Friday, September 19, 2008

Canning Whole Tomatoes

Finally, I found enough ripe tomatoes down in the center of my plants, and put up 5 pints whole tomatoes (I also found a few Asian pears that escaped our Spring frosts. If you can grow apples and have room, look into planting an Asian pear tree or two - they're wonderful-tasting fruit, so expensive in the stores, and are easier to harvest and store than regular pears.)

My first paste tomatoes are usually canned as whole tomatoes – I make sauce and other stuff out of the later pickings when the weather gets cooler (I'll put those recipes in later posts). I grow my own heirloom paste tomatoes for processing. I started with a Roma-type years ago and saved the seeds from the biggest, earliest tomatoes each year – I just split them open and gush the jelly and seeds out, spreading it out onto a piece of paper to dry. When dry, I fold the paper up, put it into an envelope, and use those seeds to start my plants next spring. I call them CC Paste.

The acid in tomatoes is what makes ok to preserve them in a boiling water bath instead of having to use a pressure canner. But that acid also burns the skin on my hands. Years ago I bought a box of the thin latex surgical gloves and wear them whenever working with tomatoes (or chiles). If the phone rings or something, I just rinse and dry off my gloved hands to take care of it. When finished for a while, I take the gloves off, turn them back right-side out, blow in them to inflate fingers out, and hang them over the dish drainer to dry. If no holes develop, I can reuse them a couple more times – the third or fourth time, a dusting of talcum powder insidemakes them easy to put on again.

Peeling tomatoes
I drop 6 – 8 into a pot of simmering water for a minute or two, take them out with plastic scissors-type salad tongs (the best tool for the job, I’ve found) and drop into cool water. Then they get moved to a colander set inside a big bowl so they drip dry a bit. I peel and core some as I get the rest of the tomatoes scalded, but want to get the simmering water off the stove as soon as possible (very important in late-summer heat). In the meantime, I also have my big pressure canner full of water and jars heating up too – I just take the rubber sealing ring out of the canner lid and use it that way for a boiling water bath canner and/or jar sterilizer (I’ve heard some people use their dishwasher to sterilize jars – I don’t have one).

Canning whole (or chopped) tomatoes
Peel tomatoes, pack into jars pressing them down tightly to release juice. Some of the newer varieties of tomatoes have been developed with less acid, which could affect canning safety. I don't want to take a chance on having any problems, so I add 2 teaspoons lemon juice per pint. Slide a stainless steel or plastic knife down the sides of the jars to release all air bubbles. Add more tomatoes, juice, or water to a ½” headspace. Process in a boiling water bath, 45 minutes after water begins to boil again. All my recipes are for Carson City altitude at 5,000 ft, so you might have to adjust your processing times to fit your own altitude. Your local Cooperative Extension office can tell you more.

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