Saturday, October 10, 2009

Canning tomatoes

My boyfriend has taught me that canning tomatoes does not need to be a long and stressful activity. His basic recipe is the same as mine: briefly boil whole tomatoes and then plunge in ice water to release the skins, fill quart jars with whole skinned tomatoes, add 1 tsp salt and 2 Tbsp lemon, cover with boiling water leaving 1/2-inch head space, wipe down rims and add lids, process in the water-bath canner for 50 minutes.

But somehow when I've tried that, I enjoy it but get exhausted and worked up, whereas B makes it a relaxing meditative experience. First of all, B argues that one does not need to wash every tomato before boiling — the boiling and plunging does the trick — simply check each tomato carefully for mold and remove the green stem. Second, I've always cut a small cross in the bottom of each tomato, so that the skin can come off, but B points out that the skin releases without this, if you let the tomatoes boil an extra minute, and since they'll be processed for 50 minutes, what's an extra minute going to do?

But most importantly, I've always done a sort-of "small batch" approach to huge batches of tomatoes (we buy 20-lb boxes of tomatoes from our CSA, and process about 15 lbs, saving the other 5 to eat that week). So I'll destem, boil and plunge, and peel enough tomatoes for a can, and then fill that can and stick it in the canner, repeat, trying to do more than one thing at a time. This, of course, generally fails: you lose track, and tasks take different amounts of time. Much better is to destem 10 lbs all at once, boil them in your largest pot (second only to the canner), and then peel all of them.

In any case, it makes a mess, but if you're not exhausted by the canning, then even the clean-up can be relaxing. Processing 15 lbs of tomatoes is the work of a few hours.

Here's the work of a few months:

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