Sunday, August 23, 2009

Preservation: Canning Tomatoes and a Blogging Machine!

Summer is gone, and September is officially here. The days are getting shorter, much colder in the morning and evening, and all together it's really starting to feel like fall. We've had a very cool summer, which makes it feel all the shorter. I just harvested my first tomatoes this week, but frost will likely come in three to four weeks. Short season aside, I can't complain about the success of my garden. I've enjoyed working on it this year, and it's taught me many valuable lessons.

1) Plant what you eat, and ONLY what you eat. We ate everything we grew, but we ended up buying a ton of potatoes, leeks, squash, and garlic from farmers twice a week at market. Next year, I plan to make room for all these, and hopefully more. :)

2) Every year, something grows really well, and something else doesn't. And there isn't much you can do about it. The onions I planted, whose success we all doubted from the beginning, are starting to bulge from the ground and will serve us for weeks once they're grown to size. The tomatoes I planted, the plants I have spent the most time making room for and caring for, have been stagnant in the record-setting cool weather.

3) There is something highly soothing about puttering in the garden. I don't understand it, but I always feel better after I've spent some time out there.

4) As I mentioned in this post, It's exciting and interesting to build your menu around what you have, rather than what you want.

4) It is extremely rewarding to watch something grow from next to nothing to a thriving, mature, useful state.

5) It is equally rewarding to know exactly what has happened to your food before it got to your plate.

Being satisfied with the gardening experience, and by accomplishing lots of harvesting and preservation goals, we feel better prepared for this winter, and hope to prepare for next summer in a more efficient way this winter. That said, I'm still trying to remind myself that we are smack dab in the middle of the season of bounty, and that I need to soak it up as much as possible before it slips through my fingers.

One of the reasons I started my blog is to help me see the bigger picture of my cooking, to help me become more aware of my habits and routines, and especially my ruts.

I usually start my posts by looking at the camera and seeing which photos have been sitting waiting to be posted. I was flipping through my photos and realized that the most recent photo I had of myself is from my contribution to Evan's Eat-a-Pie-a-Day project (I was very flattered by her comment! :D) , and that every photo in the month between then and now was of food. Flipping through those photos, I began to realize that I've been spending a heck of a lot of time photographing food and not blogging it. I also realized that I haven't been spending enough time documenting the growth of my little family and our lives here.

I'm working on the latter problem by photographing the *people* at my house, instead of the food. That means when these lovely folks stopped by I didn't get a single photo of the delicious dinner I cooked for them, and I don't regret it a bit.

The former problem will hopefully be helped by our family's latest purchase.......

That's right: MACBOOK PRO. Pretty.

I refer to it as the blogging machine. Tim refers to it as a chess machine. We both have been watching episodes of 30 Rock in bed on it, and thoroughly enjoying oursleves. Whatever you call it, we're loving it, and I truely think it'll result in more frequent blogging. Our main computer is in our cave of a basement, so I finally have the chance to blog upstairs, in the sunshine! Or I can blog in my bed, with the window open, and my dog at my feet.

SO! I hope to start blogging more than usual, and to enjoy it even more.

Oh yeah! The kitchen has seen some improvements recently! We hung some cabinets and mounted a microwave above the stove!

Here's a shot:

And here's me, blogging from the kitchen, using the camera. :)

The garden has been mostly the same since I last shared photos with you. We still have a good deal of beans and the onions are getting very big. Aside from three big ones that got canned earlier this week, the tomatoes are still green, but very big. We had a long streak of rain, but since things have dried and warmed up a bit, so I'm hopeful that we'll still get some of them before it gets too cold.

We've also been going to market as much as possible and eating tons of veggies. When I came to the realization that September was here, I panicked and bought a *lot* of tomatoes, at the coop and farmer's market. I canned them all, which added up to five quarts. I'm canning as many tomatoes as possible this summer because we ran out very early last year.

(This website has been very helpful)

So here's my method. No special equipment is required.

Even if you don't cook with tomatoes that much, or don't usually eat them fresh, I highly recommend having some on hand in winter, especially if you live in cool climates, but even if you don't. Tomatoes are best in the late summer, and if you can them you will be able to enjoy them in their seasonal best even when it's freezing where you are.

Canned Tomatoes

Begin by cleaning the tomatoes under cool water.

Core the tomatoes, then score them with an X on the base. This is where you'll peel the skin off. (If tomato skin doesn't bother you you're welcome to skip this step. I really hate having a nice sauce with big pieces of skin floating in it.)

Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for around one minute each. Then, plunge them into ice water for another minute before peeling them.

Meanwhile (or after you're done with the tomatoes and want to use the same pot) bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil the jars, rings, and lids you plan to use for ten minutes. (I'm not good at guessing how many I'm going to use, so I always sanitize extra.)

Pull everything out and rest them on a towel.

Take a jar and put a canning funnel into the lid. This tool isn't aboslutely essential, but it makes the job much easier. (I bought a kit like this, which came with a jar lifter, too.) Using the funnel, shove as many tomatoes into each jar as possible, leaving a full inch open at the top. It's helpful to use a long tool to push them down.

Add to each jar

2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. salt, if desired

The lemon juice is absolutely necessary to assure the acidity is right to keep your food safe. (I accidentally left out this step, and have recanned the batch to be safe.)

Wipe the mouth of each jar, assuring that it's clean and dry to make a strong seal.

Place your lid on top and screw on the ring just snug, not too tight.

If you have one, put your jar rack into the boiling water. If you don't, at least put a small towel into the water to rest on the bottom of the pot. The metal bottom will get too hot and could crack your glass. Make sure you have enough water to cover all your jars (wait to add more until you have ALL JARS IN!:P) and don't be stupid and use a hand-knit rag with red yarn which will leak dye into the water. Like I did.

Process your tomatoes for 45 minutes if using quarts, then remove from the bath to cool. You should hear the *plink* sound of the seal pulling in as they cool, but you can also press down on the jars after they've cooled to check. If the lid moves up and down when you press, your seal didn't take. Take heart, they're not bad, you just need to eat them right away.

Congratulations, you now have delicious summer tomatoes that will survive the winter!

Here are mine, in their rightful place next to the pickled beets.


Molly Jean said...

I love the step-by-step for canning. I've been too intimidated to try it, but this makes it seem manageable. Thanks for posting this :)

Joelen said...

I would love to learn more about canning but its still a bit intimidating to me. Your post definitely motivates me to learn sooner than later! Enjoy your new blogging machine :)

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