Canning: a day of tomatoes

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 Two years ago I decided I would make tomato sauce from scratch and freeze it for use all winter. A genius plan, no? It was and it was great but the process and my thinking needed a bit of tweaking. For one thing, my kitchen is TINY. No canning/freezing should take place in there. Nope, none at all. Second, I don’t exactly have a giant freezer in my tiny kitchen. I have the standard two-cubic-feet kind of freezer on top of a refrigerator. So, not great for storing a ton of frozen goods. Long story short, I got about 8 containers of sauce and it took up most of the freezer. My parents, however, have a sizeable basement for storage and a ton of empty canning jars. Clearly canning was a good idea.

My mom, with her special canning utensil. Do you see the little notch under
thumb? That’s to lift out the rack that holds the cans in the pot. Also, it’s
a ruler AND it says “Governor’s Fire Prevention Day.” Awesome.


So last year we embarked on what’s become a bit of an annual tradition. Canning tomato sauce and making salsa. My mom used to make salsa pretty often and it’s good, but she’s Norwegian and handles zero amount of spice. So we use her recipe and then jazz it up a bit, adding jalapenos, habaneros, and cilantro. The cilantro, of course, doesn’t add any spice but I LOOOOOVE cilantro so it was a must-have in my salsa. I don’t have the recipe on hand but I do have plenty of pictures so you can see how giant the batch was that we made of each. Although, towards the end of the night I got tired and just wanted to finish so I kind of forgot to take pictures of all of the cans lined up. Sorry about that, just imagine quart sized jars of sauce and pint sized jars of salsa. I think we got 13 jars of sauce and something like 19 of salsa. Hopefully this will last us all year or else we’re going to have to increase our measurements next year and that’s bound to take us even longer.

Mom, aka Non, hard at work.

Canning takes a LONG time. Mostly because you don’t want to go through all that effort for 4 jars of something right? We had either 2 or 3 bushels of tomatoes and there are a lot of steps in canning. Here’s a basic rundown for salsa:

Wash the tomatoes
Boil the tomatoes until the skin breaks
Peel and seed the tomatoes
Chop the tomatoes
Chop the peppers
Chop the onions
Chop the garlic
Chop the cilantro
Chop the hot peppers
Chop chop chop chop chop.
I highly recommend using a hand chopper for the garlic and hot peppers
Mix it all together with seasoning (salt, pepper, sugar, lemon juice, cayenne, etc.)
Cook until heated
Ladle into jars
Boil in canning pot for 10 minutes
Remove from boiling water and let cool, but under a blanket/towel so they don’t catch a draft. I don’t know what happens if they do catch a draft, but my mother and her mother warn against it so I just assume it’s one of those things best left untested. Cover them up and wait for the lids to seal.

Delicious, delicious salsa…and my cousin’s very photogenic hand. Excellent
for demonstrating!

Roma’s are excellent for sauce because they’re a ‘meaty’ tomato, meaning you
get a thick sauce out of them. But you have to use regular round tomatoes
too to get any kind of yield. All of these romas only produced two quarts and
two pints of sauce!

Three of us were working, and Senor made his cameo just in time to chop the hot stuff up (and send us all choking. Fresh habaneros? Catch you in the throat). It still took several hours to do all of this and a lot of knives, cutting boards, and bowls. Definitely work in team formation if you want the canning to be smooth and speedy. Everyone should have their own cutting board, knife, project, etc. Make sure you have bowls on hand to put your scraps in and make sure you have a container in which you can seal the hottest peppers once they’re chopped. AND make sure you SEED the hot peppers because I’m pretty sure if you didn’t, your mouth would catch on fire the first time you tried to eat your salsa.

Senor, after chopping the habaneros. Wear gloves. They burn.
Non, instructing my cousin on the proper way to chop a pepper.  

After we cooked, ladled and canned ALL of the salsa, we moved on to the tomato sauce. We had a lot of tomatoes left and they all had to be rinsed, chopped, cooked, and then run through a food mill. A food mill is just a metal sauce pan with holes in the bottom and a smasher/scraper that you crank manually. All the sauce drips through but the skins and seeds are mostly trapped in the mill. Suffice it to say, it took several hours to get through everything because after chopping, boiling, milling, ladling, boiling the jars and taking them out, it was late.

The Foley Food Mill, hard at work. And beow, delicious sauce!

By the end of the night when I was pulling the last of the cans out of a boiling pot of water, I was ready for bed and it was only about 8:30. I took zero pictures of the ladling process because, well, I was too busy. Luckily though, I can tell you that the salsa is delicious and the tomato sauce is great.

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One Comment on “Canning: a day of tomatoes”

  1. Jessica says:

    >I really need to learn how to can, your tips will give me a push! Hard to believe those romas don't give off much sauce love, there so tasty.


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