Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Canning Tomatoes

We've picked a lot of tomatoes over the past couple days, so we decided to try making canned tomatoes. It was our first attempt, so I was a little nervous. While hubs was at his meeting tonight, I got started on the process. I apologize that I didn't think to take pictures of the first couple steps, so I'll try to describe as well as I can.

I used a canning recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. It had step-by-step illustrated instructions and was really helpful.

First and one of the most important steps is to get your canning supplies ready.

Place your jars into your canner after washing them (make sure you're not using any that have cracks or nicks). Cover them with water. Set your oven element temperature to medium-high heat. This will sterilize them and keep them good and hot. It will also get your water temperature to just under a boil, reducing the amount of them it takes for the water to reach the boiling state when you're ready to can. Also, place your lids into a saucepan over low heat (do not boil). Use the simmer setting on your stove. This will prepare the sealing copound on the rim of the lids.

(Not pictured, sorry I wasn't thinking): Using fresh tomatoes free of cracks & blemishes, wash your tomatoes. Place in a wire basket and put your wire basket into a large pot of boiling water. I used a double boiler specially-made for pasta. The pot the tomatoes sat in is actually a colander, so the water would drain out easily. After putting your tomatoes into the boiling water, blanche for 30-60 seconds. This quick boiling time will help loosen up the skins of the tomatoes for you.

After the 30-60 seconds of blanching/boiling time is up, pull out your colander or wire basket and immediately place your tomatoes into a large bowl or pan of cold water. Using a paring knife, slip off the skins and cut out the core.

The next step is kind of up to you. After peeling the skins & coring, you can leave the tomatoes whole or you can cut them in half or quarter them. Above are some of my tomatoes that are now skinless but still whole.

I went ahead and quartered all my tomatoes.

Next, place your tomatoes back into your pot. Here they are without water. I put them in the double boiler/colander to prevent burning.

Cover your tomatoes with water and boil. You could crush the tomatoes and cook them in their own juice, but the canning process is about twice as long. For a shorter canning time, use water instead. I had a stock pot that was already boiling with water, so I just put the double boiler/colander right inside so the tomatoes were "good to go!" For tomatoes canned in water, they'll need to gently boil for 5 minutes.

By this stage in the canning process, hubs had come home. My favorite show, Ghost Hunters, was about to come on, so he took over. It's the only show on TV that I care to watch, so I try not to miss it. But I managed to take some more pictures to help illustrate the process and was able to see the start of my show just in time. :)

It would definitely behoove you to buy a jar lifter. This looks like a modified set of tongs. It's designed to fit around your jars and lifte them out of your hot canner without burning you. Your jars, which were covered in water heating up on the stove, will need to be emptied of water and placed on a dish towel on your counter. The dish towel prevents your counter from getting burned by the hot jar. We had our dish towel and canning materials right next to the stove so everything was conveniently on-hand.

Use a ladel to scoop your tomatoes out of their pot and pour them through a canning funnel into your jars. The funnel helps keep the tomatoes & juice from splashing around.

Add 1 Tbsp of bottled lemon juice to each pint of tomatoes (or 2 Tbsp to each quart). The lemon is needed to correct the pH of the tomatoes to ensure all the little microorganisms are killed off during the canning process.

Add 1 tsp of salt. This step is optional, but it does season your tomatoes a little bit. We added sea salt since it's a healthier alternative to traditional table salt.

(Next steps not pictured, sorry): Pack your tomatoes in good into your jar, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace (that's the amount of space between the top of the water level and the top of the jar. If needed, add some water to your jar. Use a nonmetallic spatula and press gently against your tomatoes to get out any trapped air bubbles.

As soon as everything looks "good", use a lid wand to pull a lid out of the simmering pot of lids on your stove. The lid wand has a magnetic end, so it will easily grab a lid instead of your fingers trying it & getting burned.

Place the lid on the jar and screw down a band until it's fingertip tight. Use your jar lifter and place the jar back into your canner pot. Then repeat these steps with an empty jar until all jars are filled, or you run out of tomatoes.

Cover your canner with a lid. When hubs started filling the jars, I bumped the dial up to high to ensure the water would be good & ready when it was time for the water bath. After the water comes to a rolling boil, set your time for 40 minutes for pints, or 45 minutes for quarts.
My canner was this year's birthday present from hubs and the kids. It also functions as a pressure cooker, but I haven't had enough green beans or anything else in order to pressure cook anything this year.

My canner did, however, really come in handy for making pickles this year! We've made a couple batches of kosher dill (1st batch is pictured above) and hubs surprised me by using up the last of our cucumbers (we pulled up the dying plants right after picking the last cukes) to make bread & butter pickles earlier this week while I was at work.

After your canning time is done, turn off the heat, remove the lid from your canner, and carefully lift each jar out using your jar lifter.

Place the jars onto a dish towel on your counter. Leave about 2 inches of space between the jars to allow air to circulate and cool them off. Don't retighten the bands until the jars have cooled 12-24 hours.

It's really amazing when the sealing compound sets the lids. You'll hear them "pop!"

After your jars have cooled, check the lids for a good seal by pressing down on the lids. They should not flex if there's a good seal. Double-check by removing the bands and gently use your fingertip to try to remove the lid. If it doesn't flex and you can't lift the lid, then it has a good seal. Replace the band and label the lid. You can use a fancy label you print from your computer, or simply use a sharpie marker and write on the lid. The lids cannot be reused, so it won't hurt anything to write on the lid.

I can't wait until the morning comes to see if all my lids have set correctly. We learned that we could have packed the jars a little better with tomatoes (see picture above, all the tomatoes floated up towards the top). Oh well, you live, you learn. I think we did a good enough job for our first tomato canning experience. :)

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