Weekend Tomatoes

I got two great big beautiful boxes of tomatoes this weekend from my tomato guy.

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For several years now, I’ve been getting my canning tomatoes from Shady Lane Farm down at market.   I reserved these boxes a few weeks ago, knowing I’d have time to deal with roughly 50 pounds of tomatoes this past weekend, although sometimes you can walk in and grab a box. The damp, cool summer has not been ideal for growing tomatoes from what I hear.  As the squirrels stripped my vines clean back in July, I wouldn’t know a thing about growing tomatoes this summer.

I’ve added pressure canning to my canning repertoire this year.  I was asked if I could teach it, to which I of course said yes, then went about learning how to do it.  My friend Jess was kind enough to give me a lesson one morning last winter.  I had long been intimidated by pressure canning, but I realized, if you know how to use your equipment – in this case the pressure cooker, and you were comfortable canning, especially in large quantities, then pressure canning wasn’t that much different than hot water bath canning.

I’d read that I could pressure can tomatoes.  When I bought myself a 23 quart pressure canner, one of the selling points was the number of pints I could fit in there at once – up to 20.

When you hot water bath can tomatoes, they have a 40 minute processing time.  I have two hot water bath canners, but can only do 7 pints in one and 9 in the other.  When you are dealing with a large quantity of tomatoes that yields say, 40+ pints, requiring a few rounds in the canner – that’s a long hot day in the kitchen over a hot stove. In August.  Pressure canning tomatoes requires a 10 minute processing time under 10 pounds of pressure, so it seems easier on paper.  I decided I was going to give the pressure canning process a try with this year’s tomatoes.

My new Kitchen Intern (we’ve gone all Kramerica over here) came over to make an afternoon out of chopping tomatoes with me.  We knocked out one of those boxes in just over an hour.  We set up an assembly line packing, which Edie joined in.  K.I. (Kitchen Intern) packed the jars, Edie added the tablespoon of lemon juice, I air bubbled, put lids & rings on and loaded the pressure canner.  I could not get more than 18 jars in the pressure canner, so I pulled out the hot water bath canner and loaded the remaining 7 jars in it.

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Having the two methods side by side, while totally unplanned, was a good way for me to compare the them.  While the pressure canning method seems like it would be quicker, the truth is that it takes a good bit of time to get the pot to the proper pressure.  In fact, the pot was just getting to pressure as the hot water bath process, with its 40 minute processing time, was finishing.  With hot water baths, you can vaguely keep an eye on it – once the pot comes to a full boil, set your timer and you’re good to go.  With pressure canning, you have to babysit the pot, making sure that once it attains the proper pressure, it stays there, adjusting the heat as necessary.

I did a second batch of tomatoes the next day , this time loading all 16 jars into the pressure canner at once, leaving the rest of my stove top open for a batch of gumbo.  Because you know, if I’m going to be standing in the kitchen babysitting a pot, I might as well have something tasty going along side of it.

K.I. has floated out the theory that the reason I don’t look my age is because I spend so much time over steaming pots during the summer.  She might be onto something.

DSCN3948Tomatoes are just as much of a mess as peaches – maybe even more so.  I follow the same method for peeling & chopping them that I do with peaches  (with the cooler and every big bowl I own).  I always end up with tomato juice on the walls and down the cabinets.  Canning tomatoes requires a full kitchen wipe down following.  I prefer to pack tomatoes in pints over quarts – and I only do straight up tomatoes, no sauce, no salsa.  I don’t care for jarred salsa, even when I make it.  (I use the stash of tomatillos in the freezer for salsa verde all winter long.)  K.I. wants to do ketchup – which I’m sort of on the fence about.  I know that I should try making it, but 40 years after the fact, I am still slightly scarred by my mother’s attempt to replace my beloved Heinz with her home-made version.  Edie has shamed me somewhat about my whole ketchup thing and as someone who makes just about everything from scratch that I can at least once, I know I should try it.

All in all, I canned 41 pints of tomatoes this weekend.  That should be enough to get us through until tomatoes come in again next summer.   Tomatoes are the food that started this whole need to know where my food comes from, they are why I learned to can.  I’ve grown them since I was a girl.  I began freezing them but when I started running out of freezer space (back before we had a chest freezer, let alone two), I learned to can.   I used to only put up the tomatoes I grew, but somewhere along the way, I decided I wanted to know where all the tomatoes we ate all year-long came from – with canning, I can do that.

Which is why I probably should try my hand at making my own ketchup.  If it doesn’t work out, I can still have my bottle of Heinz, right?

I’m gonna need more tomatoes. Good thing I got a guy….

6 thoughts on “Weekend Tomatoes

  1. Cassi says:

    I’ve done hot-water bath canning of tomatoes (totally a mess, as you said). I’m always amazed at how much water is in tomatoes, so it seems like you start with so much and end with so little 🙂 One year I grew some great Polish paste tomatoes which were the best for that –huge and meaty with very little water. But I couldn’t find the same variety again.

  2. melissawest says:

    Well, that’s a good comparison of the two processes and I’ll stick to working without a pressure cooker. And I’ll definitely stick to freezing my tomato bounty for now, too.

    • Becky says:

      I froze a few bushels whole last summer – it was incredibly easy on the front end and not too much work when they came out of the freezer – hold them under warm water and the skins would pop off. I liked it, but it took up quite a bit of freezer space.

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