Sep 2, 2014

Canning: Fun, Simple, Tasty!

Canning Tomatoes...A Summer Tradition 

Hello my friends,

Before I begin, I would like to say that my comments are not working properly (for several posts now) and once in a while I find them in spam, but for the most part, when they do come in, and I click "publish" Blogger doesn't publish them. I am still trying to figure out the issue, but please feel free to comment, as once this is fixed, they will all be published. Thank you so much for visiting.

Now on to canning tomatoes.

As stated in my last post, my tomatoes have been coming in very sporadically this year, which makes it a pain. But, then the other day, just like that, about 30 or so pounds came "due" and I really wanted to harvest them fresh, and took the plunge. For those who have never canned, this post is for you. I will give you the basic steps, and a very general salsa recipe to get you started. If you never considered canning, or don't grow tomatoes, then your local farmer's market is a great place to start. It is so very nutrias and tasty in the cold, dark winter to have fresh salsa, tomato sauce, or even whole tomatoes for recipes. The flavor is so superior, that store-bought tomatoes will be a thing of the past for you.

There are many great websites that give very detailed information, that are easy to google. Here is my favorite: Fresh Preserving. I will provide only very basic information, mainly to show how easy this process really is.

Here are the basics you will need:

Canning jars (size depends on what you want to can, and how much)
Jar holder
canning funnel 
Lids (lids and rings)
Canning pot and rack that goes inside
Lemon juice
Tomatoes (I won't bother to can unless I have at least 20 lbs)
Wooden or plastic chopstick (or a long thin knife or long metal spoon handle for getting rid of air bubbles)
Wet cloth

I will be canning by water bath. This type of canning is for highly acidic produce and a pressure canner (one I hope to get sometime in the future) is for anything that is not acidic enough for a water bath.

First - wash all your jars and lids. 

I have a tiny kitchen, so I get out my smaller canning pot and fill with hot water and soap and let them soak a bit. I put this on the counter, which frees up my sink for other duties. You may wash them in the dishwasher, and keep the dry heat on until you are ready to use. I prefer a soapy wash, then place the jars into the canning pot with very hot water, and lids in a small pan on low heat.

I am making three types of tomatoes today. I am making a seasoned tomatoes sauce, a salsa, and canning quartered tomatoes. 

First,  I will show you how I make my seasoned sauce. For the sauce, I used about 20lbs of fresh, washed tomatoes. One med white onion, four garlic cloves, fresh basil, and a little salt. 

I diced up the onion, and sauté it in olive oil on med heat until clear. 

While my onions are sautéing, I take my chopped garlic cloves and my fresh basil (about a handful - I like basil) and begin to mince it. I grow it fresh, and this purple basis has THE best taste ever. For 20 lbs of tomatoes (more or less), I would use at least 6-10 leaves. I probably used a bit more.

Mincing can be done with a number of kitchen gadgets, but I prefer to use my vintage mortar and pestle. A bit more work, but gives me complete control at the exact consistency I like. 

I cut my tomatoes (grew yellow this year, which was so pretty) and ended up with about 16 cups. You will read many recipes about removing the skins, seeds and so on - which I do for other times, but NOT for my sauce. I have an extra step with a new kitchen gadget that saves so much time, that leaving skins and seeds in tact is just fine. I grow mine organic, absolutely no chemicals, so I want all the nutrients that I can get - which the skins have. 

Once the onions are fairly clear, I add the basil and garlic mixture to the onions, and then I toss in the quartered tomatoes all into the same pan and cook on med heat for about 20 minutes, stirring it all together and coat everything with the onions, garlic and basil.

I then take take my tomatoes and mixture out of the pan and put it in my new Vitamix blender (love this new machine). I puree it on "10" for severe minutes - and presto! NO seeds or skin to be seen.

Because I want it to be extra sooth, I let it strain down for extra silky sauce. But the left over "pulp" that was left in the sieve was so minimal, this step could actually be skipped. 

Note: I pureed my tomatoes in batches - just easier that way. I love the pumpkiny color that came from mixing in the yellow tomatoes. I then put the sauce BACK IN THE PAN and cook on medium heat to reduce it down to almost half. This thickens it a bit, and makes it rich.

After the sauce is reduced, I add one tablespoon of lemon juice, then ladle the sauce into my very hot jars. I then take my plastic chopstick (or thin knife) and insert it and move it around carefully to release any air bubbles. I wipe down the edges with a damp cloth and then place on the lid and tighten the ring with gentle pressure. 

I place the jars in the water bath on the rack and lower into the water. (Use your jar holder for this! Don't drop down into the water.) The jars must be completely covered at least an inch to ensure proper sealing. Depending on your location, altitude and size of jar, will depend on how long to process. Just check your jar box, which should have guidelines. I then place processed jars on a dish towel, which is on a thick cutting board. As they cool, you will hear a "pop" from the lid - that means it is now sealed! After 24 hours, you should check all lids by gently pushing down on the center of the lid, and if properly sealed, then it will be firm and not move. If not sealed properly, it will "pop" as it flexes up and down. You may either reprocess, or just stick it in the fridge and eat it first. 

Now on to my salsa:

For me, salsa is so personal. Meaning, some like it hot, very hot, or very mild and everything between. I hate cilantro and so I don't add it (I know, I am from Texas, and actually hate its staple vegetable.) I make it mild, if I am to give the salsa away as gifts, and then let the receiver add as much spice to it as they wish. I personally add about three Serrano peppers, 4-6 garlic cloves, lime, onion (white, red, or both) and green bell pepper. 

I also use smokey red pepper spice, chili powder, salt and a little bit of sugar. I don't mean to aggravate you by not giving exact amounts, as I cook so often by look, tastes, and quantity.  But to give you an idea, for about 15 pounds of tomatoes, I used 2 med-large onions, juice of two limes, 5 cloves of garlic, about 1.5 tablespoons of salt (or more) and just enough sugar to cut down any bitterness from the flavors. Other spices such as chili powder and smokey red pepper is done to taste. 

I coarsely cut up my onion and pulse it in my processor/blender. I then let it drain while I prepare the other ingredients. I add a little bit of salt to help it drain. If you want your salsa really spicy, you can add this "onion juice" to your recipe, but I find it has too much of an onion taste with all that juice. 

While the onions are draining, I chop up my tomatoes and toss tomatoes (seeds and skin), garlic, and peppers into the processor and coarsely pulse.

I then, coarsely chop up more tomatoes and add to the mixture.

So while my tomato sauce was processing (on left) my salsa was cooking on the right. I cooked the salsa on med heat for about 15 minutes. The photo below sorta looks like a crazy woman cooks in there!  :-)

I add my tablespoon of lemon juice, then ladle in the salsa, remove the air bubbles with my chopstick, wipe down the edges of the rim, then place on the lid and tighten the rim with gentle pressure. I put into the bath and process according to my altitude. Please see your canning box (or look it up online) the exact processing time for your area. 

Now, with my left over tomatoes, I just want to can them with no seasonings. I plop the whole tomato into boiling water for a minute or two and then place them in ice water to remove the skins easily. Yes, I remove the skins when canning just plain, everyday tomatoes. It makes my cooking them later in recipes easier. Then skins will crack in the boiling water and you can see how they crack in the image below as they cooled a bit in the ice water.

Once I peel all the tomatoes, then I quarter them and core out the white center. I personally don't bother removing all the seeds. Most fall out on their own and those go down the drain, but some remain behind which is fine with me.

The procedure is simple: I put in my tablespoon of lemon juice in the jar, put in the tomatoes, pour in any water (or tomato juice) to fill the jar, remove air bubbles, wipe the edges down, add the lid and tighten the rim and process for the amount of time for your altitude. Easy peasy. 

Here are a few reminders and tips to show you just how easy this is:

Wash all tomatoes, remove any dark spots or bruises.
If pureeing, skins and seeds are fine - even nutritious. 
Lemon juice in every jar - don't forget!
Make sure jars are at least 1" below the water line when processing.

And once you have your product ready (be it a sauce, salsa, or plain tomatoes) the steps are all the same:

Lemon juice in jar
Fill jar (leave one inch space from top)
Wipe jar rim
Remove air bubbles
Put on lid and tighten rim
Process in water bath for correct amount of time

Like I said, Easy Peasy!

Salsas, sauces, yellow tomatoes, plain tomatoes, and even some apple spice topping and one jar of peach jam are in my cabinet. I am hoping I will process about 30 or 40 more pounds of tomatoes by the end of the month. Everything you see (except for the three apple and peach jars) were processes in one afternoon. It takes only a little practice and actually, the prep time takes more time than the actual processing. But so worth it all when in the dark winter days of February you can pull out zesty sauce and make a big batch of spaghetti and meatballs and let it simmer all afternoon...makes those cold days seems so inviting. 

I hope this helps a little. There are so many website and You Tube videos that explain it all so much better than I do. But I just wanted to show that it really isn't complicated and the rewards are so satisfying.  If you can produce or have a great recipe for canning, please feel free to share with me - would love to learn!

from my house to your house,


Aug 26, 2014

You Say Tomato, I Say TomAto....

Modern prep for an old fashion task

It all started out so innocently...I walked into the TV room and found my barber husband watching the shopping channel. Yes, the shopping channel. A channel, I will say, that I have never even watched once. So now I am wondering if I have closet shopper under my roof? He is watching a infomercial about the Vitamix mixer/chopper/processor. This pricey piece of kitchen equipment is something we both have mentioned that "someday" we would like to have. Well, 20 minutes later, we are pulling out the charge card and  counting the days until it arrives. 

The real reason I got it at this particular moment? Well, a lady on the infomercial stated that she uses it a lot to prepare her goodies for canning. And bingo! Just the excuse I needed to get our tomatoes are coming in VERY sporadically this summer. It has been way too cool for our tomatoes (but great for us) and after consulting with many gardeners, yes, they too, have more green tomatoes than red. This time last year, I was canning 50lbs of tomatoes at once - fresh off the vine. The photo above is from my last year harvest. And the photo below. This was just one of three bowlfuls I canned in just one day.

This year, I barely harvested 20 pounds and they are not nearly as pretty. See below:

While not as pretty, they sure do taste great, though. But the biggest problem isn't about beauty, but rather bounty. Not having lots to harvest at the same time, it isn't worth the work and effort to can just two or three cans of tomatoes. So what to do?

I decided to chop up my tomatoes in our new Vitamix, and then freeze the harvest until I have enough frozen to properly can them. What makes it so easy is that I can so quickly prep all my tomatoes - even the cherry tomatoes. This year I grew yellow cherry tomatoes (which taste wonderful) and today, I decided to process them for the freezer and thought I would share.

After cutting off the ends, and a good scrubbing (although we grow organically and never use a single chemical), I plop them into the Vitamix and chop them up - skins and seeds and all! Depending on what I am going to cook, I can strain the seeds, and crush even more, if needed. Or, keep them coarsely chopped for salsa...mmmm!

After briefly chopping them, I pour my little golden nuggets into a freezer storage bag and plop it in the freezer along with a couple of processed tomatoes to be canned later next month. 

My little frozen stacks of tomatoes are adding up and I have about two more bags left to process tomorrow until more are ripe enough to harvest. While I prefer to can the tomatoes the day I pick them, the weather isn't cooperating, and so I must do what I do. With them all  prepped, I am now free to either can them as is, or make a sauce or even a soup and process that as well. 

This is one of the best parts about my new toy. It is super easy to clean up. Just fill it halfway with water, a dash of liquid soap, and then blend on high for 30 seconds, and presto! All clean!

This soapy water looks good enough to drink - like a shake! 

Clean up is so quick, I don't have time to clean up my scraps while the blender is cleaning itself. I never toss out good, organic scraps. I save it for my compost. I bag it up...

Drop it in my heavy duty vintage creamer can...

And eventually, the contents go into the compost pile.

After I am done with the tomatoes, my herbs will be nice and dry and ready for processing soon. More on that later. These herbs are drying on my vintage wall dryer in my kitchen - smells so good in here! While my barber husband tells me he loves the way our kitchen smells, he also tells me that he loves the way I smell even more. But, when I stop and think about it, I am pretty sure I just smell like our kitchen.

Go figure.  

Whatever makes him happy. :-)

from my house to your house, 

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