Home-canning Tomatoes Brings on the Nostalgia: Here’s a Recipe To Start Your Own Memories

Just made home-canned jars of tomatoes fresh from the garden--mostly Purple Cherokees, filled in with plump grape tomatoes.

Just made home-canned jars of tomatoes fresh from the garden–mostly Purple Cherokees, filled in with plump grape tomatoes.

I thought I probably wouldn’t can tomatoes this year. Last year, I hadn’t.  Because of the still dry conditions, except for the grape tomato, the plants didn’t produce much at all.  Also, this year I only set in seven plants: three Purple Cherokees, three hybrids that bear pretty large fruit, and another grape tomato.

If you want a plant that continues bearing for a long time and lets you almost daily grab enough tomatoes for your salads, I recommend planting grape tomatoes.  With just a couple of plants, you can harvest daily the same amount of tomatoes that you will pay $2.50 per container (or more) at the super market.  Of course, if you want the big, beefy slicing tomatoes that go great in a sandwich, there is none better than the heirloom Purple Cherokee; though even the hybrids picked fresh from the garden are nightly tasty.

Nothing better than a juicy tomato straight from the patch behind the garage.

Nothing better than a juicy tomato straight from the patch behind the garage.

With the rain this year, my tomatoes have been doing well, but with the onset of higher temperatures, the big tomatoes are no longer setting on.  I’ve already shared with friends, so more of the tomatoes getting ripe at the same time, I decided to look to see (Don’t you just love this redundancy!) if I had all the necessities for canning tomatoes.  It doesn’t take much: jars, lids, rings, and several pots for water.  I also have real canning tongs; something we didn’t have out on the farm.  Some say you have to have a pressure cooker for canning, but I do it the way my mom did, just using a big kettle with a lid and have always had good results.

The recipe is pretty simple, but I dug out the recipe card, one of many that I have in my mom’s handwriting.  Her distinctive writing and the whole process itself brings back a lot of good memories of helping with the canning when I was a kid out there on the farm in Kansas.

So the process (it’s really more of a process than a recipe):

Fill 3 pots with water and put them on the stove to simmer.  You’ll need 2 smaller pots, one to scald the jars and one to blanch the tomatoes.  You’ll need another pot big enough to hold the filled jars for the actually canning.  I have one that will hold 6 pints or 4 quarts.

I sanitize the jars by dipping them in one pot of boiling water.  You can also do this in the dishwasher or by pouring scalding water into and over them in the sink drainer.  Let them drain on a towel on the counter.  Then put sealing lids in the water to sanitize and heat up.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water and put it in the sink.  Turn the jars right-side up and put them near the sink in order to have them ready for the tomatoes, once peeled.

Start dipping clean, washed tomatoes into the hot water in the other smaller pot, one or two at a time.  Leave them for about 20-30 seconds.  Use a big slotted spoon to dip them out of the pot and plunge them into the ice water for just a few seconds.  The skins should peel off easily.  Use a paring knife to cut out the stem areas and any blemishes.  Now fill the jars with the peeled tomatoes.  Smaller tomatoes can go in whole; larger ones should be cut into halves or quarters.  As you fill the jars, gently push down the tomatoes with your fingers to eliminate air pockets.  Fill the jars to approximately 3/4 inch from the top.  Make sure that no tomatoes will be sticking up against the lid.

Now add salt to each jar:  1/2 teaspoon for pints, 1 teaspoon for quarts. (Some recipes also suggest adding a spoonful of lemon juice.)  Next, wipe all around the rim of the jar with a clean, damp cloth to remove any tomato bits, salt, or liquid.

Now remove the lids from the simmering water with a spoon or tongs.  Be careful; the lids will be hot!  Put the lids on the jars and screw on the jar rings.  The rings should be tight, but not necessarily muscle-man tight.  I twist the lids on as tightly as I can and then loosen them back just a tad.  Remember that the rings are there to hold the lids on during the canning; they really aren’t what is actually sealing the jar.

You’re ready to put the filled jars into the big pot of simmering water.  How much water to start with is always a guess, but you want the water to cover the jars by about an inch once you have them all in the pot, so don’t overfill.  If I need more water, I just pour some from the pot that I used for sanitizing the jars.  Use the canning tongs to carefully stand the jars in the pot.  My mom always placed a dishcloth on the bottom of the pot for cushion, but I don’t do that.  Cover the pot with its lid.  The jars of tomatoes will cool down the water a bit, so turn up the heat until the water gets boiling again and then you can let the jars simmer.  Mom’s recipe says 20 minutes for pints and 30 minutes for quarts.

Don’t mess with the jars in the pot.  The first year I canned tomatoes, I got worried seeing air bubbles coming out of the jars, but that’s just part of the process and what makes the vacuum to help the jars seal.

When the cooking time is up, lift the jars out of the pot with the canning tongs, and place them on a cloth on the counter to cool.  Once again, don’t mess with them.  Just let them sit until cool.  As the jars begin to cool down, you will hear a “ping”.  This is the final sealing of the jars.  After the jars are completely cool, test the seal by gently pushing down on the center of each jar lid.  If there is no “give”, that means the jar is sealed.

In the rare case that the lid easily moves up and down, that means the jar isn’t sealed.  At this point, you have two choices, start the canning process over with a new lid and 20 more minutes of cooking time, or put the jar in the refrigerator and use the tomatoes within a few days.

Making home-canned tomatoes is one of the least involved canning processes.  Whether you can just a couple of jars or a couple dozen, there will be a lot of satisfaction in preserving some fresh produce from your own garden.  Then some cold day in the fall or winter, you’ll have the special treat of opening a jar to make your favorite spaghetti sauce or chili with tomatoes that still have that home-grown flavor, something that the store-bought just doesn’t give.

Advertisements

Spring Blooms Brighten Up an Early Saturday Morning

The first amaryllis to open sings a spring song and is backed up by a chorus of bright day lilies.

The first amaryllis to open sings a spring song and is backed up by a chorus of bright day lilies.

Spring mornings can be delicious, especially if they fall on a Saturday.  After the much-needed rain of this past week, this morning was a good one to take a peek at all the plants in the backyard, which I did early this morning, getting my slippers and cuffs of my fleece pants wet from the dewy grass.

These tiny cherry tomato blooms foretell more good things to come.

These tiny cherry tomato blooms foretell more good things to come.

Giant salvia ready to attract bees and butterflies.

Giant salvia ready to attract bees and butterflies.

Delicate green pea blossoms await the morning sunshine.

Delicate green pea blossoms await the morning sunshine.

These fire spikes have made it through the cold months and continue to liven up the yard.

These fire spikes have made it through the cold months and continue to liven up the yard.

This angel-wing begonia brightens up the patio year after year.

This angel-wing begonia brightens up the patio year after year.

“I Didn’t Just Fall Off the Turnip Truck . . .”

The evening's garden pickings--a batch of lettuce and several crunchy Hakurei turnips.

The evening’s garden pickings–a batch of lettuce and several crunchy Hakurei turnips.

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but this is the first time that I’ve ever tried growing turnips.  Based on the Harris County Extension Planting Calendar, I planted turnips, lettuce, peas, and carrots in November, and of all of these, the turnips seem to be doing the best.

They came up thick, and I didn’t thin them, but I reckon I will be doing that as I pull up some to eat.  The tops are full and green, and cover the roots, which are basically trying to push themselves out of the ground.

I planted a hybrid turnip, called Hakurei, which I ordered online from Johnny’s Seeds.  Overall, I like this seed company and feel like I’m getting better quality and more seeds to the packet compared to what I get at the neighborhood big box stores.  Of course, with the shipping the cost is going to be more; however, Johnny’s Seeds has a fast turnaround on the order; I’ve usually gotten the seeds in my mailbox just a couple of days after I placed the order.

These Hakurei turnips are crunchy and have a mild flavor.  I also like a turnip that has a bit of a bite, so next fall, I think I’ll plant the traditional purple-top as well.

Last evening, I also picked some of the lettuce that I had planted at the same time as the turnips.  A lot of lettuce had gotten washed out with the rains in December and January, so what was left had gotten mature and stemy.  I decided to make wilted lettuce (recipe here) and try using some of the turnip tops too.  Even with the combination of flavorings of fried bacon, sugar, and vinegar, the greens were just too tough to make a good salad.

This morning I’ve been out in my little patch pulling up chickweed and caging tomato plants, some of which I grew from seed and some that came up volunteer from the compost I had tilled in last fall.  The best tomatoes I’ve ever grown are Purple Cherokees, so I ordered these and another called Green Cherokees from Johnny’s Seeds.  I’m just learning to get the plants started and then transferred into the garden.  We’ll see how well my little transplants do!

Though my three rows of turnips aren’t that long, I’ll have plenty for snacking and salads for quite a while this spring.  After they are done, in their place will go okra, which I haven’t had great luck with in the past couple of years.  But okra is really only happy in the hot summer sun, and I probably have been trying to plant them too early.