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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Homesteading: Canning Tomato Sauce

While the great debate about the sustainability of canning versus freezing, or any other method of food preservation rages on, I have to admit that I am still going to can tomato sauce, because that is one thing I need to have year 'round.  I appreciate trying to eat what's in season when it's in season, but missing pizza night for lack of sauce just isn't negotiable.  So can sauce it is.  And if you're putting up something for a full year's frequent use, you're homesteading in my book.

Yesterday was a canning day for tomatoes and I thought I'd write about how I do them, because I'm generally lazy and don't want to fuss too much, so maybe this would be of use to you.

Start by sterilizing your jars in the dishwasher on a hot cycle, or wash them in hot, soapy water and rinse them really well, and then pop them into a 250 degree oven for as long as it takes you to process the tomatoes and get your canner boiling, which will probably be around thirty or so minutes.  I mention both ways because I do it both ways.  While the jars are sterilizing, it's a good time to fill your water bath canner and get it heating as well.  Also at this time, get a largish pan of water in the stove heating and get your rings and lids in it.  I always put the rings in first and then the lids so that I can cover everything with a lid first, and then with the rings. It makes getting the lids out first with that stupid little magnetized lid-lifter a whole lot easier.

Big: Burbank Slicing;  Little: High Carotene
This year's tomatoes were ridiculously little. A great many of the High Carotene were the size of cherry tomatoes, and some were even the size of grape tomatoes, and a few were as large as plums, but not a lot.  High Carotene was supposed to be an heirloom, high acid canning tomato.  I won't be doing them again.  Plus, they were really full of great big seeds.

Burbank Slicing, showing almost no seeds and lots of flesh
I planted Burbank Slicing tomatoes for a salad and sandwich tomato, but will probably do them again for canning purposes.  According to the Territorial Seed Co., catalog, this tomato was developed by Luther Burbank around 1915, and was the only variety that he raised for canning.  It also describes the tomato as being a very deep majestic red color and having a traditional bold tomato flavor.  What I can tell you is that it is a very delicious tomato indeed and has very few seeds and seems to be mostly made up of flesh.  So I will be doing Burbank again, in addition to the early types I mentioned in an earlier post.

Eight quarts of tomatoes
After gathering the fruits, I wash them under a slow stream of running water, taking care to rub off all the schmutz, and then de-stem and pop them into the soup pot.  I never bother skinning them because I'm not going to can them whole anyway, so why go to the trouble?  Once the tomatoes are all in the pot, I turn up the heat under them and cook them soft and squishy.  You can add a little water to get them going but don't overdo it.

This handle hurts; get a solid one
Once they're cooked down soft and squishy, they get run through the food mill until only a pomace of skin and seeds is left, which is picked out with a pair of tongs.  (The High Carotenes seriously made up for what seeds the Burbanks didn't have, which is another good reason not to plant them again.)  I put the sauce back on the stove to cook down a little, but not much, because I don't want to waste too much time or gas.  I find that cooking down a pint of sauce at a time on pizza day is faster and uses less gas than trying to reduce it all before canning.  That way, too, if I want the sauce for making soup instead, it's ready to go.

Four quarts of tomato sauce
I get my hot jars out of the oven using a jelly roll pan for a tray and set them where I can get at them.  Using a canning funnel and a ladle which I set in with the boiling lids for a few minutes, I carefully ladle tomato sauce into the pint jars to the bottom line of the threads.  Each half pint then gets a half-teaspoon of canning/pickling salt, and a tablespoon of lemon juice, which helps with the preservation and acidity of the sauce, and keeps it from being too sweet on its own.  Then I dunk a clean paper towel in the boiling water and wipe off the rims of all the jars.   I next carefully pop on the lids and rings, and everything gets screwed down as tight as I can get it, but not too tight- I don't have a lot of hand strength, so I'm not in too much danger of over doing it.  But if you've never destroyed your grip by hyper-extending your thumb trying to break a piece of oak kindling for a barbecue, take it easy.  You need to leave room for the bubbles to escape during processing, which will create the vacuum while the jars are cooling.

Then the jars are lifted into the now boiling water bath canner and are processed at a full, rolling boil for thirty minutes.  Once they're done processing and I take them out of the water bath, they are placed on a towel on a tray (the jelly roll pan again) and are left to cool out of the way of drafts and breezes for twenty-four hours, and then they're labeled and put away.

This method works well for what we need tomatoes for, and that's just a big bunch of sauce for making pizzas, or maybe the occasional pasta sauce.  It also works for making catsup, which is only a little more involved and well worth the effort.  We're still eating last year's catsup which was excellent, although we're nearing the end of it.  So, since I've determined that I'll never buy catsup at the store again, organic or otherwise, I guess I'd better save a batch of tomatoes for making catsup for this year.

It's now only a matter of time and the end of tomato season will be upon us, particularly as it seems we are in for an early fall this year.  If frost threatens and you have a whole bunch of green tomatoes left on the vine, don't harvest them and risk they won't ripen.  Instead, pull up the whole plant and hang it upside down in a shed or the garage. You'll get more to ripen that way, maybe even all of them.

Tomato sauce is a huge staple in my pantry, so getting tomatoes grown and processed for it takes up a pretty good chunk of my time.  I like the fact that I grew them and cooked them and canned the sauce, and I like the fact that I'm reusing the jars and will do it again next year.  It's all hard work, but worth it, I think.


Toni aka irishlas said...

I didn't get but a few tomato's this year out of 16 plants. I normally can sauce and salsa plus freeze some.

I have tomato envy...

Nina said...

You sterilize and heat your jars in the oven? My sister and I use the canner water. When it comes to a bowl we drop everything in (lids & rings, too). Wait for it to come back to a boil and then remove everything and fill. Then once filled with lids & rings on they go back into the canner to be processed. It saves fuel (and heating up the kitchen) by not turning on the oven and personally, I feel that nothing beats boiling water for sterilizing.

Paula said...

I only use the oven or the dishwasher because that's what I've read in the canning/preserving books I have.

I think your idea's a good one; maybe I'll try that next time. I like the idea of saving fuel!

Nina said...

This is where I've been going lately for canning help. I find it very straight forward.

Paula said...

Thanks Nina!