  Yesterday, we picked 4 lbs of green beans, 5 lbs of tomatoes and at least 6 lbs of cucumbers.

Today I canned tomatoes.  Figure on 1 pound of tomatoes for each pint jar.

Assemble your equipment:
This looks like a lot of equipment, but a package of jars will come with lids and rings and you can buy a canning kit for around $15 that will contain all the items I've marked with an asterisk*.  There are even coupons available! Canning kit 6/6 Red Plum newspaper insert. Jars, lids, rings 6/27 Red Plum.

heat proof working surface
tall stock pot
a rack that will fit inside the stock pot
deep saucepan
canning jars (pint), washed and inspect to be free of cracks or chips
canning lids
canning rings
jar tongs*
canning funnel*, optional but nice
spider spatula (looks like a spider web) or large slotted spoon
large bowl full of ice and water
large bowl to put the peeled tomatoes in
garbage bowl to put the skins and cores in
large rimmed cookie sheet
cutting board that will fit inside the rimmed cookie sheet to catch the juice
small thin non-metallic spatula*
hot pads
dish towels that can be stained
paper towels

Assemble your ingredients:
fresh tomatoes
lemon juice (bottled)
canning salt (optional)

You will use the stock pot to water bath (boil) the filled jars.  Place the rack inside the stock pot; fill 2/3 full with water, cover and heat. Using the jar tongs, carefully plunge the jars into the tall stock pot, allowing them to fill with water.  Cover and boil to sterilize jars while you prepare the tomatoes.

You will use the smaller pot to scald the tomatoes.  Fill 2/3 full with water, cover and bring to boil.  Wash tomatoes in plain cold water and pull off the stems and calyxes (green).  If any tomatoes have split skins, set them aside to use fresh today.  Split tomatoes spoil rapidly.  Using one in canning may ruin the entire batch.

Place the cutting board inside a rimmed cookie sheet. It will catch the tomato juice.

When the water in the smaller pan comes to a boil, lower 4-5 tomatoes into the water.  When the skins split, remove with spider spatula into the bowl of ice water.

Leave it in the ice water for a minute or two or until you can pick it up with your bare hand.  Pull on the skin; it will slide right off.  Put the skins in the garbage bowl. When all the tomatoes in the pan have been put in the ice water, add 4 or 5 more tomatoes to the simmering water.

Cut the peeled tomatoes into chunks, putting them into a bowl as you cut them. Cut away any green parts and discard.  Sometimes you will find mold inside a tomato near the seeds.  Throw the entire tomato away; wash the knife and cutting board before continuing.

Repeat the process until all tomatoes have been peeled and chunked.  Turn off the heat on the smaller pan, you won't use it any more.

Using the jar tongs, remove one jar from the stock pot and pour its' water back into the pot.

Place the jar on your heat proof working surface.  Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon canning salt (if using) and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to the jar.  The lemon juice assures that the acidity of the tomatoes is safe for water bath canning.  The salt is purely for seasoning and can be omitted.  (I don't use salt in tomatoes).

Using your impeccably clean hands (or a spoon) and canning funnel, add chunked tomatoes to the jar, pressing down so that the juice comes up.  Leave 1/2" space between the top of the tomatoes and the top of the jar.

Release any trapped air bubbles by working the thin non-metallic spatula between the inside of the jar and the tomatoes, while pressing the tomatoes down to keep them from spilling out.  Repeat until all tomatoes are in jars.

Put the rings and lids in the stock pot to sterilize them. 
Wet a paper towel and wipe clean the rims and threads of the jars.

Carefully remove one lid at a time and without touching the inside of the lid or jar, place on jars.  Remove one ring at a time and screw onto jar just until finger tight (first sign of resistance).  You don't want them so tight that the air can't escape - your jar will shatter or the air pressure will blow the contents out.

Once all jars are full, wiped, lidded and ringed you are ready to water bath process (boil) them.

The water in the stock pot must be boiling.
Using the jar tongs, carefully place each jar into the stock pot. 
Take care that the jars have space between them, so they don't knock together and so that water can freely circulate.
The water will stop boiling while you are loading the jars.
After all jars are in and the water returns to a boil, start timing.
Process for 10 minutes (pint jars).
Spread out a kitchen towel on your heat proof surface.
When the time is up, turn off the burner and carefully remove the jars.
Set them on the kitchen towel and cover with another towel to cool slowly.

When the jars have cooled, check for seal by pressing down on the center of each lid.  If the lid moves, REFRIGERATE AND USE WITHIN A COUPLE DAYS. Don't attempt to reprocess - it will be over-cooked.
Label the jars with the date and contents.  It's remarkably easy to forget what is inside the jars.  Hmm - tomatoes? salsa?
Store in a cool, dry, dark place.  Like shelves in your basement.

If when opened, the tomatoes don't look right (foamy, moldy) or smell right DON'T TASTE, throw them away.  It's not worth your health.
That being said, I've only had 1 batch of tomatoes go bad.  I used a tomato with a split skin.  Three days after canning, the jars of tomatoes looked foamy.  Out they went!

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