Sunday, September 25, 2011

Canning Tomatoes

I thought it was high time just to DO IT and CAN.

I have watched my grandmother and mother can, helped my mother and cousin can pears a couple of years ago, watched Anais and Jordanne Dervaes give canning workshops to junior high and high school students, but I had never canned a batch of something all by myself.

So, I had some tomatoes that needed dealing with (not grown by me, however) and thought it was a good opportunity to go through the steps of actually I would know what it takes. There is NOTHING like direct, hands-on, fully responsible experience for learning.

I started by cleaning my kitchen, reading the instructions and recipe and going to the store to buy a few ingredients I didn’t have on hand.

Next, I collected the various pieces of equipment I needed. Because this was the first time, it took a while and seemed like a lot.

From left to right (all available at Urban Homestead Supply):
Food Mill
Food Scale
Bamboo Cutting Board
Canning Kit, including recipe book and utensil set.

After gathering the equipment and sharpening the knives, I began sorting and weighing the tomatoes.

First lesson experience teaches: estimating poundage of produce. The recipe called for 45 pounds of tomatoes. I thought for sure I had that much—NOT. I barely made it over 15 pounds by adding some heirloom tomatoes in addition to the yellow tomatoes. I did know that non-paste tomatoes are not the best choice for canning—they are too watery—and, oh my, did that prove true! But, I was dealing with the produce I had on hand, that would go to waste if it was not processed.

Then I started washing the tomatoes. This colander was really handy!

My kitchen is quite small, so it worked well to pivot between the sink and opposite counter to wash and cut up the tomatoes.

I had used over15 pounds knowing that some weight would be reduced because of the trimmings. I had about 2 pounds of cut out bits. (Question: If the recipe calls for 15 pounds, is that before or after the produce is processed?)


Second lesson: 15 pounds is PLENTY unless you have more people to help prepare the produce (or tons of time) and a HUGE pot (or more than one smaller pot) to cook down the tomatoes.

I consulted my Gourmet cookbook for the correct way to cut an onion, figuring this was a good time to practice. But I had forgotten how strongly onions affect my eyes now that I no longer wear contacts! So, I hurriedly lit a candle to try mitigate the fumes.

Then the cooking started...and the main lesson of the day: THINGS ALWAYS TAKE MORE TIME THAN I THINK THEY WILL!! Especially the cooking down of (very liquidy) tomatoes.

The recipe called for straining the tomatoes after cooking for 20 minutes.

I tried a couple ladle-fulls but decided to skip that step this time—I needed all the bulk I could get! (But the food mill will be handy for plenty of other recipes.)

I started sautéing the onions and garlic around 3:30 p.m. And, FIVE HOURS LATER, finished cooking down the tomatoes (although still rather watery) at 8:30 p.m.!!

Meanwhile, I had prepped the jars and lids.


I didn't quite understand how the rack was supposed to be used by just reading the description. However, afterwards, I saw the picture and understood the rack is supposed to be set on the rim of the canner while you load the jars. Next time....

Filling up the pint jar after having added one tablespoon of lemon juice.

Ready to go into the water bath canner.

Ready to be boiled for 35 minutes.

All done! The lids "popped" almost immediately after the jars came out of the canner. When they cooled, I also took off the bands to double-check the seal of the lids. Requisite shots of canned goods ready to be stored for winter.

Final lesson learned: Use a good camera. I was too tied up with all the steps involved that I just grabbed the easy-to-handle small camera. But I don't think the flash was powerful enough. Next time....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Canning Pears

I recently visited my parents for a couple of weeks in Washington State. While there, the late summer/early fall fruit crops were in full production: pears, blueberries (still), grapes, prunes, and varieties of apples.

My mother and I canned one batch of pears and then my cousin came a couple days later to put up a batch for her family. (Notes for myself to remember how to do this!)

The differently-shaped pear tree.

The pears were picked while they were still green and stored in the root house. Then one night, about a week later, they suddenly turned yellow and were just right for preserving (still firm, not soft).

A selection of the best.

Pears quartered, peeled, cored, and soaking in salt water.

Seven carefully packed jars. Make sure the curved side of the pear pieces is facing up (easier to accomplish in wide-mouth jars; otherwise, fish around with a fork in narrow-mouth jars to turn the pears, if necessary).

Start the canner water heating (don't fill it full yet); boil the lids; heat the sugar water/syrup mixture; heat water in the tea kettle to add to the canner later.

Add the sugar water to the jars, a "light" syrup of 1 cup sugar to 3 cups water. For seven quarts, 3 cups sugar and 9 cups water was more than sufficient. Fill to about one-quarter inch from the top making sure the pears are covered. Also, add one teaspoon of lemon juice to each jar. Then wipe the rim clean, place the sterilized lid on the jar, and screw on a band as tightly as possible.

Place jars in canner.

Fill canner with water so that it covers the jars. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 25 minutes.

Carefully remove the jars from the canner using a jar lifter and place away from drafts to cool.

Listen for the "pinging" sound of the lids sealing. (My mother used to can on this electric side of this wonderful old stove until it shorted last summer after a canner boiled over and the water rusted through the old wires sometime later causing a fire to start. Fortunately, my parents were home and were able to unplug the stove and put out the fire.)

After the jars are cooled and sealed, remove the bands and store for the winter!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2007 summer garden

After letting my garden plot rest over the winter, yesterday I planted half of it: bush beans; lettuce; radishes; cilantro; chard; and carrots.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

State of the garden

While the garden does not look as lush as it once did, I'm still enjoying its vegetables—chard, carrots, and cherry tomatoes. The yellow wax beans are producing a few beans as a second crop, and the green pole beans look like they might produce a second crop, too. I don't spend much energy or time "tending" the garden. I water it in the evening, and that's it.

I have learned that chard keeps producing. I cut off leaves as I want to eat them, and more grow in their place.

The tomato plant is sickly looking, and something appears to have eaten the top of it. However, it is still producing tomatoes quite abundantly.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Backyard improvements

This morning I took advantage of the day off work mid-week and, before it got too hot, transported a pile of medium-sized chunks of junk concrete and broken bricks and lined them up alongside the house. I didn't know what else to do with them as they are not supposed to be disposed of in the regular trash. And it's not as though this side of the house is very pretty to begin with....

Because there is only a one-foot pathway between my garden plot and the retaining wall, and because I don't have a wheelbarrow anyway, I made numerous trips from the back to the side of the house carrying concrete in a strong cloth bag.

Next, I put all the little concrete pieces in two garbage sacks one inside the other and stored the sack in my garage.

Now I had space to assemble and display a new fire pit. This is not something I probably would have purchased, but a few months ago, I got an offer of a gift from my company for working there ten years. Now, I have worked on and off for ten years, and although I don't have seniority when it comes to extra vacation time, I guess the ten years count for something.

There were a number of items from which I could choose—watches, jewelry, electronics, silverware sets, and an outdoor fire pit. Having recently enjoyed an outdoor fire in the evenings at PTF and inspired by my boarding school "big sister's" outdoor fire at her chai parties, I selected the Coleman 30-inch round copper fire pit.

It was easy to assemble, and the clothes drying on the lines shaded me as the morning sun grew hotter.

Now I need to start collecting wood. Because I don't have a drivable car or a bicycle trailer, I've had to ride by wood pallets free for the taking alongside the road.

A couple weeks ago, I finally planted my bougainvillea vine. It had lost most of its leaves/flowers, but already is looking better for being directly in the ground. As I was digging, I came upon another huge rock (see foreground of fire pit picture), which I dug out. I used a few other large rocks to make a simple border around the bed.