Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Tomato Time!

Well, I've been slacking since last year's posts, but I have been taking pictures!

This topic - canning tomatoes. Canning tomatoes can be considered the easiest or the most obnoxious canning process, depending on how you look at it. Easy, because it's fairly failproof - follow a few simple instructions, only use tomatoes and lemon juice, or obnoxious because you're in a 100 degree plus kitchen with NO AC and 200lbs of tomatoes to can - all day summer sauna!

This will go through the steps of the intial preparation of tomatoes for most every canning recipe from stewed to salsa, sauce to ketchup. Tomato skins are tough and not very pleasant in sauces and such, and should be removed. The typical way is to heat a pot of water to boiling, put in a few tomatoes for a few seconds, then put them in ice water, then repeat over and over and over and over and over....

I like to do things a bit faster. I also hate dealing with transferring hot things across the counter or anywhere I can fumble them.

To start - tomatoes. This is a heap of a beefsteak variety "Mortgage Lifter" - they are big, meaty, and delicious. I also have a bunch of Amish Paste tomatoes that grew up from the seeds that fell last year. You want to use a good meaty or paste type tomato, or at least something that has a good flavor. Make sure they are ripe, not bruised, and bug free.

I fill my water bath canner with hot water from the tap, and then put on the stove, lid on, until it's boiling. I usually fill it about half way, maybe a bit more.

I have a double sink. On the side closest to the stove, I put a sinkful of tomatoes, with the drain plug closed. Make sure the tomatoes are about 2-3 inches below the top of the sink.I fill the other side with ice cold water - we have a well that runs very cold, so it's freezing out of the tap. If you don't have very cold water, dump some ice in there.

 Dump the boiling water - carefully! - into the sink side with the tomatoes, and fill up the sink. I use a metal slotted spoon to stir them gently around.

In a few moments, the skins will start to split and curl. Use the spoon to lift them out and transfer to the cold water. Do this until you've moved all of the tomatoes over. If they don't split after a minute or two, move them over anyway.

All the tomatoes moved! Drain the hot water from the sink - I again use the slotted spoon to lift up the drain plug. You'll only reach in bare handed once, I promise you!

I've put a colander in the hot water side, with the drain out, and not show in this picture is a bucket. Peel the tomatoes by gently pulling the skin off - it should slip off easily. Cut out the core and stem and discard.

The fun part -  squeeze the tomato! The seeds will come out, and sometimes with some force. I have had tomato seeds on the ceiling. A firm shake of the squeezed tomato will dislodge a lot of the seeds. Note - you might want to wear clothing that is ok to get stained - I usually end up with seeds on my shirt.

Put the squeezed tomato in the colander, and continue with the rest of the tomatoes. This is what you'll end up with. You can compost the tomato guts and skins if you'd like - I throw mine out to my chickens. They love it!

Now, you can carry on with your favorite recipe that calls for skinned/peeled tomatoes. You can dice them up for canning or salsa, run through a food mill for puree, or just pack them in quart jars with lemon juice and water bath can them.