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.

Apples

It is apple-picking time. I love apples. My son will choose an apple over some kinds of candy (not all candy, but some). I love apples and I love biting into an apple that just came off the tree. And I mean, pick, wipe it on my shirt, and bite. We have a local orchard, Strawberry Hill that is fabulous. No frills. They aren’t about putting on a show. No hayrides; no corn maze. Just apples.

I thought about posting recipes for applesauce or apple butter, but they are a dime a dozen. Applesauce for me? Quarter the apples and put them in a pot with some water and let them cook until the turn into mush. Run it through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. BAM! Applesauce. And then take that, put it in the crock-pot. Mix in cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a little ginger. Let it cook on low for about 16 hours with the lid askew, stirring every so often. BAM! Apple butter.

Instead, I give you Apple Pie Filling. It cans up really well. The best apples for this are hard, tart apples, like Granny Smiths or Braeburns. My favorites are Arkansas Blacks, however, my neighbor, who is of advanced years, lets us harvest his Bellflower apples and they work exceptionally well for this recipe.

Apple Pie Filling

4 C evaporated cane juice

½ C Arrowroot powder

1 T cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

½ t ground allspice

¼ t ground clove

3 quarts of water

3 T lemon juice

6 -7 pounds of apples

In a large pot, combine the evaporated cane juice, arrowroot, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Mix well. Add the water and whisk everything together. Put on the stove, over a medium low heat and cook until the mixture becomes bubbly and thick. This could take 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut the apples into bite-sized pieces and pack them into quart-sized canning jars. I use a peeler/corer for this and it cuts the apples into big spirals. I just cut the spiral into quarters and then pack the prepared jars. Cover with the hot syrup, and then top the jars with prepared lids (always follow manufacturer’s instructions!).

Process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.

Peter Piper, Hands off!

DSC_0017Ah, the pickled pepper! For anyone who has grown hot peppers, you know that the plants are extremely prolific, providing more hot peppers that the average person could eat while they are fresh. This is why so many cultures count on dried peppers for heat. All one needs to do to dry a pepper is run a string through it and patiently wait until it is dry. Easy.
Another wonderful way to preserve peppers is to pickle them. I have two methods: a balsamic vinegar, which is better for sweet peppers, and a lacto-fermented that works best with hot peppers.

Pickled Hot Peppers

• 1 sterile canning jar and lid
• hot peppers, washed
• Brine to cover: 2T salt to each cup of non-chlorinated water
1. Stuff the peppers into the jar as tightly as you can without breaking them.
2. Cover with the brine.
3. Put the lid on the jar firmly (but not too tight).
4. Leave on a counter for 2 -3 days, until you see bubbles in the brine.
5. Move to the refrigerator. These will keep in the fridge for a year.

I do not recommend open jar or crock fermentation for these peppers because peppers float and they are hard to weight down below the brine level without breaking the flesh of the pepper.

Depending on the variety of pepper you use, these can get searingly hot. Because they are brined, they can be cut up and added to a variety of recipes to add heat without competing with the flavor palette of the recipe. You can also pull the stems and seeds and stuff them with cheese. Very tasty.

 

Pickled Sweet Peppers

• 10 lbs. sweet peppers, roasted , skinned, and seeded
• 10 cloves of garlic, peeled
• 2 C balsamic vinegar
• ½ C sugar
• ½ C olive oil
• 2 t salt
• 10 basil leaves, washed
1. Cut the peppers into strips.
2. Cut the garlic cloves in half.
3. Mix the balsamic, sugar, olive oil and salt until the salt and sugar dissolve.
4. Layer the peppers, garlic and basil leaves in a sterile jar.
5. Cover with the vinegar mixture.
6. Press to remove any air pockets. Place the lid on the jar and put it in the refrigerator. Leave for four weeks before eating. These will keep in the fridge for a year.

These are a great addition to any sandwich. Especially delicious on a grilled portabello, or a cheese steak.