Canning Tomatoes

If you’ve read my book, Ditching the Drive Thru, you know that the very first thing I ever preserved was tomatoes.  Every year, I spend quite a few mornings canning tomatoes.  I used to go through the tedious process of peeling all of the tomatoes, which is very time consuming and I would end up with pruney fingers that don’t go away for like a week.

One year, after canning something like 30 quarts of peeled tomatoes, I stood in the kitchen watching my husband squash up the canned tomatoes.  Every dish he made, he was squashing up the tomatoes that I had so painstakingly peeled and gently placed in jars.  It made me furious.  I finally asked him how many recipes he used that called for whole tomatoes.  He replied that most of them do, and the directions say to break them up.

Squeezo

Well, the heck with that.  The next summer, all of the tomatoes went through the Squeezo, that removes the skins and seeds and speeds up the whole process.  I mean no disrespect to the recipe writers, but if you are instructing people to break up the tomato in the directions of the recipe, what was the point of using a whole tomato in the first place?

Canning tomatoes is pretty easy, and since they are cheap this time of year, and they don’t really have a texture change if you have to re-process them, I feel as though tomatoes are a great place to begin your canning career!

 

 

Here is my method:

  1. Wash off the tomatoes, to remove any dirt, little bugs, etc.
  2. Fill a large pot about three quarters of the way full with tomatoes and cook until they are soft enough to put through a food mill.
  3. While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare your jars following manufacturer’s instructions. I keep my jars hot in the canner. Be sure to check the top of the jars for nicks.  I have found nicks on new jars, which was disappointing, but this important step can mean the difference between a jar sealing or not.
  4. When the tomatoes are ready, put them through the food mill. Do NOT put the seeds into your compost, or you will have volunteer tomato plants all over your garden! Put the pulp back on the stove and heat to a simmer. At this point I add ½ teaspoon of citric acid per quart of tomatoes, to insure they are acidic enough.
  5. Put the tomatoes in the prepared jars and process in a hot water bath, according these guidelines from Viriginia Extension Office.

Blueberry Conserve/Preserve

It isn’t every day and anyone ends up with more blueberries than she ever imagined would be sitting in her kitchen.  But that is where I found myself this year after having the excellent luck of a friend offering for me to pick at his family’s blueberry patch because nobody else would be using them.  I froze many for the winter.  I dried many more for the winter.  I then decided that maybe I would make some preserves and I tried a little experiment.  This takes a lot of blueberries and does not yield a lot of preserves.  However, the upside is that it uses only enough sugar to balance the tartness of your blueberries.  This is more of a technique than a recipe, and you can substitue any type of berries, or blend of berries.

The Technique

Put enough blueberries in a stainless steel (non-reactive) pot to fill about half way. Add about an inch or two of water and the juice of one lemon.  This will help prevent scorching as you begin to cook the berries.  Over medium heat, bring the berries up to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to low simmer, stirring frequently, until they have decreased in volume by about a third.  The fruit will be mushy and the mixture will look runny.  Add more blueberries until you have a little more than the original volume in the pot.  Cook these down until the volume decreases by one third.  Repeat the process until you have use all of your berries.

At this point, you need to watch the berries carefully and stir the pot a lot to prevent scorching.  Continue cooking the berries until mass becomes thick and spreadable.  If you are using honey to sweeten this, remove the preserves from the heat and add the honey to taste.  If you are using sugar or other sweetener, add it to taste, and continue stirring until all of the sweetener is dissolved.

Put the hot preserve into freezer-safe jars*, and cap it.  When it has cooled, put the preserve in the freezer, or store in the refrigerator, where it generally keeps well for 3-4 weeks.  Once it is defrosted, the jam keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.

Freezing Jars

Glass jars may crack in the freezer, so take some precautions:

  1. Use freezer-safe jars! These have straight sides (“jelly jars,” regular mouth half pints, wide mouth half pints, wide mouth pints).
  2. Leave more “head space” at the top of the jar.  When liquids freeze, they expand — the reason ice floats in your drink is because between the temperatures of 34 F and 32 F, water actually expands as its structure changes from liquid to solid.  Therefore, whatever you are freezing will take up more space in the jar than it did as a liquid.  If you do not give the liquid room to expand, it will break the jar as it freeezes.
  3. Be sure that the jar is completely cooled before moving it to the freezer.  I do this by allowing the contents to come to room temperature and then putting it in the refrigerator overnight before moving it to the freezer.

*Not all canning jars are freezer safe, so read the label of the case to be sure.

Living La Vita Locale: Plums

When I was little, I remember going to this farm stand on Route 130, on the North-bound side, that we accessed from a dirt driveway off of New Albany Rd.  I don’t know who owned the farm, but the driveway cut through fields of vegetables.  The thing I remember most was when the corn was there.  It could be the hottest of hot afternoons, and my mom would pull into that driveway and the corn towering up on either side created this shady lane.  There were trees toward the back of the property and at a certain point in the summer, there were little boxes of plums.  They were very dark red and the flesh was red on the very outside, but turned to bright yellow closer to the pit.  They were sweet and tart and I loved them.

One day, I was out walking one of the dogs and I saw all of these plums all over the ground and I thought, ‘Oh, how sad.  Someone dropped their plums.’  The next day, another neighbor asked me if I thought the guy who lived in the house was ever going to pick the plums.  I looked up from the fruit carnage and saw this little plum tree that was heavy with fruit.  We left a note in his mailbox, and he responded that we could pick the fruit.  So we did.

I dried some, made fruit leather out of some, and ate some fresh.  The next year, my neighbor had moved away, so I picked plums, more plums than I knew what to do with – dried a lot, made a lot of fruit leather, and then started experimenting with Plum Sauce.  This version is very good for quick Sweet and Sour sauce of an Asian-inspired flavor on chicken or pork, works as a dipping sauce for Chinese dumplings, and a base for Barbeque Sauce and Steak sauce (think that kind that has a letter and a number in the name).

Plum Sauce

  • 4 lbs. of plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ C honey
  • ½ C molasses
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced fine (you can cut back on this if you aren’t that fond of ginger)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t mustard
  • 2 jalapenos (seeded or not, depending on how hot you like things)
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the plums in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and boil hard 1-2 minutes.  Reduce the heat and add the plums.  Cook until the mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 ½ hours.
  2. Prepare canning jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Ladle plum sauce into prepared jars and process for 20 minutes.

This yields about 4 pints, but I generally process it in ½ pint jars because I usually use a cup at a time.

How can I use this?

Chicken or pork glaze, mix the sauce with an equal amount of soy sauce.

Quick BBQ Sauce, use ½ C Plum sauce, ½ C ketchup, ¼ C soy sauce, and 1 T of bourbon.

Steak sauce, use ½ C Plum Sauce, ½ C ketchup and 1 T of Worcestershire Sauce.

Concord Grapes

grapes & scaleMy neighbor does not yet have time to use the grapes growing on the vines in her yard. She has little boys to chase and enjoy, and at nap time, she is still napping to recover from all the chasing and enjoyment. We aren’t sure how old the vines are. I know that they have been there for at least three owners of the house, and the owner before the present one was there for 17 years. What I do know is that they put out a lot of grapes!

In about a half an hour, I picked 14 lbs. of Concord grapes. Some of this will turn into jelly, the rest into grape juice concentrate. I like to use liquid pectin for jelly because I don’t have to worry about it clumping or clouding the final product.

 

Grape Jelly

  • 3 lbs. of grapes, washed and stemmed
  • ½ C water
  • 7 C sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Place grapes in a large pot with the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Crush the grapes with a potato masher, or long handled meat tenderizer (I use the plunger from my grinder), and simmer another 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. Strain juice through a jelly bag (See Note below). Do not squeeze the bag!
  4. In a clean pot, measure 4 cups of the prepared juice.
  5. Stir in the sugar. Do not reduce the sugar if you are using standard pectin. If you want to reduce the sugar, use pectin made especially for low-sugar recipes!
  6. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred down.
  7. Quickly stir in the pectin, and return to a full rolling boil.
  8. Boil for exactly 1 minute.
  9. Turn off hear and let stand for 1 minute. Skim any foam from the top.
  10. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

Note: I used an old sheet and made jelly bags that fit inside my chinois. When I am done, I can throw the jelly bag in the washer and it gets completely clean – no pulp hanging on anywhere.

You can do a “second pressing” to make another batch of jelly: Return the pulp to the pot, and add ½ C of water. Bring up to a simmer and return it to the jelly bag. This time you can squeeze the bag to get all of the juice out of it. The result will taste great, but will be a little cloudy.

Grape Juice Concentrate

  • 10 lbs. Concord grapes, washed and stemmed
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 3 ½ C sugar
  1. Combine water and grapes in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes.
  2. Pour contents into a juice bag (I use one of my homemade jelly bags), and squeeze it until you get all of the juice out of it.
  3. Return the juice to the pot and add the sugar. Bring this to a full boil and boil for 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

To serve, dilute 1:1. My daughter likes to make grape soda by diluting the concentrate with seltzer.

Eggplant Pickle: Preserved Eggplant at its Best

I was at Fernbrook Farm’s CSA this morning, and much to my delight, there was a bounty of eggplant!  I love eggplant.  I love eggplant parm and this roasted eggplant dip my husband makes that has taken the place of baba ganoush on our table. I like eggplant that has been thick sliced, salted, and then cooked on the grill, dressed with a little olive oil.  But what to do when there is more eggplant than can be eaten fresh?  As far as I am concerned there is only one way to preserve eggplant and that is to pickle it.  Pickled eggplant is wonderful.  I have tried drying it, and while it did keep very well, I was never happy with the results I got using the rehydrated eggplant in recipes.

Here are my two favorite eggplant pickles.  One is a hot-water-bath processed pickle that can be kept in the pantry.  The other is a “raw pickle” and MUST BE REFRIGERATED!

Eggplant Pickles 1

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″x 1/2″x3″ sticks
  • 2 T sea salt
  • 3 C white vinegar
  • 1 C balsamic vinegar
  • Basil leaves
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 t whole peppercorns
  1. Salt the eggplant sticks, and toss them gently to distribute the salt.  Lay the sticks in one layer between on a cookie sheet covered with towels.  Cover with more towels and another cookie sheet, and put something heavy on top of the cookie sheet to press the excess water form the eggplant.  Let it rest for one hour.
  2. In a pan, heat both vinegars.
  3. Prepare jars.  In the bottom of the jar, add basil and garlic and peppercorns.  Add the eggplant sticks, being sure that the sticks are not taller than the 1/2 inch of head space needed.
  4. Cover the eggplant with the hot vinegar.
  5. Cover with lids and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Wait about three weeks before eating these!

Eggplant Pickles 2 (The Family Favorite)

  • About 2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1″x1/2″x1/2″ pieces
  • 2t salt
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves of garlic thinly slices
  • 1/2 t hot pepper flakes
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  1. Toss the eggplant with the salt and let drain in a colander for 12 hours (or overnight).
  2. Gently press the pieces to remove anymore water.
  3. Toss the eggplant with the vinegar and let stand 1 hour.
  4. In a jar, layer the eggplant with the garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes, pressing down to fit as much as you can in the jar.  Cover the top with olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight, and then check the oil level.  Add more oil if needed.
  6. Wait four to five days before eating, but 6 weeks is better.

Serve at room temperature.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a year.

Happy eggplant!!