Saturday, August 18, 2007

Preserving the Harvest: Tomatoes

This year's canning has finally begun. Well, actually it began last Sunday when we went to the local tomato farm and bought 20 lbs. of ripe tomatoes. I was in the mood to start canning but the tomatoes from our garden were not quite ripe enough.

We used the fresh tomatoes to make two batches of tomato sauce. The first batch was run through the strainer, spiced with fresh herbs and garlic, and cooked down to a little less than it's original volume. The second batch was made by just chopping the tomatoes without peeling or straining them. We used dried herbs and garlic powder in the second batch. Otherwise the two recipes were exactly the same; vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and herbs.

After each batch cooked down to the right consistency we filled 1Litre jars and used a pressure canner to seal them. With the added vinegar I could have simply done a boiling bath for 30 minutes to seal them properly, but with tomatoes I prefer to pressure can them. The pressure sealing gets to contents of the jars hot enough to kill any problems and it forces the extra air out forming a nice tight seal. We have tomatoes from 2005 in the cellar that are still in perfect condition.

This weekend we finally had enough of our own ripe tomatoes to can. We chose to do canned chopped tomatoes and a nice spicy picante salsa. We use the recipes from the Company's Coming: Preserves Cookbook but we change the spices to suit our wants and we pressure can them for the extra safety. This year the tomatoes cooked down a lot more than normal and floated to the top of each jar. Makes for a rather odd looking jar, thick tomato puree floating on top of an orange coloured water, but they will be tasty this winter when we want to make stews.

The salsa is still cooking and will probably be cooking for another couple of hours. We like thick and chunky salsa so the volume in the maslin pan will have to decrease by at least half before I think about canning it. After it is canned, and all the seals have set, it will be labelled and added to the salsa left over from last year where it will be for at least six weeks. It takes six weeks or more for the flavours in the salsa to mingle and intensify enough to be really tasty.

Over the next few weeks we will be picking the last of the tomatoes which will be turned into more tomato sauce and salsa, especially if they aren't as ripe as they should be. After that we still have beets, carrots, and a few more peas to pick. Of course, there is always to possibility that we will find a great deal on local fresh corn or make a trip to the apple orchard, too. Either will result in another couple of days in the kitchen and more jars filling the shelves in the cellar.

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