It’s been a hectic summer, seems like every weekend we’ve had something going on, but it’s been fun too. By the time you read this, it’ll be September and we’ll be winding down, hopefully!!!
One of the tasks we’ve set ourselves for the fall, has been to do some canning. Tomatoes, of course, like we did last year only we’ll be canning tomato puree this year rather than pieces. Marina has plans to do corn and probably a couple of other things as well, so I thought this month, that’s what I’d talk about.
The most important thing we’re doing of course is tomato puree, ready for making sauces and for adding to a lot of the other dishes we make.
First in order of importance is the tomato puree we’ll be making. You may recall last year that we canned whole tomatoes that we peeled and quartered, but for most of the cooking we do, pureed tomatoes are much more commonly used.
- Select firm, regular shaped, ripe tomatoes that have no blemishes, bruises or cracks. When selecting your tomatoes, keep in mind that tomatoes that feel heavy for their size will be the juiciest. For best results, use vine ripened tomatoes, not tomatoes from dead or frost-killed vines.
For best results, we blanche the tomatoes till the skins just start to crack, then remove them from the water and allow them to drain for about five minutes.
Now, there’s all matter of ways to crush your tomatoes once they’ve been blanched. We use an electric machine that is made specifically for canning tomatoes. If you’re going to be doing this regularly, then it’s a worthwhile investment, but they do have manual machines as well, and failing that, peeling and quartering them for canning (see last September’s column) will work too then you can just put them through your food processor for use in your recipes.
We usually pass the tomatoes through the crusher twice. Now let me explain how we do this. The crusher has two output ends, one end from which the crushed tomatoes pour out and the other end for the seeds and skins. Usually, the first pass yields seeds and skins with quite a bit of pulp, so we put these through the crusher again and mix them thoroughly into the fist “virgin” pressing so we get a uniform consistency. Season generously with salt and pour into sterilized jars into which you have already placed generous amounts of fresh basil or marjoram. Seal to finger tightness and set aside. Once you’ve completed the process with all your tomatoes, place the jars in your canner and process in a boiling water bath for forty-five minutes AFTER the water has reached a boil. Remove the jars from the canning water, turn them upside down and allow them to cool for 24 hours. Once they’ve cooled, flip them over, check seals and store in a cool dark place.
Now at our house, this is a weekend affair. We usually make it a group effort with one or two of my girlfriends and I doing all our tomato canning for the next year, usually the September long weekend. The kids all get involved too. There’ve been times when we’ve done as many as 15 bushels of tomatoes in a weekend. I think this year we’re looking at probably at least that, perhaps even more. We get on average about 13 qt jars to each bushel so when we do our boiling water bath, we’re outside using drums over propane burners. It’s fun. We make it a family affair, everyone pitches in and everyone loves having the fruits of their labour throughout the winter.
Marina also has plans to can corn and my friend Helen wants us to pickle hot peppers (we’re both majorly into hot peppers with EVERYTHING), plus I’m thinking about pickled green tomatoes, so I thought I’d include those recipes as well.
- We can the little Tabasco peppers. They’re about two to three inches long, about the width of your baby finger and best when they’re green just turning red.
To prepare them, just slice them into rounds about ¼” thick, seeds and all. Season them liberally with salt and place them in a colander, cover with tea towel and weight, I usually use a 3l can of olive oil. Set into your kitchen sink or a large bowl and leave overnight to macerate and drain. The next morning turn the peppers into a large bowl and pour a liberal amount of vinegar over them. Mix well to make sure they’re well coated and leave in a cool place covered with a clean tea towel and weighted again over night. In the morning, drain them, season them with olive oil and pack tightly into jars. I use 250 ml jars. Cover with about a tablespoon of olive oil and seal the jars finger tight. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.
- Coincidentally, the process for pickled green tomatoes is the same. I prefer to use green Roma tomatoes and make sure they’re totally unblemished. Slice then about 1/8” think and do the same salt and then vinegar macerating as I do with the peppers. When I season them prior to canning, I also add some red chili pepper flakes.
As far as canning corn goes, the method most prescribed is to pressure can. I have a Bernardin book that I follow religiously for that kind of thing. There are too many things that can go even slightly wrong and as far as I’m concerned Bernardin is the authority on canning. Their book, Bernardin’s Guide to Home Preserving, is available almost anywhere that sells canning supplies at this time of year, or check out their web site at www.homecanning.com.
- After going to the farm and picking our tomatoes, we spread them out on cardboard on the garage floor for a few days before we begin processing them. One of the things I love to do with the season’s ripe tomatoes is to make tomato salad. I start with nice firm, not too ripe tomatoes, which I select from those spread out in the garage, and cut them into rough chunks. The next ingredients are absolutely essential: Vidalia or red onion thinly sliced, hot yellow pepper in dices, diced celery. Add to taste any or all of cucumber, sweet pepper and diced anise. I usually dress it simply with virgin olive oil, generous salt (tomatoes love salt), pepper and chopped fresh basil from the garden. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of fresh crushed garlic. Serve it with lots of crusty bread. Sometimes, if I’m looking to make it into more of a meal, I’ll add a tin of tuna to it, or some diced cooked chicken. It makes a nice lunch or light supper.
Okay . . . that’s it for another month . . . take care, have fun and see you here next month.
Thought for the month: It may be true that a watched pot never boils, but the one you don’t watch will sure mess up your stove.TTFN!