Guest Post: I Think I Can, I Think I CAN!

Ooh- I’ve got a treat for you guys today!

Meet my friend Kelly.

We’ve known each other (pretty much) since birth and were also maid-of-honor in each others’ weddings. Kelly is a high school teacher and a talented writer (and baker!). She even has a book being published next spring!

Recently, I was having a conversation with my friend Kelly about all of the goodies she’s been receiving in her CSA. She said she was overloaded with things like peaches and tomatoes (but not in a bad way)! And then she started telling me about how she planned on doing some canning over the weekend, so that some of those peaches and tomatoes didn’t go to waste. I was intrigued- and asked her to explain the canning process to me. And to my delight, she told me that she didn’t have to buy any special equipment for it! Immediately, I asked her to take some pictures the next time she canned (and to write a post about it too). She agreed without any hesitation!

Without further ado- here she is!

I’m really excited about guest posting at Oatmeal After Spinning – thanks for having me, Lauren!

I’ve recently dealt with a lot of food storage issues — mainly, I don’t have enough of it. Well, I have PLENTY of food — but I’m short on the storage, no pun intended. I’m a member of a local farm share, which leads me to the subject of this post — canning produce. Let me begin by saying this — if I had known how EASY canning was, I would have been doing it for years. Seriously. YEARS. It’s that easy!

The farm we work with was cursed with tomato blight pretty early on in the season, which forced/allowed us to get gallons of fresh, ripe tomatoes “out of bag” – which basically means free. I don’t turn down free produce, but I hate when things go to waste and I have to admit that happens a lot in our house. Between buying different things and forgetting them, having a few major power outages, and losing a fridge this summer, we’ve really wasted a lot of food. I was determined to save and use these tomatoes. I could have frozen them – Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle gives great directions on this — but I decided to try canning. I’m so, SO glad I did.

Below are a few of my new “tried and true” staples that I hope you’ll find helpful, especially as some of us become inundated with tomatoes over the next month or so.

Canning Tomatoes



Before canning tomatoes, I was a canning virgin. When the cucumbers and tomatoes began coming in full force, I grabbed one flat of quart jars, one gallon of white vinegar, and a package of dill. I figured that, with those ingredients, I could at least attempt pickles. But the tomatoes were beckoning me, mostly because they were over-ripe and really needed to be eaten. You can find a lot of good recipes online, but I kept it simple.

What you need:

Tools –

Quart or Pint Ball Jars with two-piece lids

A very large pot

A rack to go into that pot (or something you can use as a rack)

Tongs

Potholders

Lots of towels (the small, kitchen kind are fine)

Strainer (I use a baking sifter.)

Ice and Water

Cutting Board

Sharp Knives

Large Bowl or Two

Ingredients –

Tomatoes (the amount will vary based on the number of jars you want to fill; it takes about 5 tomatoes to fill a quart jar and 3 to fill a pint, but that is a very inexact science)

Lemon Juice

Water

Steps:

1. Prepare your tools.

You’ll want to begin by sanitizing your jars. This is NOT as scary as it sounds – basically, you fill up your pot with water, bring it to a strong simmer, but not to a boil, and drop the jars and lids in.

You don’t want the glass to touch the very hot bottom of the pot, so you need some sort of rack to go at the bottom. I use a steamer insert but, in a pinch, you can use extra Ball lids (the part with a hole.)

You will need another, smaller pot of almost boiling/gently boiling water to skin the tomatoes, as well as a bowl with cold water and ice (herein called an ice bath.) These will make your tomato peeling quick and easy.

2. Prepare your tomatoes.

Above, from left to right: Paste Tomatoes, Various Heirloom Varieties, and San Marzano Tomatoes

It’s up to you what kind of tomatoes you use. Different farmers/growers/seed catalogs/chefs will tell you that different tomatoes are better for different dishes, and I don’t dispute that. However, all tomatoes taste, well, tomatoey. Don’t feel like you have to get a certain kind. I encourage you to try many varieties. The San Marzanos (above right) are world renowned for their excellence and are used in many Italian dishes. They are the ones I canned in their own juice, as opposed to making marinara sauce or salsa.

To prep your tomatoes, you want to rinse them, then cut out the stem/core area with a sharp knife. Flip the tomato over and cut a small “X” into the bottom of the tomato’s skin. Don’t go too deep into the flesh.

3. Skin your tomatoes.

Above, from left to right: San Marzano in boiling water, ice bath, and partially peeled.

This is as easy as it sounds/looks. Take the prepped tomatoes. Drop one or two in boiling water. Give it about 30 seconds. Pull them out with a slotted spoon and drop them in the ice bath. They can stay in there for as long as you need them to, but the longer they are in there, the more ice will melt and the more you’ll need to refresh it.

Pull them out of the bath and, using your fingers, gently peel back the skin from the flesh. Be careful not to squeeze too hard – you want to save that juice! When you’re done, they should look like this:

4. Seed/Juice your tomatoes.

This is really the messiest part, but it’s necessary and worth it. With your knife, cut your tomatoes in half. Squeeze all the juice and seeds into a strainer. I use a sifter (seen above). Place the strainer over a bowl and continue until all your tomatoes look hollow, but still intact (like the other picture above.) They may get a little mangled, but you’re not making sauce with this batch, so you want the flesh to keep its firmness.

Once you’ve got all the juice and seeds in the strainer, you want to push them through, getting as much juice as possible. When you’ve done your best, pitch the seeds, but keep the juice.

5. Canning the tomatoes.

Take your tomato halves and drop them in the sanitized jars (at this point, the jars should be clean and dry, waiting for you – do that before you start any of this tomato business). Pile them in there pretty loosely. You don’t want to pack them in, or the juice won’t reach them all.

Dump your tomato-blanching pot of water and pour in the reserved tomato juice you just squeezed. Add enough water to make 2 cups (for a quart). Add two tablespoons of lemon juice. Bring this mixture to a simmer.

Ladle the liquid into the tomato jars, leaving a half-inch at the top. Securely fasten both parts of the lid, screw on tightly, and wipe the edges of the jar. Drop the jar into your large pot of water (the same one you used for sanitizing). You want to make sure that the jars are covered with water.

Now, from here, it varies on how you want to do this – many experts who are very well-versed in canning say many different things. For my part, I let my cans simmer on medium heat for 40 minutes. I then removed them with tongs and pot holders (canning tongs work best here) and let them rest on dry cotton towels until they were room temperature.

Tomatoes are acidic – while you can certainly keep these into the fall and early winter, I wouldn’t necessarily wait too long into 2013 to use them.

Another Option? Marinara Sauce

Here’s my recipe, which I LOVE and is totally delicious. You’ll do all the same steps as above, except you’ll chop the tomatoes pretty roughly, like this:

After that, you’ll sauté a small to medium onion in some olive oil. I add about a teaspoon of salt and a ¼ teaspoon of pepper here. You want them to get kind of golden and translucent, like this:

After this, you add the chopped tomatoes and the reserved tomato juice you strained to the pot. Simmer it as long as you want – I make a quart of sauce at a time and I let it cook for about 30-40 minutes on the stove. I wait until I’m happy with both the thickness of the sauce and how much the tomato chunks have broken down. In the meantime, you’ll want to chop a handful of fresh basil and fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley.

Keeping your herbs in a window and in water works out really well – these were about a week old and still looked fresh and were deliciously potent.

 I do a basic chiffonade of the herbs, but you can chop, slice, or even just rip them up into larger pieces. There aren’t any rules here.

When you are ready to can, take the sauce off the heat and stir in the fresh herbs. Pour your sauce into sanitize jars and put them in the water bath on the stove for 40 minutes. Same rules apply in terms of storage – this is just as acidic and, honestly, when you taste it, you’ll want it right away.

Some non-tomato options?

Dill Pickles and Dill Green Beans

You’ll Need:

2-3 medium cucumbers

1 lb. green beans

2 cups white vinegar

1 ½ cup water

6 whole cloves of garlic

6 stems of dill

6 tablespoons of salt

Boil the water and vinegar. In six sanitized pint jars, drop in 1 clove of garlic, one sprig of dill (pretty bushy, about 4” long), and 1 tablespoon of salt.

Wash and slice/trim the cucumbers and green beans. Put them in the jars on top of the garlic, etc. Pack them in fairly loosely, leaving ½ inch of space at the top. You may need to trim any longer beans.

Pour boiling vinegar/water mixture into jars, keeping that ½ inch a the top clear. Fasten the lids and put in canning water bath for 15 minutes.

These pickles and green beans need at least 6 weeks to really cure and become their best selves – however, there are LOTS of recipes for refrigerator pickles (pickles that only take a few days to…well, pickle.)

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I hope some of these recipes appeal to you and that you’ll be willing to give them a try. Canning really is simple – in the end, it’s the prep work and time that goes into it that requires a little more effort. That being said, I canned this morning for two hours while entertaining my 4 year old, so it certainly is possible.

Kelly Fiore is a teacher, mother, and writer living in Maryland. Her debut novel, Taste Test, a book about a food competition for teens, is due out in Spring 2013 from Walker Books for Young Readers. You can find Kelly at www.kellyfiorewrites.com, www.kellyfiorewrites.blogspot.com, and www.twitter.com/kellyannfiore.

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Thanks so much for sharing all of this information, Kelly! I’m so excited to try canning!

Do you belong to a CSA? If so, what do you do with an “over abundance” of produce?

Have you ever canned anything? If so, what?

Comments

  1. Great guest post! I wish I had the patience for canning . . . but unfortunately, I’m lacking in that area. My brother-in-law cans salsa, and not only is it amazing, but he then has fresh salsa from his garden loot available all year. It’s awesome.

  2. So cool! I recently acquired a bunch of books on canning from Joe’s grandma, who used to grow and can all of her own produce, but I still haven’t tried it! Growing up, mom always canned our jam/preserves, and I’d like to start there…but I DONT belong to a CSA and I cant bring myself to part with all that fresh, handpicked fruit!

  3. I would LOVE to can. I know I would need a group of friends to do it!! I’m not great at sticking to projects like that alone. I would love to have marinara sauce too!!

  4. Very neat! My mom makes jam & cans peaches & stuff –wish I had more time for it ;)

Comments are welcome (and encouraged)!